Witte Marine Scrapyard

by Hans | September 22nd, 2010

Once of the largest marine scrapyards on the East Coast, the Witte Marine Scrapyard is located at 2453 Arthur Kill Road in Rossville.

Now officially known as the Donjon Iron and Metal Scrap Processing Facility, the scrapyard was opened in 1964 by J. Arnold Witte, Sr. The scrapyard is known for its large assortment of obsolete steam tugs, ferries, carfloats, and other craft. Witte acquired them faster than he could break them up; the end result is dozens of vessels slowly rotting in the muck of the Arthur Kill. A number of noteworthy vessels, including the New York City Fire Department fireboat Abram S.Hewitt,  which was involved in the rescue of survivors of the 1904 general Slocum tragedy and was the last coal-burning fireboat in operation in the FDNY’s fleet, can be found here.

The Boatyard is a collection of a hundred different stories all being told at the same time. It reminds me of a group of old men gathered at a retirement home, none of them wanting to be there, and each telling their own life story.  Each boat is telling bits and pieces of its history, dropping hints and clues about what it did in its past.  The details and histories of these boats have drifted off with the working crews and captains, and have been all but lost; the only clues are the ones they tell now, sitting idle in the mud measuring the rhythm of the tides.

Arthur Kill

The Arthur Kill is a tidal strait separating Staten Island, New York from mainland New Jersey, USA, and a major navigational channel of the Port of New York and New Jersey. Kill is from the Middle Dutch word kille, meaning “riverbed” or “water channel”. Arthur Kill has also been known as Staten Island Sound.

The channel is approximately 10 miles (16 km) long and connects Raritan Bay on its south end with Newark Bay on the north. Along the New Jersey side it is primarily lined with industrial sites, part of which is called the Chemical Coast. The Staten Island side, it is primarily lined with salt marshes.

A heavily used marine channel, it provides access for ocean-going container ships to Port Newark and to industrial facilities along the channel itself. It also provides the primary marine access to the now-closed Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.

The channel is dredged periodically to a depth of 35–37 feet (11 m) and a width of 600 feet (183 m) to maintain its usefulness for commercial ship passage.

Because of the complex nature of the tides in New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary near the mouth of the Hudson River, the hydrology of the Arthur Kill is still an open subject. In particular, the net flow of the channel is not well established.

It is spanned by the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing, as well as by the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge, a railroad bridge and the largest bridge of its type in the United States.

It contains two small uninhabited islands, Prall’s Island and the Isle of Meadows, both of which belong to the borough of Staten Island.

The Arthur Kill is an abandoned river channel carved by an ancestral phase of the Hudson River resulting from the blockage of the main channel of the Hudson at the Narrows by moraine or an ice dam. The size of the Arthur Kill channel is large, suggesting that it was, for a time, the primary drainage from the region. However, it could not have been a primary drainage for long because the river did not have enough time to carve a broad flood plain.

The name Arthur Kill is an anglicisation of the Dutch language achter kill meaning back channel, which would refer to its location “behind” Staten Island and has its roots in the early 17th century during the Dutch colonial era when the region was part of New Netherland. Place naming by early explorers and settlers during the era often referred to a location in reference to other places, its shape, its topography, and other geographic qualities. Kill comes from the Middle Dutch word Kille, meaning riverbed, water channel, or stream. The area around the Newark Bay was called Achter Kol. During the British colonial era the bay was known as Cull bay. The bay lies behind Bergen Hill, the emerging ridge of the Hudson Palisades which begins on Bergen Neck, the peninsula between it and the Upper New York Bay. The sister channel of Arthur Kill, Kill van Kull refers to the waterway that flows from the col or ridge or passage to the interior and translates as channel from the pass or ridge.

Source: Towmaster; Wikipedia
Photo’s Shaun O’Boyle

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One Response to “Witte Marine Scrapyard”

  1. Jim Wallace says:

    Hi, I am an old, old friend of John Arnold Witte and am trying to locate him. Can you help me ? Thanks Jim Wallace

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