Spectacular view of Glen Island … perhaps the United States’ first theme park

Giles Litho’ & Liberty Printing Co., 62 College Place, N. Y., GLEN ISLAND, LONG ISLAND SOUND, N. Y. The Most Beautiful Day Summer Resort in the World. NP, ND, but New York, ca. 1886-89 ?
Chromolithograph, printed area 18 3/8”h x 34”w plus title and generous margins. Mended horizontal and vertical tears, two of which extending across image. Lined with canvas by previous owner, a poster dealer. Withal, a dramatic and decorative image.

A most appealing and extremely rare chromolithographic view of Glen Island, a famed late 19th-century theme park on Long Island Sound.

Glen Island is located just off New Rochelle, New York, and was originally surrounded by four smaller islands. First occupied by the Algonquin, it was owned from 1847-62 by Lewis Augustus DePau, grandson of the Compte de Grasse, commander of the French fleet at the 1781 Yorktown campaign. In 1879 it was purchased by John H. Starin (1825-1909), U.S. Congressman from New York’s 20th District, who had made a fortune in shipping and logistics. His Starin Line owned many of the steamships plying the waters off New York City, and publications often referred to him as “Commodore”.

“[Starin] gave Glen island its name and converted the islands into Starin’s Glen Island, a summer resort for city dwellers that has been called “the first theme park”. The islands were connected by causeways and piers, and each island featured a different international theme. Steamships transported visitors from New York City to the park. The park, which opened in 1881, attracted thousands of people daily, including among its attractions a bathing beach, a natural history museum, a zoo, a German beer garden and castle, musical entertainment, and a Chinese pagoda.” (“Glen Island Park”, Wikipedia)

According to Wikipedia, the attractions of Glen Island were offered to the public free of charge, which suggests that the park served as a loss leader to generate passenger traffic for the Starin Line fleet. Indeed, the foreground of this view features three Starin steamers, the Matteawan, Castleton and Sam Sloan, ferrying visitors to and from the Island. For comparison purposes, an early chromolithographic plan of Starin’s Island, similar to this view in overall concept but differing in innumerable details, may be viewed here.

At its peak Glen Island attracted over a million visitors a year and thrived until 1904, when the burning and sinking of the General Slocum in the East River put a major dent in New York steamship traffic. The park closed later that year and was sold after Starin’s death in 1909, though it briefly re-opened in 1910, and in the ensuing years the park lay untouched, and many of its structures burned to the ground. In 1924 it was purchased by the Westchester County Parks Commission, the islands were merged by landfill, and today Glen Island is one of the most popular parks in the County’s park system.

The view is undated, but OCLC lists numerous other productions by Giles Litho’ and Liberty Printing, and all those assigned firm dates fall between 1886 and 1889.

OCLC 1044939286 (Clements Library only), as of July 2021.