The Bull Line…or Bowline?

The Bowline Pond area of the Village of Haverstraw, off Broadway and surrounding the Haverstraw Town Municipal Pool, has been living under false pretenses for close to 50 years. Bowline looked vastly different near 50 years ago. The pond originated as a clay pit, as numerous brickyards in the area manually excavated clay from that spot. The clay was fired into bricks and shipped downstream to feed the building boom in Manhattan and the rest of New York City.

A small steam locomotive, called a “Bull,” snaked its way down into the belly of the clay pit. The Bull delivered supplies and removed clay for firing. Small steam trains were often called John Bull(s), after an English, pot-bellied cartoon personification used as a national figurehead since 1712 in the United Kingdom. He is England’s Uncle Sam. The bull traveled on the Bull Line, a smaller gauge tracking system; its rails were a shorter distance apart than the train tracks we commonly use today. The Bull Line circled the area around the pit.

As immigrants came into Haverstraw, including Italians, Irish and Southern Blacks, the name “Bull Line” was slightly altered by their thickbowline.gif accents. Like a game of telephone, the historic Bull Line district slowly became Bowline. After the 1906 landslide at the Bull Line clay pit. Clay excavation seized there, and soon clay bricks were replaced by structural steel in the early twentieth century; the famous brick industry that brought so much wealth toHaverstraw, soon dried up. And so did the Bull Line. The term “Bowline” is also used as the name of a knot. This knot was commonly used in roping to join two loose ends to create a longer rope that also closely preserved the lengths of the two original ropes. Bowlines may have been used in the brick industry quite often, and this name slowly replaced the Bull Line, when the actual train was removed.

collapsesm.gifIn the 1950s a land mass that kept the Hudson River out of the clay pit was dynamited. The river rushed in and created the pond we see there today. Bowline Pond was born. Boaters continually drop anchor to their cabin cruisers and sailboats here for a night’s sleep on the river. The water is calm and deep and offers a nice haven to relax or to lash the neighboring boats together for an evening river party.

It is interesting to ponder the birth of names and places. The power plant just to the north of Bowline Pond has the same name. Bowline generating station is owned by the Mirant Corporation, whose bankruptcy is causing a severe financial upset for the local municipalities, county government, and North Rockland School District. As Bowline swiftly gains a new and negative connotation, maybe we should look to the past for a new name? Bull Line Pond and the Bull Line District of Haverstraw fits nicely…

Pictured above is a Bowline knot and part of the collapse during the 1906 Haverstraw Landslide.

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3 thoughts on “The Bull Line…or Bowline?

  1. I lived in Haverstraw my entire life and I never could understand where the name came from! this is a great site. keep up the good work

  2. Your description of a bowline knot as “to join two loose ends to create a longer rope” is incorrect. A bowline knot is the boater’s primary knot to create a loop for applications such as to secure over a piling or cleat – or for towing. A knot to join two loose ends to make a longer rope would be a “sheet bend” knot.

    1. Apparently the sheet bend and bowline are identical knot structures, “. . . except the bowline forms a loop in one rope and the sheet bend joins two ropes.” Thanks for helping to clarify: . The more important part of the story is the evolution of “Bull Line” (in the case of Bowline Pond) to “Bowline.” We can point to the existence of the Bull Line (narrow-gauge railway), which ran from in-land brickyards to the clay pit (Company Clay Hole), and then to the barge docks. In old wood-cut printed maps of the Village of Haverstraw, the Bull Line is visible.

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