This historic site on New York’s Hudson River has had a long and rich history that’s reflected the various phases of Hudson Valley history.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Native Americans have used the island as far back as 3500 BC. The island offered convenient rock shelters and was an ideal place for fishing and clamming.
In 1683, the island along with neighboring Doodletown and Bear Mountain were sold to former NYC mayor, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, by the Haverstraw Indian chief, Sakaghemerk. By the time of the American Revolution, the island had changed hands and names multiple times and was then known as Salisbury Island. Given the Hudson River’s strategic significance during the war, the island figured prominently in maps and strategy during the Revolutionary War and was used during the Battles of Fort Clinton and Montgomery in October of 1777, the island was used by the British to reinforce their attacks.
By 1800, the island was rented out to local farmers, who harvested hay from the salt marsh meadows, grew wild rice using underwater dikes and quarried for rock.
In 1848, John Beveridge of Newburgh bought the island before turning it over to his son-in-law, Dr. C.W. Grant. Grant, a dentist and amateur horticulturist, friend of AJ Downing, turned the island into a vineyard, planting 20 acres of grapes. During Grant’s ownership, he would constantly tell people, “I own a island,” leading to the name “Iona Island” and his product, “Iona grapes.” Unfortunately for Grant, the wine from his Iona grapes was poorly received and he went bankrupt in 1868.
Sold in 1869, Iona Island spent next two decades as an amusement park that attracted thousands of visitors annually. With a hotel, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, restaurant, shooting gallery, and more, the island became a popular getaway for people from the city.
In 1899, the Navy bought the island as a place to store munitions and built a large development including hospital, barracks, officer quarters, shell/powder building.
After the Navy left the island in 1947, various proposals were considered, including a skate rink and play area, but a decision was made to allow the island to revert back to its natural state after the Palisades Interstate Park acquired the island in 1965. Today Iona Island’s 270-acre tidal wetland is one of the largest on the Hudson River. It was designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior in 1976, a Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve in 1982 and a Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitat Area.