Back to the 1960s — fireboat special

UPDATE 2: This post has been updated with better resolution photos made from the original negatives, and with some additional photos included.

UPDATE 1: This post has been updated to reflect correct date of the older photos is 1965 rather than 1964 as originally posted.

A rainy Monday is a good excuse for a trip back in time. These photos of the FDNY fireboat John J. Harvey were taken in 1965 by my mother before I was born and sat little noticed in a family album for decades before being digitized recently. They show the Harvey attacking a fire in a garbage barge tied up at the sanitation transfer pier at the foot of West 135th Street.

The John J. Harvey in action in 1965
Photos courtesy of Katzive Family Collection

The John J. Harvey was launched in 1931 and retired in 1994, but was saved from the scrappers by a non-profit group who have maintained and restored the boat. It remains operational and famously assisted in pumping water to help firefighters in Lower Manhattan following the September 11 attack. The boat is currently tied up at Pier 66 next to the old Frying Pan lightship, where volunteers are preparing for another season on the water. The Harvey is taken out for public cruises and can operate its water canons for demonstrations. You can learn more about the Harvey on the group’s home page:

The John J. Harvey at its current home on Pier 66, in front of the Frying Pan light ship.

Pier 66, where the Frying Pan is permanently tied up and the where the Harvey resides, was formerly a railroad dock for the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The ships are actually tied up to an old railroad float barge which in turn is attached to the end of an old railroad transfer pier. Until the 1950s or 1960s, rail cars were brought to Pier 66 from the New Jersey side on barges like this one and shuttled across Twelfth Avenue to a small Lehigh Valley rail yard on the ground floor of the huge Starret-Lehigh Building. The building remains but the tracks are long gone. There is an old Erie Lackawanna caboose parked on Pier 66 now as a reminder of the barge’s former use, though there would not have been any reason for an EL caboose to have been on that pier historically. For more on the pier, see: and for more on the historic rail operations here, see:

The old photos also give us an opportunity to delve into the history of waste removal in New York City. The transfer pier visible in the first photo is still there, now dwarfed by the huge North River water treatment plant to its north which was built in the 1980s, but this transfer pier has not been in use for many years. By the time this photo was taken, in 1964, ocean dumping of municipal waste was already a thing of the distant past, with New York having been forced by the Supreme Court to stopping dumping trash back in 1934. However, landfills continued to operate in New York City, including the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island and Ferry Point landfill in the Bronx, and the waste in this barge was likely destined for one of those locations.

Those landfills are now closed and municipal waste no longer leaves Manhattan in open scows like this one. After many years in which all waste left the island by truck, in recent years the city has begun containerizing Manhattan’s residential garbage at a facility at East 91st Street on the East River. The sealed containers are brought by barge to a facility in Staten Island where they then travel by train or truck to a Covanta waste-to-energy power plant in Newark or to landfills in the south. The city continues to use open scows to transport paper waste for recycling at a plant on Staten Island. These are loaded at Pier 99 on the North River where one actually caught fire late last year . The John J. Harvey’s successors helped extinguish it.

In the foreground of the first picture, just south of the barges, you can see small building along the water. This is the Manhattan terminus of the Transco Natural Gas Pipeline which began supplying the city in 1951. The building is still there and still serves that purpose, though it has been substantially rebuilt.

A final observation about these old photos: you can see the Jersey side of the river was very different in the 1960s. The base of the Palisades was all rail yards and oil depots, with none of the high end condominiums we see today. The top of the cliffs are crowded with high rise towers now but none of those where there yet by 1965. The roller coasters and Ferris wheel of the old Palisades Park amusement park is visible on top of the cliffs in the last photo.

UPDATE: I took a picture on May 11 from approximately the same perspective as the first old picture above, allowing a then and now comparison. The North River sewage plant is the biggest difference, plus the development on top of the Palisades on the far side of the river. The gas pipeline terminal has also been rebuilt and the Sanitation transfer station was reskinned at some point before being abandoned as it is now.

3 responses to “Back to the 1960s — fireboat special”

  1. […] we are on the theme of “then and now”, I can add a photo that I wanted to include in my Back to the 1960s—fireboat special post but could not because I hadn’t taken it until today. Below is one of the photos of the barge […]


  2. […] is possible this is a different boat. In any event, the McKean should not be confused with the more famous retired fireboat John J. Harvey which resides at Pier […]


  3. […] Harvey remains tied up at her usual Pier 66 base with the retired light ship Frying Pan on Monday. See Back to the 60s on this blog for photos of Harvey in action The John McKean tied up in Haverstraw in early November The FDNY’s […]


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