The Coney Island History Project is displaying Coney Island’s oldest surviving relic on Saturday, October 28th to celebrate its 200th birthday! What is it you might be asking? It’s the Coney Island Toll House sign from 1823—the only thing that survived two centuries of history.
Onlookers will be able to see this precious artifact in person at the exhibition center at 3059 West 12th Street, near Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park entrance. Better yet, entry to the exhibition is entirely free!
It wasn’t until the summer of 1823 that Coney Island opened to the public. Before then there was no public access to the land. At one point Coney Island was only home to one resident, Abram Van Sicklen. At the time, he had a small farm on the Coney Island Creek.
Then in March of 1823 the Coney Island Road and Bridge Company was formed. An old article from New York American wrote “The Road and Bridge leading to this delightful island are now complete. It is open the ocean, with the finest and most regular beach we ever saw . . .” about its opening.
According to Coney Island History Project, more than 300 horse-drawn vehicles crossed the bridge those first few days. The price of entry was five cents for “horse and rider” and 50 cents for “coach drawn by horses,” as written on the toll house sign.
By the late 1870s tolls were no longer collected and the toll house became a private residence.
When the toll house was eventually demolished in 1929, the sign was the only thing that remained. “It represents the endurance, continuity, and resiliency of Coney Island. It is the only object that was there at the beginning, the only link to the origins of the World’s Playground,” writes the Coney Island History Project.