The swirling tides of the East River were famed
for bedeviling sailors, starting with the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block in 1614.
He gave the East River's midway point the name Helegat, meaning "bright
passage." But as a place of whirlpools and dangerous rocks, the Anglicization
that stuck was Hell Gate.
The Hell Gate contains the remains of countless
ships. Most will forever remain nameless, while some have become legendary.
The H.M.S. Hussar was one such vessel. The
Hussar was a British frigate of War, part of a fleet of privateers. It had left
Charles Town carrying soldiers, slaves, rations and a vast fortune of Gold and
Silver -- payroll for the British forces stationed in the colonies. On her way
she attacked two ships, confiscating their treasure and sinking the. Then she
met two sister ships. Both had been commissioned into battle so unloaded their
cargoes onto her. As you can imagine, the Hussar was now heavily overloaded, and
became easy prey for the the jaws of Hell Gate. Weighed down, she was unable to
maneuver around the currents and smashed her bow into Pot Rock. She went down on
November 23rd 1780 with 150 men and $15 000 000 worth of gold on board. Some
believe the treasure still lies on the river bed today. A treasure, is now
estimated to be worth up to $1.5 billion.
In 1885, engineers dug excavations, and
inserted explosives in them to remove the treacherous reefs and rocks. This
culminated with the largest manmade explosion before the atomic bomb.
Today, the Hell Gate is spanned by the Hell
Gate Bridge, completed in 1917, and the Triborough Bridge, completed in 1936.
Map of Hell Gate From 1885