There are a number of explanations for Coney's name, but the generally accepted source is from coney, an obsolete English word for rabbit, chosen because it was cognate with the Dutch name for the island, Coneyn Eilant ("Rabbit Island"). It has been called thus since the 1640s, appearing on early maps of Nieuw Amsterdam as such. The Native American inhabitants of the area called the island Narrioch, "land without shadows", because, in common with other south shore Long Island beaches, its compass orientation keeps the beach area in sunlight all day. In common with other Long Island barrier islands, Coney Island was virtually overrun with rabbits, and rabbit hunting was common until resorts were developed and open space eliminated. Geologically, Coney Island is the westernmost of the barrier islands of Long Island, about four miles long and one-half mile wide. It was formerly an actual island, separated from the main part of Brooklyn by Coney Island Creek, part of which was little more than tidal flats. There were plans into the 20th century to dredge and straighten the creek as a ship canal, but these plans were abandoned and the center portion of the creek was filled in for construction of the Belt Parkway before World War II. The western and eastern ends are now peninsulas. Between about 1880 and World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States, attracting several million visitors per year. At its height it contained three competing major amusement parks, Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park, as well as many independent amusements. It was finally eclipsed by Disneyland in California. Beginning with the period after the Civil War, Coney Island became a resort, as excursion railroads and the Coney Island & Brooklyn Railroad streetcar line reached the area in the 1860s and 1870s. With the rail lines, steamship lines and access to the beach came major hotels and public and private beaches, followed by horse racing, amusement parks, and less reputable entertainments, including three card monte and other gambling entrepreneurs, and prostitution. When the steam railroads were electrified and connected to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company at the beginning of the 20th century, Coney Island began to turn more rapidly from a resort to an accessible location for day-trippers seeking to escape the summer heat in New York City's tenements. Nathan's Famous' original hot dog stand opened on Coney Island in 1916, and quickly became a landmark there. Their celebrated annual hot dog eating contest has been held there since its opening. Neighborhood Boundaries From West 37th Street on the west to Ocean Parkway on the east, from Coney Island Creek and the Belt Parkway on the north to the Boardwalk and Coney Island Beach on the south.
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