Today's Media Monday post is a fun one! In 1962, "News of the Day" with Peter Roberts issued this short newsreel about Theresa Scozzafava of Jones Point, NY, who was suing the federal government for rent for the Hudson River Reserve Fleet, also known as the "mothball fleet." Check out the newsreel below, then keep reading for the whole story!
Theresa Scozzafava did, indeed sue the federal government and her court case was featured in the New York Times and the Kingston Daily Freeman. Here's what the Times had to say on March 14, 1962:
“U.S. Is Sued Over a Fleet in ‘Front Yard’ – Grandmother Seeks $10,000 Rent for Mothball Ships”
A 77-year-old grandmother will have her day in court soon in an effort to collection $10,000 from the Federal Government. She contends the Government has been parking a fleet of ships in her front yard on the Hudson River.
Mrs. Theresa Scozzafava, who lives in a gray, wood-shingled house in Jones Point, a hamlet in Rockland County, N.Y., says the Government owes the money for anchoring its mothball fleet in the Hudson in front of her property.
In her suit, filed in the Federal court for the Southern District of New York, Mrs. Scozzafava claims underwater rights extending 250 feet into the Hudson along 365 feet of the shoreline.
The suit, filed in February, 1960, contends that Mrs. Scozzafava, who is the mother of ten children, all of whom are living, acquired the underwater rights by becoming the successor of grants made by the State of New York dating back to 1814.
In May, 1960, the Government entered a challenge against the suit, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter and that the ships, known formally as the Hudson River Reserve Fleet, were in a navigable river. The Government’s challenge was denied by Judge William B. Herlands, who said the issue would have to be settled in court.
The reserve fleet numbers about 190 ships, of which about fifty are used for the storage of grain. The number of ships varies because periodically tugboats pull the grain ships down to New York Harbor, where the grain is transferred to elevators or blown into barges for eventual export. When the grain ships are emptied, they are tugged back to the reserve fleet.
The spry, white-haired grandmother has been collecting $25 a month rent from the Government since March 20, 1946. The rent was for the use of a dock and for parking privileges for Government workers’ automobiles.
Rent Increase Sought
When the Government’s lease expired in 1960, Mrs. Scozzafava, who had by then acquired additional property when her husband, Bernardo, died in 1950, sought to increase the rent.
“They offered me $25 a month and told me to ‘take it or leave it,’” she said yesterday. “I told them to take their ships away.”
In late June of 1960, Mrs. Scozzafava said, several tugboats were used to pull the ships away from her underwater property. “That proves,” she said, “they knew I was right.”
However, she contends, the ships are still infringing on her property.
Mrs. Scozzafava was joined in the suit by her daughter, Mary Springstead, and her daughter’s husband, Wesley, who also owns property along the Hudson River.
Mrs. Springstead, 53, describes her mother as a “very active woman.”
“She did the Twist last New Year’s Eve and she has a few scotches every once in a while,” the daughter said.
Sadly, Mrs. Scozzafava and her daughter did not get their day in court. According to a New York Times article published April 14, 1962, the case was dismissed by mutual consent. Mrs. Scozzafava and Mary Springstead did not want to engage in a long, drawn out court case, and so dropped the suit due to health reasons.
The Hudson River Reserve Fleet was removed from Jones Point less than a decade later. Most of the fleet was moved to the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia, in close proximity to the Naval base at Norfolk, VA. The last of the ships left in the Hudson River were towed away for scrap on July 8, 1971.
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