This section is from the book "Practical Real Estate Methods For Broker, Operator & Owner", by Thirty Experts. Also available from Amazon: Practical Real Estate Methods for Broker, Operator, Owner.
In the Bronx water-front, the original titles to land in private owners came through grants from Governors Nicoll, Dongan, etc., and Letters Patent such, for example, as the Pelham grant issued to Thos. Pell in 1666, and through grants from the townships of Morrisania, West Farms, etc., of property previously granted to them.
In Brooklyn and in Queens there were a number of Colonial grants made to the inhabitants and towns, such, for example, as the Breuklen patent (from Governor Nicoll), October 18, 1667, covering the Gowanus, Bedford and Wallabout districts. The towns, in turn, after receiving their grants, frequently divested themselves of titles by grants of water-front to private individuals; but lands under water within the old town limits on Long Island were not, as a general rule, conveyed by the towns until of recent years, when they became of considerable value and were frequently sold.
Under the original patents the towns obtained havens, harbors, creeks, marshes, waters, rivers, lakes, fishing, etc., and such of the property rights as were acquired by the old towns and not ceded by them now belong to the Greater City. The old City of New York made grants to owners of upland along the Brooklyn shore of land under water in front of their property.
In Richmond Borough, as the Colonial patents on Staten Island appear to include no water grants, the only way generally in which the city can at the present moment own property would be by a grant from the State of New York to the old townships and villages within Richmond county, or through condemnation proceedings in street openings taken by these authorities, though the highway laws under which the roads in Richmond county were opened did not vest an absolute public ownership in fee in the beds of the roads and streets. Private ownership in this borough has, therefore, arisen generally by direct grants from the State.
In all the boroughs the United States Government has acquired water-front properties (such as the barge office site in Manhattan, the navy yard in Brooklyn, the light-house station in Staten Island, Fort Schuyler's site in the Bronx) by grant coupled with a ceding by the State to the Federal Government of jurisdiction over the property acquired.