History

History of Staten Island: North Shore



INTRODUCTION

The North Shore, located within New York City’s borough of Staten Island, was not populated until early 20th century when the Staten Island Lighthouse on Lighthouse Hill began its operation in 1912. Ships entering from the Atlantic Ocean into the Lower New York Bay allowed its prominent industry and manufacturing growth. North Shore, unlike the other neighborhoods found on Staten Island, contains old infrastructure, dense housing as well as a diverse population evenly split among whites, African-Americans and Hispanics, a little over 30% of each ethnicity, coming from countries such as Sri Lanka, Albania, Trinidad, Liberia and the Philippines. A large influx of Mexican immigration was common back in the 1990s and presently the number of Italian immigrants is gradually rising. Wikipedia states that “the North Shore is the best served section of Staten Island by public transportation”, the borough’s economy strongly dependent upon the Staten Island Railway and soon enough around the 1930s the construction of bridges and crossings flourished connecting Staten Island to New Jersey and Brooklyn.

The borough’s accomplishments over the years and touristic attractions like the Staten Island Ferry or Bayonne Bridge, ironically, the North Shore has the reputation of the borough’s highest crime, poverty and unemployment rates for arguably various reasons and, lastly, serves as a home for a disproportionate amount of medically uninsured people.
Another famous site, Fresh Kills Landfill, opened April 6th, 1948 as a temporary alternative for New York’s trash disposal problems which, at some point became the world’s largest landfill, operating for over 50 years and finally after receiving ruins of the World Trade Center catastrophe, officially closed in 2001. Oil spills in the New York’s Harbor became more common and killed numerous birds and fish species late 1990s into early 20th century. Melissa Checker’s article, Staten Island’s Toxic Stew, reiterates the North Shore’s park department and government’s neglect over these human and environmental threats, “within the North Shore’s approximately 5.2 square miles (13 km²) area, there has been around 21 different sites that the Environmental Protection agency or residents have identified as contaminated…within 70 feet (20m) of homes and apartment buildings”. Dangerous fumes from New Jersey factories travel to North Shore, Staten Island resulting in the worst smog in New York City; respectively, ones chances of acquiring lung cancer were definitely high at 48% with the poorest air quality on the island dating back to industrialized North Shore; these are only several of the North Shore’s many unsolved problems which continue to be ignored.

Our group study was on this history of the North Shore towns. The towns on the list are St. George, Tompkinsville, Livingston, Port Richmond, Elm Park, Mariners Harbor, and Arlington. We distributed the work by giving each person two-three towns to research. My towns are Elm Park and Livingston. Finding the history of any town in Staten Island is not easy, historically many streets overlap. The contribution I provided was I decided what town each person would research, how far back in history we would look, and the structure of our report. Each person worked very well together and we had no problems with people slacking or not giving work on time. A British officer wrote in 1776 about Staten Island: “Surely this country is the Paradise of the world…the inhabitants of this Island are tall, thin, narrow shouldered people, very simple in their manners, know neither Poverty nor Riches, each house has a good farm, and every man a trade, they know no distinction of Persons, and I am sure must have lived very happily till these troubles.” (The Revolution). This view is very different from what we now think of Northern Staten Island. The defunct SI Railway and landfill help create an area of disparity. There are many mansions in the area but they are overshadowed by the rundown neighborhoods that border the deserted SI Railway.


THE NEIGHBORHOODS



ELM PARK

Elm Park is a very small community named after the Elm trees present on the property of Dr. John T. Harrison. It was known as Jacksonville (circa 1830) and Lowville (circa 1850) it was renamed in the early 20th century. In the early 20th Century a large number of Polish-American families settled in Elm Park. Elm Park was formerly the last landing of the boats on the North shore ferry. I think that the lack of transportation and access has historically harmed the area. The SI Railway station on the abandoned North Shore Branch has two tracks and two side platforms. It was abandoned on March 31, 1953, along with the South Beach Branch and the rest of the North Shore Branch. It is located at Morningstar Road between Innis Street and Newark Avenue. It is one of several stations along the North Shore line still standing today, although in decrepit condition. If the town had better access to transportation this might open the area to economic resources and opportunity.




LIVINGSTON

While official boundaries do not exist for any designated places on Staten Island, Livingston is most commonly regarded as being enclosed by Bement Avenue on the west, the Kill Van Kull shoreline on the north, Henderson Avenue on the south, and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on the east. It is dominated by large, older homes built before 1900. One of the first Europeans to settle the area was Francis Lovelace, the second governor of the New York colony, who in 1668 started farming in the area that would become Livingston. The original name for the district was Elliotville, after a renowned ophthalmologist, Samuel MacKenzie Elliot, who by 1840 had acquired more than 30 homes in the community. The present name of Livingston was coined by officials of the Staten Island Railway who bought the mansion of resident Anson Livingston and then gave that name to a station built near the current intersection of Richmond Terrace and Bard Avenue. This station was situated on the now-defunct North Shore branch of the railway, on which passenger service ceased in 1953; the tracks on this branch are still there, but all traces of the Livingston station have been removed, unlike the Elm Park station where it remains and rots. Walker Park has the SICC cricket field with cricket pitch prominently placed in the center of the park, but it also has six asphalt tennis courts in its southeast corner, a little league baseball field in its southwest corner, two basketball courts along the west, and a children’s playground in the northwest corner. The cricket club uses the 1934 brick and half-timbered clubhouse in the northeast corner of the park at 50 Bard Avenue. While not the oldest cricket club in the United States, it does claim to be the oldest cricket club in continuous use since its founding. The first national tennis tournament in America was held at the club on September 1, 1880.

Note: Livingston is not even recognized as a town listed on the EJ View map.


PORT RICHMOND

It is situated on the North Shore of Staten Island. It is along the waterfront of the Kill Van Kull with the southern terminus of the Bayonne Bridge serving as the boundary between it and Mariner’s Harbor, the neighborhood that borders it on the west. Formerly an independent village, it is one of the oldest neighborhoods on the island. In the 19th century, it was an important transportation and industrial center of the island, but this role has vanished nearly completely, leaving a largely blue-collar area bypassed by the shift of development of the island to its interior after the 1960s. In the 1690s and early 1700’s when Dutch and French colonists settled here, the town became a commercial and industrial hub. Port Richmond has remained a commercial hub to the present, although the opening of the Staten Island Mall in the 1970s put a dent in its fortunes. It remains the terminus of Staten Island’s main bus route from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.


MARINER’S HARBOR

It is a neighborhood located in the northwestern part of NYC in the borough of Staten Island. The western section of Mariners Harbor, west of South Avenue is often known as Arlington. The neighborhood owes its name to the fact that, during the 19th century, oysters and other seafood products were harvested the Kill van Kull, which forms the neighborhood’s northern border. This activity declined due to pollution during the 20th century. Today oysters are farmed by various small fishing entities and are cleaned in the waters off Long Island by allowing them to bed in those waters. The Mariners Harbor Yacht Club remains as a reminder of the community’s maritime past.The area originally populated by the Dutch settlers of 17th and 18th centuries bears the famous names of those families, which include: Van Name Street, Van Pelt Avenue, Brabrant Street, Lockman Avenue and Mesereau Avenue. The oldest church in the neighborhood is the Methodist Summerfield church, founded in 1840 it still stands on Harbor Road. On the corner of Richmond Terrace and Lockman Avenue is the Fellowship Baptist Church, which has a large African-American congregation. From the early 1900s to the 1930s, the area became home to many Italian-Americans who still comprise a significant percentage of its population. The neighborhood was permanently transformed, however, in 1954, when the NYC Housing Authority opened the 605-unit Mariner’s Harbor Houses, a public housing project in the heart of the community that then soon became predominantly African American and later, also Hispanic. Mariners Harbor was home to large shipping and dry dock companies in the first half of the 20th century, including Bethlehem Steel, which owned a considerable portion of land in the area with headquarters along the waterfront on Richmond Terrace across from Messereau Avenue and Brewers Dry Dock. Bethlehem Steel built military transports during World War I and World War II. Currently, two tugboat companies, K-Sea and McAllister, operate in the area as do a number of smaller dry docks, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, and Mariner’s Harbor Cargo Terminal. In recent years a large amount of shopping has been built up in the stretch of Forest Avenue from Lake Avenue to South Avenue, revitalizing the area and bringing new traffic concerns.




ST. GEORGE

In 1818, a ride on the Staten Island ferry would take you from the “bustling, foul-smelling Manhattan port to a quiet landscape soon to be dotted with mansions and retreat houses for the very rich.” St. George, a neighborhood known as New Brighton in the 1830’s and as Camp Washington before the Civil War, was used as a training ground for recruits as well as a lookout spot during the American Revolution. It would transform to become the diverse community that residents today call Staten Island’s downtown. Amongst the many interesting facts in Staten Island history, the naming of the town of St. George came from Erastus Wiman, a highly ambitious, Canadian businessman and developer who had dreams of making Staten Island New York’s transit hub, directly competing with Manhattan. Back when “the land under water” along the shore was purely a region of homes and regarded as having little value, George Law, a real estate and land developer, saw its potential and proceeded to buy up the land “at prices that were barely nominal.” In the early 1880’s, Erastus Wiman had an idea to centralize the ferry landings, which were about 6-8 in number at the time, into one location which is now known as St. George. Wiman explained his plan to Law and was able to secure a water front option from him. When the option had to be renewed a second time, Law refused. It was then that a clearly desperate Wiman offered to “canonize” George Law by naming the place “St. George.” Law, humored by this, granted Wiman yet another option. The St. George Waterfront, was once described as “a gently sloping greensward, dotted with trees and gray granite boulders”, its clean waters “laving the shores of a beautiful unspoiled point.” Being a “playground of the rich”, the North Shore once had a ferry exclusively for their section; commoners were prohibited from riding. Ironically, as better boats were introduced for the main line, the rich “patronized these instead and neglected their own.” On July 31 1884, The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad organized the Staten Island Rapid Transit Railroad Company, which resulted in the consolidation of the railroad and ferry terminals in St. George. On March 8 1886, east shore and north shore operations were consolidated into a service out of St. George. Staten Island was incorporated into the City of New York in 1898, which strengthened it politically. One of the main goals of the Island was municipal acquisition of the Ferry and replacement of the fleet. This came to fruition on October 25, 1905, in which the city took ownership of the ferry and terminals, wasting no time in ejecting B&O from Whitehall Street terminal. The city spent $2,318,720 on a new St. George terminal. On June 25, 1946, the St. George terminal perished in a horrendous fire. A new terminal was constructed in 1951. A North Shore land use and transportation open house study in November 3-4 2010, revealed that present day residents have suffered the consequences of years of commercialization. Below is an excerpt from that study which exemplifies the hopes of present residents to restore St. George to a cleaner, more environmentally safe area where all could enjoy healthy recreation and once again turn the area into the playground it once was:

“Participants in the eastern neighborhood section focused on the overall need for improved pedestrian and bicycle connections in these areas, including to/from the Ferry Terminal and promenade, in downtown St. George and south of the terminal. They also sought basic clean up of trash and vegetation along the waterfront, particularly along the promenade and Snug Harbor. For all areas, participants raised concerns about overall transportation connectivity, infrastructure needs, and environmental issues. Participants highlighted St. George’s potential to be a 24-hour neighborhood, with amenities and attractions allowing people to walk, shop and play all in the same neighborhood. They encouraged more residential and commercial density in the area, particularly at the former Coast Guard site, Homeport, and on the baseball stadium parking lots sites. Ideas focused on recreation included bringing more users and events to the ballpark, developing local cultural uses on waterfront sites and in St. George proper, and recreational boating south of the ferry terminal. Infrastructure recommendations included fixing the Cromwell center, addressing bulkhead issues, improving bicycle access to/from the ferry terminal and improving overall signage and circulation centered from the ferry terminal into the larger neighborhood and the waterfront.”


TOMPKINSVILLE

Tompkinsville sits between the St. George and Stapleton neighborhoods and is the eldest inhabited area on the island. In the early days settlers used the area to gather fresh water supplies and was originally named “Water Place.” As more people moved in and the settlement expanded, in 1816 Daniel D. Tompkins was elected Vice President of a water supply station and was also serving as Governor of New York State. He then created a steamboat line connecting Lower Manhattan with the island. As traffic between the two boroughs increased a telephone line was installed. However, when the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was built in 1964 the neighborhoods saw a decline and traffic moved towards the inner parts of the island. Today, a significant population of Sri-Lankan immigrants inhabit the area. The last stop on the Staten Island Railway is at Tompkinsville which is right before the stop at the St. George ferry terminal. Everyday, ferry-bound commuters get off at Tompkinsville and walk 10 minutes to the boat to avoid paying the $2.25 fare.




ARLINGTON

Arlington is on the North Shore of Staten Island and it is a subsection of Mariner’s Harbor. It is also home to one of the last remaining wetlands of northwest Staten Island. It is considered a top priority to most people concerned about park and wildlife preservation. In fact, it is prioritized in the New York Open Space and Harbor Estuary Plans. A proposed expansion of the nearby container terminal to the Port Ivory peninsula threatens the marsh and its wildlife because it would destroy 14 acres of regulated wetland. Another proposal suggests converting the area to a city park to protect it from any hindering development. However, there has not been a definite decision for the future of the park leaving the area in limbo.
Note: The information was too limited to give a more thorough description of the area.




WORKS CITED

Avi Adinyayev, Avi, Daniel Raucher, Tina Krekoukis, and Derek Rada. “Staten Island Landfill: Fresh Kills.” Solid Waste Disposal. 2002. Web. 27 Mar. 2011.    <http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~scintech/solid/silandfill.html>.
“Historic Timeline.” Staten Island Timeline – 1900’s to the Present. Web. 06 Mar. 2011.            <http://www.statenislandhistory.com/historic-timeline.html>.
Melissa, Checker. “Staten Island’s Toxic Stew (Gotham Gazette, May 26, 2009). “Gotham Gazette – the Place for New York City Policy and Politics. 26 May 2009. Web. 06 Mar. 2011. <http://gothamgazette.com/article/20090526/255/2923>.
“North Shore, Staten Island.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 31 Aug. 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Shore,_Staten_Island>.

Hine, Charles Gilbert and William T. Davis. Legends, Stories and Folklore of Old Staten Island. New York: The Staten Island Historical Society, Feb 1925. Print.

“Port Richmond, Staten Island”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 10 March 2011. Web. April 13, 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Richmond,_Staten_Island>.

“Forgotten NY Neighborhoods”, Forgotten-ny.com. erpietri@earthlink.net. 2006. Web. April 13, 2011 <http://www.forgotten-ny.com/NEIGHBORHOODS/portrichmond/portrich2.html>.

“Mariners Harbor, Staten Island”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 3 February 2011. Web.  April 13, 2011  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariners_Harbor,_Staten_Island>.

“St. George is a neighborhood on the northeastern tip of Staten Island in NYC, where the Kill Van Kull enters the Upper New York Bay. It is the most densely developed neighborhood on Staten Island. The Staten Island terminal of the Staten Island Ferry is located here, as well as the northern terminus of the Staten Island Railway. St. George is bordered on the south by the neighborhood of Tompkinsville and on the west by the neighborhood of New Brighton.”

Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George,_Staten_Island” April 30 2011. Web.

Hine, Charles Gilbert and William T. Davis. Legends, Stories and Folklore of Old Staten Island. New York: The Staten Island Historical Society, Feb 1925. Print.

Hilton, George W., The Staten Island Ferry. Howell-North Books, Berkeley CA 1964. Print.

North Shore Land use and Transportation Study: Open House Summary, November 3 and 4 2010.  Web. April 30th 2011. http://www.nycedc.com/NewsPublications/Studies/StatenIslandNorthShoreStudy/Documents/SI_NS_Open_House_Summary.pdf.

A Brief History of Richmond County, Staten Island. Web. 20 Mar. 2011
<http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyrichmo/background.shtml>.

JEFF, VANDAM. “NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: STATEN ISLAND UP CLOSE; Forget the Free Lunch. They Discovered the Free Ride.” New York Times 27 June 2004: 6. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.

Schwartz, Anne. Saving Arlington Marsh. Gotham Gazette. Web. 20 Mar. 2011
<http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20071030/14/2333>.

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