New York City is famed the world over for many things. From the towering architectural marvels on the island of Manhattan, to the Statue of Liberty standing proud and tall, almost each district of New York City has some fascinating history behind it. And of course, who could ever talk about New York without mentioning the world-renowned Times Square District. Suffice to say, New York is a melting pot of fascination for men of all trades; from architects to urban landscape photographers. New York has something to offer to all.
On the topic of New York’s districts and boroughs having interesting history we also Staten Island. Located in the Southwest, Staten Island is currently the least populated borough of New York but is also the third-largest when it comes to size. Famed for its working-class residents and its scenic beaches, Staten Island has a lot more to it than meets the eye. A tradition shared by many of New York’s other boroughs and districts as well.
A Little About Staten Island
Staten Island, third largest borough of New York, measures in at 58.5 square miles (or 152 km2). Staten Island is separated from New Jersey by the Kill Van Kull and the Arthur Kill tidal straits. The New York Bay separates the rest of Staten Island from New York itself. According to a recent estimate in 2018, Staten Island’s population came out at around 476,179.
The North Shore of the island is the most urban part of Staten Island, whereas the East Shore contains the fourth largest boardwalk in the world. The West Shore of the island is the least populated bit; mostly taken up by industry. And finally, the South Shore is mostly suburban in nature.
The First Civilizations On Staten Island
There is evidence of human civilization on Staten Island dating as far back as 14,000 years ago. Tools and other items recovered hint at the Clovis Culture having been prominent on the island back then. The prevailing theory nowadays is that the island was shortly abandoned later on due to local extinctions of large mammals. Concrete evidence of Native American civilization dates as far back as 5,000 years ago, in addition to evidence of agriculture. However, evidence of Archaic Civilization (civilizations settled by early varieties of the Homo class before the emergence of the modern Homo Sapiens) is found around the island too.
Staten Island had its first encounter with the Europeans in the year 1520, when Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian explorer, sailed through The Narrows and anchored there for a night. Around that time Staten Island was inhabited by the Raritan Band of the Unami division of the Lenape. Then, in the year 1609, an English explorer by the name of Henry Hudson sailed into the Upper New York Bay. The island got its first “official” name from the Dutch: Staaten Eylandt. This “replaced” the Lenape name of “Aquehonga Manacknong”, which meant “as far as the place of the bad woods”. Staten Island did not see a permanent Dutch settlement for quite some time, as every attempt resulted in conflict between the Dutch and the local tribe.
The first permanent Dutch settlement on Staten Island came around in the year 1661. Established at Oude Dorp (Old Village), the settlement saw great immigration from French Protestants fleeing the religious wars back in France. In the years 1641 and 1642, Oude Dorp was attacked by Native American tribes who ended up dealing a lot of damage and death to the settlement. Oude Dorp, or some part of it at least, remains today as the neighborhood named Old Town.
The Following Century
In 1667, New Netherland was handed over to England, and Staaten Eylandt came to be known by its anglicized name; Staten Island. After being given over to the English, Staten Island became part of the colony of New York. Three years later in the year 1670, the local Native American tribes gave up all ownership of the island, and Staten Island was fully placed under the leadership of the English. The following year of 1671 saw expansions along the South shore. As the new lots were settled by Dutch families, the neighborhood got the name Nieuwe Dorp (New Village). Later on the neighborhood would be known as New Dorp.
When in the year of 1683 the colony of New York was divided into ten counties, Staten Island – in addition to a few neighboring islands without anything of note – was designated as Richmond County. In the years 1687 and 1688, the island was divided into four divisions by the English based on natural features of the island. These divisions were later known as the four towns of Northfield, Westfield, Castleton, and Southfield. These towns were all dissolved in the year 1898, when Staten Island was incorporated into New York City.
In the year 1698, the island’s population was at 727. As the government started granting land patents in rectangular blocks measuring 80 acres each, the entire island ended up being divided like this. By the year 1708 Staten Island had 166 small farms as well as two manorial estates. By 1771, the island’s population was calculated at 2,847.
Staten Island During The 18th Century
The 18th Century was famous for the American Revolution, which ended up with the independence and formation of the United States of America. Contrary to the mindset most commonly found in other colonies, Staten Island’s residents were strong supporters of the Crown. This resulted in the islanders being called “our most inveterate enemies” by General George Washington. Staten Island was the only country in New York that did not send a representative to the First Continental Congress. This resulted in other towns boycotting business with Staten Island in the coming months.
Over a 140 British ships under Sir William Howe arrived during the Summer of 1776 and anchored off the shores of Staten Island. Sir William Howe established his headquarters in New Dorp, and it was there the British representatives received the first notification of the Declaration of Independence.
After some back and forth warring between the British forces and the Americans, Staten Island saw a major battle on the 22nd of August, 1777. This would later be known as the Battle of Staten Island. The battle, which saw the British forces pitted against 2nd Canadian Regiment and other American companies, ended with the Americans withdrawing. June of 1780 saw Wilhelm von Knyphausen lead raids into New Jersey from Staten Island. Wilhelm aimed to defeat George Washington, but ultimately his advance was halted.
Staten Island remained under British occupation longer than any other county from the Thirteen Colonies. British forces remained on Staten Island until the end of the war, which meant that, even though the island majorly supported the Crown, it found it hard to keep up with the demands of the British troops. The British demolished many buildings, including churches, for resources and even extremely deforested the island.
The 19th Century
For the abolishment of slavery in the state of New York, celebrations were held on the 4th of July, 1827, at the Swan Hotel in the West Brighton neighborhood of Staten Island. In 1858 the island became known for the Staten Island Quarantine War. And in the year 1860, parts of the towns of Castleton and Southfield were made into a new town; Middletown. In 1898, all the towns on Staten Island were dissolved as the island got incorporated into New York City.
The 20th Century And Onwards
Thanks to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in addition to the three major Staten Island bridges, the island’s population increased significantly and the island saw extensive residential and commercial development. In the 1980’s Staten Island had a United States Navy base. It was later closed in 1994 through the Base Realignment and Closure process. Opened in 1947, Fresh Kills Landfill was once upon a time the world’s largest man-made structure. The landfill was closed in 2001, though it was temporarily reopened shortly after for debris from the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. Today, the landfill is being converted into a park.
New York City and its boroughs never fail to disappoint when it comes to historical value. Each nook and cranny of this great city is just oozing rich history and cultural development. Staten Island is just one of the many, many amazing historical stories buried away in New York City’s streets and alleys.