Ask the Historian: Post Your Staten Island Questions

Monday, August 09, 2010

Ever heard of the Pig, Peach or Whisky Wars? Do you know where the British massed their troops while preparing to attack New York City during the American Revolution?

All this week, WNYC is collecting your questions about Staten Island (or Staaten Eylandt, as the Dutch called it) and posing them to Staten Island borough historian, Thomas Matteo.

Check back here to see his answers and learn more about New York City's least populous borough.


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Comments [31]

Michael McGrath from Ireland

Have just come across the Staten Island 350th anniversary. I'm a native of Charleville, Co. Cork, Ireland and we are also celebrating our 350th anniversary having been founded by Roger Boyle or Lord Broghill on the 29th May 1661. Boyle named our town "Charleville" in honour of King Charles II of England. The name of the town in the Irish language is An Rath but Charleville prevails as the name for the town. We send fraternal greetings to the people of Staten Island on their anniversary and wish them well for the future. They are also in our thoughts and prayers at this time as they remember the dead of 9/11.
Michael McGrath,
Charleville, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland.

Aug. 28 2011 08:12 AM
Kathleen Murray

My aunt remembers a ski jump on Staten Island. In your research have you ever come across any mention of this?

Mar. 09 2011 08:20 AM
Kevin Loughman

I have photos of my grandfather, family, and several others at South Beach in c.1910. My grandfather is depicted with several other men posing next to their life boat. They were members of the U.S. Vol. Life Saving Corp. Where can I get more info on that specific organization?

Thanks, Kevin

Jan. 20 2011 08:57 PM
Ashley Courtien from Woodrow rd

Mr. Matteo,

You are no easy man to get in touch with. I have left you e-mails and messages at your office. I have something very interesting to tell you and I think you may be very interested in it. Please reach out to me.

Dec. 07 2010 02:36 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo:


There is a great book that I think you would enjoy. It is called Staten Island I Didn't Know That! It covers the topics you mentioned and a great deal more.

Aug. 13 2010 01:59 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo:


The Totten family was a prominent family and today's Tottenville (the southern most part of New York State) was named in their honor. Four generations of the family lived on Staten Island. They were farmers, weavers, craftsmen, oystermen and maritime tradesmen. They owned a great deal of land on Staten Island.

Aug. 13 2010 01:58 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo:

Andrew Warren

Happyland opened in 1906 at a cost of $200,000. 30,000 people attended the opening on June 30, 1906. Known for its elaborate pageants and large pool. Large crowds did not prevent the park from declaring bankruptcy in 1910. The final demise was in 1917 when the park was destroyer by fire. Gondola rides and shows at Happyland were known as Carnival of Venice.

Aug. 13 2010 01:55 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo:

Dorothy Lorenz

The oldest building on Staten Island and the second oldest house in New York City, the Voorleser's house (1696) has been preserved and is part of Historic Richmond Town.

Aug. 13 2010 01:52 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo

E.F Slattery

The Chinese Gardens are not part of the Smithsonian. The Gardens are still part of and operated by Snug Harbor. The Smithsonian has a separate agreement with the Habor that does not involve the Gardens.

As for the saliors are concerned, it ran into hard times during the depression and the final blow came in 1970, when Snug Harbor was required to conform to health codes for nursing homes. Unable to afford the multi-million dollar renovation required, the trustees decided to sell the property and relocate to Sea Level, N.C.

Aug. 13 2010 01:51 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo:

Jennifer Houlton

The only remaining beach colony is Cedar Grove Beach. It is southwest of New Dorp and Miller Field.

Aug. 13 2010 01:32 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo:

R from Staten Island

It was not actually decided until about 1834. It had to do with conflicting land grants and numerous land sales by the native Indians. A bi-state commission reviewed all the documents and made a recommendations to both state legislatures. They approved the Commission's recommendations and Congress who drew the final boundaries.

Aug. 13 2010 01:30 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo:

Chris O'Hare

Rossville originally known as (Old) Blazing Star (named for a tavern baring its emblem) was named in honor of Colonel William E. Ross about 1837. It was the location of a ferry service between Staten Island and New Brunswick.

Aug. 13 2010 01:29 PM
WNYC Newsroom

From Thomas Matteo:

James Murphy
Ship building was a very big part of Staten Island life. It was a thriving industry all along the north shore, all the way to and including Tottenville. One of the islands off the north shore is Shooter's Island. It played a prominent role during both World War. One of the most famous ships built there was the yacht Meteor built for Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm. The yacht was christened by Alice Roosevelt; whose father President Theodore Roosevelt attended the ceremony along with Prince Henry of Prussia, the Kaiser’s brother.

Aug. 13 2010 01:28 PM
C. Nakhla from Bulls Head, Staten Island

From where did the neighborhood Bulls Head get its name?

Aug. 13 2010 11:45 AM
James Murphy from Stapleton

How prevalent was the shipbuilding/sailmaking trade on Staten Island? Where was the highest concentration of these enterprises or most notable examples?

Aug. 11 2010 05:27 PM
Chris O'Hare from Rossvillle section of Staten Island, NY

Who is Rossville named after

Aug. 11 2010 02:33 PM
John from Fanwood, NJ

Can I ask one more? Neighbors across the street were members of the Dutch Reform Church on Richmond Avenue near the Terrace. It was a very old congregation, and had one of the oldest cemeteries on Staten Island. There was a rumor that old graves were paved over when Richmond avenue was improved. True or untrue?

Aug. 11 2010 11:46 AM
John from Fanwood, NJ

I left the Island for New Jersey 25 years ago, but my parents (dad’s 91 & mom’s 89) still live in the Graniteville house I grew up in, and I visit every week.

When I was a child in the ‘50s, I attended CYO summer camp in Port Richmond. We had camping trips and walks through the woods and the beach in Annadale, which was virtually uninhabited back then. I remember seeing fire plugs and some curbing in the woods, but no streets. I remember being told that they were installed for a projected land development in the 1930s that never happened. Do you know anything about land developement in the South Shore at that time? Annadale certainly has changed since then.

Aug. 11 2010 11:16 AM

What would you say the single most interesting/beautiful spot is on Staten Island-that most be visited at least once by a confirmed Manhattanite?

Aug. 11 2010 08:47 AM
Gaye Leslie

Mr. Matteo sd so little during his i/view. I've been here 45 yrs (mostly Bkln), still love touristing! He did not mention there's a gt Visitors' Center IN the terminal; if office closed, there's a screen at each end of the 2 hge fish tanks, you can select your topic, and find a place to do, see, eat (too many pizza parlors); I'll metion just one: Alice Austen House, lawns to the water, old house, gt photographer, social reformer, amazing woman. Where's the SEND button for this comment?

Aug. 10 2010 10:07 PM
R from SI from Staten Island

Why is Staten Island part of New York? It is geographically closer to New Jersey. You can almost draw a line through the narrows.

Also, could you speak to F L Olmstead's involvement with Staten Island.

Aug. 10 2010 07:08 PM
James P. Sarlo from Staten Island

Is any effort being made to preserve the Purdy Inn in Prince's Bay? The Inn was buildt in ca. 1760., and was used by the British during The Revolutionary War. The structure is currently abandoned, and I would like to know if it will, or can be saved?

Aug. 10 2010 06:23 PM
James P. Sarlo from Staten Island

What happened to the Revolutionary War cannon that once stood in front of the Billop House, e.g. Conference House????

Aug. 10 2010 05:27 PM
Jennifer Houlton-Vinyl from Manhatta

Where is the "beach colony" please?

Aug. 10 2010 04:56 PM
dorothy lorenz

when i was in second grade I had the pleasure of studying staten island. but i was wondering what is the oldest artifact on/from staten island.

Aug. 09 2010 08:41 PM
E. F. Slattery from Astoria, NY

I loved exploring Snug Harbor Gardens a couple of weeks ago, especially the Chinese Scholar's Garden. Can you explain how the Gardens came to be part of the Smithsonian, and how/when it passed from being a retirement home for sailors to a cultural center? Thanks!

Aug. 09 2010 07:03 PM
andrew warren from New Jersey

I'd like to learn more about the Happy Land amusement park. When was it started. Who owned it. Was it destroyed by a fire?

Aug. 09 2010 06:55 PM
Suzanne from Manhattan

I have had the pleasure of seeing one of America's finest early (1835) quilts on display at Historic Richmond Town. It is a Lone Star with spectacular applique made by a Miss or Mrs. Totten. I understand they were a prominent family in Staten Island. Can you tell us something about them?

Aug. 09 2010 03:00 PM
Ed from Stapleton

Leslie's History of Greater New York (published in 1898) described the NorthShore of Staten Island this way: “All the way from the forts through Clifton, Stapleton and then around the Heights and Fort George[sic] through New Brighton, Port Richmond and beyond, Staten Island has already the characteristics of one continuous city.’ Among other urban accoutrements around that time, St. George had a major league baseball team (the original New York Mets) and a few decades later an NFL franchise played in Stapleton where numerous movie palaces , (such as the still existing Paramount theater) stood. How (and why) has the urban history of Staten Island been forgotten?

Aug. 09 2010 02:57 PM
L. Egan from St. George, SI

I understand Staten Island street addresses, at various times, have been renumbered.
Is there a reference or document that tabulates this renumbering?

Aug. 09 2010 01:02 PM
progressive from Staten Island

Was the Frederick Douglass cemetery in Staten Island established for burials of people of African origin due to racially exclusionary policies of many other cemeteries?

Aug. 09 2010 04:59 AM

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