“One Davis…”

“One Davis…”

October 12, 2018 was the 155th anniversary of the birth of William T. Davis, a man who was the consummate naturalist and historian. He became an expert in insects, particularly the periodical cicada.

Local history was another passion of “one Davis” as he often called himself. His documentary skills as a photographer have assisted generations of Staten Islanders to see a window into at least four decades of the island’s past, since the visual record of photographs he amassed contain an amazing array of flora, fauna and history.

William T. Davis, early 1900s.

A prolific writer, Mr. Davis authored more than 90 articles for the “Proceedings” of the Staten Island Museum, an organization he founded with thirteen other men interested in the study of science, nature and history. The list of articles he penned included “The Cruser-Pelton House and Its Owners, Do Not Burn the Woods, Bitten by a Rattlesnake, How to Cook the Extinct Wild Pigeon, “and “Staten Island Caves.” This is a short list of the articles he penned, but it gives a sense of the diversity of subject matter that interested the man. Mr. Davis also wrote articles for the “Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society, the Journal of the New York Entomological Society, Scientific American,” and “The Plant World.”

In addition, William T. Davis authored “The Conference or Billopp House, Staten Island” (1926). He co-authored the “Church of Saint Andrew” with Charles W. Leng and Royden Vosburgh (1925) and “Legends, Stories, and Folklore of Old Staten Island: The North Shore” with Charles G. Hine (1925).

Mr. Davis and Mr. Leng were the co-authors of the five-volume series “Staten Island and Its People,” the foremost resource for local history researchers. The trio of Davis, Leng, and Vosburgh also gave us the phenomenal “Staten Island Gravestone Inscriptions,” which go by a number of names including the “Vosburgh Records.”

“Days Afield on Staten Island,” 1992.

Mr. Davis’ most lyrical publication was “Days Afield on Staten Island,” an unforgettable volume first published in 1892, with a second edition issued in 1938, and a 1992 printing that celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first publication. In Davis’ own bucolic style, the book commemorates both the natural and historical worlds of his island home–Staten Island—in and around 1892. An article on the book appeared in the “Staten Islander” of July 6th of that year. The article noted “it is all told in a quiet, kindly way that attracts and holds one; and the facts that are interwoven with the narrative are so cleverly concealed…”

January 22, 1945 was a dark day for the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences. It was on this day, in the old Staten Island Hospital on Castleton Avenue, that William T. Davis passed away after a six-month illness. Locally revered and nationally prominent, he had, in addition to being a great naturalist and historian, “an unselfish devotion” to Staten Island.

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