Manic About Staten Island Maps

Manic About Staten Island Maps

I am a maniac—a map maniac. To me there is nothing finer than a well executed old map—the older the better! Even more exciting is an antique atlas. There are other people like me. You know who you are and I know some of you. Then again I know people who absolutely despise maps. I am also aware that mapquest and similar online services are destroying, well that is a strong word, perhaps I should say “not encouraging” a love of maps. I have heard that there are young people who cannot read a hand held map in this day of computers. They cannot even plot a trip using a map. And why would they? Mapquest will do it. Actually mapquest is considered antiquated by some. Now there is something called a Garmin—an intrusive chattering device that spews out commands and directions non-stop, for better or for worse, as we travel by car. What an invasion! It should be noted that the Garmin is practically old fashioned. The smart phone in your purse or pocket will tell you where you are going and when you will arrive. Need a rest stop? Want a hamburger? It is all right there on the cell phone. But really there is nothing more enjoyable than a crisply folded paper map or a, now here is a forgotten antique: a gazetteer. If you know what a gazetteer is chances are you are over the age of forty. Be proud these are tools from a bygone era and you know how to utilize them!

I have to say I have enjoyed several truly magnificent maps during my life. There is one in particular that actually takes my breath away. It is the 1859 Wallings map of Richmond County. Not only does it display roads, ferry landings, and villages, there are detailed vignettes of prominent houses and estates from that time period. In addition, now this is major, there are actual listings for hotels, doctors, breweries, and even black smiths.

Two men of history and nature prepared the premiere map of our borough. Entitled “Map of Staten Island with Ye Olde Names & Nicknames” this local treasure came out in 1896. It astounds all who view it. The map portion was created by Charles W. Leng, a man of many talents who was a beetle expert, Staten Island Borough Historian, and bicycle maker. The “nickname” documentation was carried out by author, naturalist, and historian William T. Davis. Mr. Davis actually went afield to interview old timers about historic names of villages, brooks, islands, peninsulas, roads, springs, and much more. His studies allow us to know that Greenridge was once called Kleine Kills and Marshland, and that Bulls Head was called London Bridge or Pheonixville. Mr. Leng and Mr. Davis were cognizant that future generations might not have access to this information so they researched and archived these facts. When the map was published the duo also wrote the booklet “Staten Island Names—Ye Olde Names and Nicknames.” For only fifty-cents the purchaser received the map and the booklet which was filled with seventy four pages of descriptive details on brooks, roads, springs, meadows, fields, valleys, kills, creeks, coves, reefs, rocks, shoals, hills, settlements and more! From these informative publications we find that Rockland Avenue was once called Petticoat Lane because a petticoat was found abandoned on the road. What a scandal! We see that a Mr. Abraham Jones must have led an interesting life. Just north of this lane is an area dubbed “Jones Wolf -pit”! It seems that Jones dug out a cavity, covered it with sticks and leaves, and then attached meat to an overhanging branch with the result that a wolf would jump for the tasty morsel, fall through the branches, and become trapped in the void. Wolves were not admired by farmers. They killed livestock. Oftentimes bounties were offered for the remains of these predators in order to remove them permanently.

Maps allow us to look into the past, they aide in describing the people who once lived and the events that occurred. There are those among us who fear maps. They should not since they are preserved pathways into our shared community history that allow us to learn and also read, see, and understand the fascinating historical narratives that have been preserved about Staten Island.

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10 Comments

  1. Dean Curry
    Jul 14, 2015

    Is it possible to see the Maps you discussed and or the accompanying Booklet of Nicknames , Etc.

    Best regards,
    Dean

    • Patricia Salmon
      Jul 15, 2015

      Hello Dean. Good to hear from you! Ye Olde Names and Nicknames is online at archive.org. The link is:

      https://archive.org/details/statenislandname00davi

      The 1856 Wallings map is on the wall of the Archives at Snug Harbor while the Ye Old Names and Nicknames map can also be viewed at the Archives. At one time is was available for sale. As far as I know it was not reprinted. Unfortunately, neither is online but there are plenty of other SI maps if you do a google search.

      All the best Dean,
      Pat

  2. Cheryl
    Jul 14, 2015

    Hi Pat,
    I’m so happy to see that your website is up and running so you can impart knowledge of Staten Island on many more people. This “native islander” is absolutely delighted with all that you’ve researched, discovered and selflessly shared with your audiences everywhere. Continued success my friend! Cheryl

    • Patricia Salmon
      Jul 15, 2015

      As always thank you Cheryl! We have to add the history of Greeks on Staten Island to this website.

      • Cheryl
        Jul 19, 2015

        It would be my pleasure.

        • Patricia Salmon
          Jul 19, 2015

          Fabulous. I will contact you the week after next. Fun stuff!

  3. Janet M. Corcillo
    Aug 28, 2015

    I have been reading some of your back posts, thanks to Richard, the Cemetery Guy and I find them most interesting. However, I noted that in your Oysterman discussions, you missed the family Simonson, who were quite active Oystermen. I also am impressed, working through Ancestry especially to follow all the Oystermen down to Virginia as the oyster seasons changed. They had homes and families there,too and I was also interested in the Black oystermen with them, especially in the De Hart s.
    I am looking forward to seeing more of your posts.
    Good Job, Janet C

  4. Kim Kowalczyk
    Oct 28, 2015

    It is sad that the way of the hand held map is long gone. I remember when you could stop by any gas station and ask for a map and get one for free. Even as kids we would go to the corner gas station to get maps of the island. That’s how we learned to get around the island. Even the family cars glove compartment was full of maps. Maps that were so intricately folded, that they could only be described as the Rubiks cube of yesterday. lol
    Internet maps are good for research while at home but a computer is difficult to fold and put in your pocket when you are on the go.

    • Patricia Salmon
      Oct 28, 2015

      I agree Kim. Personally, I can’t even read a map on a cell phone! When time allows I love studying an old map and I have to admit there was a time when I loved stockpiling them during road trips. The way things are going there will be no “old” maps for future historians although I have to say one rest area on I-80 heading east just west of The Gap still distributes maps. Rock on NJ!

  5. Jaynee Gravino
    Oct 28, 2015

    Hi. I grew up in the area of Bradley Avenue when I was very young (8-9) my neighbor who at the time was in her 80’s told me that the area at the intersection of Bradley and Brielle was known as Nanny Goat Hill as there were farms that raised goats and they were always out eating the grassy hillside

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