Staten Island Histories—Now This is Exciting!!!

Lest you think the histories of Staten Island are reading solutions for insomniacs, try again… The information found in these publications will titillate all readers. Endless material on fascinating folks, events, and occurrences that will assist all researchers as well as those with a simple interest in island history can be found.

One of the first volumes on island history was edited, not written by, but edited by Richard Bayles. Published in 1887, it was dubbed “History of Richmond County, (Staten Island) New York, From its Discovery to the Present Times.” In the introduction Mr. Bayles notes just who contributed to the book. They included some of my personal favorites including Dr. Nathaniel Lord Britton, Dr. Arthur Hollick, and William T. Davis. Governor G.D.S. Trask (of Sailors’ Snug Harbor) and Ira K. Morris were also involved. Bayles notes that John J. Clute’s “Annals of Staten Island” and “Anthon’s Notes” were referred to for consultation. “Anthon’s Notes” is now not well known, probably because it is an odd combination of writings and notations made by Professor Charles Anthon who lived on Staten Island from approximately 1850 until 1854. He was a professor at Columbia College. The bits and pieces that were compiled can be consulted in the Archives of the Staten Island Museum. Suffice to say they are a collection worthy of their own blog.

George W

Staten Island resident George W. Curtis from Bayles’ “History of Richmond County,” 1887.

Mr. Bayle’s history is a wonderful resource. Commencing with a description of the island and followed by a discussion of local natural history, the book sails along from Native Americans, to the arrival of Europeans, to the Revolutionary War and onward and upward through government, old families, churches, associations, transportation, industrialization and similar such categories relevant to the island’s formation and evolution. Considering that it was published in 1887, there are a surprising number of illustrations—approximately ninety can be found across this 741-page volume. Several illustrations depict the fabulous mansions of long ago. Here is “Tower Hill,” the one-time Port Richmond home of Jenny Faber.  They simply do not build them like this anymore and it is sad to say that this gem is gone.

Home Jenny Faber PT Richmond fr Bayles 1887

“Tower Hill” from Bayles’ “History of Richmond County,” 1887.

Located on the north side of the Shore Road (now Richmond Terrace) this stunning manse overlooked the Kill Van Kull. Imagine standing in one of those tower windows and gazing at the boats floating along the river! It should be noted that even though “Tower Hill” is gone, former Faber properties are now home to Faber Park.

All of the Staten Island histories hold ample information on old families, hence they are relished by both amateur and professional genealogists. The Bedell, Decker, Haughwout (one of my favorite Staten Island names), Journeay, Lockman, Merrell, Mersereau, Van Duzer, Sequine, Sharrott, Slaight, Van Name, Van der Bilt, and a host of other families can be found in the Bayle’s book, as well as in Staten Island and Its People. This five volume series not only has two books devoted to local history, there are three additional books featuring an array of biographies.

Staten Island and Its People was written by Charles W. Leng and William T. Davis. The series was published between 1930 and 1933. It continues to be The Bible of Staten Island history. While it has an index that does it no justice, it is worth the search time to find the information being sought. In Volume two on page 1002 you will find the recollections of Felix Oldboy (an oxymoron of a name if ever there was one) from the Evening Post of March 26, 1887. In it he writes of visiting Staten Island during his childhood. Stating that the island “was fifty years behind the social status of the metropolis,” he noted that he mainly visited the “interior.” He does not name the time period, but it appears to have been prior to 1850. Oldboy writes:

“Fresh Kill was a term of general application then, applied to a country through which salt water kills flowed, no fresh water kills being known there. Henry Boehm’s school-house and old Mr. Beedle’s mill were the two central points of interest. Mr. Boehm never spared the rod, and his school exhibitions at the court-house in Richmond were always dramatic marvels to the natives. Old Mr. Beedle [Bedell of course] used to delight me with stories of the times when he peddled apples and nuts in the British camp on Staten Island and of the hard winter in which King George’s soldiers marched across New York Bay to the city, on the ice, dragging their artillery with them… [Think Revolutionary War!] I felt myself a hero, invariably, when I reached Fresh Kill, for the people in that quiet neighborhood seldom went to the city, and had a wholesome dread of its dark ways…”[i]

Now here is some fabulous news in case you have not heard. Staten Island and Its People, as well as several other priceless manuscripts, can now be consulted online. If you have not already discovered them here are their websites. Just click on each of the items below to be taken to their website:

Staten Island and Its People

History of Richmond County, Staten Island, New York

Morris’ Memorial History of Staten Island by Ira K. Morris, Volume One

Volume Two

For a copy of Annals of Staten Island by John J. Clute contact the Gift Shop of Historic Richmond Town or call 718-351-1611. The book is still in print and it is a great reference for family historians.

These are the older histories of Staten Island. Today we can access or purchase a number of recently published books that focus on Staten Island. These include:

Tottenville: The Town the Oyster Built and Staten Island Scenery by Barnett Shepherd

Made on Staten Island by Charles Sachs

A Walk Through Moravian Cemetery by Richard Simpson a new book that can be purchased by writing to cemeteryguy@earthlink.net

Morabook2inch

Life is good. Enjoy it with books 🙂

Sincere thanks to Gina Sacco.

Copyright 2016 by Patricia M. Salmon

[i] Leng, Charles W. and William T. Davis, Staten Island and Its People, Volume 2, 1930.

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