Why is Staten Island part of NYC

New York also has to sleep sometimes

Staten Island lives happily as the stepchild of the Metropolis

Text and photos: Axel Pinck

If you are not looking for a ferry at the pier of St. George in the north of Staten Island and can see the skyscrapers of the metropolis in the distance, you can hardly believe that you are in the same city that is out of Times Square and the world the canyons around Fifth Avenue seems to exist.

James McBratney is a Staten Islander by birth and by conviction. “My parents come from here, and so do all four grandparents,” emphasizes the tall Irish-born innkeeper who, regardless of his origins, runs a traditional Italian pizza place. His “Jimmy Max” is usually fully booked at lunchtime and in the evening. His classic is a pizza with thin dough, tomato sauce and basil. "There's no better place in New York either," says James, and of course he means Manhattan. Its skyline is less than nine kilometers away.

View of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry

Of the more than eight million inhabitants of the megapolis, not even half a million live in Staten Island. The hilly island is 22 km long and up to 12 km wide and is almost three times the size of Manhattan. Before the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, inaugurated in 1964, established a connection to Brooklyn, the island had barely half of the current population. Until then, drivers from Manhattan could only reach Staten Island with a detour via New Jersey or in the belly of the orange-red ships of the Staten Island Ferry.

20 million guests per year

The city ferry line recently celebrated its 100th birthday. As early as 1713, private predecessors sailed with passengers and cargo on the nearly eight and a half kilometers long route across Upper New York Bay. Born in the Staten Islander and later railroad and shipping tycoon "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt established his fabulous wealth at the age of 16 when he started a transport service from his home island to Manhattan around 1810, which he later expanded into a regular ferry service. In 1817 the age of steamships began with the “Nautilus”. And since 1905 the ferry boats, initially painted white and since 1926 in bright orange, have been plowing across the bay. The ships operate around the clock and make an astonishing 33,000 passages a year with a total of almost 20 million guests on board.

Staten Island Ferry

The tour has been free of charge for pedestrians and cyclists since 1997, and cars have not been transported since the September 2001 attacks. After the passage cost 5 cents for the first 70 years, the ferry price was increased to 25 cents in 1975. When the city administration doubled it to 50 cents in 1990, a storm of indignation broke out. The arguments did not want to calm down. Finally, civic groups prepared a constitutional lawsuit because Staten Island was the only New York borough that could only be left after paying a fee. The Verrazano motorway bridge to Brooklyn and the three bridges to New Jersey are not free of charge, but pay a toll.

The drive from Whitehall Ferry Terminal on the southern tip of Manhattan to the newly designed St. George Terminal in the far north of Staten Island takes just under half an hour. After an accident with a dozen dead in October 2003, when the ferry steamer Andrew J. Barberi sped into port unchecked, a very modern pier was built, flanked by a memorial for the victims of the attack on the Manhattan Twin Towers. Right next to it, in the season from June to September, almost 7,000 baseball fans fill the stadium for the games of the Staten Island Yankees, a professional minor league team.

9/11 Memorial

For tourists and many New Yorkers, the free round trip with the Staten Island Ferry to the island and back is a popular sightseeing trip. After dropping off in Manhattan, the skyscrapers of the Financial District are rapidly shrinking. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island pass to starboard, the ship passes Governors Island with the historic fortifications of Fort Jay and Castle Williams on port. At the piers and terminals of the New York harbor in Brooklyn and Jersey City, cargo ships from all over the world unload their cargo, and bulk goods, containers and cars are handled. Before the boat swings in to the ferry terminal on Staten Island, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge can be seen further south. The 1311 m long suspension bridge spans the confluence of the Hudson River in the Atlantic Ocean.

Of sailors and conquerors

The Italian navigator Giovanni Verrazano is said to have anchored in the Narrows Passage between what is now Brooklyn and Staten Island in 1524 when he was looking for a sea route to the Pacific Ocean on behalf of the French King Francis I. As the first European he discovered the islands of Manhattan, Long Island and Staten Island, on which Lenape and Tappan Indians lived, members of the Delaware nation. Henry Hudson, the English navigator and adventurer, was the next European to be seen in the coastal waters in 1609. In the service of the Dutch East India Company, it was also looking for the Northwest Passage, an abbreviation to the markets and treasures of Asia. The elongated island north of the Narrows he baptized Lange Eylandt, the southern one was named States Eylandt, in honor of the Dutch Parliament, the States General of the United Dutch Provinces. The Dutch founded a settlement on what is now Governors Island in 1620. Six years later, their leader Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the Indians for goods worth 60 guilders, and in 1630 he also acquired States of Eylandt for a shipment of cotton fabrics, axes, awls, jaw harps and hoes.

The second Anglo-Dutch naval war for supremacy on the world's seas ended in 1667 with the Peace of Breda. The Dutch renounced their colony New Amsterdam, today's New York, and instead were able to consolidate their claims in tropical Suriname. The state of Eylandt became Staten Island. A good 100 years later, the British gathered their colonial troops on the island in order to lead them from here against the rebellious Americans. On September 11, 1776, the British Vice Admiral Lord Howe on Staten Island offered a delegation of the American National Congress led by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Ruthledge impunity if they ended their revolt against the British king and withdrew the recently adopted Declaration of Independence. But to no avail, the American Revolution continued. The civil war with the southern states, almost another 100 years later, then robbed the island of its ferries, and the Union requisitioned it as a troop transport. In 1898, with the founding of the "City of Greater New York", Staten Island and the associated Richmond County lost their independence. They were incorporated as the fifth "Borough" of New York.

Non-professional actors in period costume in Historic Richmond Town

Historic Richmond Town, located in the middle of the island, takes visitors into the history of Staten Island. Two dozen buildings of the former administrative center of Richmond County are part of an extensive open-air museum that preserves the atmosphere and living conditions between the 18th and 19th centuries. In the warm season, amateur actors in historical costumes populate farm buildings, shops, workshops, houses and the former district court. They weave baskets, spin yarn, forge tin cans or bake cookies over an open fire and involve visitors in conversations about the old times between the war of independence and the civil war.

Baking cookies over an open fireplace

The Snug Harbor Cultural Center on the north coast is a different chapter in Staten Island's history with a conglomerate of 26 buildings dating from 1830 to the late 19th century. At the same time, it is a symbol of the island's rapid development from the 1960s, which followed the opening of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the connection to the rest of New York. Many seafarers, emaciated from hard work on board, spent their twilight years here. After the retirement home was relocated to southern North Carolina in 1972 for cost reasons, the buildings erected in the Greek Revival, Italianate, Art Deco and Victorian styles were rededicated. There is a maritime museum, a center for contemporary art, various galleries and artist studios and the wonderfully restored "Music Hall" from 1892 with 700 seats - the second oldest theater and concert hall in New York after Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. In the former chapel of Snug Harbor Cemetery, the dead are still remembered, but no longer dead sailors, but the 270 Staten Islanders who fell victim to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The "Chinese Scholar Garden" in praise of poetry and the fine arts, which Chinese artists and craftsmen from Jiangsu Province designed in 1999 in the tradition of the Ming dynasty of the 14th century, is one of the special attractions in the 34 hectare park area Snug Harbor.

Chinese Scholar Garden

Even if the number of Staten Islanders has doubled in the last 40 years, the island has remained a suburban idyll. Box hedges separate the front gardens of the individual houses from one another. Colorful flags are stuck in the lawns. "Stars and Stripes" pennants document patriotic awareness. But New York, "the city that never sleeps" doesn't make a particularly lively impression here. In between, green spaces attract the residential areas again and again. One seventh of Staten Island is covered by parks and natural areas. Even on the "Fresh Kills Landfill", a huge garbage dump in the west of the island that had patiently swallowed the rubbish from New York for over 50 years and was reopened in 2001 for the rubble mountains of the World Trade Center, landscape planners are designing a wet biotope with hills, marshes and Pools where herons and other water birds should feel comfortable.

Rural street scene in Staten Island

Italy in New York

In the more densely populated north of the island, with a high proportion of the population of Italian descent, mom sometimes sits on a chair in front of the front door and cleans the vegetables. Statues of the Madonna at crossroads are supposed to give consolation and at the same time protect road users. The density of Italian restaurants and bars is enormous. Cars under the Italian national colors are repaired in small workshops, even if the owner drives a Mercedes himself - no wonder that the Hollywood classic "The Godfather" found ideal locations on Staten Island. The Garibaldi-Meucci Museum commemorates the short stay of the Italian national hero and freedom fighter Antonio Garibaldi on Staten Island, who spent a few months here after the death of his wife Anita in 1850 and then plunged back into the Italian struggle for unification.

Even if the times are over when Staten Island led a life in a rural idyll isolated from the rest of New York, the fifth district remains for most New Yorkers the "Staten Island Mystery", an enigmatic quiet oasis without the "hassle and buzzle" the metropolis. Despite the four bridges to New Jersey and Brooklyn and the tireless ferry that has been traveling for 100 years, many of the differences between the rest of the city and its “forgotten borough” have not disappeared. James McBratney, the Irish-born pizza chef, in whose restaurant, of course, hamburgers are also served, knows one of the sharpest contradictions: “In Manhattan,” he explains with a disdainful smile, “you actually only serve burgers with ketchup, with us they really come on the plate , of course with mustard ”.

Travel information about Staten Island

Staten Island Ferry on the Internet: www.siferry.com

Historic Richmond Town, 441 Clarke Ave., Tel. 718 / 351-1611, www.historicrichmondtown.org

Snug Harbor Cultural Center, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Tel. 718 / 448-2500, www.snug.harbor.org

Chinese Scholars Garden, Staten Island Botanical Garden, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Tel. 718 / 273-8200, www.sobg.org

 

 

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