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Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Harvard Yard is situated on the lowest level of Skyline Park in the New Brighton section of Staten Island. On May 28, 1938, the State granted the property to the City for joint recreational and educational purposes. It is a grassy lot, or “yard,” defined by a low border fence, and furnished with wooden picnic tables and sandpits with stakes for horseshoe tossing. Bounded by Harvard Avenue, its name is a reference to the original “Harvard Yard,” the main campus of the venerable Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
This area of Staten Island was once known as “The Cottages.” It was named for a group of houses developed in 1853 following the style of landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing. Developer Charles K. Hamilton created Hamilton Park (the area’s official title) as a collection of country homes of 12 to 14 rooms each. Probably the oldest of these is the Pritchard residence at 66 Harvard Avenue. The Hamilton Park Cottage at 105 Franklin is a New York City landmark. Residents of the Hamilton Park Homes were among those who gave the neighborhood of New Brighton its reputation as an elegant seaside resort.
New Brighton came into being in the 1830s, when local citizens formed the New Brighton Association. Using the English resort of Brighton as a model, the goal was to stimulate commerce and tourism featuring the area’s most striking attraction, its waterfront. President of the New Brighton Association, Thomas E. Davis, purchased 100 acres of land, and spearheaded the acquisition of property. Davis’s mansion later became the Pavilion Hotel, built in the Greek Revival style and known, among other features, for its spacious ballroom.
The painters, masons, builders, and merchants who lived and worked in New Brighton in the mid-1800s could travel to Manhattan in thirty minutes. In turn, Manhattanites traveled by steamboat to the Island’s North Shore to enjoy its elegant accommodations and the cool breezes off the river. Boats with names like New Brighton, Sylph, and Water Witch left from the wharves at Richmond Terrace, then called Shore Road, every twenty minutes. Water flooded the walkway at high tide and footbridges were required for pedestrian crossings. In some places, Shore Road was paved forty yards wide in the anticipation of flooding.
For 140 years, New Brighton’s main industry was a gypsum plant that employed 400 people in the production of products from wallboard to cement mix. In 1976, the plant was closed and then abandoned. In the 1980s, New Brighton achieved cinematic celebrity when a wedding scene in the motion picture Working Girl featured the local St. Stanislaus Kostka R.C. Church. The neighborhood is also home to several other old churches, including the landmark Brighton Heights Reformed Church that overlooks the harbor.