St. George, Staten Island (History)

neighborhoods_staten_island_st_george_300x300St. George is a neighborhood on the northeastern tip of Staten Island in New York City, where the Kill Van Kull enters Upper New York Bay. It is the most densely developed neighborhood on Staten Island, and the location of the administrative center for the borough and for the coterminous Richmond County. The Staten Island terminal of the Staten Island Ferry is located here, as well as the northern terminus of the Staten Island Railway. St. George is bordered on the south by the neighborhood of Tompkinsville and on the west by the neighborhood of New Brighton.

 

HISTORY

Colonial days

Fort Hill,one of the hills overlooking the harbor, was the location on Duxbury’s Point or Ducksberry Point fortified by the British during the American Revolutionary War. The area was primarily rural through the early 19th century.

The name was derived not from the dragon-slaying saint, but from George Law, a developer who acquired rights to the waterfront at bargain prices. According to island historians Charles Leng and William T. Davis, it was only after another prominent businessman, Erastus Wiman, promised to “canonize” him in the town’s name that Law agreed to relinquish the land rights for a ferry terminal. In the late 1880s, Wiman operated the Staten Island Amusement Company in the neighborhood, offering public athletic events, an illuminated fountain, and pageants. The St. George Cricket Grounds was part of that complex, but only lasted a few years.

The heyday

In the 1830s, the area facing the Kill Van Kull became a fashionable resort area, with the construction of several elegant hotels along St. Mark’s Place across from the present site of Curtis High School (the oldest High School on Staten Island). The grandest and last of these hotels was the Hotel Castleton, built in 1889 and destroyed by fire in 1907. In 1918, theStaten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences moved to its present location in the neighborhood. The United States Coast Guard operated a facility in the neighborhood until moving to Governors Island in 1967. The Office Building and U.S. Light-House Depot Complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In the early 20th century the neighborhood grew rapidly: municipal ferry service to Manhattan began in 1905. The neighborhood had several elegant buildings by the architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings. These included a branch of the New York Public Library (1906), the present Staten Island Borough Hall (1906), and the Richmond County Courthouse (1919).

In 1924, the “Saint George” telephone exchange was established in the new North Staten Island building of New York Telephone; this became “SAint George 7” when New York City’s service underwent a major upgrade six years later. This three-digit prefix, now identified by numbers — “727” — is the only one of five exchanges which existed immediately prior to the aforementioned upgrade that is still in service on the island (in addition to St. George itself, this numeric designation is encountered in many other North Shore communities, as far away as Mariners Harbor to the west and South Beach andGrasmere to the south).

Revival

The community underwent a revival in the late 1990s and property values have continued to rise since 2000. In 1994, theNew York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated a St. George Historic District. The historic district consists of 78 houses and one church—St. Peters Roman Catholic, the oldest parish on Staten Island—and is a mix of Victorian styles, such as Queen Anne, Shingle style, Colonial Revival, and Tudor. Currently, the area of Fort Hill comprises the remains of the streets and homes where the descendants of the Tompkins, Westervelt and Low families lived. Here originally stood the mansion of Vice President and former New York State Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, the Anson Phelps-Stokes mansion and the Daniel Low mansion. Another prominent landowner was August Belmont, whose name is enshrined in Belmont Place. Many of the houses remaining today represent the homes and summer homes of the Low-Tompkins extended family and friends.

The residential Fort Hill area is home to many professionals who commute daily to Manhattan on the ferry, and includes many well-tended examples of Victorian, Tudor, and art deco architecture, in addition to one house modeled after a Spanish castle. Another popular upscale residential development, Bay Street Landing, abuts the bay between the ferry terminal and the head of Victory Boulevard. Many condominium buildings are currently being built along the shore, and near the ferry terminal, as they offer unsurpassed views of lower Manhattan and easy access via the free Staten Island Ferry.

The National Lighthouse Museum  (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and the adjacent St. George post office are immediately east of the St. George ferry terminal.

The Richmond County Bank Ballpark, the home of the Staten Island Yankees, a minor league farm club of the New York Yankees opened in 2001. The stadium offers dramatic views of the harbor and the Manhattan skyline.

The renovated St. George Ferry terminal has panoramic views of the harbor and incoming ferries.

The Hyatt Street side of a municipal parking lot faces the St. George Theater. This part of the lot is noted for the greenmarket held on it during spring, summer and fall. The lot encompasses a paved over graveyard of the former quarantine that has led to some controversy.