Jun 19, 2017

Snug Harbor, Staten Island

One of the most interesting places John and I visited on Staten Island was Snug Harbor Cultural Center.  It was a one-stop see-a-lot place.  It is a Smithsonian affiliate that was started in 1801 by Robert Richard Randall as a sanctuary for aged sailors and grew to
have 50 structures and nearly a 1000 residents from every corner of the world. Snug Harbor was a self-sustaining community with a dairy, chapel, hospital and music hall and by the 20th century the richest charitable institution in the United States.  There are rooms where the sailors stayed and one display follows a Swedish sailor, Bengt Eric Bengtsson, during his time in Snug Harbor.  Other rooms feature a variety of displays from early Staten Island paintings and one called “Remembering the Mastodon.” 

As a sailor’s retreat it began to experience financial difficulties in the mid-20th century especially when federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare were introduced.  Fortunately in the 1960s, the newly formed New York City Landmarks Commission stepped forward to save the five Greek Revival buildings and the chapel. They were New York City’s first landmark structures and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1970s citizens, concerned over the deterioration of some of the
buildings, and artists were able to save Snug Harbor as a cultural center. Today, Snug Harbor is a place where history, architecture, visual art, theater, dance, music and environmental science come together and provide experiences for all ages. It is one of the largest ongoing adaptive reuse projects in America, consisting of 28 buildings, and is one of New York City’s unique architectural complexes and historic landscapes. Many building are being restored including the Music Hall that rivals Carnegie Hall. It is also home to the Staten Island Children’s Museum. I liked the Chinese Scholar’s Garden. I wished we had been there for one of their many events.

John and I took a step into Staten Island’s past in Historic Richmond Town, with over 30 original historic structures and where some of the treasures date to the mid-1600s. It is the only historic town in New York City. After watching the introductory video we took a guided tour of
the town including the tin shop and general store. I wish there had been time to return to the tavern in the evening for one of their frequent musical presentations that included sea shanties.  I always thought the word “bar” came from a piece of flat wood where, in the early days, drinks were served.  Our guide told us it actually was a wooden barred window in the tavern that could be closed to “bar” the rowdies from getting to the booze. Always something to learn.

When people say they are going to New York City they usually are
referring just to Manhattan. New York City is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Think of Staten Island as the “other NYC” and it is only a twenty-five minute free ferry ride from downtown. Staying on Staten Island while
visiting Manhattan saves a lot of money – the hotels are reasonable and provide free parking and transport to/from the Staten Island Ferry. It is the least populated of the boroughs with over 170 parks and dubbed “The Greenest Borough.” It is said “If you haven’t seen Staten Island, you haven’t really seen New York. Think of it as small town New York City.