Preservationists rally to save West Brighton property

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The borough’s preservationists have adopted another historical building, and launched a campaign to save 848 Castleton Ave. in West Brighton from possible demolition.

The Henderson family constructed the clapboard building for commercial use in 1900, according to the Preservation League of Staten Island.

“It is in near original condition,” with a barn in the rear yard, the organization reports. “Its double bay windows recall some of Staten Island’s earliest commercial structures, an endangered species.”

via Photo gallery: Staten Island preservationists rally to save West Brighton property |

After Hurricane Sandy

It’s not over by a long shot. Staten Island still needs help.

Donate to Staten Strong

Donate today or buy your Staten Island gear to help Sandy victims.

Here is the final FEMA damage assessment by neighborhood.

Staten Island has the highest point on the eastern seaboard, but there was still severe flooding and and 23 deaths in neighborhoods near the ocean – at Midland Beach, South Beach, Oakwood Beach, and Tottenville.  Here’s why:

When people first built houses on Staten Island, they usually put them on high ground. The island had a small population for two hundred and fifty years. In 1960, it was about two hundred and twenty thousand, by far the smallest of any borough.  The opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, in 1964, led to development all over the island, which has almost half a million residents today. As development will do, it kept expanding even after all the most likely sites were taken.  In the 1970’s, it began to move into wetland areas, paving over streambeds and bogs and putting affordable bungalows on them.  Almost all the Staten Islanders who died were on the outwash plain – that is, neighborhoods to the south of Hylan Boulevard.

You can read the entire article by Ian Frazier, an illustrated special reprint of The Toll: Sandy and the Future, from The New Yorker.

The work of rebuilding goes on. Please make a donation – in memory of an ancestor if you like – let’s help Staten Island Stay Strong!

(Note:  I am not affliated with this or any fundraising group. But they do have awesome t-shirts.)

Obtaining Photos of your Ancestral Home

New York City genealogists are luckier than most. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographed nearly every single building in the five boroughs. This was done for tax assessment purposes at the time, but fortunately, the city Archives Dept. recognized the historical value of these photos and has carefully maintained, and restored where necessary, these images.

If you have the address of the home where your ancestors lived — easily obtained from census records (1930 or even earlier) — you can order a print of the image of the home on line. (The address, of course, appears on the left hand side of the census page, written vertically, and the house number will appear on the horizontal line where a family enumeration starts.)

To identify the exact photo you want from the collection, you can view the microfilm of the images available at the St. George, Staten Island, Library, and obtain the block and lot number, to save a few dollars.  Or you can simply order the image on line by inputting the address, and let the city identify the block and lot for an additional $5 fee.  For those of doing Staten Island genealogy long distance, that’s the best option.

Note that the building must have existed at the time the photos were taken in order to be included in the collection–but for the older buildings, it is possible you can get an image of the residence your ancestors lived in,  in 1880. 

Order photos of Staten Island homes online here.

How Staten Island Got Its Name

It’s like this… Henry Hudson, the English explorer who convinced the Dutch government to finance his trip to the New World in 1609, was finally approaching land after months at sea. Henry, who despite his European heritage had an unexplainable Brooklyn accent, was notified of a land sighting by his men. Looking through the primitive eyeglass of the day, he said with excitement, “Is dat an Eyelandt?!!!”

No. Just kidding.

First inhabited by the Lenape Indians in the 16th century, the Indians referred to the island as “Aquehonga”, and as “Monacnong”, which translates as “Enhanted Woods”. (And, we totally get that, because Staten Island today still has more green space than any other part of New York City.)

In 1609, when Hudson arrived, he named it “Staaten Eylandt” after the Staten-Generaal, the Dutch parliament which had financed his voyage to the New World. And that is the name that stuck, although Anglicized, of course, to “Staten Island”.

The Dutch, who successfully settled Manhattan, didn’t make a lot of progress in settling Staten Island, and it was the British who later firmly established it. In 1683, King Charles of England rechristened the island “Richmond County”, after King James II of England, who also was Duke of Richmond.

When Staten Island became part of the Greater New York City in 1898, it became the “Borough of Richmond”. In 1975, the city changed this to make “Borough of Staten Island” its official name. The Borough of Staten Island actually includes more than just Staten Island itself; today the boundaries of the borough also encompass Prall’s Island, Island of Meadows, and part of Shooter’s Island. At one time, Ward’s Island was also part of the County, but it is now part of Manhattan.

If you are doing genealogy, I think the proper citation is therefore “Staten Island, Richmond County, New York”. Or, if you have a town/neighborhood name, then “Town, Staten Island, Richnond County, New York.” Other opinions welcome!

Tottenville Dissoway-Cole House Considered for Landmark Designation

The names Cole and Dissoway are very familiar to those who are into the history and genealogy of Staten Island. Now, the New York City Historic Districts Council is advocating landmark designation for the 19th century home of Captain Abram and Ruth Dissoway Cole.  The Greek Revival style home is a rare surving example of this architecture that was once common on the island. It was continuously owned by members of the Cole family up until the 1970’s, and is located in Tottenville.


The present owners adamantly oppose landmarking, claiming it amounted to condemnation by eminent domain without compensation. The owner’s attorney testified that the building’s original fabric had been extensively damaged in a 1999 fire, and a representative of Council Member Vincent Ignizio testified that while many buildings in southern Staten Island deserve designation “this is not one of them.” The owner intends to sell the property to a developer aspiring to build a mall at the site, lending urgency to preservationists’ calls for landmarking, according to New York City Land Use News.

Landmarks has not yet set a date to vote on designations.