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BAYMEN’S COTTAGES / REV. ISAAC COLEMAN & REBECCA GRAY COLEMAN HOUSE / ROSSVILLE AME ZION CHURCH / ROSSVILLE AME ZION CHURCH CEMETERY

AFRICAN AMERICAN

565 & 569 Bloomingdale Road
ca. 1887-98

1482 Woodrow Road, Staten Island
ca. 1850s

584 Bloomingdale Road, Staten Island
1897, Andrew Abrams

Crabtree Avenue, Staten Island
est. 1852

In the 1830’s, Staten Island’s south shore became home to a thriving community of free black oyster traders who moved from Maryland after that state passed a series of laws limiting free blacks’ freedoms. The community prospered from Staten Island’s rich oyster beds, and boosted the local economy, but the rise of industrial pollution and overfishing led to the closure of the beds in 1916 and Sandy Ground’s heyday came to an end. Calamitous fires in 1930 and 1963 destroyed many of its buildings, but there are several architectural remnants, including four Individual Landmarks: the Baymen’s Cottages, housing constructed for oyster traders and their families; the Rossville AME Zion Church; the Coleman-Gray House, home to the Rossville AME Zion Church’s sixth pastor; and the Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery. The church and cemetery are perhaps the most important survivors, as they provide spiritual connections to this community that was defined by its people more than its geography. Founded in 1850, the church was the center of Sandy Ground’s spiritual and cultural life, and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. While the original church no longer stands, its adjacent cemetery contains graves of some of Sandy Ground’s original residents, and the new church (constructed in 1897) remains active today. Sandy Ground’s history is displayed, interpreted and celebrated by the Sandy Ground Historical Museum, located just around the corner from the church on Woodrow Road.

AUDRE LORDE RESIDENCE

WOMEN

207 St. Paul’s Avenue, Staten Island
1898
Otto P. Loeffler

From 1972 to 1987, acclaimed African- American lesbian writer and activist Audre Lorde (1934-1992) lived in this neo-Classical house with her two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan, and her partner, Frances Clayton. Lorde accomplished a great deal while living here, including the publication of numerous influential books, poems, articles and essays that dealt with the issues of civil rights, feminism and lesbianism; held positions as professor of English at John Jay College and as the Thomas Hunter Chair of Literature at Hunter College; spoke at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights; co-founded Kitchen-Table: Women of Color Press; and was bestowed with many honors, including the Borough of Manhattan President’s Award for Literary Excellence in 1987. From 1991 until her death from liver cancer the following year, Lorde was the New York State Poet Laureate. Audre Lorde’s house is a NYC Individual Landmark located in the St. Paul’s Avenue-Stapleton Heights Historic District.

Todt Hill-Dongan Hills, Staten Island

Todt Hill-Dongan Hills is an area filled with stately historic properties such as the Ernest Flagg Estate. This site consists of impressive fieldstone walls and archways, a gatehouse, and mansion that once belonged to one of New York City’s most prolific architects. Though already designated an Individual Landmark, the Iron Hills Civic Association is working to ensure that the currently for-sale estate falls in good hands and is safe from inappropriate development. This group is also concerned with the rapidly vanishing historic homes that sit atop the hills and is aiming to document and survey the historic grandeur of the neighborhood before it is too late.

Cultural Landmarks, Citywide

New York City is known for many things: Art Deco skyscrapers, picturesque parks, the world’s greatest theater district, venerable museums and educational institutions, not to mention bagels and pizza! But above all of these, New York is most important as home to some of the world’s most fascinating and significant people and as the site of impactful and significant happenings throughout history. The city’s cultural influence is, perhaps, its greatest contribution to the world, and its built environment stands as a grand scavenger hunt of clues waiting to be uncovered. Lucky for us, the city’s Landmarks Law, passed in 1965, provides the legal framework for protecting the physical reminders of the city’s cultural wealth. In fact, one of the stated purposes of the Landmarks Law is to “safeguard the city’s historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage.”

In the first 50 years that landmarks were designated by the City, much emphasis was placed on the historic and aesthetic. In recent years, though, more consideration has been made for the importance of sites associated with people or historical events, rather than just for their architectural or historical value. In 2015, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the Stonewall Inn as an Individual Landmark solely for its association with the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. In 2018, the Commission designated the Central Harlem—West 130th-132nd Streets Historic District, describing it as “not only representative of Central Harlem’s residential architecture, but the rich social, cultural, and political life of its African American population in the 20th century.” Also in recent years, Greenwich Village’s Caffe Cino and Julius’ Bar were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as significant and influential sites connected to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBTQ) community; The New York Times profiled a historian giving tours of Muslim sites of significance in Harlem; and the City is commemorating some of our most storied and accomplished female citizens with the installation of statues in all five boroughs. Indeed, grassroots preservation activism around the city is also swelling around sites of cultural significance: Tin Pan Alley and Little Syria in Manhattan, Walt Whitman’s house in Brooklyn, Arthur Avenue in The Bronx, and a recently-rediscovered African burial ground in Queens, to name a few.

In response to this movement of interest in cultural landmarks, the Historic Districts Council undertook an initiative to highlight such places as one of its Six to Celebrate in 2018. The culmination of that effort was a conference in October 2018 entitled “Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Rethinking Sites of Cultural History.” The conference convened preservationists, historians, artists, planners, place-makers and more to work together to clarify what cultural significance is and how it can work, how to document and create compelling narratives around cultural sites, and how to identify the specific challenges of cultural sites from a preservationist perspective.

This brochure provides just a sample of some of the city’s cultural landmarks, organized thematically and representing all five boroughs. The list includes some sites that are legally protected – in some cases by more than one government body – and some that are unfortunately in danger of being lost. Preserving culturally significant sites that may not possess overtly aesthetic value often requires a particularly active and engaged form of advocacy to achieve protection from the wrecking ball. But, as long as there are interesting people making their mark on New York City and crucial events taking place here, that effort will never be in vain, since those stories are the lifeblood of this vibrant place.

Harrison Street, Staten Island

This single-block street in the north shore neighborhood of Stapleton encapsulates Staten Island’s 19th century residential character, projecting a strong sense of place. It features a rare grouping of intact wood frame and masonry houses, many boasting whimsical architectural features. At this time, there are just three historic districts on the whole island.

To learn more about Harrison Street click here

Historic Public Libraries, New York City

The New York Public Library (NYPL) was formed in 1895 with the consolidation of three private corporations: the Astor Library (founded by John Jacob Astor in 1849), the Lenox Library (founded by James Lenox in 1870) and The Tilden Trust (a fund established in 1886 by Samuel J. Tilden). The NYFCL also joined this consolidation in 1901 in order to benefit from Carnegie’s gift of $5.2 million for 67 library branches to be built between 1901 and 1929 (56 are still standing). Carnegie’s only stipulation was that the city acquire the sites and establish building maintenance plans. To design the buildings, the NYPL organized a committee of architects: Charles F. McKim, Walter Cook and John M. Carrère. In order to stylistically link the branches and save money, the committee decided on a uniform scale, interior layout, character and materials palette for the buildings.

To read more about New York City’s Historic Public Libraries click here

Historic Staten Island Cemeteries, Staten Island

A relative lack of development pressure allowed Staten Island’s small burial grounds to remain. From the 17th century well into the 19th century, family farms occupied much of Staten Island, especially in the south. Within the confines of these farms, “Homestead Graves” or family burial grounds were established. These were some of the first community cemeteries on Staten Island, and many of today’s cemeteries are still named after the families whose homestead burial grounds were sold for public use. Many of the 13 accessible and five inaccessible cemeteries covered in this brochure became abandoned, vandalized or used as dumping grounds in the 20th century.

To learn more about the Historic Staten Island Cemeteries click here

Landmarks Under Consideration, New York City

In November 2014, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) announced a plan to clear 95 properties that had been on its calendar for five years or more, but not yet designated as landmarks. The wholesale removal of these properties without considering each one’s merits would have represented a severe blow to the properties and to the city’s landmarks process in general, sending a message that would jeopardize any future effort to designate them.

The Historic Districts Council acted strongly in opposition to this action, and advocated for a more considered, fair and transparent approach. As part of this effort, HDC worked with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and a coalition of other preservation organizations to submit an alternative plan for the LPC’s consideration. The plan eventually formed the basis for the LPC’s initiative, entitled “Backlog95,” calling for a series of public discussions to evaluate the properties in geographical groupings.

To learn more about the Landmarks Under Consideration click here

5 inaccessible cemeteries: Simonson Family plot, Colony Meadow, Journay Cemetery, “Forgotten Acre”, Old Clove Baptist Cemetery

Simonson Family plot, established about 1800 (663 Jewett Avenue, Westerleigh)|

The Simonson family was one of the oldest families on Staten Island. This small homestead burial ground is today located within St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery.

Colony Meadow, former New York City Farm Colony, established 1829 (Walcott Avenue between Fields and Washington Avenues, Willowbrook) – NYC Individual Landmark|

The Richmond County Poor Farm was established in 1829 to improve social and health care services to the poor and otherwise dependent, who exchanged labor for room and board. When Staten Island became a borough of New York City in 1898, the City took over the property and renamed it the New York City Farm Colony. In 1915, the Farm Colony merged with Seaview Hospital across Brielle Avenue. After the United States government passed the Social Security Act in 1935, the numbers of residents in poorhouses like this one steadily declined. The Farm Colony finally closed its doors in 1975. Some of the property was handed over to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation in 1982, and the remaining 70 acres, along with the Seaview Hospital campus, were designated a historic district by the LPC in 1985. Over the years, the Farm Colony has been neglected, its buildings crumbling and vandalized.

Located at the northwest corner of the Farm Colony is the Potter’s Field, which was in use by the Farm Colony until as late as the 1970s. No complete cemetery burial logs survive, but FACSI is currently in the process of establishing a burial list using funerary records. Most Farm Colony residents were buried in group interments, as there was little money for individual burials. It is believed that there are areas of the site where amputated limbs from patients at Seaview Hospital were buried in mass graves, as well. In 2014, a plan was unveiled to repurpose and develop the Farm Colony as an age-restricted retirement community, incorporating some of the historic buildings, which will be restored. FACSI was engaged in conversations about the redevelopment plans, at which time the Potter’s Field was renamed “Colony Meadow.” The site is quite large, but only one gravestone is extant. The cemetery landscape will be restored, thus respecting its occupants and the history of the Farm Colony. A proposed future entrance to Colony Meadow will be on Walcott Avenue.
Journay Cemetery, established circa 1800 (inside Bloomingdale Park at Carlton Boulevard and Halpin Avenue, Woodrow)|

This small family homestead cemetery is located within the wood of Bloomingdale Park. Roughly 30 people were buried here, but only a small number of downed headstones have been located.
“Forgotten Acre,” former U.S. Public Health Service Hospital, established 1895-1930 (inside Ocean View Cemetery, Oakwood)|

“Forgotten Acre” is the final resting place of approximately 1,000 Merchant Marines World War I veterans. These men are believed to have died en route to or from service in Europe while in quarantine at the United States Public Health Service Hospital in Clifton (now the Bayley Seton Hospital). In 2011, the Ocean View Cemetery restored the site, righting grave markers and clearing stray branches and weeds. On Veteran’s Day of that year, flags were placed at each grave to honor those buried here about a century ago. FACSI runs controlled visits of the site periodically, but it is not accessible to the public.
Old Clove Baptist Cemetery, established 1802 (corner of Richmond Road and Clove Road, Concord)|

Established as a burial ground of the Clove Baptist Church (formed in 1809 and abandoned in the 1840s), this site is quite small at roughly 100’ x 50’ in total size. There are approximately 50 burials. FACSI installed a sign to mark the cemetery’s location at the southwest corner of Richmond Road and Clove Road, but the site is overgrown and the grave markers are not visible from the intersection.

Blazing Star Cemetery, aka Sleight Family Graveyard

Established 1740;
Arthur Kill Road by Rossville Avenue, Rossville;
NYC Individual Landmark|

The Blazing Star Cemetery, also known as the Sleight Family Graveyard or Rossville Burial Ground, was one of the first homestead graveyards in Staten Island. The earliest grave markers, many of which are made of brownstone, date to around 1750. Members of prominent early Staten Island families are buried here, including that of Peter Winant (sometimes spelled Pieterse Wynant), who was born in Brooklyn in 1663 and died in Staten Island in 1758. His father, Peter Winant Sr., was one of a group of men who made the first permanent European settlement on Staten Island in 1661. Today, the cemetery has been restored and is maintained by FACSI. The cemetery’s peaceful location, adjacent to the Arthur Kill waterway, is described in the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) designation report for the property: “There is no railing enclosing the cemetery or any architecture to detract our attention from the silent mood that prevails over these grounds…Here amid the passing seasons a bit of history stands recorded.”

Adding to the site’s already evocative atmosphere is another graveyard of sorts within the waterway adjacent to and visible from the cemetery, the Arthur Kill “ship graveyard.” This was the former location of a mooring slip where the Blazing Star Ferry ran between Staten Island and New Jersey. Beginning in the 1930s, the Witte Marine Equipment Company operated a ship salvage and resale business on the Rossville shoreline, where an unknown number of historic ships was left to decompose. There are various theories as to why so much equipment has not been dismantled or scrapped. Whether it is due to an overflow of ships coming in or whether the company’s owner, John J. Witte, intended to leave them as a historical record, today this tableau of marine ruins is much appreciated by artists, photographers and history buffs. The site is today run by the Donjon Marine Company (the successor to the Witte Marine Company), which discourages visitation for safety reasons, making the view from Blazing Star all the more special.