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.

Sylvan Cemetery, Ridgway Cemetery

Established 1690, Glen Street and Victory Blvd, Travis;
Established circa, 1760 Victory Blvd and Glen Street inside Sylvan Cemetery, Travis|

Similar to Hillside Cemetery in its sloping, roadside location, Sylvan Cemetery is believed to have been a Native American burial ground. The site is significant as one of the oldest extant cemeteries on Staten Island, established by European settlers in the 17th century as the Cannon Family Burial Hill. It was the final resting place of some of Staten Island’s most prominent families, and it is also rumored that British soldiers from the Revolutionary War were buried here. In 1781, the cemetery was opened to the public. A century later, in the 1880s, the site was in severe decline, and by the 1930s, it had been entirely abandoned. A survey done in 1923 found 235 gravestones or markers representing just over 250 individuals still visible on the landscape. DCAS took the site in the 1950s and it has been owned by the Parks Department since 2003.

The Ridgway family, one of the oldest on Staten Island, had a large farm in Travis that included a family burial ground. One of the last descendants of the family was Matthew Bunker Ridgway (1895-1993), a United States Army General during World War II and the Korean War (during which he resurrected the United Nations war effort), and a decorated hero who was recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1986. In the 1980s, a developer illegally built a large structure on the site of Ridgway Cemetery. FACSI notified the General, but by the time he was engaged in the issue, the burial ground had already been obliterated. In 2013, FACSI moved the remaining gravestones to nearby Sylvan Cemetery, where a plaque and enclosure commemorates them.

Merrell Cemetery

Established 1784 ;
Merrill Avenue and Richmond Avenue, Bulls Head|

Established as a homestead burial ground of the Merrell and other associated families, this cemetery is approximately one acre in size. The cemetery is located on Merrill Avenue, which, despite the different spellings, is named after the same family. The Merrell Cemetery Association holds the deed for the cemetery, but FACSI restored and continues to maintain the site.

Hillside Cemetery

Established 1828;
980 Richmond Avenue, Graniteville|

This two-acre, non-sectarian cemetery was the sister cemetery to Lake, as the two were both established by the congregation of Old Clove Baptist Church. The cemetery commands a lovely sloping site right along a major road, making it very visible and accessible. Over time, five different Baptist churches have managed and operated the cemetery. Currently, the Willowbrook Park Baptist Church keeps the deed on the property, while FACSI performs all necessary maintenance. In 2014, the church is working to raise the funds needed to fix the cemetery’s retaining wall. A large number of ship captains were buried at Hillside, and several large plots within the cemetery were purchased by the Italian and Polish Social clubs that operated for immigrant support. The old granite quarry that supplied much of the stone for Staten Island’s grave markers, and gives the Graniteville neighborhood its name, was located directly behind Hillside Cemetery.

Lake Cemetery, Silvie Cemetery

Established 1834 Forest Avenue between Willowbrook Road and Bayonne Bridge ;Expressway, Graniteville;
Established 1885 adjacent to 36 Willowbrook Road, Graniteville|

These two adjoining cemeteries, both non-sectarian, make up about three acres within a residential neighborhood. Lake, originally established by the Old Clove Baptist Church, was a largely working-class cemetery. It is the final resting place of Staten Island’s third Borough President, Calvin D. Van Name, as well as hundreds of veterans from the Civil War through World War II. Among these are several African American veterans, including members of the Buffalo Soldiers, who were the first African Americans to enter France during World War I. Another noted veteran is Emeline Earl, the only woman from Staten Island to serve in the Civil War. In 1885, the Silvie Funeral Home purchased a large track of property from Lake Cemetery and resold the graves to its clients, many of whom were deemed unworthy to be buried in Catholic cemeteries (non-baptized infants, unmarried women who died in childbirth and those who committed sins according to the church, for example). The practice of purchasing property from other cemeteries was outlawed in New York State in the 1950s, at which point Silvie would combine with Lake to become one cemetery. From 1979 until very recently, the site was abandoned and used as a homeless encampment and dumping ground for trucks to unload debris. It is currently owned by the Reconstituted Lake Cemetery Association, with FACSI in charge of maintenance. As part of this effort, FACSI replaced many stolen or lost grave markers and restored many existing ones. The site remains an active cemetery, with its most recent burial in 2003.

Staten Island Cemetery, Trinity Cemetery, Trinity Cemetery, Van Street Cemetery

established 1847;
established 1801;
established 1863;
established 1889 ;
(entrance adjacent to 1652 Richmond Terrace, West New Brighton)|

This seven-acre site is home to four cemeteries, all established in the 19th century. Currently, Staten Island, Fountain and Van Street Cemeteries are owned by the Staten Island Cemetery Association. Trinity Cemetery was abandoned in 1954 to the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and taken over by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation in 2003. FACSI, which maintains all four of the cemeteries, has marked them as Staten Island / Trinity Cemetery and Fountain / Van Street Cemetery. The entire site is believed to have originally been a Native American burial ground, but the first recorded burial was in Trinity Cemetery in 1802. This site has historical ties to the Revolutionary War. On the grounds of what would become Fountain Cemetery, a skirmish took place between the New Jersey Colonial Army and the British, who established a fort on the grounds of what would become Trinity Cemetery. The British Army docked their ships at a nearby ferry terminal.

Staten Island Cemetery was the first non-sectarian cemetery on the North Shore of Staten Island and was, therefore, named after its location rather than after a religious institution or family. The cemetery was established in 1847, when the state began to encourage the creation of small, non-sectarian cemeteries to accommodate the influx of immigrants of various faiths. Prior to 1847, the land was owned and farmed by Joseph Ryerrs, who was born into slavery on Staten Island. When he was freed in 1825, he purchased this property and established a family cemetery that would later become a plot in Staten Island Cemetery. Within the combined Staten Island and Fountain Cemeteries, there are hundreds of Civil War veterans and approximately three dozen War of 1812 veterans. The largest standing monument in Staten Island Cemetery is that of James Horner, a “Hawkins Zouave” soldier in the Civil War. A Zouave was a title for light regiments originating in France in 1831 and adopted in America during the Civil War. The Zouaves were characterized by their double-time march, the way they loaded their rifles (lying down, rather than standing), and their North African style uniform, which included baggy pants, short open-front jackets and sashes.Trinity Cemetery was associated with Trinity Chapel, constructed in 1800-02 as an adjunct to the Church of St. Andrew with the aid of Trinity Church in Manhattan. The chapel was destroyed by fire in 1952, but the cemetery had fallen into disrepair long before, around 1914, with only one subsequent burial in 1963. Members of some of Staten Island’s early families are buried here.

The other side of the site is occupied by Fountain and Van Street Cemeteries, both non-sectarian. Fountain Cemetery was established in 1863, the same year that its namesake, Henry Fountain, passed away. Fountain had been a Captain in the War of 1812 and owned the popular Fountain House Hotel, which abutted the land that became Fountain Cemetery. The hotel hosted illustrious guest speakers, such as abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and opera star Jenny Lind. At the time, the surrounding neighborhood was prosperous. Waterfront and maritime industry flourished, and there was a public ferry dock across the street. The cemetery was instantly successful due to its proximity to Manhattan, whose prohibition of new burial sites drove many to purchase plots at Fountain, which featured large family plots to cater to wealthy clients. Some of these are surrounded by fences and identified by stone markers. After the Civil War, Fountain became a popular cemetery for veterans. In fact, the Grand Army of the Republic paraded here yearly from Manhattan. By the 1930s, it was mostly filled, but during the Great Depression, families stopped paying assessment charges. The cemetery was officially abandoned to the City in 1954. In 1981, a group of descendants reconstituted the old cemetery association, rejoining the property with the New York State Division of Cemeteries. In 2003, FACSI began restoring the cemetery, which is in remarkable condition. In addition to the hundreds of obelisks, monuments, grave stones and plot posts still standing, the cemetery has retained most of the original piping around the family plots, a feature largely removed from other cemeteries in the 1950s to allow easier access for maintenance. The Van Street Cemetery section of Fountain Cemetery was purchased for $1 in the 1880s, and is laid out with single rows of graves. At roughly one acre, the cemetery was full within 30 years.

New York Marine Hospital or “Quarantine” gravesites,

established 1799-1858 ;
two sites: Central Avenue and Hyatt Street, Tompkinsville; inside Silver Lake Golf Course, ;Silver Lake|

Long before Ellis Island (established in 1892) became a hub for immigrants seeking to settle in the United States, officials would inspect newcomers on-board their vessels in the harbor. Those who were determined to be ill were sent to Staten Island for treatment. The New York Marine Hospital, or “Quarantine,” was a 20-building complex just south of today’s St. George Terminal. The hospital sought to protect the city from immigrant-borne infectious diseases, such as yellow fever, typhus, small pox and cholera. The hospital, in operation from 1799 to 1858, could hold as many as 1,500 people at a time. Shanty towns cropped up on the north shore of Staten Island, housing healthy relatives awaiting the return of loved ones. Hospital patients who died were buried in several locations, two of which are known today to be at the intersection of Central Avenue and Hyatt Street in St. George (pictured on this page) and within the Silver Lake Golf Course, where a monument to the gravesite is located near the clubhouse (pictured on opposite page). These two sites do not have extant grave markers, and are not discernible as cemeteries. However, they are very significant both due to the tens of thousands of people buried in mass graves here, and the important link they provide to New York City’s history as a gateway for millions of immigrants from the 18th to the 20th centuries.

The hospital had been established by the state, the land taken by eminent domain, thus leading to much resentment by Staten Island residents. The hospital, considered a blight on this rural farming community, endangered those who lived here, with deadly outbreaks of Yellow Fever occurring periodically. These epidemics became more common in the 1840s and 1850s, when immigration increased due to huge numbers of Irish famine victims arriving in the city. It was at this time that locals began campaigning to destroy the hospital. On September 1, 1858, the local board of health resolved that the hospital should be destroyed, and that very night, locals torched the hospital to the ground. The act was spearheaded by John Thompson and Ray Tompkins, a prosperous landowner whose grandfather, Daniel, was Vice President of the United States under James Monroe (Tompkinsville was also named after him). It is believed that the hospital administrator, Dr. Richard Thompson, negotiated to spare the Female Hospital, where the 60 patients on the grounds were relocated during the fire. Authorities generally turned a blind eye. The following evening, the rest of the campus was destroyed by a second fire. There were no casualties, though the two leaders were put on trial. Judge Henry Metcalfe, who lived near the hospital and had a relative who was a victim of Yellow Fever, acquitted both men.

In 2003, the State of New York began an eight-year process of locating and reinterring the cemetery, exhuming a portion of one of the Marine Hospital gravesites when work began on a new courthouse complex in St. George. Once the cemetery was exhumed, the remains were housed at Moravian Cemetery until April 27, 2014, when FACSI and the American Irish Legislators Society of New York State conducted a memorial reinterment service for the permanent entombment of these immigrants, more than 150 years after their tragic deaths.

Tottenville Branch, NYPL, Staten Island

7448 Brighton Street;
re & Hastings, 1904;

In 1899, the Tottenville Library Association established the Tottenville Free Library, Staten Island’s first free public library with a dedicated space and professional staff. In 1903, the association merged with the NYPL and its collection was moved to the new Carnegie-funded branch – also Staten Island’s first – completed the following year. Tottenville, which had grown immensely over the 19th century due to thriving coastal industries, was the first community city-wide to submit an application for a Carnegie-funded branch when the program was announced in 1901. The resulting one-story, brick structure is Classical Revival in style, with a central, columned entrance portico capped by a triangular pediment, as well as a flared, hipped roof and arched windows. The building’s stucco and wood trim lends a rustic quality that differs from some other Carnegie branches, but was intended to relate to its bucolic context and the village-like character of Tottenville. The Tottenville Branch was designated a New York City Individual Landmark in 1995.

Stapleton Branch, NYPL, Staten Island

132 Canal Street;
re & Hastings, 1907;
renovation: Andrew Berman,; 2010-13|

The Classical Revival design of the original Stapleton Branch is nearly identical to the Port Richmond Branch, which opened two years before. Like Port Richmond, it is also situated across from a public park. However, a 2013 rear addition introduced another phase to the building’s story and physical footprint, setting it apart from its brother in Port Richmond. The addition reoriented the library, decommissioning the original entrance on Canal Street in favor of a new entrance via the addition on Wright Street. The addition, which is not visible when viewing the 1907 building from the front, consists of wood structural posts with applied glazing, as well as a wood roof deck. The addition more than doubled the size of the branch.

Port Richmond Branch, NYPL, Staten Island

75 Bennett Street;
re & Hastings,1904-05;

The first libraries on Staten Island were found within institutions and public schools as early as the 1830s, as a result of the influence of New England settlers. Prior to the establishment of branch libraries on Staten Island, public reading rooms began to operate in the mid-19th century. With the Carnegie grant, the NYPL established four branches on Staten Island, enlisting the help of residents to determine the best locations for each. The sites were chosen based on the borough’s concentrations of population and geographic diversity. Port Richmond has been a major port and commercial center on Staten Island since the early 19th century, and this library, situated across from a public park, has been an important civic structure since its completion. Its Classical Revival style façades feature a prominent, projecting central entrance bay with a grand, columned portico. The Port Richmond branch was designated a New York City Individual Landmark in 1998.