Things to do on Staten Island
Staten Island is one of the five boroughs of New York City. Unlike the other four boroughs, Staten Island is “detached” from the rest, separated by the New York Harbor. It is closer to New Jersey than it is to the other boroughs. Staten Island covers 102.5 sq mi (265.5 sq km), although the land area occupies only 58.48 sq mi (151.5 sq km). It has the same boundaries as Richmond County of New York State.
Staten Island has a population approaching half a million people. It is the least populated of the five boroughs. However, in terms of area, it is the third biggest borough of the city.
Being an island, Staten Island is separated from New Jersey to the west by Arthur Kill, and to the north by Kill Van Kull. Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull are narrow tidal straits. In addition to the main island, Staten Island also includes a number of small, uninhabited islands including the Isle of Meadows, Prall’s Island, Shooters Island, Swinburne Island, and Hoffman Island. The highest point on Staten Island is 410-foot (125-meter) Todt Hill.
Staten Island is connected to Brooklyn by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Linking it with New Jersey are a number of bridges including Bayonne Bridge, Outerbridge Crossing, and Goethals Bridge. There are no bridges linking it to Manhattan. Instead, the Staten Island Ferry provides a free connection. A ride on the ferry affords marvelous views of the harbor and the New York City skyline.
Compared to the rest of New York City, Staten Island may feel quite suburban, more like the rest of New York State than New York City itself. The architecture of the houses also has a suburban feel to them which you don’t see if, say, Manhattan.
Visiting Staten Island
As mentioned, you can easily reach Staten Island by ferry from Manhattan. For tourists, this is the best option, as it offers you stunning views of the harbor. And best of all, the ferry service is free and operates round the clock.
If you are going there by car, you can enter using the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which has an expensive toll of $11 cash / $9.20 by E-Z Pass from Brooklyn, New York City. All tolls are collected one way only, upon entering the island. From New Jersey, the three crossings each have an $8.00 toll payable on entering the island. Cars with 3 or more people pay the carpool toll of only $2.00, available with an E-Z Pass only.
Sights in Staten Island
- Alice Austin House Museum
- Garibaldi-Meucci Museum
- Historic Richmond Town
- Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art
- National Lighthouse Museum
- New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden
- Snug Harbor Cultural Center
- Staten Island Botanical Garden
- Staten Island Children’s Museum
- Staten Island Museum
- Staten Island Zoo
Sailors Snug Harbour
Famous vaudeville artists as well as the Boston Ladies Schubert Quartet performed in the Music Hall. Today it still is a popular center for the performing arts.
The fifty-cent return trip across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan to Staten Island was one of the world’s best bargains for decades.
In 1997 it became an even better bargain when the fare was eliminated altogether. Most visitors do the round trip for a great photo opportunity of the New York skyline and a close look at the Statue of Liberty. But for those who decide to take a look around Staten Island itself, there’s an interesting surprise in store.
There isn’t much to see on the dock, but if you take a short bus ride to the sleepy little community of Sailors’ Snug Harbour you’ll be in for a real treat – small-town America within sight of downtown New York.
New York – The story of Sailors Snug Harbour
Snug Harbour was founded in 1833 with a legacy from Captain Robert Randall as a haven for “aged, decrepit and worn out sailors” and nothing was too good for the old salts. A Staten Island farm was purchased and a row of five magnificent Greek Revival temples was built facing the water. They are considered the finest examples of their kind in the United States. One of these, the Music Hall, hosted famous vaudeville artists of the day as well as groups such as the Boston Ladies Schubert Quartet. Silent movies were shown in 1911 and when the talkies came in 1933 they continued weekly until 1965.
Other buildings took care of more basic needs: the Matron’s House was originally the Wash House and Bake House, and the pretty little houses scattered around accommodated the staff: Secretary, Gardener, Baker, Farmer, and other workers on the estate.
New York, Snug Harbor – The sailors begin to leave
In 1900 there were around one thousand men in residence but by the 1950s there were fewer than 200. Eventually, the old sailors needed more modern facilities and they were moved to a new home the Trustees were searching for ways to reduce the cost of maintaining the precious site and its historic buildings – some of which were demolished and there were signs that Sailor Snug Harbour might disappear altogether.
New York, Snug Harbor – Citizens Rally Round
The notion of losing this historic site proved too much to accept and a small army of concerned citizens and public servants banded together to save it. Thanks to their awareness and efforts the entire site was eventually purchased by the City of New York. In July 1976 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis took the ferry to Staten Island and spoke for the many working to save Snug Harbor when she said, “Attention should be brought to a place like this. There’s no place in all the five boroughs where there is such a sanctuary as this…it must be preserved.”
New York – Snug Harbor today
Today, Snug Harbour is a peaceful 80-acre park. The graceful buildings have been extensively restored and are now home to several arts organizations. There are regular exhibitions of painting, sculpture, and photography and the beautiful grounds with their great trees are a delight to stroll in, providing fresh air and breathing space from the skyscraper tunnels of Manhattan.
History of Staten Island
The first European to have sighted Staten Island was Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, who was sailing under the French flag when he arrived here in 1524. Then in 1609, English explorer Henry Hudson, sailing under the Dutch flag, arrived the same way. He named the island Staaten Eylandt, meaning “states island”, in honor of the Dutch parliament, which was called Staten-Generaal.
Staten Island remained uncolonized until 1661 when a settlement was established south of the Narrows near South Beach. It was called Oude Dorp, or “Old Village” in Dutch. When New Netherlands (which includes much of present-day New York City) was ceded by the Dutch to the English in 1667, following the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Staaten Eylandt also changed hands. Under the English, it was called Staten Island for the first time. Three years later, the Native Americans were forced to relinquish all claims to Staten Island.
Staten Island became one of the boroughs of New York City in 1898. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, linking Staten Island with Brooklyn, was the world’s longest suspension bridge when it was completed in 1964. Its completion fueled development on the island, resulting in more residential and commercial development taking place on Staten Island.
Feeling neglected by New York City, there is a popular movement on Staten Island to secede. A referendum in 1993 had 65% of the residents voting to secede. However, the move was blocked by the New York State Assembly.