Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Images of America, the St. George edition

Last Friday, Fernando and I stopped in at SHOW gallery to check out the release party for the new book Images of America, St. George. The book is part of a series published through Arcadia Publishing and was written by David Goldfarb and James G. Ferreri who were on hand to sign copies.

The book is filled with historic photos as well as some fairly current photos of the St. George neighborhood. There are so many that I had never seen before - a result of Goldfarb and Ferreri spending countless hours of research and probably pouring over the NYPL Archives.
It really struck me how much our neighborhood has physically changed over the years since its start when it was initially known as New Brighton. New Brighton was mostly divided up into grand estates. The proximity to the Staten Island Ferry made New Brighton (St. George) a perfect spot for wealthy residents wanting a private yet conveniently close location to Manhattan.

The map below, included in the book really puzzled us because it shows a building exactly where our house stands today, part of the J.C. Green estate and is dated 1874:
Unfortunately, from the scan I couldn't read the type next to the building. We don't really know the exact date our house was built. All of the Staten Island land records were destroyed in a fire. We were originally told by the previous owner that it was built in 1910. He claimed this is what he was told by the first owner. After speaking with our neighbors (they own the very similar house next door) we all agreed that it must have been earlier than 1910.
Seeing that map prompted me to look around the NYPL digital archive for some more maps... and I was lucky enough to find a larger example of the same map:
Ah-ha! There was a greenhouse here before!
And then there was this one from 1906-1913, actually showing our house:

As well as this one dated 1917, that shows our house on a much smaller lot of land:

A little internet searching and I found this circa 1880 article from the New York Times:

It seems that where FERNando and I now lay our heads was possibly once a peaceful place for ferns to grow.
Let's re-cap: There was a greenhouse on our lot in 1874. The grounds and presumably the greenhouses were still in use in 1880 since Mrs. J.C. Green received a special prize for her magnificent collection of ferns. Our house existed at least since 1913 according to the confusingly dated 1906-1913 map above. So basically my research settles just about nothing other than sometime between 1880 and 1913 our house came into being. I'm going to push it a little further - Curtis High School was built between 1902 and 1904. Those grounds were also once upon a time part of the J.C. Green estate according to map number 1. It may be safe to say that the land was divided up at that time - they obviously tore down the estate mansion to make way for the school fields - it could have been around that time that the land was sold off. Maybe a better time frame would be between 1880 and 1902? Oh and somewhere along the way our lot increased in size.

ANYWAY, below are a few former gems, long ago ripped down to make way for apartment buildings, semi-attached stucco houses and paved parking lots. Perhaps we can thank J.C. Green for such improvements?

The Anson Phelps Stokes house, which had it still been standing, we would have been able to see from our office window (and remember just how modest our accomodations are:)
It's opulent interior that we would not have been able to see from our office window:
More of the (cluttered) interior:
Could the greenhouse that stood on our property have looked like this? Phelps Stokes house greenhouse:
Architect Edward Alfred Sargent's double house on the no longer existing Lennox Street:

The De Escoriaza house formerly of St.Marks Place:
The Staten Island Academy which I'm pretty sure was torn down to make way for either the co-op building we used to live in or the adjacent vacant lot:

An aerial view of St. George looking towards Curtis High School:
View up Hyatt street toward the Brighton Reformed Church and the former Tiedemann House on right:
Some things still look pretty much the same as they did in the old photos like these streetscapes of St. Mark's Place:

And some houses, like this one on Belmont Place and Vine Street:
And this one on Belmont Place and Daniel Low Terrace:


  1. I LOVE this whole series of books. There's one for Newburgh, too, and it's pretty much the coolest/saddest thing to look at.

  2. OMG, I just searched for Newburgh in the NYPL archives. Guess I know what I'm doing for the rest of the day! (Sorry, job...)

  3. Hah! That archive is so addictive! I love those books too - I've seen the general Staten Island one but I was so excited that they did one for our neighborhood.
    It would be great if you could find your house in the NYPL archive. Ours isn't online.

  4. I've seen a reference to the last estate manager for Green, who came to work for him in 1868 and did so for twenty-one years. This would push the dissolution of the estate to 1889, beyond the ferns.

    your neighbo(u)r

  5. Hi Neighbour ;)
    Very cool. So possibly somewhere between 1889 and 1902 then? It makes much more sense than 1910.
    I'm sure we'll be able to find out for sure one day!

  6. AnonymousMay 01, 2009

    The "1906-13" map is dated June 1912 at the top, so we're definitely between 1889 and 1912. It makes sense most of the houses would exist before the school, and as impetus for the municipal ferry beginning in 1905. So 1890s does seem most likely.

    The estate manager was one Samuel Henshaw of Manchester, who afterward designed landscapes, and who died on S.I. in 1907.

    Green's wealth came from the China trade: tea, textiles, opium.

  7. Have you done a chain of title for your property? It could help to narrow down when the estate was subdivided and you would certainly know when the property changed hands. You can also try and find the tax assessment records for the period in which you think your house was constructed. By looking at the assessments, you can often correlate a large increase in property value to the construction of a house. Some tax records (I'm not familiar with those in your area - I work in the DC metro area) are very specific and enumerate the house versus the outbuildings versus the livestock, etc. Also, try and find the Sanborn Insurance Maps for your area (they have been digitized by a database called ProQuest are are available at many public/university libraries). These were fire insurance maps that began in the late 19th century (and continue through today!) and are very detailed. They often cover several years, which might also help to narrow down when your house was constructed. Anyway, good luck. Your blog is new to me and I love it!