Staten Island is one of New York City’s five boroughs, but it is completely different than the other four. It is not the smallest one. It has more than twice the size of Manhattan and is larger than the Bronx. But less than half a million people live there. So they have a lot of space. Staten Island looks like a country place, not like a part of a metropolis.
It is easy to get there when you are in downtown Manhattan. From other location it takes a while. It is as well easy to get there from Bay Ridge across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. But then you are in the middle of nowhere. My destination was Historic Richmond Town, somewhere in the center of the island. To get there from Boerum Hill took me more than two hours. I walked up to Hoyt Street Station and took a 2 train to Chambers Street. From there a 1 train brought me to South Ferry. At the stop prior to South Ferry passengers are relocated in the train because not all wagons come to stand at the platform. It isn’t long enough. The ferry at that time of the day was full of tourists and groups of Jewish kids. The tourists were elbowing their way to the windows on the west side, to take photos of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan.
The Jewish kids watched Brooklyn on the east side, where I guess they live.
From the Ferry Terminal in St. George I took the Staten Island Railroad, that uses subway cars, to Oakwood Heights and walked west from there. On the map it looked pretty close, but it was an endless walk along a busy avenue until I finally reached the museum town.
It would be easy to overlook it. There is no big sign , just a small one right in front of the Court House.
I stepped inside through an open door and found a lady knitting. She waved me into the adjoining office. I bought a ticket for the 2:30 tour – there is just one every day – and was told to go to the museum. The woman I talked to gave me the impression that Staten Islanders speak another language. That impression got fortified when I met Harry, the museum guard and tour guide. They speak the same language of course, but it sounds different. There is another accent than in the city. The museum shows items from Staten Island’s history. There must have been a lot of beer brewing there. And a lot of German names appeared. As well there was an exhibition about bringing up babies. It showed cradles and tiny chairs, clothes, shoes and photos.
Historic Richmond Town consists of a considerable number of buildings forming a town like it would have looked I old times. The buildings are all original. Some of them have been relocated from other places on the island. Harry took us into four of them explained what was going on in them, told stories and tales. He was great. A real enthusiast. The first building was the schoolhouse from 1695, called the Voorlezer’s House. We learned that kids got seats according to what the family could pay for. Seats in the front, closer to the open fire were more expensive than colder seats in the back. Kids did not have any books, they learned by memory. Above the school room was kind of a church, just a room where services were held. Behind there was a single room where the teacher’s family lived.
Next we saw the General Store from the 19th century. It is very lovingly decorated with all kinds of items people would have bought there. From groceries to linen and tools. The store as well had been the post office and the communication center of the village. It was where people met and exchanged news.
The third building was a farmhouse from the 18th century. There was a big kitchen with very modern appliances for the time. The family living there was rich.
The shutters in the ground floor were all closed, so it was pretty dark inside. Harry explained that there was a gang of kids around who were up to damage the buildings. One of the houses had even been set on fire.
At last we went into the 19th century tavern. That’s where men went for drinking. Woman could own a tavern or come in to get their husbands out, but they were not admitted to have a drink. The tavern has a bar where the bartender could lock himself in, for security reasons. Someone might become angry.
I didn’t walk the long way back to the train to get home but took the bus to St. George, that has a stop right next to the schoolhouse. That was the easier way but it took me about an hour to get to the ferry. It was interesting though to ride through St. George. The town is hilly and shows buildings like in Brooklyn or Queens. Just everything is smaller and the streets don’t show a grid system. It appears more like an old country town than like a part of New York City.
The ferry was not as busy now, the tourists had left already. Not many of them would spend time on Staten Island.
I walked through Lower Manhattan, passed Stone Street with its outside pubs and restaurants – very busy at 6pm – caught a 3 train at Wall Street and got home by 6:30. At home I was greeted by my two furry friends who kept me quite busy for a while.
I had been hoping for a dinner at Rucola, the nice Italian restaurant on Dean Street. But as always it was packed and some people were already waiting for seats. So I walked down Smith Street and had a very nice pizza at Savoia. The place is comfy. Small wooden tables are grouped in two rooms. In one of the rooms an open pizza oven is standing in the back. That’s where I was sitting. My pizza was topped with wild mushrooms, sausage and ricotta. With it I had a nice glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Savoia is in Carroll Gardens, which used to be an Italian neighborhood.