Sailors' Snug Harbor
|Location||914–1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, New York City, New York|
|Built||1831, opened 1833|
|Architect||Martin E. Thompson; Minard Lafever|
|Architectural style||Greek Revival, Late Victorian|
|NRHP reference #||72000909|
|Added to NRHP||March 16, 1972|
|Designated NHLD||December 8, 1976|
Sailors' Snug Harbor, also known as Sailors Snug Harbor, Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, and, informally, Snug Harbor, is a collection of architecturally significant 19th-century buildings in Staten Island, New York City. The buildings, once a home for aged sailors, are set in an 83-acre (34 ha) park along the Kill Van Kull on the North Shore of Staten Island. Some of the buildings and the grounds are used by arts organizations under the umbrella of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden.
Sailors' Snug Harbor includes 26 Greek Revival, Beaux Arts, Italianate and Victorian style buildings. The site is considered Staten Island's "crown jewel" and "an incomparable remnant of New York's 19th-century seafaring past." It is a National Historic Landmark District.
Snug Harbor was founded through a bequest after the death of Revolutionary War soldier and ship master Captain Robert Richard Randall, namesake of the nearby neighborhood of Randall Manor. Randall left his country estate in Manhattan, bounded by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, 10th Street, and the southern side of 8th Street adjacent to what is now Washington Square, to build an institution to care for "aged, decrepit and worn-out" seamen.
The first meeting of the corporation of Sailors Snug Harbor took place in 1806. In its first election, then Mayor DeWitt Clinton was elected President. Several challenges to Randall's will took place; one by a Stephen Brown who alleged that Randall failed as executor of the estate of his grandfather in New Jersey from which the Randall estate was derived, and one from Anglican Bishop John Inglis of Nova Scotia who alleged he was a proper collateral heir through his common ancestor John Crooke. The corporation was ironically legally represented by Thomas Addis Emmet, a former member of the Society of United Irishmen, an organization inspired by the success of the American Revolution to fight the British in Ireland. Future President Martin Van Buren also served on the defense team, and Daniel Webster provided counsel to the plaintiffs.
By the time the will challenge was settled, the once-rural land around the Manhattan estate had become well-developed. Snug Harbor's trustees (appointed by Randall's will, they included the mayor of New York City, the president and vice president of the Marine Society, senior ministers of the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, and the chancellor of the State) decided to maximize the profits on the Manhattan property. They changed the proposed site of the institution to another piece of land bequeathed by Randall: a 130-acre plot on Staten Island overlooking the Kill Van Kull.
Sailors' Snug Harbor finally opened in 1833, the country's first home for retired merchant seamen. The residents were referred to as "inmates" in the parlance of the day. The institution began with a single building, now the centerpiece in the row of five Greek Revival temple-like buildings on the New Brighton waterfront. From 1867 to 1884, Captain Thomas Melville, a retired sea captain and brother of Moby-Dick author Herman Melville, was governor of Snug Harbor. In 1890, Captain Gustavus Trask, the governor of Snug Harbor, built a Renaissance Revival church, the Randall Memorial Chapel and, next to it, a music hall, both designed by Robert W. Gibson. At its peak in the late 19th century, about 1,000 retired sailors lived at Snug Harbor, then one of the wealthiest charities in New York. Its Washington Square area properties yielded a surplus exceeding the retirement home's costs by $100,000 a year.
By the mid-20th century, however, Snug Harbor was in financial difficulty. Once-grand structures fell into disrepair, and some were demolished; the ornate white-marble Randall Memorial Church was torn down in 1952. With the arrival of the Social Security system in the 1930s, demand for accommodation for old sailors declined; by the mid-1950s, fewer than 200 residents remained.
In the 1960s, the institution's trustees proposed to redevelop the site with high-rise buildings; the new New York City Landmarks Commission stepped forward to save the remaining buildings, designating them landmark structures, and listing them on the National Register of Historic Places. A series of legal battles ensued, but the validity of landmark designation was ultimately upheld and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. In the 1970s, the trustees moved the institution to Sea Level, North Carolina and sold the Staten Island site to the City of New York. Today, Randall's Trust no longer operates a retirement home, but the Trustees of the Sailors' Snug Harbor in the City of New York continues its work, using funds from the endowment to help mariners all over the country.
On September 12, 1976, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center was opened to the public. In 2008, the Cultural Center and the Staten Island Botanical Garden merged to become the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden.
The Sailors' Snug Harbor Archives are preserved at the Stephen B. Luce Library at SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx.
The five interlocking Greek Revival buildings at Snug Harbor are regarded as "the most ambitious moment of the classic revival in the United States" and the "most extraordinary" suite of Greek temple-style buildings in the country. Built around the 1833 Building C, the buildings "form a symmetrical composition on Richmond Terrace, an eight-columned portico in the center and two six-columned porticoes on either end."
Paul Goldberger wrote, "Snug Harbor has something of the feel of a campus, something of the feel of a small-town square. Indeed, these rows of classical temples, set side-by-side with tiny connecting structures recessed behind the grand facades, are initially perplexing because they fit into no pattern we recognize — they are lined up as if on a street, yet they are set in the landscape of a park. They seem at once to embrace the 19th-century tradition of picturesque design and, by virtue of their rigid linear order, to reject it."
The 1833 administration building by Minard Lafever is a "magnificent" Greek Revival building with a monumental Ionic portico, and is the architect's oldest surviving work. It was renovated in 1884 with "an eye-popping triple-height gallery with stained glass and ceiling murals," and restored in the 1990s.
All five buildings are individually landmarked, as are: the 131-year-old chapel, which has been renovated as a recital and concert space; the Italinate Richmond Terrace gate house (1873), the mid-19th-century iron fence surrounding the property, and the interiors of Building C and the chapel.
The buildings are set in extensive, landscaped grounds, surrounded by an individually landmarked, 19th-century cast-iron fence. They include a "beautiful" 1893 zinc fountain featuring the god Neptune, now indoors with a replica in its place. According to The New York Times: "He sits in the middle, astride a shell held aloft by sea monsters, his trident raised. Jets of water spurt from the fountain's center and from bouquets of metal calla lilies to its sides. Visitors to Snug Harbor stop and watch, sitting on benches surrounding the scene, while workmen eat their lunches. It is quiet. Noisy New York and its busy harbor only 200 feet (61 m) away, beyond Richmond Terrace, might just as well be on Mars. Or at least at the other end of His Majesty's sea."
Also on the grounds is a bronze statue of Robert Randall by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden is a nonprofit, Smithsonian-affiliated organization that operates Sailors' Snug Harbor. Its primary purpose is "to operate, manage and develop the premises known as Sailors Snug Harbor as a cultural and educational center and park." In 2005, it was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg. In 2006, the revenues and expenses of the nonprofit were both around US$3.7 million, and its year-end assets were $2.6 million. It is home to the Staten Island Children's Theater Association (SICTA) and the Staten Island Conservatory of Music. Other components include:
The Staten Island Botanical Garden maintains extensive gardens including the White Garden, inspired by Vita Sackville-West's famous garden at Sissinghurst; Connie Gretz's Secret Garden, complete with a castle, a maze and walled secret garden; and the New York Chinese Scholar's Garden, an authentic, walled, Chinese garden built in 1998 in the style of the famous gardens of Suzhou.
Established in 1977, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art exhibits the works of local and international artists. The center also provides artist-in-residence exhibitions and 15,000 square feet (1,400 m2) of gallery space. It was founded inside the architecturally significant Greek Revival buildings of Sailors Snug Harbor.
Although the Newhouse was founded with a focus on artists who live or have their studios on Staten Island and art that reflects the history of Staten Island or Snug Harbor, the Newhouse moved on to a broader focus on contemporary art. Unlike many New York museums, the Newhouse has the space to mount large shows and large works, and can add outdoor sculpture to the mix.
The Noble Maritime Collection is a museum with a particular emphasis on the work of artist/lithographer/sailor John A. Noble (1913–1983). The Washington Post called the exhibit of a houseboat that Noble converted into an artist's studio "compelling... It is a home on the water and an artist's lair all in one, complete with wooden surfaces, portholes, an engineer's bed, a drawing table, and printmaking and etching implements. Inside, it's easy to envision the boat moored in nearby waters while the son of painter John "Wichita Bill" Noble sketched maritime subjects from the 1930s until his death in 1983. The younger Noble made regular rowboat excursions to observe and document the working life of the waterfront. The Noble collection is a testament to a vibrant culture of ships, docks and laborers that has mostly disappeared from New York."
The Staten Island Children's Museum features a rotating collection of hands-on exhibits and an extensive year round live animal collection of exotic arthropods. The Children's Museum consists of the main building which was originally built in 1913 and the old snug harbor barn where the livestock was originally kept to feed the residents of Sailors Snug Harbor. When the museum was developed, a modern walkway was built connecting the two structures to create one museum building.
The Staten Island Museum opened a location at Snug Harbor in September 2015. After operating two locations for almost two years, the museum closed the St. George location and consolidated its operations to the current building, Building A, at Snug Harbor. The Museum hopes to expand to building B by 2022.
Art Lab is a school of fine and applied art, founded in 1975 and offering art instruction and exhibitions.
A 686-seat Greek Revival auditorium, the Music Hall hosts performing arts. It is the second-oldest music hall in New York City, having opened in July 1892 with a performance of a cantata, "The Rose Maiden." In attendance were some 600 residents of the home who sat on plain wooden seats, and 300 trustees and their guests who occupied the venue's upholstered balcony seats.
The residents of Sailors' Snug Harbor were buried on the grounds in what was called "Monkey Hill". The location of the cemetery is across the road from the current Snug Harbor complex in Allison Pond Park, which used to be part of the original Snug Harbor campus. The pond served as a water supply for the Snug Harbor facility until 1939. The cemetery portion (surrounded by a red brick wall) is still owned by the Snug Harbor Center, while the remaining land was sold in 1975 to the city and turned into a public park with hiking trails. The majority of the over 7,000 bodies (including those of military sailors) now lay in unmarked graves because their headstones were removed in the 1980s and put into storage for preservation after the cemetery became inactive.
On January 30, 1863, the chaplain of Snug Harbor, Reverend Robert Quinn, was shot by a sailor resident named Herman Ingalls with a double barrel pistol outside the Snug Harbor chapel. Herman Ingalls then shot himself and died in the Snug Harbor hospital located on the grounds.
Local legend tells of a second murder that occurred in Snug Harbor. According to a persistent legend, a female matron was murdered in the matrons cottage on the grounds by her illegitimate son, who was later hanged as punishment. No official documentation has been found to support proof of the matron murder.
A station on the now-defunct North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railway bore the name Sailors Snug Harbor; a retaining wall and stairways from the station still exist. Now, the S40 bus travels to and from the St. George Terminal, stopping at Snug Harbor's front gate.
In an 1898 article in Ainslee's Magazine, "When The Sails Are Furled: Sailor's Snug Harbor," the soon-to-be-famous novelist Theodore Dreiser provided an amusing non-fiction account of the obstreperous and frequently intoxicated residents of Snug Harbor.
The American maritime folk song collector William Main Doerflinger collected a number of songs from residents at Sailor's Snug Harbor which were among those published in his 1951 compilation, "Shantymen and Shantyboys", reprinted in 1972 as "Songs of the Sailorman and Lumberman".
In 2004, local performing arts company Sundog Theatre commissioned an original play by Damon DiMarco and Jeffrey Harper about the sailors' life at Snug Harbor. My Mariners was performed at the Harbor's Veteran's Memorial Hall.
The final scene of the movie Fur, showing a nudist camp, was filmed at Snug Harbor in July 2006.
The 2009 illustrated novel Peter Pigeon of Snug Harbor, by Ed Weiss, is set almost entirely at Snug Harbor – from its days as an old sailors' home to its new incarnation as an arts center.
Damsels in Distress, a 2012 film by writer-director Whit Stillman starring Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody, was shot largely at Snug Harbor, which served as the campus of the movie's fictional Seven Oaks College.
In January 2013, an episode of Ghost Adventures was filmed at and focused on Sailor's Snug Harbor and the spirits haunting the area.
The Snug Harbor Cultural Center is its crown jewel. Originally an 18th-century home for "aged, decrepit and worn-out sailors," it now houses the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, the Staten Island Children's Museum and the Staten Island Botanical Garden, where November is orchid and chrysanthemum month, and every month is New York Chinese Scholars Garden month.
Its centerpiece, Building C, was completed in 1833. Over the next 48 years, it was flanked by and joined to four dormitories. These form a symmetrical composition on Richmond Terrace, an eight-columned portico in the center and two six-columned porticoes on either end.
The property originally belonged to Captain Robert Richard Randall, Revolutionary War soldier and ship master. . . . According to the will, . . . the board of trustees would include the mayor of New York City, President and Vice President of the Marine Society, Senior Ministers of the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches, Head of the Chamber of Commerce, and Chancellor of the State
By the time a protracted challenge to his will was settled, the land around the estate had changed dramatically, the city being developed around the area. Opting instead to maximize profits on the Manhattan property, Snug Harbor’s trustees relocated the proposed site to Staten Island . . . .
Sailors' Snug Harbor was established in 1801 by the will of Robert Randall to care for "aged, decrepit and worn-out" seamen. For this he left most of his estate, including Manhattan property bounded by Fifth Avenue and Broadway and Eighth and 10th Streets. In 1833 the trustees of Sailors' Snug Harbor opened the first in a row of five temple-fronted buildings on the New Brighton waterfront on Staten Island.
|journal=(help) and Accompanying 9 photos and prints, from 1965 and undated. (3.53 MB)
With 26 buildings to visit, you might be stumped on where to begin. Start at the Noble Maritime Collection museum, which contains one of center's most compelling displays: a houseboat that painter, lithographer and sailor John A. Noble converted into an artist's studio, assembling it from salvaged wooden ship materials over 40 years.
The sparklingly restored Building D houses the Noble Maritime Collection, an unsung gem among New York museums, comprising the collection of the maritime painter John Noble, including a reconstruction of the amazing houseboat studio from which he recorded harbor life.
Note: Builder of Sailors Snug Harbor was Samuel Thomson of Inwood, NY, not M. Thompson.