Port Richmond was once described as a “model village with well-paved sidewalks, elegant homes, and substantial business blocks.” (Papas & Weintrob 2009, 7). This town also allowed for shipbuilding, oystering, and manufacturing. There were many trading industries made available, including a whale oil-processing plant, a cloth-dyeing plant, blacksmiths, and lumber companies. Because of these industries, Port Richmond was able to bring many groups of immigrants of various ethnicities, including the Caribbean and the Middle East, that were looking for jobs. In addition, this area was an important stop on the stagecoach route that ran from Manhattan to Philadelphia. Because of its prevalence as a commercial center, the ferry and stagecoach traffic lead to the rise of inns, taverns, sail lofts, and mills (such as Bodine’s Grist Mill and Conklin’s Planing Mill) that were significant to Staten Island’s overall economy in the past. However, much of this declined when the Staten Island Mall was built in 1973.
Port Richmond has a branch of the New York Public Library, which was designed by John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings, who were also accredited for building the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library, the Staten Island Borough Hall, and the Henry Clay Frick Museum. Other key buildings in Port Richmond include the Faith United Methodist Church, an Italianate villa (unique because of its tall, square, central tower and five bays), and the Temple Emanu-El (a classical revival building constructed by Port Richmond engineer and architect Harry W. Pelcher). Another reason for its rise in popularity was the view of the Kill Van Kull, a waterfront that overlooked the southern terminus of the Bayonne Bridge and Mariners Harbor. Not only did this location have a scenic view – as evidenced in Cornelius Vanderbilt’s wife Phebe cashing a Continental bond so as to purchase a small farmhouse with that view – it also was a highly populated area due to its “boating, bathing or oyster trade,” as stated by Samuel Ackerley in 1842.
A couple of ferries were used in Port Richmond. Seven years after their debut in Staten Island, steam ferries traveled from Port Richmond to Whitehall in Manhattan in 1824. Horse boats carried passengers across the Kill Van Kull. Used in the 1830s, these boats were unique as the horses powered the boat by running on a treadmill. Other ferries were in Port Richmond, such as the Riverside & Fort Lee Ferry Co., – which ran from Wilmington, Delaware, to Port Richmond & Bergen Point Ferry Co. (though it was scrapped in 1941) – Evans’ Sunrise Ferries (some of which ran to Florida and as far as Mexico) and White Oak, which was operated by the Staten Island Whaling Company. The Bergen Point Ferry itself increased commercial as well as commuter traffic through Port Richmond. The last ferry in this town ran from Port Richmond to Bayonne in 1961.
Docks were present in Port Richmond. One such dock was the Burlee Dry Dock, which housed the ferryboat Chicago. It also started a shipyard for the construction of wooden vessels in 1906. Although the waterfront became a maritime graveyard in the 1940s, tugboats were still used here, showing promise for access to and the rebuilding of the waterfront since 2001.
Because of its significance in the past as a town used in manufacture, travel, and trade, as well as the importance of its having the view of the Kill Van Kull, Port Richmond is not an area that will be easily forgotten despite the many changes that have and will continue to take place.
Colton, Tim. 2010. “New York Harbor Ferry Boats.” Last modified November 14. http://shipbuildinghistory.com/today/statistics/nyferries.htm.
Papas, Phillip, and Lori R. Weintrob. 2009. Port Richmond. South Carolina: Arcadia.
Staten Island History. 2012. “Port Richmond.” Last modified March 24. http://www.statenislandhistory.com/port-richmond.html.