Tottenville’s built landscape, like many other human settlements, comes in various forms such as houses, sidewalks, roads, mailboxes, and fences. It also contains a wealth of historical value in the form of preserved buildings and structures – some of which are still operational. For the sake of conciseness, more focus will be put on specific structures that have been observed by the group.
The Conference House
Of all the buildings observed, the most well known would probably be the Conference House located off Saterlee Street. It is a three-story house made out of brown stone, white windows and doors, and slate colored roof shingles. The name ‘Conference House’ was given to the house to describe its historical significance: It was the location of the September 11th, 1776 Staten Island Peace Conference, which was held in the attempt to end the American Revolutionary war. However, this name – and corresponding historical value – was not recognized until recently in the early twentieth century. Before then, it was known as the Billopp House and was predominately treated as a piece of real estate. Over the years, the Conference House experienced changes in ownership, damages from a plant explosion in New Jersey, and a brief role as the setting of a rat poison factory. Currently the building is being protected as a New York City landmark, and remains a permanent fixture of Tottenville’s landscape.
Perth Amboy Ferry
Tottenville was also historically known for its ferry service, which allowed people to travel to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Today, most of the remains of the slip is still visible from Staten Island, sitting on the New Jersey side as a vacant, large, open, pale wooden building, surrounded by a matching picket fence, and next to a white ferry ticket booth. On the Staten Island side, the dock has largely been disassembled with only a slab of concrete and a few wooden poles poking out of the water.
The service was discontinued in 1905 following the opening of the Outerbridge Crossing, but while it was running, it was connected to the Staten Island Railroad, which brought passengers from the island as well as from Manhattan. The Staten Island dock is located only a short walk away from the Tottenville train station.
Staten Island Railroad
The Staten Island Railroad itself, unlike the Ferry, is still in service today. The Tottenville train station is located a little off Main Street and serves as the last stop going southbound. It is a large station that houses two trains at a time, and consists of a long, roofed, raised concrete platform. The railroad was built with one end connected to the St. George Ferry terminal and the other end connected to the Tottenville Ferry terminal. This implied that the trains were usually used to either carry Island passengers to Manhattan, or carry Manhattan passengers to New Jersey.
Main Street is a long stretch of road that spans the width of Tottenville, and is uniquely lined with both residential houses and businesses. Southwest of Amboy Road, Main Street purely residential, but from Amboy to Arthur Kill Road, the residential houses bleed into a small town shopping district. On Amboy, this shopping center is further intermingled with various churches and taverns. Like many modern roads, the street is covered in asphalt and is surrounded by smooth, concrete sidewalks and cars. Most of the houses and buildings feature modern, suburban architecture; however, there are a few that remained true to its origins of multistory suburban houses with large front porches, exterior window shutters, straight wall shingles, and traditional picket fences. On the few side streets off of Main Street that were explored, the pattern remained relatively the same.
Richmond County Savings Bank
Among the historic buildings on Main Street is the Richmond County Savings Bank, which is located at 179 Main Street at the corner of Craig Ave. Originally, the bank was built in 1906 as The Tottenville National Bank and located in lower Main Street; seven years later, it was moved to its current location, built and designed by a Brooklyn Architectural firm called ‘Slee and Bryson’. It stands today as a limestone built model of bold, neoclassical architectural style, and remains as one of the more impressive commercial buildings of Tottenville.
New York Public Library
A little off Main Street, on 7430 Amboy Road, is where the Tottenville Branch of the New York Public Library is located. The library opened its doors on November 26th, 1904 as “part of a municipal gift of industrialist Andrew H. Carnegie,” while Carnegie had been funding the building of libraries in each of New York City’s boroughs. The newly built library replaced the ‘Tottenville Free Library’, which had been organized independently a few years before by volunteers. Designed by the architect John Carrere, the Tottenville Library is a brick building featuring Greek influence in the form of columns and a pediment.
Tottenville’s built landscape consists of modern and historic influences. While not every street could be explored, a great impression of the town can be gleaned from the few places that were seen – namely the historical landmarks, some of the active roads, the residential areas, the public institutions and the means of transportation. All of these buildings and structures contribute to the town’s built landscape.
J718. 2011. Perth Amboy Ferry 10-04-11. http://www.flickr.com/photos/j718/6212216826/in/photostream/
Shepherd, Barnett. Tottenville: The Town the Oyster Built – A Staten Island Community: Its People, Industry and Architecture. Ashland, Ohio: Book Masters, Inc., 2008.
Tottenville Historical Society. 2011. Images of America: Tottenville. South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.