Approaching the “Forgotten Borough”

Hello everyone. It’s been some time. I took a little break from exploring deserted buildings, but I’m back today with a somewhat new project. This is the first article in a series on Staten Island, a part of the city that is often overlooked but is well worth seeing.

For those who are unaware, Staten Island is one of the five boroughs that make up the city of New York, along with Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. It is the least inhabited and third-largest of the five. Due in part to its seclusion from the rest of the city, it has always had a slightly different character. No connection connected Staten Island to any other borough until the Verrazano Bridge was built in 1964. Even now, with its suburban setting and political slant towards the right, it still stands out somewhat. Its reputation for local government negligence has led to the nickname “the forgotten borough,” which has become ingrained.

Lower Manhattan is where the Staten Island Ferry leaves from.

A journey to Staten Island starts with a voyage on the Staten Island Ferry from the perspective of Manhattan. Each year, more than 21 million people travel the 25-minute distance from Lower Manhattan to St. George. It is a popular destination for visitors to New York City because it offers breathtaking views of the Statue of Liberty and the nearby harbour. The city’s Department of Transportation now provides the trip without charge, but that wasn’t always the case.

An etching of the “Westfield” catastrophe from 1871.

Privately operated sailboats competed for passengers between Manhattan and Staten Island in the 18th century. Captain John de Forest of the Richmond Turnpike Company oversaw the launch of the first mechanically driven ferry service in 1817. In 1838, Cornelius Vanderbilt, his brother-in-law, took charge. As Staten Island grew, the ferry service proved to be insufficient, and mishaps were frequent.

More than 85 people perished in a boiler explosion on one of the ships in 1871. The president of the Staten Island Railway at the time, Jacob Vanderbilt, was accused of murder but never found guilty. A Staten Island Rapid Transit Company boat collided with a Jersey Central ferry in 1901, and shortly after leaving the Whitehall port, it sunk into the harbour. Although the catastrophe resulted in much fewer fatalities than the incident in 1871, local officials used it as rationale to assume control of the service by 1905.

The boats’ well-known orange colour was chosen in 1926 to improve visibility in snowy and foggy conditions.

Leaving Manhattan, you can see the abandoned Arthur Kill Road as it approaches Staten Island.

The standard fare was a nickel throughout the majority of the 20th century, but in 1975 it was raised to a quarter and then to 50 cents, which infuriated the people of the borough. The fee increase sparked a secession movement, which culminated in the approval of a non-binding vote to establish Staten Island an independent city in 1993, along with growing resentments over the Fresh Kills Landfill on the island’s west side.

The election of Mayor Rudy Guiliani, who received resounding support from Staten Island residents, many of whom were won over by his pledges to shut the dump and eliminate the charge, helped to quell attempts to secede. Both were carried out, with the landfill being closed in 2001 and the charge being abolished in 1997.

At the time of its construction, the Verrazano Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world.

While the ferry has contributed significantly to Staten Island’s history, the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is likely to have had the most influence on the island’s growth. Before and after November 21, 1964, the day the bridge was opened to traffic, two epochs may be used to understand the history of Staten Island.

Longtime locals lament the days before the bridge when Staten Island’s rural roads wound through expansive woods, peaceful coastal towns, and wide open spaces of farmland swarming with nanny goats. Full-time islanders and some of the richest citizens of the city coexisted in the 19th century. As the industrialised metropolis produced more billionaires, many of them sought solace in Staten Island’s lush, rolling hills.

As a result of the huge emigration of immigrants from overcrowded Brooklyn, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge irrevocably changed the character of the borough. The inflow filled farmland and woods with miles and miles of tract houses, causing traffic issues on the island that still exist today.

The name of the bridge’s namesake, Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, is misspelt in the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Even though the borough has changed significantly throughout the years, its fundamental otherness has not changed. Using a ferry or bridge to cross the harbour denotes a psychological separation from New York’s metropolitan setting as we now know it. The city fades away as you explore a new territory as you listen to the boom of the sea or the traffic hum. Remains of an earlier, more pastoral Staten Island are dispersed beyond and between the strip malls and cookie-cutter homes. Times Square seemed to be a million miles away there.

I’ll be exploring the many artefacts and curiosities that dot the furthest reaches of the borough in a series of forthcoming pieces and discussing the stories behind them. In the meanwhile, you may see additional images from the “Arthur Kill Road” project on my website.

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