I am one of those New York transplants that has lived here for years, but never been to Staten Island. Randall’s Island? Plenty of times. Ellis Island? Yes. Governor’s Island? Yes. But that all changed this past Sunday! I never made the trek because I didn’t really have reason besides checking off a box on my Real New Yorker scorecard—and before any natives get on my case, when you live in Harlem it is far! But once there was a historical site involved, my interest shot up.
Audrey, a fellow member of the New York Historical Costumer Society, organized the trip and we managed to have a mild August afternoon to explore Richmond Town. We decided against our original plan of visiting in costume as none of us had anything we were particularly excited about wearing, and it would be a long, tourist-filled journey to Richmond Town. Sometimes I enjoy getting double-takes on the subway, but excessive questions and creeper photos get old fast. And it would be over two hours of travel—no thank you! I’ve found that most people are simply curious and polite, but a ferry full of tourists would just be horribly awkward. And hot and sweaty.
We took an underground tour of Manhattan from Harlem to the tip of the island where we met up at the Staten Island Ferry. A visit to Dunkin Donuts, a bit of waiting around, and then the herd lumbered through the open gate onto the ferry. This was my son’s first time on a boat and I was a little nervous that he would be seasick, and he was a bit overwhelmed at first, but he had fun!
We got a rideshare from the ferry, and Historic Richmond Town was a fifteen to twenty minute ride. The earliest mention of Richmond circa 1700 refers to it as “Coccles Town,” or Cockles Town because of the plentiful oysters. Interestingly, many of the historic homes have been relocated to Richmond Town from other parts of Staten Island.
This farmhouse was relocated in 1962 to its current spot on Richmond Road, but was built by Joseph Guyon around 1740 in nearby New Dorp Beach. As mentioned on the website, the Guyon house is “one of few 18th-century gambrel-roof houses surviving on Staten Island today. This once-common form combines Dutch and Franco-Flemish features in a style that was later dubbed ‘Dutch Colonial.'” It’s a very pretty style, and you can see the shape below as our group heads in for a tour.
Unfortunately the house is on the other side of a very busy road, separated from the main village area. We had to hustle across en masse, and I waited for a long time to get this mediocre shot of the house from the front without any cars blocking it!
She was not there during our visit, but Cheyney McKnight (of http://www.notyourmommashistory.com/) is one of the interpreters at Richmond Town and has done research on cooking in the open-hearth style kitchen with her study of African-American foodways. So naturally, I have photos of everything in the kitchen but the open hearth.
There are over 40 buildings in the historic area, and not all of them are open for tours. We toured the Voorlezer House (originally thought to be c.1690, but recently established to have been rebuilt after a fire on the existing foundation in the 1760s), the main museum/County Clerk’s Office, general store, and spent some time with a friendly basketweaver, although sadly his name and the building escape me now. I really wanted to see inside the Christopher House, which we were told has an interior set with colonial furnishings, but it was not open to tours on that day. So I just glimpsed its pretty stonemasonry through the trees and gazed longily. Our tour guide mentioned that every October they have “Old Home Day” with all the homes open, tradespeople giving demonstrations and lots of homemade food.
If I recall correctly, the Guyon-Lake-Tysen house was set to represent the era of the Lake family in the early 1800s. Daniel W. Lake bought the house in 1812, and lived there with his wife Mary who (god bless her) had eight children. Their household also included three enslaved children, who were later emancipated in 1827 and two of them are mentioned as “free” in the 1830 census. I do not believe any names were recorded.
We took a break for delicious Egger’s ice cream, sold out of a 1920’s diner that was left behind from filming Boardwalk Empire nearby! I love that they moved it there and made it a functional part of the village. Also, there isn’t much nearby if you don’t have a car so cold drinks and snacks were very tourist-friendly!
They usually have events at the Guyon Tavern, but uh, someone drove their car into it and it was closed when we visited. Yup, for real. It was a very long day, and took us nearly two hours to get home. But I would like tour in costume or attend a event there in the future, although we would definitely rent a car.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out the Historic Richmond Town website and this Untapped Cities post on Staten Island’s oldest buildings.