Thursday, October 29, 2009

Staten Island Ferry

The Staten Island Ferry has its roots in private sailing vessels used to connect the island to the rest of the region going back to colonial days. In the early 19th century, Daniel Tompkins established the Richmond Turnpike Company in a effort to develop the town of Tompkinsville on the North Shore of Staten Island. He started a commercial service that later introduced the first motorized steam ship in 1817. This line was later bought by Cornelius Vanderbilt. Eventually he sold his ferry service to his brother and finally it ended up in the hands of the B & O Railroad. Following a major disaster when the ferry Westfield exploded in 1871 (killing nearly 100) and the Northfield being sunk in 1901 (with 5 dead) the city seized control of the Staten Island Ferry system.

Since the city took over it's been nothing but unicorns and butterflies. Well, not really. There have been collisions, seawall rammings, and, most notably, the 2003 dock collision that left eleven dead, and crippling several. Miraculously, though the pilot went to jail but the captain, though responsible, escaped jail time, essentially because the Dept. of Transportation had never enforced its own guidelines about how a ferry should be crewed during docking. As usual with the Bloomberg administration, no real high ranking employees of the department responsible for the ferry's mismanagement were even disciplined (see FDNY and the Deutsche Bank fire).

As a Staten Islander the ferry has been a major part of my life since I was very small. Only in the past seven years have I stopped riding it with any sort of regularity. Before that, like tens of thousands of other Islanders, I rode it ten to twelve times a week. It formed a crucial part of my memories of childhood trips to museums, plays and shopping trips. As I grew up it became part of my daily school and work trips.

The new terminal, stark and silvery stands in tremendous contrast to the ugly functional industrial style terminal I grew up with and in even greater contrast to the beautiful and ornate one built by Carrere and Hastings. That one burned down in 1946.

From the pictures I've been able to obtain it was clearly beautiful. I sort of wish my memories were of that lost edifice instead of the ugly, bolt covered thing that too often reeked of urine and pigeon droppings.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Borough Hall

Whatever one might think of the job of borough president (I think as the only borough wide elected city official I think, even shorn of power, it's they're valuable representatives for the boroughs), Staten Island's has one beautiful borough hall to work out of. It was designed John Carrere and Thomas Hasting, and is one of the finest works of municipal architecture in a city filled with beautiful municipal constructions. Borough Hall and the nearby courthouse, along with the long ago burned down ferry terminal, were the three completed elements of a planned mall along Richmond Terrace. It would have also included a federal building, a post office and a museum. Still, they did design the St. George Library. Sadly it's been destroyed as a good library on the inside but it remains a striking element of the St. George skyline.

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The center building was originally the Corn Exchange. When I was little it was the Chemical Bank branch my parents used when we lived on Stuyvesant Place before moving to Stapleton. It had a huge numeric clock made of lightbulbs on its roof that you'd watch coming in on the ferry.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The other remaining Methodists

Summerfield Methodist Church - 104 Harbor Road - Mariners' Harbor

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Christ United Methodist Church - 1890 Forest Avenue - Graniteville

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I did a little mucking around on the United Methodist Church's website to see what I could discern about Methodism on the Island. The numerous remaining churches (there are several more on the South Shore) are all barely hanging on with tiny congregations (except two of the Korean congregations). If you go to the other boroughs there are huge congregations. So I still don't have my answers and I continue to be intrigued.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I Really, Really Want to Go Home Now.

I'm actually embarrassed to be Swedish and American this morning. Now, don't get me too wrong, I think Obama's a sort of okay person. As a president he's been okay too, though only because he's turned out to be so utterly incompetent that the woefully awful and economy-threatening things he's talked about he can't get implemented. I say this because my libertarian tendencies are satisfied by a president who can do less and less to interfere with the daily lives of Americans.

What I don't like about Obama is his crawling on the world stage and making nothing but abject apologies for the 'crimes' and missteps of the United States. I don't like that he's supported Zelayas in Honduras. I really don't like that he blew off the Dalai Lama in order to make kissy face with the Chinese.

So now this: the Nobel Peace Prize. It's really been an absurd award since they gave it to Al Gore for fighting global warming and Jimmy Carter for hating George Bush (no, wait it was for finding "peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development").

Barak Obama may yet go down as the greatest president of all time. I'm being serious for a second. Right now he isn't. He's a man with barely enough qualifications to be president who's been in office for nine months and not really accomplished anything. I mean nothing in the most objective and nicest possible way.

Now I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. All those creepy instances of school kids singing his praises in the last few weeks or that "pledge" video are starting to make me feel like I must be wrong. Maybe he's already greater than Washington/Jefferson/Lincoln combined. Maybe he will lead us to a greater tomorrow. Maybe.

Maybe I just need to go home, curl up under the blankets, pull the pillows over my head and hide out for the next three years.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Methodism, wherefore art thou?

I've written before about something I call 'the Great Methodist Collapse". I still don't know anything about what happened to the Methodist churches on Staten Island in the late sixties but of the six churches (and one chapel) I know of on the North Shore, three of them closed and were sold off to other parties. Presumably it was a combination of the demographic changes (though the late sixties seems too early for that) and the general decline in urban mainline Protestant church attendance (and, again, there's a problem in that the Methodist church stayed strong through today). Someday I'll actually talk to a Methodist church historian and understand what happened. Just not today.

Faith United Methodist Church - 221 Heberton Avenue - Port Richmond

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The link leads to a detailed history of the birth of United Methodist Church from a combining of Grace Methodist Church (the present United church) with Kingsley Methodist in Stapleton and Trinity Methodist in West New Brighton.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Reformed Churches

Once upon a time Staten Island was a Dutch settlement. Today that's mainly recalled by the existence of Dutch or Netherlands related street names (Stuyvesant Pl., Brabant, Walloon, Van Pelt, Van Name, etc.). Another bit of remaining history though are the few remaining Reformed congregations. Until the mid-80's the Reformed Church in America (RCA) was known as the Dutch Reformed Church. Demographics and history I imagine caused them to ditch the Dutch.
At present the VP of the RCA is the Rev. James Seawood, pastor of Brighton Heights Reformed Church in St. George. Next year he becomes the president. Good man, good pastor and nice guy.

Brighton Heights Reformed Church - 320 St. Mark's Place - St. George

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This congregation was founded around 1827 as a offshoot of the ministry established at the Quarantine Station in St. George by the minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Port Richmond. The old building constructed in the late 19th century was destroyed by fire during renovations in the mid-1990's. The new building was dedicated in the last decade.

Reformed Church on Staten Island - 54 Port Richmond Avenue - Port Richmond

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This is one of the oldest churches on Staten Island and one of the oldest congregations (beat only, I think, by St. Andrew's Episcopal in Richmondtown). It was founded by Belgian Huguenots and later became part of the Dutch Reformed Church. The original church was burned down during the Revolution by the British and the new one erected in the late 18th century. There's an attached graveyard with 17th century headstones (and bodies presumably). Apparently it's a small and dwindling congregation but the Staten Island Preservation League's housed there so they've got that going for them.

There used to be at least one other Dutch Reformed church on the North Shore. Appropriately enough it was located in Mariners' Harbor which has the largest concentration of Dutch names (Holland, Netherland, Brabant, Mesereau, etc.). Near as I can determine it closed in the late sixties. At present the old church is home to Fellowship Baptist Church.

Mariners' Harbor Dutch Reformed Chapel - 3036 Richmond Terrace - Mariners' Harbor

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