Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fox Hills' Magnificent Past

   Fox Hills, a portion of Clifton, was once a prosperous place of large homes, a golf course and open fields.  In 1860, according to the NY Times, a great convocation of Republicans gathered at Clifton Park's Pagoda to hear speeches by George Curtis and Horace Greeley in support of ratifying the presidential nomination, Abraham Lincoln.  I'm not exactly sure where the Pagoda was but my research leads me to believe it's described as being at "the head of Simonson Avenue" which means at either Bay Street and Greenfield Avenue or where Osgood and Greenfield would theoretically intersect.

   Today  it's seen mostly as an appendix to the neighborhood of Park Hill and suffers from the same poor reputation.  Driving through, it should be clear that even after residential development did away with its open spaces it was still a comfortable middle-class place of comfortable and attractive homes.

The estate of Mr. J. D. Dix over the ages

   The house slowly lost its open surroundings and looks to have been demolished sometime between 1951 and 1971.  That's the date, and I offer no guarantee  as to its accuracy (the C of O is dated March, 1975), given by NYC's online records for the thirty-unit apartment building built where it once stood.  The one reference I found to Mr. Dix was about his house being used in the 1850's as the meeting place of the founders of the late First Presbyterian Church.  

   Fox Hills was originally the name of one Lewis Henry Meyer's estate.  Later a golf course sat where the bulk of the Fox Hills and Park Hills apartment complexes now loom.  The course was originally laid out by the Staten Island Cricket Club in 1899.  When the club went bankrupt about a year later the Fox Hills Golf Club was founded by men described by the NY Times as "enthusiasts" in order to save the links for golfing.  Unfortunately the plan only lasted until 1935 when the Depression killed the club closed.
   According to NYC Park's page on the playground at Sobel Court, an army hospital was built along Vanderbilt Avenue in 1918 that operated until 1922.  It was reopened as a hospital and POW camp during WW II and after the war converted to veterans housing.  In the fifties the military closed the site for good.

The Fox Hills Base from somewhere around Van Duzer or Targee Street I'd guess.

   Today the only clear reminder of the area's golfing past is Fairway Avenue.  The club house stood about where Osgood and Fairway Avenues meet.  About where it stood is now occupied by the Ukrainian Church and houses.

    left - Fox Hills Golf Course Club House     right - Fairway and Osgood Avenues (from Google)

   So there's an initial taste of the wonders of old Fox Hills.  So far I haven't been able to find any of the houses in the foreground of the base picture but I'm sure some are still extant.  Maybe by the time I do my next post on the area I'll have found them.  Here's hoping!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Post and Jewett - the Rector Street Interceptor

   According to some random website I found, a sewer interceptor is one that "in a combined system, control(s) the flow of sewage to the treatment plant. In a storm, they allow some of the sewage to flow directly into a receiving stream, thus keeping it from overflowing onto the streets. Also used in separate systems to collect the flows from main and trunk sewers and carry them to treatment points."  Apparently, there's one referred to as the "Rector Street Interceptor" that flows under the intersection of Jewett and Post Avenues.  In 1955 the NYC Dept. of Public Works took some nice shots of the intersection.

Eastern Corners

Southwestern Corner

   It's fascinating to see that while still a commercial hub, it pales in comparison to what it used to be.  It was actually busy enough to warrant its own NYC crossing guard.  Can you imagine that today?
   There are some pictures I have of adjacent buildings that have been converted from storefronts to apartments.  I imagine the death brought to Richmond Avenue (in Port Richmond) by the Plaza contributed to the death of such small shopping districts all over the North Shore in the late sixties and early seventies.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Doctor Elliott's Amazing House - Delafield Place

  I've written a little bit about Dr. Samuel Mackenzie Elliott before.  What I've never written about ('cause I didn't realize what it was) was his home which still stands on Delafield Place opposite Walker Park.

 According to the late Dorothy Valentine Smith in "Staten Island: Gateway to New York", he came here in 1836 when he bought several acres of land.  Over time he became one of the nation's preeminent oculists, attracting such prominent patients as Gen. Winfield Scott and Francis Parkman.  He also constructed between twenty and thirty beautiful homes.  Some, which I've written about, still remain, including the one next to his own large home.

   Several of his wealthy patients found themselves attracted to Staten Island's beauty and nearness to Manhattan and remained as residents.  Among these were the Shaws, known to most folks, unfortunately, only from "Glory".  Another was writer George William Curtis who famously said "God might have made a more beautiful place than Staten Island, but He never did".  

   These people formed the heart of the liberal, Unitarian community that made up an important part of the Island's culture in the mid to late 19th century.  The Shaws lived in a huge house that once occupied the corner of Davis Avenue and the Terrace.  Mr. Curtis' house, still standing in very good order, is at the corner of Henderson and Bard Avenues.  
   Doctor Elliott, while an ardent abolitionist and ally of people like the Shaws and Curtis, was no Unitarian.  On his property he built a small Episcopalian chapel and secured it a rector.  Over time it became too small for the congregation and the existing St. Mary's church was built as a replacement.

   Here we see Dr. Elliot's own home on the usual 1874 map.  The property stretched down to the waterfront.  The house actually faced in that direction, its present entrance on Delafield Place being  the original rear.  One only has to see the mighty Doric columned doorway to see that.  I would love to see what the front grounds looked like in their original state.  

    By 1917 the whole neighborhood was changed.  Part of the Delafield Estate had been given over to the Staten Island Cricket and Tennis Grounds.  The Neptune and Hesper Rowing Association's cove in the Kill van Kull the has been filled in, the railroad's been built (the old Livingston mansion turned into a station) and the Richmond Light and RR Co. built a powerhouse over it.  The big estates are starting to be broken up.           

   I've frequented the Livingston neighborhood for my entire life.  My mother grew up on Henderson between Davis and Bard and I spent my summers there with my grandmother.  Walker Park was place my mother took me and my sister to all the time.  I never realized the size and importance to the Island's history of this house tucked away behind tall trees and thick hedges on Delafield Place .  Only attending an estate sale there recently did I discover the great entrance hidden at its "rear".  Inside it is a great, sprawling place that must have once been afforded a stunning view of the Kull and the green shores of New Jersey.
   The owners, now retired and looking to sell the house, are hoping to sell it to someone who will pamper it and maintain it as it deserves.  I hope so too.