Sailors' Snug Harbor

Sailors' Snug Harbor

"Temple Row"
Location 9141000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, New York City, New York[1]
Coordinates 40°38′33″N 74°6′10″W / 40.64250°N 74.10278°W / 40.64250; -74.10278Coordinates: 40°38′33″N 74°6′10″W / 40.64250°N 74.10278°W / 40.64250; -74.10278
Built 1831, opened 1833
Architect Martin E. Thompson; Minard Lafever
Architectural style Greek Revival, Late Victorian
NRHP Reference # 72000909
Significant dates
Added to NRHP March 16, 1972[2]
Designated NHLD December 8, 1976[3]
One of the cottages among the cottage row in Snug Harbor Cultural Center
The architecture of the Snug Harbor Culture Center
Brickwork at Snug Harbor buildings

Sailors' Snug Harbor, also known as Sailors Snug Harbor or Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden or, informally, Snug Harbor, is a collection of architecturally significant 19th-century buildings set in an 83-acre park along the Kill Van Kull on the north shore of Staten Island in New York City, United States.[4] It was once a home for aged sailors. Some of the buildings and the grounds are used by arts organizations under the umbrella of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden.

Sailors' Snug Harbor includes 26 Greek Revival, Beaux Arts, Italianate and Victorian style buildings. The site is considered Staten Island's "crown jewel"[5] and "an incomparable remnant of New York's 19th-century seafaring past."[6] It is a National Historic Landmark District.


Snug Harbor was founded through a bequest after the death of Revolutionary War soldier and ship master Captain Robert Richard Randall, namesake of the nearby neighborhood of Randall Manor. Randall left his country estate in Manhattan, bounded by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, 10th Street, and the southern side of 8th Street adjacent to what is now Washington Square, to build an institution to care for "aged, decrepit and worn-out" seamen. Randall's disappointed heirs contested the will extensively, delaying the opening of the sailors' home for decades. By the time the will challenge was settled, the once-rural land around the Manhattan estate had become well-developed. Snug Harbor's trustees (appointed by Randall's will, they included the mayor of New York City, the president and vice president of the Marine Society, senior ministers of the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, and the chancellor of the State) decided to maximize the profits on the Manhattan property. They changed the proposed site of the institution to another piece of land bequeathed by Randall: a 130-acre plot on Staten Island overlooking the Kill Van Kull.[7][8]

Sailors' Snug Harbor finally opened in 1833, the country's first home for retired merchant seamen. It began with a single building, now the centerpiece in the row of five Greek Revival temple-like buildings on the New Brighton waterfront.[9] From 1867 to 1884, Captain Thomas Melville, a retired sea captain and brother of Moby-Dick author Herman Melville, was governor of Snug Harbor.[10] In 1890, Captain Gustavus Trask, the governor of Snug Harbor, built a Renaissance Revival church, the Randall Memorial Chapel and, next to it, a music hall, both designed by Robert W. Gibson.[9] At its peak in the late 19th century, about 1,000 retired sailors lived at Snug Harbor, then one of the wealthiest charities in New York. Its Washington Square area properties yielded a surplus exceeding the retirement home's costs by $100,000 a year.[9]

By the mid-20th century, however, Snug Harbor was in financial difficulty. Once-grand structures fell into disrepair, and some were demolished; the ornate white-marble Randall Memorial Church was torn down in 1952. With the arrival of the Social Security system in the 1930s, demand for accommodation for old sailors declined; by the mid-1950s, fewer than 200 residents remained.

In the 1960s, the institution's trustees proposed to redevelop the site with high-rise buildings; the new New York City Landmarks Commission stepped forward to save the remaining buildings, designating them landmark structures, and listing them on the National Register of Historic Places. A series of legal battles ensued, but the validity of landmark designation was ultimately upheld and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.[3][11] In the 1970s, the trustees moved the institution to Sea Level, North Carolina and sold the Staten Island site to the City of New York.[9] Today, Randall's Trust no longer operates a retirement home, but the Trustees of the Sailors' Snug Harbor in the City of New York continues its work, using funds from the endowment to help mariners all over the country. Its office is at 40 Exchange Place, Suite 1701 NY, NY 10005.

On September 12, 1976, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center was opened to the public. In 2008, the Cultural Center and the Staten Island Botanical Garden merged to become the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden.[12]

The Sailors' Snug Harbor Archives are preserved at the Stephen B. Luce Library at SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx.

A station on the now-defunct North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railway bore the name Sailors Snug Harbor; a retaining wall and stairways from the station still exist. Now, the S40 travels from and to the St. George Terminal, stopping at Snug Harbor's front gate.


Administration Building C

The five interlocking Greek Revival buildings at Snug Harbor are regarded as "the most ambitious moment of the classic revival in the United States" and the "most extraordinary" suite of Greek temple-style buildings in the country.[13] Built around the 1833 Building C, the buildings "form a symmetrical composition on Richmond Terrace, an eight-columned portico in the center and two six-columned porticoes on either end."[6]

Paul Goldberger wrote, "Snug Harbor has something of the feel of a campus, something of the feel of a small-town square. Indeed, these rows of classical temples, set side-by-side with tiny connecting structures recessed behind the grand facades, are initially perplexing because they fit into no pattern we recognize they are lined up as if on a street, yet they are set in the landscape of a park. They seem at once to embrace the 19th-century tradition of picturesque design and, by virtue of their rigid linear order, to reject it."[14]

The 1833 administration building by Minard Lafever is a "magnificent" Greek Revival building with a monumental Ionic portico, and is the architect's oldest surviving work.[15] It was renovated in 1884 with "an eye-popping triple-height gallery with stained glass and ceiling murals," and restored in the 1990s.[9]

Greenery in Sailors' Snug Harbor

All five buildings are individually landmarked, as are: the 131-year-old chapel, which has been renovated as a recital and concert space; the Italinate Richmond Terrace gate house (1873), the mid-19th-century iron fence surrounding the property, and the interiors of Building C and the chapel.[6]


The buildings are set in extensive, landscaped grounds, surrounded by an individually landmarked, 19th-century cast-iron fence. They include a "beautiful" 1893 zinc fountain featuring the god Neptune, now indoors with a replica in its place. According to the New York Times, "He sits in the middle, astride a shell held aloft by sea monsters, his trident raised. Jets of water spurt from the fountain's center and from bouquets of metal calla lilies to its sides. Visitors to Snug Harbor stop and watch, sitting on benches surrounding the scene, while workmen eat their lunches. It is quiet. Noisy New York and its busy harbor only 200 feet (61 m) away, beyond Richmond Terrace, might just as well be on Mars. Or at least at the other end of His Majesty's sea."[6]

Also on the grounds is a bronze statue of Robert Randall by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden

Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden is a nonprofit, Smithsonian-affiliated[16] organization that operates Sailors' Snug Harbor. Its primary purpose is "to operate, manage and develop the premises known as Sailors Snug Harbor as a cultural and educational center and park." In 2005, it was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg.[17][18] In 2006, the revenues and expenses of the nonprofit were both around US$3.7 million, and its year-end assets were $2.6 million.[19] It is home to the Staten Island Children's Theater Association (SICTA) and the Staten Island Conservatory of Music.[20] Other components include:

Castle guards Secret Garden entrance

Staten Island Botanical Garden

The Staten Island Botanical Garden maintains extensive gardens including the White Garden, inspired by Vita Sackville-West's famous garden at Sissinghurst; Connie Gretz's Secret Garden, complete with a castle, a maze and walled secret garden; and the New York Chinese Scholar's Garden, an authentic, walled, Chinese garden built in 1998 in the style of the famous gardens of Suzhou.

Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art

Established in 1977, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art exhibits the works of local and international artists. The center, which also provides artist-in-residence exhibitions, 15,000 square feet (1,400 m2) gallery space.[21] It was founded in 1977 inside the architecturally significant Greek Revival buildings of Sailors Snug Harbor.

Although the Newhouse was founded with a focus is on artists who live or have their studios in Staten Island[22] and art that reflects the history of Staten Island or Snug Harbor,[23] the Newhouse moved on to a broader focus on contemporary art. Unlike many New York museums, the Newhouse has the space to mount large shows and large works, and can add outdoor sculpture to the mix.[24][25]

Noble Maritime Collection

The Noble Maritime Collection is a museum with a particular emphasis on the work of artist/lithographer/sailor John A. Noble (1913–1983). The Washington Post called the exhibit of a houseboat that Noble converted into an artist's studio "compelling...It is a home on the water and an artist's lair all in one, complete with wooden surfaces, portholes, an engineer's bed, a drawing table, and printmaking and etching implements. Inside, it's easy to envision the boat moored in nearby waters while the son of painter John "Wichita Bill" Noble sketched maritime subjects from the 1930s until his death in 1983. The younger Noble made regular rowboat excursions to observe and document the working life of the waterfront. The Noble collection is a testament to a vibrant culture of ships, docks and laborers that has mostly disappeared from New York."[26]

The New York Sun called the Noble collection "an unsung gem among New York museums."[27]

Staten Island Children's Museum

The Staten Island Children's Museum features a rotating collection of hands-on exhibits and a live animal collection of exotic arthropods. The Children's Museum consists of the main building which was originally built in 1913 and the old snug harbor barn where the livestock was originally kept to feed the residents of Sailors Snug Harbor. When the museum was developed, a modern walkway was built connecting the two structures to create one museum building.

Staten Island Museum

Main article: Staten Island Museum

There are plans by the Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences to open an art museum in a modern, fully climate controlled facility housed within the walls of one of the triple land-marked "front five" buildings at Snug Harbor. Founded in 1881 as The Natural Science Association of Staten Island, the institute currently operates a museum in nearby St. George that includes exhibits relating to natural history and the art and history of Staten Island.

Art Lab

Art Lab is a school of fine and applied art, founded in 1975 and offering art instruction and exhibitions.

Music Hall

Music Hall

An 686-seat Greek Revival auditorium,[14] the Music Hall hosts performing arts. It is the second-oldest music hall in New York City, having opened in July 1892 with a performance of a cantata, "The Rose Maiden." In attendance were some 600 residents of the home who sat on plain wooden seats, and 300 trustees and their guests who occupied the venue's upholstered balcony seats.[9][28][29]

Snug Harbor Cemetery

The residents of sailors snug harbor were buried on the grounds in what was called "monkey hill". The location of the cemetery is across the road from the current snug harbor complex in Allison Pond Park which used to be part of the original snug harbor campus. The Lake in Alisons Park served as a water supply for the snug harbor facility until 1939.[30] The cemetery portion (surrounded by a red brick wall) is still owned by the Snug Harbor center while the remaining land was sold in 1975 to the city and turned into a public park with hiking trails.[30] The majority of the over thousand bodies (including those of military naval sailors) lay in unmarked graves because their headstones were removed in the 80's and put into a storage room on the main campus for "preservation".

Murders & Suicides

On January 30, 1863 at 9 A.M the chaplain of Snug Harbor, Reverend Robert Quinn was shot by a sailor resident named Herman Ingalls with a double barrel pistol outside the snug harbor chapel. Herman Ingalls then turned the firearm on himself and died at 10PM in the Snug Harbor hospital located on the grounds.[31]

Local legend tells of a second murder that occurred in Snug Harbor. According to a persistent legend, a female matron was murdered in the matrons cottage on the grounds, however unlike the Rev. Quinn murder in 1863, no official documentation has been found to support proof of the matron murder.

Dancing sailors in Peter Pigeon of Snug Harbor

In an 1898 article in Ainslee's Magazine, "When The Sails Are Furled: Sailor's Snug Harbor," the soon-to-be-famous novelist Theodore Dreiser provided an amusing non-fiction account of the obstreperous and frequently intoxicated residents of Snug Harbor.

In 2004, local performing arts company Sundog Theatre commissioned an original play by Damon DiMarco and Jeffrey Harper about the sailors' life at Snug Harbor. My Mariners was performed at the Harbor's Veteran's Memorial Hall.

The final scene of the movie Fur, showing a nudist camp, was filmed at Snug Harbor in July 2006.

The 2009 illustrated novel Peter Pigeon of Snug Harbor, by Ed Weiss, is set almost entirely at Snug Harbor - from its days as an old sailors' home to its new incarnation as an arts center.[32]

Parts of the 2011 music video for "Marry The Night", Lady Gaga's fifth and final single off her album Born This Way, were filmed at Snug Harbor.[33]

Damsels in Distress, a 2012 film by writer-director Whit Stillman starring Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody, was shot largely at Snug Harbor, which served as the campus of the movie's fictional Seven Oaks College.

In January 2013, an episode of Ghost Adventures was filmed at and focused on Sailor's Snug Harbor and the spirits haunting the area.



  1. Andrew Dolkart & Postal, Matthew A.; Guide to New York City Landmarks, 3rd Edition; New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2004. ISBN 0-471-36900-4; p.333.
  2. National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. 1 2 "Sailors' Snug Harbor". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-11.
  4. "About Us". Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  5. Seth Kugel (November 11, 2007). "Staten Island: Getting Beyond the Ferry". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-16. The Snug Harbor Cultural Center is its crown jewel. Originally an 18th-century home for "aged, decrepit and worn-out sailors," it now houses the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, the Staten Island Children's Museum and the Staten Island Botanical Garden, where November is orchid and chrysanthemum month, and every month is New York Chinese Scholars Garden month.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Dunlap, David W. (March 23, 1987). "Dispute Grows". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-18. Its centerpiece, Building C, was completed in 1833. Over the next 48 years, it was flanked by and joined to four dormitories. These form a symmetrical composition on Richmond Terrace, an eight-columned portico in the center and two six-columned porticoes on either end.
  7. "Sailors' Snug Harbor Board of Trustees". The New York Preservation Archive Project. 2014-02-19. The property originally belonged to Captain Robert Richard Randall, Revolutionary War soldier and ship master. . . . According to the will, . . . the board of trustees would include the mayor of New York City, President and Vice President of the Marine Society, Senior Ministers of the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches, Head of the Chamber of Commerce, and Chancellor of the State
  8. "Snug Harbor Cultural Center". New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. 2014-02-19. By the time a protracted challenge to his will was settled, the land around the estate had changed dramatically, the city being developed around the area. Opting instead to maximize profits on the Manhattan property, Snug Harbor’s trustees relocated the proposed site to Staten Island . . . .
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Gray, Christopher (April 7, 1996). "The Music Hall at Snug Harbor Cultural Center. A Low-Budget Revival for a Grand 1890 Theater". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-18. Sailors' Snug Harbor was established in 1801 by the will of Robert Randall to care for "aged, decrepit and worn-out" seamen. For this he left most of his estate, including Manhattan property bounded by Fifth Avenue and Broadway and Eighth and 10th Streets. In 1833 the trustees of Sailors' Snug Harbor opened the first in a row of five temple-fronted buildings on the New Brighton waterfront on Staten Island.
  10. Herman Melville: A Biography, by Hershel Parker, 1996, p. 651
  11. Carolyn Pitts (August 3, 1976). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: The Sailors' Snug Harbor" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-15. and Accompanying 9 photos and prints, from 1965 and undated. (3.53 MB)
  12. Merger opens a new era at Snug Harbor; Cultural Center unites with Botanical Garden, benefiting programs at the sprawling facility, June 29, 2008, by Michael J. Fressola, Staten Island Advance,
  13. Source Book of American Architecture: 500 Notable Buildings, by G. E. Kidder Smith, Paul Goldberger, 2000, p. 179
  14. 1 2 Goldberger, Paul (July 5, 1987). "The Slow Stylish Redesign of Snug Harbor". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-18. It is not as famous as the ferry and it has not aroused tempers the way the one-way toll on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge has, but the struggle over Sailors Snug Harbor must still be Staten Island's epic drama. This collection of Greek Revival buildings, constructed in the 19th century as a retirement home for seamen, was almost torn down in the 1960s by the home's trustees, who wanted to replace the great row of templelike buildings with a high-rise structure; the city designated the complex a landmark, at which point the trustees went to court.
  15. Guide to New York City Landmarks, by Andrew Dolkart, Matthew A. Postal, New York (N.Y.). Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2003, p. 333
  16. "Smithsonian Affiliations". Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  17. "City Groups Get Bloomberg Gift Of $20 Million". The New York Times. 6 July 2005. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  19. "Internal Revenue Service Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax: Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Fiscal year ending June 30, 2006" (PDF).
  20. "Homepage - Staten Island Conservatory of Music". Staten Island Conservatory of Music. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  21. NYC Tourism
  22. "ART - Sculpture Dominates a Show on S.I. -". 7 May 1989. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  23. "SUNDAY OUTING - On Staten I., New Use For Gracious Landmark -". 18 November 1990. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  24. "An Era Still Driven to Abstraction". 11 April 1997. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  25. "ART REVIEW - Rain or Shine, Residing Outdoors -". 9 August 2002. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  26. Lichtenstein, Grace (August 26, 2007). "Boroughing Into Staten Island". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-18. With 26 buildings to visit, you might be stumped on where to begin. Start at the Noble Maritime Collection museum, which contains one of center's most compelling displays: a houseboat that painter, lithographer and sailor John A. Noble converted into an artist's studio, assembling it from salvaged wooden ship materials over 40 years. It is a home on the water and an artist's lair all in one, complete with wooden surfaces, portholes, an engineer's bed, a drawing table, and printmaking and etching implements. Inside, it's easy to envision the boat moored in nearby waters while the son of painter John "Wichita Bill" Noble sketched maritime subjects from the 1930s until his death in 1983. The younger Noble made regular rowboat excursions to observe and document the working life of the waterfront. The Noble collection is a testament to a vibrant culture of ships, docks and laborers that has mostly disappeared from New York.
  27. "A Home for Ancient Mariners". New York Sun. June 28, 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-18. The sparklingly restored Building D houses the Noble Maritime Collection, an unsung gem among New York museums, comprising the collection of the maritime painter John Noble, including a reconstruction of the amazing houseboat studio from which he recorded harbor life.
  28. "Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden". Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  29. (,James P. Staten Island Attractions:Official Guide to Staten Island Museums, Parks, Historic Sites, Theatre and Concerts, and Fun Places to Visit.
  30. 1 2
  32. Weiss, Ed. Peter Pigeon of Snug Harbor, New York: Rocky Hollow Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9634299-9-5
  33. Vena, Jocelyn.

Further reading

  • Barnett Shepherd, Sailors' Snug Harbor: 1801-1976, Snug Harbor, 1979.
  • Gerald J. Barry, The Sailors' Snug Harbor, A History, 1801-2001, Fordham Press, 2000.
  • Frances Morrone, A Home for Ancient Mariners, June 28, 2007, New York Sun

Note: Builder of Sailors Snug Harbor was Samuel Thomson of Inwood, NY, not M. Thompson.


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