Watering Place ca. 1623, Gen. William Howe, 1776 fleet at anchor at BSL
People have known for centuries that today’s Staten Island neighborhoods of St. George and Tompkinsville are great places to be. From early in the 1600s explorers called at a freshwater spring that flowed down from the heights to the sea. Known then as the Watering Place
, it’s marked today by a brass plaque in a quaint city park at Bay Street and Victory Boulevard. The area around the Watering Place was called Duxbury’s Point in colonial times. In the spring of 1776 American soldiers attacked British sailors there. That summer the redcoats evacuated Boston and came to New York in force to deal once and for all with Washington and his Continental Army. General William Howe
landed thousands of troops at what is now the foot of Victory Boulevard and where today many Bay Street Landing residents park their cars. The soldiers marched up the hill and built a fort on what is now called (you guessed it) Fort Hill. From their base on Staten Island the British would launch the campaign that became known as the Battle of Long Island.
Daniel Tompkins and his family
After the war, then Governor of New York and later U.S. Vice President Daniel Tompkins
established a settlement in the area. Some neighborhood streets still bear the names of his family; wife, Hannah and son, Minthorne. Another, his daughter’s “Arietta Street”, has been renamed a couple of times. After 1815 when Tompkins established a ferry service to Manhattan on the spot where Howe landed, Arietta Street became a part of the Richmond Turnpike. The turnpike allowed travelers disembarking from the City to catch a coach across the Island and continue their journey to New Jersey on another ferry. (After World War I the Richmond Turnpike was renamed again, to Victory Boulevard.) Use of the Arietta Street name for the lower portion of Victory hung on for a while longer, but finally went out of fashion.
1874 map, ADC pamphlet, ADC locomotive
By the middle of the 1800s the property that would become Bay Street Landing was already serving as piers and warehouses. An 1874 map shows it operating as Bostwick’s American Docks. By the turn of the twentieth century it was the American Dock Company, linked to Staten Island’s well-known Pouch family’s maritime enterprises. Rail connections were established with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and tracks from American Dock’s small locomotives can still be seen in spots on the property.
1908 American Cotton Fire
At the time fire was an omnipresent danger. In warehouses containing tons of cotton, hemp, sisal and other merchandise it was almost unavoidable. Around the turn of the twentieth century a series of blazes raged across the site. These may have been caused by the inadvertent relocation of smoldering bales of cotton, “saved” from one burning building, into another that was soon-to-be. In response the company built several new “fire-proof” warehouses (that today many residents of Bay Street Landing call home.) Thereafter the dock company’s claim to fame and enthusiastic advertising strategy was that because of the modern construction, they had the lowest insurance rates in the port of New York. Shipments of sugar from Cuba, coffee from Brazil and chemicals from Chile filled the stacks.
1915 10 BSL, 2nd floor office, 1930 water front
The property functioned this way through most of the twentieth century, importing and exporting goods from the region and beyond, as well as supporting the efforts in both world wars. But by the late 1960s, things had changed. New York was de-industrializing, and much of the harbor’s freight operations had relocated. Piers and warehouses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and even at the ancient Watering Place, lay abandoned. New larger facilities opening in Newark and Elizabeth and Staten Island’s Howland Hook left the old ones seemingly without a future.
BSL construction Oct 22, 1981, May 15, 1982, May 16, 1982
Then in the seventies an idea emerged. “Adaptive reuse” is a common term these days for reusing a building or site for something other than its originally intended purpose. But back then on Staten Island it was a pretty crazy idea. Convert old warehouses into residential space; where young and old, singles and families, artists and corporate people could share a community? Would anyone be interested? Could it even be done? By 1982 it had been. Bay Street Landing opened that year as a residential community. It recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. Set on eleven park-like acres the old warehouses were born anew. Transformed into loft apartments with ceilings as soaring as their harbor views, each became a unique expression of its owner’s vision. Many of the original residents are still here today, and beneath the street the old spring still flows.