As part of our post-pandemic efforts to renew acquaintance with the world beyond our apartments, a friend and I went to Staten Island’s Snug Harbor. First came the ride on the iconic ferry where bouillon is not served and no one announces “all ashore that’s going ashore”; instead there were several unintelligible messages on the PA system.
Snug Harbor was founded through the will of Robert Richard Randall, heir to a shipping fortune, who died in 1801. Randall’s will called for building and operating a “haven for aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors.” Over the next century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor expanded from its original three buildings to 50 structures and 900 residents from every corner of the world.
Maybe we picked an off day but our take on SH was of many imposing buildings, some in Greek revival style with massive columns; numerous small, somewhat ramshackle cottages; huge outdoor spaces and almost no visitors. We started off at the Noble Maritime Collection, one of the few open buildings, which contains a huge number of shipping-related items: paintings, ship models, examples of scrimshaw and sailor’s knots and an exhibit devoted to the still-functioning Robbins Reef Lighthouse and
doughty Kate Walker, (1848-1931) who manned the light and is credited with saving the lives of over fifty sailors. The Noble is, um, helmed by a sweet man who seemed thrilled to see us—my hunch is he doesn’t get many visitors.
Then onto The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, fabricated in Suzhou, China with eight pavilions, a
bamboo forest path, waterfalls and a variety of scholar’s rocks including a 15-foot formation that towers over the central courtyard. I paid $4.00 for admission here, well worth it, and had the whole place almost to myself.
The rest of the eighty-four acre park with its many botanical gardens, landmarked buildings, sustainable farm, several museums, music hall, chapel and so much more, appeared deserted. We saw a notice for an arts festival in later June so maybe that will entice hordes to visit. Apparently the area is also used for weddings although I’m glad neither of my daughters wanted to be married there because the whole place badly needs work and has a sad, disused feel.
Two fun factoids:
- Herman Melville’s younger brother, Thomas, was Governor of Snug Harbor from 1867 to 1884; the author reportedly visited often.
- A hard fought court battle is in the works that seems to be relocating Snug Harbor to Sealevel, South Carolina. There’s a fuss over breaking Randall’s original will and a long story including details of a thirty-year court battle taken as high as the Supreme Court. The long, complicated story is spelled out here: https://juddtully.net/articles/snug-harbors-tug-of-war/
And to eat: Ship’s Biscuit, that mainstay of sailors of yore, is tasteless and an invitation to break a tooth or two. It can walk the plank. Instead, here’s Port and Starboard Orzo Salad (so-called because it has red and green ingredients like boat running lights. And, it can be made ahead and taken with you onto the boat or porch, table, backyard etc.)
Port & Starboard Salad—from Marine Max
2 ½ cups orzo, cooked al dente
2 green peppers, deseeded and sliced
1 red onion cut into small dice
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp basil, chopped (this implies fresh is at hand. Fine to cheat with dried)
1tbsp olive oil
2 oz feta or goat cheese, crumbled
A healthy grind of black pepper
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place onion and peppers in a roasting pan and drizzle with half the oil. Roast for 15 minutes, turn the vegetables, add the tomatoes, and roast for 15 minutes more. Remove, and let cool. Toss vegetables and cooked orzo together with the remaining olive oil, feta and chopped basil. Refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
To drink? Anything from cold beer to white wine to soft drinks. No timbers will be shivered regardless of what you drink although it’s helpful if the skipper remains uninebriated and can steer. Heave ho!