We arrived at Snug Harbour by car, rather than by boat – a first for us on this trip. It isn’t really a harbour at all – as in a port for ships or boats. We (Steve, Tilly and I aboard Tai Chi) are in fact moored on the other side of Staten Island in Great Kills Harbour. Among other things, Snug Harbour is Maggie’s “estate”. Maggie is Steve’s sister, an artist extraordinaire, who lives on Staten Island and has a studio in one of the lovely old buildings in Snug Harbour. And Snug Harbour, a.k.a. Sailors’ Snug Harbour, it is an extraordinary remnant of New York’s seafaring past.
Is a collection of beautiful and architecturally varied 19th century buildings set in a 83 acre park along the Kill Van Kull on the north shore of Staten Island. The buildings are currently used by arts organizations under the umbrella of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. But while its architecture, gardens, museums and current use is of beauty and interest, its history is even more fascinating.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, a New York tycoon, Captain Robert Richard Randall, bequeathed his Manhattan estate to serve as a retirement home for “aged, decrepit and worn-out seamen” sailors from the US or anywhere in the world. The governing body decided instead to rent out the Manhattan property and buy a much less expensive but more expansive estate on Staten Island instead – a savvy decision. At its peak in the late 19th Century, it was the wealthiest charity in New York, and there were 1000 retired sailors living there. Can you imagine the stories around the dining table or in the bar on the property?
Unfortunately, with the introduction of social security in the 1930’s, the need for accommodation dwindled, the estate fell on hard times financially and into disrepair structurally. Most of the buildings were saved when it was listed as a historic landmark and it finally opened to the public in the 1970’s.
Maggie has her studio in one of these lovely buildings – near the Children’s Museum building, the Staten Island Museum, and the Noble Maritime Collection. The most wonderful part though is the estate itself – amazing grounds, some in need of a little TLC, but other parts a botanical treasure trove – like a collection of themed secret gardens. Best of all was the Chinese Scholar’s Garden.
It being a sunny Sunday, we had enjoyed a drive around Staten Island with Maggie’s dearest friend Johnnie, our personal tour-guide – visiting Lighthouse Hill and the winding lanes of Emerson Hill.
Afterwards we drove to Snug Harbour, visited her studio and enjoyed a delicious picnic of fresh salads and crusty bread on the lawn in the Snug Harbour estate. We visited the amazing Chinese Scholar’s Garden, the vegetable garden and the Tuscan Garden. We ambled amongst the beautiful buildings on the estate, sat and chatted by the pond, and checked out the Noble Maritime Museum. You need to view our photo-journal to get an inkling of the unique beauty of Snug Harbour.
On the way back we stopped to take in the breath-taking view of NY Harbour, Manhattan and the Verrazano Bridge from Fort Wadsworth. It was great to see from such a different perspective, having sailed across the harbour and under the bridge just a couple 0f days earlier.
We returned to the boat in the late afternoon and our friend Mat joined us there for dinner on the boat, bringing us our mended dinghy and filled fuel tank. Oh, the wonders of friendship.
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