Tottenville, Staten Island

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The neighborhood of Tottenville in Staten Island is shown highlighted in orange
The neighborhood of Tottenville in Staten Island is shown highlighted in orange

Tottenville, area approx. 1.7 square miles (4.4 km²), is the southernmost neighborhood of Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City (and New York City's southernmost neighborhood). Originally named Bentley Manor by one of its first settlers, Captain Christopher Billop (1638-1726), after the ship on which he sailed to America in 1667, the district was renamed Tottenville in 1869, apparently in honor of Gilbert Totten, a local American Revolutionary War hero.

The Unami Indians, a branch of the Lenape or Delaware nation, were the original inhabitants of all Staten Island, including Tottenville; some of their artifacts and evidence of burial sites have been discovered near Ward's Point, which is New York City and New York State's southernmost land.

During the colonial period and for a significant time thereafter, Tottenville was an important way-station for travelers between New York City (of which Staten Island did not formally become a part until 1898) and Philadelphia, as it was the site of a ferry that crossed the Arthur Kill to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. This ferry became less important when the Outerbridge Crossing opened in 1928, but continued to operate until 1963.

Two distinctive landmarks, the Bethel United Methodist Church (erected in 1840 and rebuilt on the same site in 1886 after a fire had destroyed the original structure) and an abandoned factory originally built in 1900 for use as a smelting plant and later operated by Lucent Technologies (which closed the facility in 2001), stand at the northern approaches to the neighborhood, which is bounded on the west and south by the Arthur Kill and on the east by Raritan Bay (the mouth of the Raritan River lies immediately to the south of where the Arthur Kill empties into the bay, which is also sometimes reckoned as being part of the Atlantic Ocean). At the opposite end is the Conference House, built by Christopher Billop and so named because it was the site of abortive negotiations in 1776 to end the Revolutionary War (it is now the centerpiece of a city park). The Billop family, who built the estate in 1678, continued to own it and the surrounding property at the time the 1776 meeting took place, but in 1784 their land was confiscated because the family had been Tories during the war.

Many small factories once dotted the neighborhood's western shoreline, but most of these are no longer in operation. Boat construction also once flourished along this shoreline, but this industry was rendered obsolete when the practice of using steel rather than wood to build boats became dominant in the years immediately after 1900. World War I spawned a revival of shipbuilding activity, but it proved only temporary, and Tottenville's last shipyard closed in 1930. Another activity formerly prominent in Tottenville was the harvesting of oysters from the surrounding waters, which ceased in 1916 when the New York City Health Department determined that pollution had made it unsafe. As of 2005, oyster harvesting has since been reopened.

Tottenville has been the southern terminus of the Staten Island Railway since the railway was extended to the neighborhood on June 2, 1860, and today the three southernmost stations along this railway are generally regarded as being located within the community; besides the terminal station which bears the neighborhood's name, the other two are Atlantic (named after a nearby Con Edison power substation) and Nassau (referring to Nassau Smelting and Refining, the original name of the factory later taken over by Lucent Technologies). Tottenville is also served by two full-time and one-part time city bus route. The 123rd Precinct of the New York City Police Department has its headquarters there, and the neighborhood also has a branch of the New York Public Library. Tottenville High School, a public school, was originally located in the neighborhood, but a new campus was opened approximately three miles to the north, in the Huguenot section, in 1972 (an intermediate school, or junior high school, now occupies the original high school building).

Demographically, the population is largely white (nearly 95 per cent as of 1990), with extremes of both wealth and poverty being essentially absent, and the neighborhood has a much higher proportion of Protestants than is encountered on Staten Island as a whole, which is heavily Roman Catholic. In the mid-2000s, the community witnessed the arrival of Mexican immigrants for the first time.

During the 1990s, the section of Tottenville east of Hylan Boulevard, until then nearly uninhabited, saw massive new home construction, but the district's population density still ranks among the lowest in New York City, as does the crime rate. Business establishments were largely restricted to the Main Street corridor in the heart of the neighborhood until the early 2000s, when a second commercial core began to emerge at the north end of the community, along Page Avenue west of Amboy Road; further expansion of the latter area is due in 2005 as the former Lucent Technologies property is being developed for this purpose.

The 2000 U.S. Census showed that ZIP Code 10307, essentially coterminous with Tottenville (a fortuitous circumstance as neighborhoods in New York City do not have officially recognized boundaries) had a population of 9,207, whose median age was 35.4, and the zip code's per-capita income was found to be $27,688. The average household size was 2.99 persons.

On December 31, 2003, an allegedly alcohol-fueled brawl broke out at the Tottenville firehouse, home of Engine Company 151 and Ladder Company 76 of the New York City Fire Department, resulting in one firefighter, Robert Walsh, being hospitalized in critical condition after being hit with a metal folding chair. Firefighter Michael Silvestri was arrested and charged with assault in connection with the incident, which led to six members of the unit, including its commander, Captain Terrence Sweeney, being transferred to other firehouses.

Many large, stately homes built in Tottenville in the 19th Century remain standing; however, in recent years, land developers have been buying up the property on which several of these homes have stood, with the intention of demolishing them and constructing townhouses on the property. The fate of one such home, located at 7484 Amboy Road, became the focus of an intense local controversy in March, 2005, when the community rose up in opposition to plans by builder John Grossi, who had purchased the property, to raze the home and construct five townhouse units on the site. On March 17 Grossi angrily spray-painted graffiti on the house, built circa 1870, which included a threat to populate it with low-income tenants under the federal Section 8 housing program; the resulting public outcry prompted New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to have the home declared a landmark, thus preventing its demolition. Bloomberg announced his decision to do this during a visit to Tottenville on March 22, and the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission made the designation official on April 12.

Major League Baseball pitcher Jason Marquis, though born in Brooklyn, was raised in Tottenville and attended Tottenville High School.

Tottenville is situated at 40°31' North latitude and 74°15' West longitude.


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