STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — What do Cornelius Vanderbilt, Aaron Burr, Faber Pencils, the atomic bomb, Paul Zindel and David Johansen all have in common?
Staten Island’s Port Richmond, a North Shore community that is the subject of a new, self-titled photo history written by Wagner College professor Lori R. Weintrob and Union County (N.J.) College professor Phillip Papas.
The research project that produced the book, “Port Richmond,” grew out of Wagner College’s extensive community service work with immigrant groups on Staten Island, especially its partnership with schools, churches and various non-profit groups working in the Port Richmond community. Wagner College's Port Richmond Initiative, a five-year program to improve ten indicators of well-being throughout the neighborhood, has been recognized by President Clinton for its effectiveness.
According to Weintrob, one of the most important discoveries she made while researching the book was how significant the successive waves of immigration had been in the development of the neighborhood.
“I was surprised by how vital the Norwegian immigrants had been to the success of Port Richmond’s shipyards during the first two world wars,” she said, “and even more surprised that Dutch, Staten Island’s original language, is still spoken today in Port Richmond by immigrants from the Netherlands Antilles.”
One of Weintrob’s favorite finds while researching “Port Richmond” was Ella Randell, an immigrant from Aruba who was educated in the Netherlands and whose native language is Dutch, just like the original settlers of the area. Randell, a fairly recent immigrant of African ancestry, had joined St. Philip’s Baptist Church in Port Richmond, founded in 1876 to serve the community’s African Americans. To Weintrob, Randell seemed a living symbol of the way Port Richmond’s diversity has been shaped by successive waves of immigration into one of Staten Island’s oldest neighborhoods.
“Port Richmond” is the latest volume in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. The book, which will be released on Dec. 14, is both historical and civic-minded in its purpose, promoting debate on the definition of community as well as the role of history in understanding a community. In its 10 chapters, the book covers many important aspects of community life in Port Richmond, from transportation to business, from sports to politics, and from civic life to military service. Its many beautiful photographs, historic postcards and prints were contributed by some of the best-known institutions in the local community: the Staten Island Advance, the Staten Island Museum, the Northfield Economic Development Corporation and the Staten Island Historical Society. Over 100 additional photographs were provided by the families of those who were interviewed for the book.
One of the more unusual aspects of “Port Richmond” is that it contains photos of material objects from the collections of Historic Richmond Town, including a high chair from the descendent of one of the area’s original Huguenot families, the Du Puys, and a political campaign pin for Anning S. Prall, who served in the local government in Port Richmond before becoming the second chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in 1935.
The authors’ favorite photographs from the Staten Island Historical Society’s archives include:
- trolley drivers posing in front of a station house ca. 1900 (also on view at the New York City Transit Museum in Brooklyn);
- a peace march in the 1920s on Port Richmond Avenue, and
- the butcher Albert Nordenholz posing with a horse and wagon in front of his shop, whose signage still can be seen today on Port Richmond Avenue.
The book’s final photograph, provided by the Staten Island Advance, shows an aerial view of Port Richmond that includes both the Bayonne Bridge and the Twin Towers of Manhattan’s World Trade Center. The photo is a visual tribute to all those who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
LORI R. WEINTROB, an associate professor of history, is the chairwoman of Wagner College’s History Department and the director of the college’s City Studies Program. She received her B.A. in history from Princeton University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in modern European history from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests range from the cultural and social history of modern France to the role of ethnicity and immigrants in the history of New York.
PHILLIP PAPAS, a lifelong Staten Islander, is an associate professor of history at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Hunter College, and his Ph.D. in history from the City University of New York Graduate School and University Center. Dr. Papas is the author of “That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution” (NYU Press, 2007). He was a 2008 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Research Fellow and is currently writing a biography of Revolutionary War General Charles Lee, which will also be published by New York University Press.
Papas and Weintrob have both been involved with the Staten Island Historical Society for many years. Weintrob sits on the editorial board of the Staten Island Historian, the Society’s semi-annual scholarly publication. Since 2005, history majors from Wagner College have participated in internship programs and have conducted academic research in the Society’s vast archives under the direct supervision of Papas, a resident archival researcher for the Society. One of these students was hired by the Society to complete an exhibit for the Staten Island borough president.