Riding the Line – Eastern Shore

view of verrazano bridge from midland beach
View of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Midland Beach.

The train then pulls out of the station, passes under the Staten Island Expressway, and stops at Grasmere, the first station located along the eastern shore of the borough. The distance between the Clifton and Grasmere stations is the furthest between two stops on the entire line, which has led to the discussion of whether or not a station should be built to close that distance in the Rosebank section (which has some great historic highlights, including the Alice Austen House, and the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum). Grasmere in itself is a quiet, suburban area that was named after a village in England with similar lakes and other geographical features. Grasmere Lake and Cameron Lake are privately owned and are located between the Staten Island Railway and Hylan Boulevard.

Alice Austen House
Photo courtesy Alice Austen House by Floto + Warner, Clear Comfort, 2015,  © Floto + Warner

Old Town is the next stop on the Staten Island Railway as we continue our ride further down the shore. The neighborhood was the first permanent settlement on Staten Island as part of the New Netherland colony in 1661. Dutch and French settlers, led by lead explorer Pierre Billiou, claimed the land and eventually named it “Oude Dorp,” or “Old Village,” so that it wouldn’t be mistaken for the name of a settlement that developed just south some years later. Old Town was home to the New York Tattoo Museum, which was open from 2010 to 2017. It was located on the second floor of a building on Old Town Road and had three small exhibits, which taught visitors the history of tattoo art itself rather than just the machinery and technology used to make them.

Dongan Hills, unlike many of the other neighborhoods along the Staten Island Railway, saw great benefit from the construction of the Verrazzano Bridge in 1964. The neighborhood consists primarily of small, one-family homes, but it also features some apartment complexes and has the southernmost public housing project on Staten Island. The area was named after the former Irish-born governor of New York, Thomas Dongan, who held power in 1682. Most of the residents in the neighborhood are Italian-American and were previously Brooklyn residents who moved across the bay. The former home of Pierre Billiou, the explorer who first acquired the Old Town section of the island, is located in Dongan Hills.

The next two stops on the Staten Island Railway are at Jefferson Avenue and Grant City, which fall in the neighborhood of Midland Beach. The area is a popular destination for beachgoers on Staten Island, and its seaside recreational facilities are what draw the most attention. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Boardwalk stretches down the east shore from the neighborhood of Arrochar and features a number of memorials honoring Staten Island residents who served in both World Wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. It had been a resort location since the 1890s, when the Staten Island Railway was first brought to the area. Upland from Midland Beach you can find one of the last wooden bridges on Staten Island.

Staten Island wooden bridge
One of the last wooden bridges on Staten Island

The next stop past Midland Beach is New Dorp, which is currently one of the primary commercial centers in the borough. Along with Old Town, the neighborhood was one of the first established communities on Staten Island. The Vanderbilt family had a large stake in the community during the 19th century and played an important role in the community’s suburban housing development. By the 1960s, the shopping centers and department stores on Hylan Boulevard, New Dorp Lane, and Hylan Plaza became well-frequented locations for many Staten Island residents. New Dorp Lane to this day hosts community events, including the New Dorp Food Crawl, the Family Fun Walks, and the New Dorp Lane Car Show. One of the last pre-World War II theaters on Staten Island, the Lane Theater, is also located in New Dorp. It was constructed in 1938 and is one of the few Art Moderne-style theaters in the entire city.

Oakwood Heights just south of New Dorp was originally a summer resort community until the construction of the Staten Island Tunnel was proposed to link the Staten Island Railway with the New York City Subway. Because the tunnel was set to give Staten Island residents direct access to the rest of the city, heavy suburbanization started to take place in the neighborhood. Frederick Douglass Memorial Park is one of the many cemeteries in Oakwood Heights, but was also a specifically designated burial ground for African Americans. A traffic circle called Amundsen Circle honors the explorer Roald Amundsen, who was representative of the large Norwegian population in the neighborhood during the 1930s.

As the train gets closer to its southern terminal, the next stop on the Staten Island Railway is Bay Terrace. The neighborhood was originally named Whitlock after the Whitlock Realty Company, which was responsible for the development of the land in the area. There was previously a high number of Jewish residents in Bay Terrace during the 1970s, many of whom moved in from the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. In addition to the ever-present Italian-American population, there has also been a large increase in the number of Russian-American residents over the last several years. Ron Thal, a former guitar player for the rock band Guns N’ Roses, lived in Bay Terrace until his mid-20s.