Modest house a reminder of Staten Island history

From the Staten Island Advance

Modest house a reminder of Castleton Corners’ history
Thursday, August 30, 2007

To borrow from author Gore Vidal, when it comes to this country’s attitude toward its historical built environment, we are fast becoming “the United States of Amnesia.”

Nationwide, there is antipathy toward the protection of sacred sites, landmark properties, historic battlefields, scenic vistas — the list goes on and on. We appear willing to overlook our history in service to the almighty dollar. But, sometimes we get lucky and dedicated preservationists prevail, protecting that which belongs to us all and needs to remain standing for future generations. That has proven to be the case with a lovely old home on Manor Road.

Survivor of about 200 years of Staten Island’s history, this Castleton Corners residence was built long before any other building still standing in that vicinity. It is an unassuming structure; one might drive by and never realize how integral a part this modest home plays in the text of our borough’s story.

Manor Road originally was named “The Manor Road,” as it led to Governor Thomas Dongan’s “Cassilltowne Manor,” which stood near Richmond Terrace. It was circa 1685 that Governor Dongan acquired 5,100 acres along the Kill Van Kull. His estate and the Manor of Bentley were at that time the only “manors” on the Island. At its peak, Dongan’s holdings here were said to total 25,000 acres. He built his manor house in 1688.

Were it not for Gov. Dongan’s intense interest in Staten Island, we might be part of New Jersey today, for a protracted controversy was waged to secure the Island for New Jersey, but Dongan was successful in maintaining the Island as part of New York.

The stone house at the corner of Manor Road and Potter Avenue can be seen on the earliest maps of the Island available, dating from the middle of the 19th century. Since the home is built of rubble stone, and its side gables, fenestration and roofline clearly are early American, we must assume it was built in the 18th century.

The structure actually may have been built as an out-building on the Dongan estate — the manor house stood for 190 years, until well into the 19th century. Where today its boundaries would be the Kill Van Kull, Dongan and Bodine Streets, and DeGroot Place, the original Dongan acreage went from the Kill Van Kull to approximately where Victory Boulevard presently runs.

On a map dated 1853, the Manor Road house clearly is visible on property owned by the Slosson family. Nearby was the famous Bodine’s Inn, an early rest stop for New Yorkers traversing the Island on the nearby Richmond Turnpike (Victory Boulevard). By 1874 the house is shown standing at the center of 36 acres listed as owned by the Slosson Estate.

A map from 1907 shows Crichton Avenue — today’s Potter Avenue — having been cut through to Manor Road. Ten years later, the house is standing on its own lot, measuring 50-by-116 feet. A photograph taken by former Island historian Loring McMillen in 1935 shows the stone house with a commodious front porch, which no longer is extant.

The memory of Governor Dongan’s Cassiltowne Manor remains with us today, through names such as Castleton Avenue, Castleton Corners and Manor Road. But we need simply look at the old stone house to be transported back in time to experience what life was like for those who came before and remember why it’s important that such structures be protected.

United States of Amnesia, indeed.

Marjorie Decker Johnson assists in researching the history of properties featured in Present, Past, Future, which is a project of the Preservation League of Staten Island.

© 2007 Staten Island Advance

Posted Under: Castleton Corners, Staten Island

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