Port Richmond

The Port of Port Richmond

Port Richmond was once a thriving harbor, home of cross-channel ferry service and some of New York's more prominent shipyards. Its connection to the Kill Van Kull was the keystone of its economy. Today, it is but a shell of its former self, boasting only a small tugboat marina. The marina can be seen on the right; one of Port Richmond's more successful competitors is in the background, across from the now-derelict town. Image taken from fieldwork.

Howland Hook Marine Terminal is the only active dockyard left on Staten Island. Located on the Arthur Kill, the facility on Howland Hook resembled those found in the Port Richmond area until about fifty years ago. Image courtesy of imperiatrading.com.

Port Richmond is a small hamlet on the northern coast of Staten Island. Bordering the Kill Van Kull, it was once a vibrant harbor town, making its money from shipbuilding and ferrying people to and from the transportation hub. For two hundred years prior to the Staten Island Expressway (and more importantly the Verrazano Bridge), it connected routes leading to and from what are today Bayonne, Perth Amboy, inland Staten Island and its North Shore, and other points south and west of New York City.

This cliff-face, found near the George Washington Bridge, is one of the more impressive parts of the Palisades Sill. Unfortunately, due to urban development, few traces of it remain in Staten Island (other than a slight elevation increase). Image courtesy of jschumacher.typepad.com.

 

 

 

Much of Port Richmond sits on a narrow stretch of what is known geologically as the ‘Palisades Sill,’ surrounded by the Brunswick and Stockton Geologic Formations, which are from a similar time and history. The 200-million-year-old Palisades Sill, an underground upheaval, extends down from Newburgh to New Jersey; it is most visible at the Palisades, a cliff-face extending north from the George Washington Bridge for about twenty miles. Its route can be roughly traced on the Palisades Interstate Parkway. Sections of the Palisades Sill can also be seen near the Bayonne Bridge, albeit less impressively. Much of Newark Bay and the Lower Hudson River Valley follow the formation’s undersea counterparts to the ocean – or rather, a lake just inland from the ocean, bottled in by the isthmus crossing the Narrows. When glacial moraine broke through the Narrows about 10,000 years ago, the draining of the ‘dammed’ lake left the waterways we know today.

Looking across the river from Bayonne, one would never expect that Port Richmond sits on a subterranean ridge, much less part of the Palisades. Image courtesy of wikimedia.com.

Despite the fact that the town sits on top of a major geological formation, there are few changes in terrain to indicate such. The town is at or near sea level, with the inland areas slightly higher in elevation; elevation ranges between 20 and 60 feet, topping out at 150 feet nearing Clove Lakes. Aside from the geology, barely noticeable at the surface, Port Richmond’s topography is consistent with what would be found on the Atlantic Coastal Plain – near sea level, with little to no topographical change. We would assume that if left in its natural state, Port Richmond’s landscape would begin to mimic that of undeveloped sections across the river, with moderate-to-dense woodland.

The Kill Van Kull was the lynchpin for the survival of Port Richmond; it is estimated (by the Port Authority) that 12% of all containers that enter or depart the United States transit this strait. In this respect, the Bayonne Bridge (foreground) is to be raised by fifty feet to permit passage of larger vessels. Image taken from fieldwork.

Port Elizabeth, NJ, contains some of the largest dockyards in the United States; they are under the auspices of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Port Elizabeth is now what Port Richmond once was - a thriving industrial center wholly dependent on the Kill Van Kull for its survival. Image taken from fieldwork.

Port Richmond is named for the natural harbor that it forms along the Kill Van Kull, an inlet connecting Lower New York Bay in the east to Newark Bay in the west. One of the only two routes leading to New Jersey’s extensive dockyards, it is unquestionably one of the most heavily-traveled waterways in New York Harbor. [The other route is along Arthur Kill on the west coast of Staten Island.] New Jersey is on the mainland, and therefore a better transit hub logistically than Staten Island would have made; New Jersey is therefore home to the impressive slips of Port Elizabeth and Bayonne, among others. Due to this heavy maritime traffic, the Kill Van Kull needs to be consistently dredged, and a plan to raise the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate larger ships is already being undertaken. Yet, Port Richmond was a port before this infrastructure was in place; it forms a crescent shape along the water, providing a cove for small craft seeking shelter from the tidal strait.

Port Richmond in its heyday, with what made it wealthy in the center of the photograph. The lack of elevation change coupled with the port allowed for as many trolley lines as there were docks. Image courtesy of 2.bp.blogspot.com.

Port Richmond's underbelly isn't pretty, but it's symbolic of how desolate the town has become when the ferries moved to St. George or the Bayonne Bridge and the shipyards were moved to New Jersey. Image courtesy of streetsblog.org.

Geographically and geologically, Port Richmond was always a natural harbor. As a transportation hub, it could provide ferries to Bergen Point daily, and quickly prospered economically; its advantages were touted for almost three hundred years. It is a pity that Port Richmond has sunken under the pressure of large dockyards on the mainland and the lack of demand for ferry service, shipping, or shopping; this has occurred continuously for fifty years, when the opening of the Staten Island Expressway and the Verrazano Bridge took the traffic away from the area. Port Richmond became impoverished and forgotten; today, with the exception of Faber Park, the once-proud waterfront has turned into an industrial zone. It is disconcerting, as the little town had great promise since its inception. However, unless people remember what the little harbor was good for, the town will forever remain a desolate slice of civilization.

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Sources:

Bayles, Richard M. Chapter 2 – “Natural History of the Island.” History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York, from its Discovery to the Present Time. New York: L.E. Preston, 1887.

Papas, Phillip and Lori R. Weintrob. Images of America: Port Richmond. Chicago: Arcadia, 2009.

http://www.3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/nyc/parks/loc7.htm

http://www.3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/nyc/parks/loc39.htm

http://www.regulations.vlex.com/vid/ports-waterways-kill-van-kull-channel-23361488

http://www.panynj.gov/bayonnebridge/

One Response to Port Richmond

  1. Jonathan Zacharowicz says:

    A note to whoever deletes my comments and/or edits my page (and you know who you are):

    Writing ‘feel free to comment’ may be implied, but as the site has no counter, then I have no clue as to how many people are visiting it. I’d like feedback from those who do visit it, so that I can make future websites better. I do want constructive criticism; the ‘threat’ of destructive criticism was meant to be a joke, to make people think about what it means to comment – and hopefully, to stimulate them to comment (by reverse psychology).

    I can only understand what’s wrong when a third party says, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ Ask any DMV inspector how many people fail when someone says to them, ‘Shut up, I know what I’m doing.’ If they did, then there would be no need for the DMV to certify them. If people knew what they were doing, there would be no accidents, no fatalities, and no statistics. The world would be a better place.

    But people do screw up, at which point they become statistics. And the only way to cut losses in the future is to know where people screwed up in the past. Remember – “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

    What does this have to do with this site? Well, if I don’t know what my mistakes are, then I have no chance of fixing them. And this problem only escalates when the value of the work escalates; for instance, in a final thesis or for graduate school. It is far better to make a mistake now and remedy it in freshman year of college than to wait until later and place a website in front of someone important, only to see it blow up in your face, and your chances at your goals with it.

    I want comments; comments are a student’s best friend. It shows that the reader cares enough to comment, and that’s a victory in itself – not to mention the free advice.

    A lack of comments show that the student has failed in his/her work. Nobody cares about them, and the student has no idea how to get out of the hole that s/he’s in. The student will be forever doomed to repeat their mistakes until someone points them out.

    And so, I’ll ask for your two cents. If you have no comment, leave this one up until May 31st, and delete it then. That’s the only way I’ll know that you read this and understood this – and more importantly, thought about it.

    My high school English chair (R.I.P.) once said – “A book that fosters thought is better than an appealing one.” Read this. Think about this. Delete this comment on May 31 [or later]. Otherwise, I wasted my breath.

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    P.S. This comment will be stored on my hard drive until the above date. If deleted, I’ll repost it to here. If deleted a second time, I’ll post it to here and to the introduction to Port Richmond. If deleted a third time, it will be posted to the website introduction.

    Unless you give me your two cents, of course, and explain in detail why I’m right or wrong. I don’t want you to agree with me because I want you to. (Meaning, don’t say yes just because I gave the ‘yes’ argument; explain.) Put simply, I’d like you to think deeply about what I said, and only then argue over it; only then will we both understand what the other is thinking, and neither of us will be ‘preaching to the choir’.

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