Every time my girlfriend visits, we try to find something different and new to explore. I have lived in New York City for just about a year and a half, and I have only been to Staten Island once before, and that was to try out a slice of Staten Island pizza. Staten Island's own website lists itself as "The Unexpected Borough." After looking up all of the parks in NYC, we noticed that Snug Harbor on Staten Island was the first that I had not previously been to, so we decided to give it a visit to see if it lived up to the hype.
From my apartment in Long Island City, getting to Snug Harbor is about a 90-minute commute across all of New York City's different modes of transportation. Starting with either the 4/5 trains down to Bowling Green or the 1/2 trains to South Ferry Station, enjoy the views from the tip of Manhatten before walking over to the Staten Island Ferry Station. Hopping on the free ferry will take you on a scenic boat ride past the Statue of Liberty and down through the Upper Bay to the north end of Staten Island.
Off the boat, walk out of the ferry terminal to the pick-up/drop-off areas to get on the S40 bus and ride it 12 stops to Richmond Terrace / Snug Harbor Road, which will drop you off right on the other side of the road from the park. Cross the road and walk down Snug Harbor Road where you should see the gates to enter the park.
History of Snug Harbor
Revolutionary war veteran Robert Richard Randall willed that after his death in 1803, his fortune should be used to "build and operate a haven for 'aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors'." His dream was followed through and on the west coast of Staten Island, Snug Harbor was opened in 1833 as a sailor's retirement home.
After more than 100 years of growing and accepting more sailors into its care, Snug Harbor started to fall into financial and architectural decline after the 1930s. With the rise of Social Security, less sailors needed retirement homes because they could take care of themselves using their new government-provided checks. Some of the beautiful buildings on the property started to fall into disarray and some were demolished.
To stop the demolition of the entire property, activists and government officials convinced New York State to buy the property. In 1975 the not-for-profit Snug Harbor Cultural Center was formed to operate the buildings, and the Staten Island Botanical Gardens managed the gardens. The two organizations merged in 2008 to form Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden.
Snug Harbor has a really interesting array of different buildings in different styles. While it was a retirement home, the first buildings were built in the Greek Revival style. As the complex expanded, new buildings were erected in the Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, Second Empire, and Italianate styles. High Victorian decorative components were also added throughout the site.
Exploring the Park
These days, Snug Harbor is filled with different areas and botanical gardens that are beautiful during late-spring, summer, and early-fall. Each area has its own little personality and feel to it, that makes it feel unique and unlike any other park in New York City. If left to walk around, one could easily spend an afternoon exploring most of the grounds. Below are some cool places to check out while walking around the area.
New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden
My favorite place in all of Snug Harbor is the Chinese Scholar's Garden. Opened in 1999, it was designed and built following traditional Chinese building methods. It is one of two authentic classical outdoor Chinese gardens built in the United States. As you can tell, I enjoyed it to the point where most of my pictures from Snug Harbor were from within the garden.
Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art
If you're a fan of art, then this is a pretty neat art gallery to vist. They have rotating exhibits that are seasonal, so what you see depends on when you go! It's housed in one of the old retirement home buildings on the main campus.
Connie Gretz Secret Garden
As one of Snug Harbor's gardens with personality, the Connie Gretz Secret Garden is a moderately-sized hedge maze for young kids to run around and get lost in. Even if you aren't visiting with children, there is still a very architecturally-pleasing tower that overshadows the garden. This tower is supposedly where parents could watch down on their children running the maze, but when I visited, we were not allowed up to the top.
Other Botanical Gardens
Aside from these few gardens, there's plenty more that I could have mentioned, including the 9/11 Memorial Garden, Garden of Healing, and the Tree Tunnel Garden.
If you are a city resident or someone that has visited New York City a few times and is looking for something different, I recommend checking out Snug Harbor on Staten Island, because for me, it was definitely an unexpected treat in the Unexpected Borough.