New Dorp Park
New Dorp Park
New Dorp was one of the first permanent European settlements on Staten Island: niewe dorp is Dutch for “new town.” It was officially established in 1671 to replace Oude Dorp (Old Town), which was destroyed in the Peach War of 1655. The Peach War had began when an Aquehongan squaw was shot for picking a peach in a New Amsterdam orchard. Angry Native Americans went on a rampage. The militia responded; several lives were lost; and fighting soon extended into Staten Island. Unfortunately, Oude Dorp was decimated.
In the summer of 1776, 30,000 British soldiers, led by Sir William Howe, and 10,000 British sailors under the command of his brother, Admiral Richard Howe (1726-1799), set up headquarters in New Dorp. Lord Richard made a last minute attempt to avert war by calling a meeting with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, but negotiations failed and war began. On August 26, General Howe led his troops against Washington’s army in the Battle of Long Island, defeating the badly outnumbered Americans. The British remained in New Dorp for the duration of the Revolutionary War (1776-1781), referring to the town as Stony Brook.
One of America’s wealthiest families, the Vanderbilts, settled in New Dorp when Jan Aersten Van der Bilt (1627-1705) arrived here from Holland in 1650. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), the “Railroad King,” made his first foray into transportation operating one of the Staten Island ferries at the age of 16. His son, William Henry Vanderbilt (1821-1885), spent the 1850’s on a farm at the end of New Dorp Lane, at the present location of Miller Field. Later in life, William commissioned the architect Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895) to build the Vanderbilt’s Mausoleum on a 22-acre tract at 2205 Richmond Road. Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), co-designer of Central and Prospect Parks, did the landscaping.
Today, New Dorp is a closely-knit community with tree-lined streets and well kept one-family houses. Like much of Staten Island, its population has been steadily increasing since the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964. Longtime residents who moved here in the 1940’s and 50’s speak longingly of the days when they could look out over fields filled with blackberries and wild cherry trees.
When Parks acquired this land on 8th Street between Allison and Beach Avenues in 1970, the property was overgrown and filled with junk piles. The small plot had been in the public domain since P.S. 9 was built here in 1894. In the intervening years, the land housed various public institutions and in 1963 was home to a police precinct. Although there was a need for recreational space, New Dorp residents resisted the idea of a public park. They were concerned that the .7 acre would attract drug dealers. As a compromise, Parks agreed to plant trees, creating a fenced-in woodland area with no public access.