Barrett Park

Barrett Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Major Clarence Tynan Barrett (1840–1906), part of a prominent Staten Island family, distinguished himself through careers in landscape architecture, sanitation engineering, and the military. The Clarence T. Barrett Park Zoo (also known as Staten Island Zoo) is located in the park, and honors Barrett at the site where he once operated a plant nursery. The zoo is one of six in New York parks: the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Central Park Children’s Zoo, the Prospect Park Wildlife Center, and the Queens Wildlife Center.

A descendant of early immigrants to the American colony, Barrett’s great-great-grandfather, Colonel James Barrett, defended Concord, Massachusetts, against British troops during the Revolutionary War. Born across the river in Rahway, New Jersey, Barrett’s parents settled in Richmond County when he was young.

Barrett studied landscape architecture until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he signed with the 175th New York Volunteers regiment. He worked his way up through the ranks and was eventually promoted to captain and aide-de-camp of the United States Volunteers. He earned the rank of Major after serving gallantly during the Union siege of Mobile, Alabama.

Barrett was involved in the battle at Richmond, Virginia, which signaled the end of the War, and in 1865, he returned to Staten Island, establishing himself as an expert in his chosen fields of profession, landscape architecture and sanitation engineering. Barrett was also eager to contribute to public service, acting as Police Commissioner for seven years and as Superintendent of the Poor for five years.

The site was acquired by Parks in 1930 when Julia Hardin (d. 1930), a relation of Barrett, willed property she owned to the City. The property was given upon condition that the site would not be used as a playground; that it was named for Barrett; and that Hardin’s husband was allowed to live in the house on the property. Upon Mr. Hardin’s death, the City took over the property and the Staten Island Institute for Arts and Sciences began planning for a zoo, creating an organization called the Staten Island Zoological Society to curate the exhibits.

When construction began in 1933-34, the zoo’s plans were state of the art. Parks used New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps labor to help build the $150,000 facility. The exhibits, and the zoo’s care for its animals were models for future zoos. The earliest animals to inhabit the zoo were housed in a barn on the site during construction of the facility. Animals came from far and wide. John Jacob Astor’s great-great-grandson Vincent Astor (1891–1959) donated a host of animals from the Galapagos Islands, while Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (1882–1947) gave two Solenodons, rat-like insectivores native to the West Indies (a gift to him from the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina).

The zoo’s Serpentarium specializes in snakes and is the only one in America to feature all 32 species of rattlesnakes. The zoo claims the first Aruba Island snake and ridge-nosed rattlesnake ever exhibited, as well as the first Southwestern Speckled rattlesnake ever bred in captivity. The zoo’s reptilian preeminence led it to sponsor the first International Snake Exhibit, held in Grand Central Palace in 1936.

A children’s zoo, which emphasizes lesser-known breeds of domestic farm animals, was added in 1970. The otter exhibit, the aquarium named for Staten Island-born State Senator John J. Marchi (b. 1921), and animal hospital date from the 1980s. Tropical forest and African savannah exhibits were installed in the 1990s and a Tudor-style house was acquired for educational programs and to house the administrative staff of the zoo.

In addition to this park, there is also a bronze classical warrior figure on a marble pedestal by Sherry Edmundson Fry (1879–1966) commemorating Barrett that sits in Barrett Triangle, located next to Borough Hall.

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