Freshkills Park

William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge

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

William Thompson Davis (1862-1945), whose family history on Staten Island dates back to the 17th century, was born in New Brighton. Davis was a renowned naturalist and entomologist, and a co-founder of the Natural Science Association of Staten Island. He was largely self-taught, but nonetheless made huge contributions to the study of Staten Island’s community and natural history. His 1892 memoir Days Afield on Staten Island catalogues the island’s plants and animals, while Staten Island and Its People, which he coauthored with Charles W. Leng (1859-1941) in 1930, is one of the greatest accounts of Staten Island history.

This property’s boundaries are Victory Boulevard, Signs Road, Travis Avenue, and Arthur Kill Road. The surrounding community, which is now called Travis, used to be called Linoleumville. The nation’s first linoleum factory, The American Linoleum Manufacturing Company, opened here in 1873 and employed 200 people by the end of its first decade of operation. A small town, complete with streets and a school, soon grew up around the factory. In 1928, the Sandura-Wild Corporation of Philadelphia purchased the plant, and two years later moved operations back to Pennsylvania, closing the factory here.

During the 1920s, the residents in the area voted to change the community’s name to reflect its rich history. The new name was Travisville, for Colonel Jacob Travis who resided here before the Civil War. Soon the area became known simply as Travis.

In 1928, Davis and the Audubon Society successfully secured 52 acres here as a wildlife and bird sanctuary. It was the first such wildlife preserve in New York. The next year, the City acquired 157.62 acres of surrounding land from the Crystal Water Company, which had been bottling and selling the spring water that still bubbles throughout this property (although it is no longer safe to drink). In the mid-1950s, the park’s acreage was expanded again so as to protect the surrounding marshland from being filled in and developed. In 1955, with a total of 260 acres, a nature education center was established here. Over the next several decades, the property grew in size. In 1982, when it was 375 acres, it was officially designated the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge. A renovation of the walking trail was completed in 1987. Three quarters of a mile long, the trail was covered with over eight tons of wood chips and new trail markers were also installed.

Of the more than 1,700 parks in New York City, this wildlife refuge is the sixth largest, only 30 acres smaller than Central Park. Besides providing a green space for passive outdoor recreation, it also provides the surrounding community with water pollution filtration and a natural flood control system. Many birds make their homes in this park’s marshes, including herons (Ardea), egrets (Egretta), ibis (Threskiornithinae), cormorants (Phalacrocorax), and gulls (Larus). On the ground and in the water, snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), fiddler crabs (Uca), and muskrats (Ondatra zibethica) can be seen throughout the site.

The United for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center is located at the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge. The center seeks “to care for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife and return them to the wild.” Opened in 1999 by Staten Island resident Robert Zink, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is sponsored by Parks and serves as a holding facility for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Injured animals are brought to the facility, where they are nursed back to health and eventually returned to the wild. William T. Davis dedicated his life to providing Staten Islanders and visitors with an appreciation of Staten Island’s natural habitat. The wildlife refuge that bears his name works toward the same end by preserving that habitat and offering visitors a glimpse of it.

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