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Photograph: ShutterstockHistoric Richmond Town

13 strange things you probably didn’t know about Staten Island

A flock of wild turkeys terrorized locals so much, the birds had to be moved upstate.

Annalise Mantz
Written by
Annalise Mantz

If all you know about Staten Island is that it spawned three Jersey Shore cast members, you’re seriously underestimating the borough.

From the East Shore’s beaches to abandoned buildings in the center of the island to Snug Harbor on the North Shore, there’s so much to explore on Staten Island. Don’t believe us? Let these surprising facts about the “forgotten borough” convince you. 

1. Staten Island is the second wealthiest borough.

The median household income is $82,783, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It came in just under Manhattan, where residents make $86,553. Queens takes third place with $68,666, while Brooklyn and the Bronx came last, with $60,231 and $40,088 respectively.

2. It’s also the least populated borough in NYC, even though it’s the third-largest.

Though all the other four boroughs have more than 1 million residents apiece, Staten Island has claims just 476,143 people.

3. Staten Island has a whopping 170 parks.

That’s 12,300 acres of protected land. No wonder it’s known as “the greenest borough.”

4. The Staten Island Ferry wasn’t always free.

Shocking, we know. Passengers had to shell out 50 cents apiece to ride the ferry until 1997, when it became free.

5. It was once home to the world’s largest landfill, which is now well on its way to becoming a park.

Over 53 years, New Yorkers sent approximately 150 million tons of trash to Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island. After it closed in 2001, the city began the gargantuan task of converting the 2,200-acre site into a public park. Still, the days where residents can frolic safely along rolling green hills are a long way off: the park is currently only accessible during scheduled park programs for learning and exploration opportunities. Fresh Kills Park won’t be fully operational until about 2036.

6. It’s home to some of the city’s oldest buildings.

Located in the geographic center of the island, historic Richmondtown includes 30 restored buildings dating back to the 17th century, including houses, farms and schools. On the South Shore of the island, history buffs can tour the site of early peace talks during the Revolutionary War at Conference House Park. The Alice Austen House on the North Shore is also worth a visit. Though it was built in 1690, it’s best known as the 19th century childhood home of pioneering female photographer Alice Austen. Visitors can peruse the permanent collection of her work as well as exhibitions from contemporary photographers.

7. The name “Staten Island” comes from the Dutch legislature.

Like the rest of NYC, the first Western settlers on Staten Island were Dutch. When they first purchased the island from the Munsee tribe in 1630, they named it after the Staten-Generaal, the legislature that serves as the highest governing body in in their home country.

8. No one knows for sure why Staten Island is a part of New York and not New Jersey.

Unless this local legend is true, that is. In 1664, the British took control of what was then known as New Amsterdam. The Duke of York decreed that the Hudson River would be the dividing line between the two new colonies of New York and New Jersey. Of course, that logic doesn’t help figure out what to do with the islands in New York Harbor—namely, Staten Island. Legend has it that the Duke of York decided that any small islands that could be circumnavigated in less than 24 hours would belong to New York. British naval captain Christopher Billopp set out to circle Staten Island and accomplished it in just 23 hours, making it part of New York. Much as we’d like to believe that charming story is true, historians haven’t been able to verify this version of events. For now, it’s nothing more than legend.

9. There’s a really creepy abandoned farm colony in Staten Island’s Greenbelt.

In the mid-1800s, the Richmond County Poor Farm opened as a refuge for the island’s paupers. Anyone could live for free on the 46-acre site, so long as they helped harvest crops or raise livestock. The introduction of Social Security and other social welfare programs eventually made the farm irrelevant, and it closed in the 1970s. Today, the collection of abandoned, rundown buildings are covered in graffiti and creeping vines. If you’re skeeved out now, just wait: The farm colony is also the site of at least two murders. A 7-year-old boy was abducted and killed during the 1920s, and a string of other child murders during the ‘70s were attributed to a killer living in the tunnels underneath the property. Got goosebumps yet?

10. Staten Island voted to secede from New York City in 1993.

What with the sparse public transportation, the massive landfill and the fact that Staten Islanders didn’t have a bridge connecting them to the rest of the city until the 1960s, the “forgotten borough” has always had a bone to pick with New York City. In 1993, Staten Island actually voted to break off from the other four boroughs—but it never happened. Rudy Giuliani took over the mayor’s office shortly thereafter, and appeased Staten Islanders enough that residents set aside their demands of secession. Never say never, though: One local politician called to restart the secession process after Brexit.

11. It’s home to a renowned museum of Tibetan art.

You probably don’t think of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas when you think of Staten Island, but oddly enough, the borough is home to the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. The museum’s permanent collection includes scroll paintings, ritual artifacts, musical instruments and other artworks from the region, and visitors can also take tai chi and meditation classes on its peaceful grounds.

12. The map of Westeros is modeled after Staten Island.

Game of Thrones fans might be surprised to know that the inspiration for the fictional world didn’t come from Europe or fairytales, but far closer to home. In an interview with Conan O'Brien, George R.R. Martin grew up in Bayonne, NJ, and he often gazed out his window and wondered what Staten Island was like. Later, when he started writing the A Song of Ice and Fire series, he used the island’s shape as the model for Westeros. So does that mean Staten Island is Dorne or Dragonstone?

13. A flock of wild turkeys terrorized locals so much, the birds had to be moved upstate.

Talk about stranger than fiction. A rafter of nearly 100 wild turkeys (yes, that is the technical term) invaded the Dongan Hills neighborhood in the early 2000s, regularly stopping traffic and making a mess of locals’ yards. Finally, the feds had to be called in, and the feral birds were removed to the And-Hof Animals Sanctuary in Catskill, NY. And that’s not the only animal incident in the borough recently: A pair of snow ponies escaped their pens during a March snowstorm.

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