Tottenville Staten Island NY

Tottenville, Staten Island: The Forgotten Borough’s Secrets

Tottenville, located on the South Shore of Staten Island within New York City, holds a compelling historical legacy dating back to the 17th century. This neighborhood stands as a geographical outlier in several intriguing ways: it is not only the southernmost settlement within New York City but also in the entire state of New York. Additionally, Tottenville claims the title of the westernmost neighborhood within the boundaries of New York City.

The historical narrative of Tottenville is marked by its initial designation as Bentley Manor, a name given by Captain Christopher Billop, one of its earliest settlers. However, in 1869, the name underwent a transformation to Tottenville in honor of the locally renowned Totten family.

Today, Tottenville thrives as a dynamic community with a diverse array of homes available for purchase. It is also the location of Tottenville High School and marks the southern terminus of the Staten Island Railway at the Tottenville station. The neighborhood’s blend of history and modern vitality makes it a compelling destination to explore.

History of Tottenville, Staten Island

The Early Settlers of Tottenville

The area that would become Tottenville was first inhabited by the Lenape Native Americans, who called it Lenapehoking. The first European settlers were Dutch and French Huguenots, who arrived in the late 1600s and early 1700s. They established farms, mills, and trading posts along the Arthur Kill and Raritan Bay.

The neighborhood was originally named Bentley Manor after a ship owned by one of its earliest settlers, Captain Christopher Billop (1638–1726), a member of the Royal Navy and a loyalist during the American Revolution. He arrived in Tottenville around 1678 and received a 1,600-acre land grant from Governor Edmund Andros of New York. In 1869, the district was renamed as Tottenville in honor of John Totten and his prominent local family.

Tottenville’s Role in the American Revolution

Tottenville played a significant role in the American Revolution, as it was the site of several skirmishes and raids between the British and American forces. The most notable event was the Conference House Peace Conference, which took place on September 11, 1776, at the home of Colonel Christopher Billop, a loyalist. The conference was an attempt to negotiate a peaceful end to the war, but it failed as the American delegates, led by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, rejected the British terms.

Growth as a Shipbuilding and Fishing Community

Tottenville prospered in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a center of shipbuilding and oystering. The neighborhood had several shipyards that produced wooden vessels for trade and transportation. The oyster industry was also booming, as Tottenville’s waters were rich with shellfish that were brought from other regions and replanted in the local beds.

The neighborhood became known as “the town that oysters built” and supplied oysters to markets in New York City and beyond. However, the shipbuilding and oystering industries declined in the mid-20th century due to various factors such as water pollution from industrial waste, sewage runoff, oil spills, and radiation contamination; overharvesting and disease outbreaks that depleted the oyster stocks; competition from steel ships and foreign oysters that reduced the demand for Tottenville’s products; and changing consumer preferences that led to a decline in oyster consumption due to health concerns and cultural shifts.

Geography of Tottenville

Tottenville is located on the south shore of Staten Island and is bordered by the Arthur Kill to the west and the Raritan Bay to the south.

Unique Geography

Tottenville has a diverse and distinctive geography, including its many wetlands and salt marshes that support various wildlife and plants. The neighborhood is situated on a terminal moraine, which is a ridge of sediment deposited by a glacier during the last ice age. The moraine acts as a natural barrier that reduces the impact of waves and tides on the shoreline. However, Tottenville still faces environmental challenges such as sea level rise and extreme weather events that could increase the risk of flooding. The neighborhood is also bordered by the Arthur Kill and the Raritan Bay, which are bodies of water that separate Staten Island from New Jersey.

Environmental Challenges

Tottenville faces several environmental challenges that affect its water quality, air quality, shoreline, and climate resilience. The water quality of the Arthur Kill and Raritan Bay has been affected by various sources of pollution such as industrial waste, sewage runoff, oil spills, and radiation contamination over the years. The air quality has also been impacted by emissions from nearby factories and power plants in New Jersey.

The shoreline of Tottenville

The shoreline of Tottenville has been eroding due to natural forces such as waves, tides, currents, storms, and sea level rise, as well as human activities such as dredging, bulkheading, filling, and development. Climate change poses a threat to Tottenville’s low-lying areas as it could increase the frequency and intensity of sea level rise and extreme weather events that could cause flooding and other hazards.

Conservation Efforts

Tottenville has been involved in some conservation efforts to preserve and restore its natural environment. The neighborhood has many parks and green spaces that offer ecological and recreational benefits. Some examples are:

  • The Conference House Park contains the historic Conference House where a peace conference between the British and the Americans took place in 1776.
  • Butler Manor Woods is a forested area that supports diverse wildlife.
  • Oyster restoration in the Raritan Bay to improve water quality and biodiversity.
  • Stormwater management and environmental education to reduce pollution and increase awareness.

Demographics of Tottenville

Tottenville is a diverse neighborhood with a population of over 15,000 people.

Racial and Ethnic Makeup

According to the 2020 census, Tottenville’s population was 74.5% White, 19.1% Hispanic or Latino, 6.0% Asian, and 0.4% Black. The neighborhood also had a small percentage of people who identified as Native American, Pacific Islander, or other races. Tottenville’s diversity reflects its history as a melting pot of immigrants from various countries and cultures.

Income Levels

The average annual household income in Tottenville was $134,638 in 2020, while the median household income was $112,484. These figures were higher than the national averages of $69,717 and $62,843 respectively. However, not all residents of Tottenville enjoyed the same level of economic prosperity. About 6% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2020, which was lower than the state average of 13.9% but higher than the national average of 12.8%.

Educational Attainment

The educational attainment of Tottenville’s residents was above average compared to the rest of the city and the country. In 2020, 93.7% of the population had a high school diploma or higher, while 38.8% had a bachelor’s degree or higher. These rates were higher than the city averages of 86.9% and 37.8%, and the national averages of 88.6% and 32.6%, respectively. Tottenville also had a lower percentage of people who had less than a high school education (6.3%) than the city (13.1%) and the country (11.4%).

Attractions in Tottenville

Tottenville is home to a number of attractions, including the Tottenville Shoreline Preserve and the Conference House.

The Tottenville Shoreline Preserve

The Tottenville Shoreline Preserve is a project that aims to protect and restore the natural shoreline of Tottenville, which has been eroding due to storms and human activities. The preserve covers about 1.5 miles of waterfront along the Arthur Kill and Raritan Bay, and features a living shoreline composed of native plants, oyster reefs, and rock sills. 

The preserve also offers educational and recreational opportunities for visitors, such as hiking trails, birdwatching, fishing, kayaking, and environmental programs. The preserve is open to the public from dawn to dusk and is accessible from several points along Main Street and Hylan Boulevard.

Historic Landmarks

The Conference House is a historic landmark that dates back to the 17th century. It was originally built by Captain Christopher Billop, a British loyalist who owned a large estate in Tottenville. The house is named after the Conference House Peace Conference, which took place on September 11, 1776, at the house. The conference was an attempt to negotiate a peaceful end to the American Revolution, but it failed as the American delegates rejected the British terms.

The Conference House
The Conference House in Tottenville

The house is now a museum that showcases the history and culture of Tottenville and Staten Island. The house is open for tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from April to December. The house is also surrounded by Conference House Park, which covers 267 acres of land and offers scenic views of the water, trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a visitor center.


The H.H. Biddle House, an iconic New York City landmark, was built in 1845 upon property that was originally part of the royal land grant awarded to Captain Christopher Billop in the late 1670s. Mr. Biddle, known as a ‘gentleman businessman,’ ran a ferry service between Tottenville, Staten Island, and Perth Amboy, New Jersey. This ferry served as transportation for visitors to his ‘Biddle’s Grove,’ a summer retreat during the temperance era on the once-rural island.

The Biddle House at Conference House Park

The Rutan-Becket House, dating back to approximately 1848, was originally built by William Henry Rutan. Together with his brother, James M. Rutan, they owned and operated a shipyard located just south of the house along the Arthur Kill shoreline from around 1850 to the late 1870s. The Rutan family retained ownership of the house until 1910. In 1950, following a period of abandonment and neglect, Walter Becket and his wife Carol purchased the house, giving it a modern twist. To this day, the house remains unchanged, featuring stainless steel Tappan wall ovens, Formica countertops with a boomerang design, and authentic period furnishings, creating a time capsule of 1950s American decor style.

The Rutan-Becket House
The Rutan-Becket House back view

Presently, the Rutan-Becket House serves as a venue for art events and programming and is accessible for tours by appointment only.

Amenities in Tottenville

Tottenville offers a variety of amenities to its residents, including restaurants, shops, schools, and parks.

Restaurants

Tottenville has a diverse selection of restaurants that cater to different tastes and budgets. Whether you’re looking for Italian, Chinese, Mexican, or American cuisine, you will find something to satisfy your cravings. 

Fina’s Farmhouse

Shops

Tottenville has a number of shops that provide various goods and services to the community. Whether you’re looking for groceries, clothing, gifts, or hardware, you will find some options in the neighborhood or nearby areas. 

Schools

Tottenville has many schools that provide quality education to the children of the neighborhood. Whether you’re looking for public, private, or charter schools, you will find some options that suit your preferences and needs.

  • P.S. 1 Tottenville School is a public elementary school that serves grades K-5 and has a strong academic program and a supportive environment.
  • Our Lady Help of Christians School is a private Catholic school that serves grades PK-8 and has a faith-based curriculum and a nurturing atmosphere.
  • Tottenville High School is a public high school that serves grades 9-12 and has a variety of programs such as Advanced Placement courses, Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, College Now courses, Regents courses, STEAM courses, and Visual and Performing Arts courses.
  • P.S. 6 Corporal Allan F. Kivlehan School is a public elementary school that serves grades K-5 and has an arts integration program and a gifted and talented program.
  • I.S. 34 Totten Intermediate School is a public middle school that serves grades 6-8 and has an honors academy and a STEM program.
  • South Richmond High School is a public high school that serves grades 9-12 and specializes in serving students with disabilities.

Parks

Tottenville has many parks that offer recreational opportunities and natural beauty to the residents. Whether you’re looking for hiking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, or historic landmarks, you’ll find something to enjoy in the neighborhood.

  • Butler Manor Woods is a forested area that supports diverse wildlife.
  • Conference House Park is an inviting waterfront park featuring heritage buildings. Picnic tables offer scenic views of the water.
  • Hybrid Oak Woods Park is a popular spot for birdwatching, as it is home to a variety of bird species, including owls, hawks, and woodpeckers. The park is also a popular spot for hiking and biking, as the trails are well-maintained and offer scenic views of the surrounding area.
  • Mount Loretto Unique Area is a property that contains freshwater wetlands, grasslands, woodlands, and coastal habitats.

Famous People from Tottenville

  • Henry Ward Beecher was a preacher, abolitionist, writer, and social reformer. He was born in Tottenville and later became a minister in Brooklyn. He supported the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, temperance, and Darwinism.
  • Patti Hansen, a model and actress who is married to Keith Richards.
  • Paul Zindel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist.
  • Christopher Billop, a colonial-era naval officer and loyalist who owned the Conference House where a peace conference took place in 1776.

The Future of Tottenville

One of the main opportunities for Tottenville is to enhance its economic vitality and quality of life by leveraging its assets and potential. Tottenville has many strengths that can attract more visitors and businesses to the neighborhood, such as its waterfront location, natural resources, historic attractions, cultural diversity, and community spirit. Tottenville can also benefit from its proximity to other destinations on Staten Island’s South Shore, such as Great Kills Park, Wolfe’s Pond Park, Mount Loretto Unique Area, Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, Historic Richmond Town, Freshkills Park, and the Staten Island Mall.

Tottenville can also capitalize on its role as a gateway to New Jersey, which can offer more opportunities for transportation, commerce, tourism, and recreation. To take advantage of these opportunities, Tottenville needs to improve its infrastructure, services, amenities, accessibility, and visibility. It also needs to foster collaboration among its stakeholders, such as residents, businesses, organizations, institutions, and government agencies. By doing so, Tottenville can create a more sustainable, resilient, livable, and prosperous future for itself and its people.

Tips for living in Tottenville, Staten Island

Today, Tottenville is a vibrant and growing community that attracts residents and visitors with its small-town charm, waterfront views, historic landmarks, and natural beauty. Tottenville has many amenities, such as parks, schools, churches, shops, restaurants, and cultural events. It also has a diverse population, with people of different ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds living together.

If you are thinking of moving to or living in Tottenville, here are some tips that can help you make the most of your experience:

Get Around

Arthur Kill Station in Tottenville

Tottenville maintains its connection to the rest of Staten Island through the Staten Island Railway, which boasts two train stations: Tottenville and Arthur Kill. The train runs every 15 minutes during peak hours and every 30 minutes during off-peak hours. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the St. George Ferry Terminal, where you can catch a free ferry to Manhattan. The ferry runs every 15 minutes during rush hours and every 30 minutes during other times. The ferry ride takes about 25 minutes and offers scenic views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan.

Tottenville is also served by several bus routes and express buses to Manhattan or Brooklyn. The local buses include the S59, S78, S74, S84, S55, S56, and S89. The express buses include the SIM2C (to Midtown Manhattan), SIM25 (to Downtown Manhattan), SIM26 (to Midtown Manhattan via Hylan Boulevard), SIM32 (to Downtown Brooklyn), and SIM33C (to Midtown Manhattan via Huguenot Avenue). The bus fares vary depending on the distance and time of travel. You can use a MetroCard or OMNY to pay for your bus or train ride.

If you prefer to drive, you can access Tottenville by taking the Outerbridge Crossing from New Jersey or the West Shore Expressway from other parts of Staten Island. However, be prepared to face traffic congestion and tolls during peak hours. You can also use car services or ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft to get around. Parking is usually available on the streets or in private lots.

Get Involved in the Community

Tottenville has a strong sense of community and civic engagement. There are many organizations and groups that you can join or support to make a difference in your neighborhood. Some examples are:

  • The Tottenville Civic Association: This is a non-profit organization that works to preserve and improve the quality of life in Tottenville. It organizes events such as town hall meetings, cleanups, beautification projects, holiday celebrations, and fundraisers. It also advocates for issues such as zoning, transportation, education, public safety, and environmental protection. You can become a member for $10 per year or volunteer for various activities.
  • The Conference House Association: This is a non-profit organization that operates and maintains the Conference House Park and Museum , which is a historic site where a peace conference took place in 1776 between American and British delegates during the Revolutionary War . The association offers tours , exhibits , programs , and events that showcase the history and culture of Tottenville and Staten Island . You can become a member for $25 per year or volunteer as a docent , gardener , or event planner .
  • The Tottenville Historical Society: This is a non-profit organization that collects , preserves , and shares the history of Tottenville and its people . It operates the Biddle House , which is an 1840s farmhouse that serves as its headquarters and museum . It also publishes books , newsletters , calendars , and maps that feature historical information and photos of Tottenville . You can become a member for $20 per year or volunteer as a researcher , archivist , or curator .
  • The Tottenville Improvement Council: This is a non-profit organization that works to enhance the economic development and social welfare of Tottenville. It supports local businesses, promotes tourism, organizes events, and provides services such as health screenings, food drives, and scholarships. You can become a member for $25 per year or volunteer for various projects.

Conclusion

Tottenville, Staten Island is a place that deserves more attention and appreciation from both locals and tourists. It is a treasure trove of history, culture, and nature that offers a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you are interested in exploring the historic landmarks, enjoying the scenic views, or experiencing the local cuisine, Tottenville has something for everyone. If you are looking for a unique and memorable adventure, Tottenville is the perfect destination for you. Don’t miss this opportunity to discover the secrets of the forgotten borough. Visit Tottenville today and see for yourself why it is called the town that time forgot.

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Greetings! I'm Dr. Andrew Stepanov, a passionate explorer of Staten Island's vibrant neighborhoods. Rooted in the heart of the borough as a devoted resident, I've dedicated myself to unveiling the unique history and experiences that define Staten Island. Through my blog, Staten Island Explorer, I aim to share insights into the rich diversity shaping our community. Come join me on a journey to uncover hidden gems, embrace diverse cultures, and revel in the beauty that makes Staten Island a place I am truly honored to call home.

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2 Comments

  1. Hello, I am a former native of Staten Island. I lived in the area Sandy Ground which is on Bloomingdale Road, Claypit Road and Woodrow Road. It was predominantly African American. It was visited by Alex Haley who spoke with Mr. Pop Pedro. Mr. Pedro at the time was, I believe, 100 years old. The oyster industry there was assisted by African American free slaves. Where I lived in Sandy Ground there was a Back owned Florist. A blacksmith, Mr. Bishop. The historical church, Rossville A.M.E. Zion church. Although other towns was mentioned, Rossville/Sandy Ground is also near Tottenville. I graduated from Tottenville HS in 72′ and last name at the time was Peterson. I still enjoy riding the Ferry. Another culture to include on Staten Island.

    1. Thank you for sharing your memories and insights about Staten Island, specifically Sandy Ground and Tottenville. It’s clear that you have a deep connection to the area and a wealth of historical knowledge. The history you have mentioned, with figures like Mr. Pop Pedro and the role of African American free slaves in the oyster industry, is truly fascinating.

      Tottenville and the surrounding areas indeed have a rich history, and it’s essential to preserve and share these stories. Your mention of the Rossville A.M.E. Zion church, a historical landmark, adds to the cultural significance of the region. It’s wonderful that you still enjoy riding the Staten Island Ferry. If you have any more stories or insights about Staten Island’s history or your experiences, please feel free to share. These personal memories contribute to the collective memory of this vibrant community.

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