Archive for July, 2016

RobertRathbon_ house_HatchingCat

The old Guion/Rathbone house in Washington Heights around 1910, when it was still occupied by the Arrowhead Inn.

In June 1912, New York City Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo created a new 42nd Police Precinct to serve the people of the rapidly developing northern tip of Manhattan along the shores of the Hudson and Harlem rivers.

As I mentioned in Part I of this Old New York police story, the new precinct was bounded by 165th Street, the Harlem River, Dyckman Street, and the Hudson River. It also included the Harlem River Speedway, which was located between 155th and 165th streets.

Although a brand-new, two-story brick loft building at 1389 St. Nicholas Avenue was leased by the city to serve as a temporary police station for the precinct, the hot and stuffy building was not suitable for sleeping in summer months for the men on call.

Thus, in July 1913, the 196 foot patrolmen and 25 mounted patrolmen of the new 42nd Precinct moved into a rambling, 3-story frame home reportedly built in the 1860s by William Howe Guion (of the Guion line of European steamers), and, later, occupied by Robert C. Rathbone (a successful insurance broker who served with the New York Militia during the Civil War).

The home and wooded property, bounded by Haven Avenue, Fort Washington Avenue, West 176th Street, and West 177th Street in Washington Heights, had commanding views of Riverside Drive and the Hudson River.


Sergeant Major R.C. Rathbone served with the Seventh Regiment, New York Militia, during the Civil War. 

For the next 10 years, the men of the 42nd Precinct lived in rural luxury in what became known as the best station house in New York City.

During their time off, the men enjoyed swimming, boating, gazing at the neighbor’s cows, gardening, and playing handball and lawn tennis. Some of the men, like Sergeant John McCullum, were members of the Metropolitan Boat Club, and these men practiced their skills by rowing canoes to the Jersey shore.

(The New York Sun once reported that the men of the 42nd Precinct had “greatly reduced their girth” after living at their new location for about a year.)

They also enjoyed the company of Sir Tom, the station cat (aka rat catcher), and Lady Alice, one of the many hens that lived on the grounds and who adored spending time with her policemen friends.

And, if they were lucky, they may have even had a chance to meet Diamond Jim Brady, W.C. Fields, or any of the many other famous people who were the good friends of their neighbor next door, Ben Riley, the popular proprietor of the Arrowhead Inn.


The 42nd Precinct police station and Ben Riley’s new Arrowhead Inn on the old Hopkins/Haven estate are clearly marked on either side of W. 177th Street in this 1914 map. Northern Avenue is today’s Cabrini Boulevard and the Boulevard Lafayette at left is present-day Riverside Drive. 

For the men of the 42nd Precinct, landing a beautiful old mansion overlooking Riverside Drive on the banks of the Hudson River was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I guess you could say they had both Ben Riley and Benjamin Altman to think for their good fortune.

The Hendrick Oblienis Farm

In the late 1600s, the hilly region of Washington Heights was known as the common lands of Jochem Pieter’s Hills (the land to the east, between present-day Broadway and the Harlem River, was called Jochem Pieter’s Flats.)

Captain Jochem Pietersen Kuyter, a sea captain under the King of Denmark, came to America in 1639 with his friend Jonas Bronck and other pioneers. He obtained a grant of 400 acres from Director General Kieft and built a thatched-roof house somewhere in the vicinity of 125th Street. He and his wife were killed by Native Americans in March 1654, in retaliation for a massacre at Corlear’s Hook in 1643, in which 40 Natives were killed.

In 1691, one of the men who was allotted a portion of Jochem Pieter’s Hills was Joost van Oblienis, one of the earliest settlers in Niew Haerlem. The Oblienis farm extended from about 170th to 185th Street, from the Old Post Road (Broadway) to the Hudson River. Their homestead was in the area of today’s West 176th Street, between Fort Washington Avenue and Broadway.


The Hendrick van Oblienis property is clearly noted this map. Archaeological remains of the old homestead were discovered when 176th Street was opened on vacant land between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue in the early 1900s. 

When Joost van Oblienis passed away in 1706, his son Hendrick came into possession of the farm. Thirty years later, his son Johannes, the Constable of New Haerlem in 1736, took over the farm. In 1769, Hendrick sold the upper tract to Blazius Moore, a tobacco farmer; the lower part went to his son, also named Hendrick.

This lower tract, bounded by present-day West 173rd and West 178th streets, passed to Jacob Arden, a butcher, during the Revolution. I’m not sure who owned the land between Arden’s death in 1798 (he died in what was then the Hamlet of Kakeat in Rockland County — today this area is the called Montebello in the Town of Ramapo), but I do know that by the 1860s, a portion of the property was owned by William Howe Guion, who constructed the house that would become home to the 42nd Precinct in 1913.


Jacob Arden, a New York City butcher, took over the van Oblienis farm and homestead around 1775, during the start of the Revolutionary War. The homestead was located near today’s West 176th Street between Fort Washington Avenue and Broadway. NYPL digital collections.

Ben Riley’s New Arrowhead Inn

Fast forward to sometime around 1908, which is when Benjamin Altman of department store fame (B. Altman and Company) leased the old Guion property and house to Benjamin Crawford Riley, the proprietor of the Arrowhead Inn, a popular roadhouse for high-society horsemen.

When his lease expired in September 1913, Ben Riley purchased the large W.H. Summervile (or Somerville) home and two-acre plot one block north on Haven Avenue for about $160,000 (this property was previously owned by John Milton Hopkins and his wife Augusta Haven Hopkins). Ben added a bungalow-style hotel to the site, and he remodeled the existing house to feature a restaurant that could seat about 1,000 people.


The new Arrowhead Inn on the former Hopkins/Haven property fronted Haven Avenue just north of West 177th Street. The police station was across the street on the south side of West 177th Street.

Although B. Altman had originally intended to improve his real estate holdings and sell the land to developers, for some reason he changed his plans. Instead, he leased “the old Arrowhead Inn” to New York City for use as temporary headquarters for the 42nd Police Precinct.

The Policemen Save Each Other and Their Hens

Fast forward again three years to the morning of January 15, 1916.

At about 10 a.m., Ben Riley noticed flames coming from the second story of the police station. He ran to house and called out to Lieutenant Sauder, and then he sounded the fire alarm.

The 20 men who had been gathered in the assembly room went into action. They first woke up the still-sleeping policemen in the smoke-filled dormitory on the second floor, and then they headed up to the top floor to awaken Captain Abram C. Hulse. A few other men released all the hens from their run, which adjoined the building. (Hopefully someone also saved Sir Tom, the station cat.)


This small house, constructed in 1861, was across the street from the police station on the west side of Haven Avenue at West 177th Street. NYPL digital collections.

While the policemen waited for the firemen to arrive, they set up a bucket brigade. In short time, the seat of the fire on the second floor was extinguished and the building was saved. (A faulty chimney flue was determined to be the cause.) The men spent the next hour or so rounding up Lady Alice and her sister hens.

The old house continued to serve as a “temporary” police station for the next seven years. But by 1923, when many of the country mansions along Fort Washington Avenue were being replaced by large apartment houses to meet the city’s housing shortage, it was time for Ben Riley and the men of the 42nd Precinct to leave their rural home in Washington Heights.

The 42nd Precinct Moves

FortWashingtonAve_HatchingCatIn the late 1800s and early 1900s, Fort Washington Avenue was known as the best speedway ground for trotters. In this photo from about 1910, the property of the old Arrowhead Inn would have been down the street on the right. (Note the “For Sale” signs on the property in the foreground on right). NYPL digital collections.

 In October 1923, Ben Riley sold his block of land bordered by 177th, 178th, Haven Avenue, and Northern Avenue (now Cabrini Blvd.), and opened a new Arrowhead Inn in Riverdale, Bronx, at 246th Street and Henry Hudson Parkway. Less than a year later, in January 1924, three six-story brick apartment buildings designed by Gronenberg Leuchtag, architects, appeared on the site of the beautiful old inn.


The new six-story apartment buildings that replaced the Arrowhead Inn on the north side of West 177th Street (including the Ethel Court Apartments at 851 West 177th) were built in 1924 by B.L.W. Construction Company. They featured all the latest amenities, including garbage incinerators and dining alcoves. The building fronts were a tapestry of brick and terracotta. Way in the background is the approach to the George Washington Bridge. NYPL digital collections.

In August 1923, under the watch of Acting Captain Alphonse S. Rheaume, the 42nd Precinct moved into the headquarters of the 40th Precinct (later called the 32nd Precinct) at 152nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Plans called for the construction of a new station house at 182nd Street and Wadsworth Avenue, but until that was completed, all of Manhattan north of 152nd Street was covered by the station at 152nd Street.


Here’s a rear view of the old 42nd Precinct police station on a wintry day in March 1923, just five months before the property was sold to developers. NYPL digital collections.

Sometime around 1922 — just before the move to 182nd Street — the 42nd Precinct was renamed the 17th Precinct. Today, it is known as the 34th Precinct, and the station is located at 4295 Broadway at West 183rd Street. The men and women of the precinct no longer have a view of the Hudson River, and I seriously doubt they have any hens (maybe they have a cat), but I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them still enjoy swimming and boating when they’re off duty.


In 1924, the policemen of the old 42nd Precinct traded in their country home on the Hudson River for this traditional police station on Wadsworth Avenue and West 182nd Street. Today the building is home to the Bea Fuller Rodgers School. 


In 1924, construction began on 227 Haven Avenue, which occupies the site of the former Arrowhead Inn/42nd Precinct police station. The building still stands today. NYPL digital collections. 


Here’s another view of the new apartments at 227 Haven Avenue (far left). The old frame house in the foreground is the Howland farmhouse, which was demolished in 1933. When this photo was taken in 1927, West 175th Street (foreground) had been laid out, but not yet cut through. Today, this is the northwest corner of J. Hood Wright Park. NYPL digital collections.


These apartment buildings, on the west side of Haven Avenue between West 17th and 178th streets,  were condemned by the city and demolished in the 1950s to make way for a new approach to the George Washington Bridge (the apartment buildings on the east side of the street were also demolished.) NYPL digital collections.

The End of the Arrowhead Inn


Benjamin Riley

Sometime in the 1950s, the apartments that replaced Ben Riley’s Arrowhead Inn on the northeast corner of Haven Avenue and West 177th Street were demolished to make way for a new approach to the George Washington Bridge, which opened on October 25, 1931.

By this time, Ben’s new Arrowhead Inn was doing very well up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, at the intersection of West 246th Street and the Henry Hudson Parkway.


The Arrowhead Inn in the Bronx. The area looks surprisingly similar today.

In 1940, Ben moved his inn one final time to Yonkers, at 385 Tuckahoe Road. Four years later, on February 18, 1944, The New York Times reported that the 73-year-old inn keeper had died during an early-morning fire in the two-story brick inn.

Apparently, he had made it as far as the second-floor hallway when he was overcome by smoke. His wife, Rose Wallace Riley, her brother and wife, Jack and Mary Wallace, and a headwaiter who worked at the inn were rescued by the firefighters (Rose escaped the second floor via a ladder).

ArrowheadFire1944_HatchingCatBen Riley died in a hallway on the second floor of his Arrowhead Inn in Yonkers in February 1944. Today, garden apartments occupy this site. 

HavenAve_HatchingCatToday, what was once the site of the great lawns Ben Riley’s second Arrowhead Inn is now occupied by ramps for the George Washington Bridge and a small park (not visible). This looping road leading to West 178th Street is all that remains of this section of Haven Avenue, which once ran all the way to 181st Street.


Here’s an aerial view of the former site of the van Oblienis farm, Jacob Arden farm, W.H. Guion homestead, R.C. Rathbone homestead, Arrowhead Inn, and 42nd Police Precinct.

HenCat_HatchingCatIn 1915, give or take a year, a young woman from one of the new fashionable apartment buildings in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan brought a speckled hen to the mansion-turned-clubhouse-turned roadside inn-turned police station on West 177th Street. The hen was set loose among the dozen or so other hens that lived in a broad field behind the station. She spent the rest of her years living in rural luxury with the 207 policemen of the brand-new 42nd Police Precinct of New York City.

Lady Alice, as the men called her, loved spending time with the policemen, and in fact, she preferred being with them than with her fellow hens. She enjoyed sitting on their shoulders and eating out of their hands.

Lady Alice also enjoyed the company of Sir Tom, the police station cat. They would drink out of the same water bowl and play together in the kitchen garden behind the station, where the men had planted vegetables to conserve food during the war years (Lady Alice reportedly never nibbled on the vegetables, preferring to dig for worms.) On cold nights along the Hudson River, cat and hen would lay side by side in front of the station’s wood stove.


The police station of the new 42nd Precinct was formerly the estate of William H. Guion (1860s-1880s) and Robert C. Rathbone. Later, it served as the clubhouse for the Suburban Riding and Driving Club, and, from 1908-1913, as a popular roadside inn called the Arrowhead Inn. 

For Lady Alice, Sir Tom, and the men of the 42nd Precinct, life was good in the old Rathbone mansion at 177th Street and Haven Avenue. According to articles in The New York Times, the large, rambling frame structure on the banks of the Hudson River was surrounded by tall fruit and shade trees. The old-fashion kitchen garden had box hedges around the beds, and the grounds featured fine lawns.


In this 1914 map, you can see the police station, grounds, and stables of the 42nd Precinct on Haven Avenue between West 177th Street and the newly opened West 176th Street. The Depot Road (or Depot Lane) was a tree-line country road that winded down from the foot of West 177th Street to the Fort Washington Depot of the Hudson River Railroad.

The view from the house “was a very fine one, and extended for miles up and down the Hudson River.” The five-acre parcel also featured large sheds and stables that once accommodated up to 100 horses. (The New York Police Department may have used the stables for its new police dogs in the 1910s.)


New York Times, August 12, 1914

The ground floor of the building served as a dormitory with about 30 beds for the police reserves. On the floor above was another dormitory for the men on duty. Every day, the men awoke to the sounds of birds. They spent their leisure time swimming, fishing, boating, gardening, watching cows graze in an adjoining field, and playing with Lady Alice and Sir Tom.

The New 42nd Police Precinct

In June 1912, Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo created two new police precincts to serve the northern end of Manhattan. The new 37th Precinct, stationed at 407 Lenox Avenue, was bounded by 110th and 145th streets. The new 42nd Precinct, stationed at 1389 St. Nicholas Avenue, was bounded by 165th Street, the Harlem River, Dyckman Street, and the Hudson River. It also included the Harlem River Speedway, between 155th and 165th streets.

In June 1912, the city leased a new two-story brick store with cellar and loft at 1389 St. Nicholas Avenue for $6,000 a year. The plan was to use this building as a temporary police station for the 42nd Precinct until a permanent building could be constructed.

The problem with this building was that it was stuffy and hot in summer months, so the men on duty could not get a good night’s sleep. Newly elected Commissioner Arthur Woods promised them better quarters, and, after a short search, selected the old Rathbone house, or what was by then called the old Arrowhead Inn. The owner of the property at this time was Benjamin Altman, of department-store fame.


Until July 31, 1913, the station house for the new 42nd Precinct was at 1389 St. Nicholas Avenue near 179th Street. This two-story building was constructed in 1912 and owned by Rose C. Newman. Today it is home to a Lucille Roberts fitness center and shops. 

The Home of William Howe Guion and Robert C. Rathbone 

In 1889, Robert C. Rathbone, a Civil War veteran, volunteer firefighter, and insurance broker (he was called “the dean of the insurance business in New York City”), purchased the house and property on what was then called Depot Lane (or Depot Road). This home was reportedly built in the 1860s by William Howe Guion, of the shipping line Guion and Company.

I’m not sure whether Robert Rathbone ever lived in the house —  in the early 1900s, his son, R. Bleecker Rathbone, resided in another home on the other side of Depot Lane — but I do know that in 1897 the home was leased by the Suburban Riding and Driving Club, a popular organization for horsemen established in May 1894 (the blog, My Inwood, has a great article on the Suburban Riding and Driving Club with lots of photos.)

The club added a new wing to the home that featured open glass sides, which, along with a spacious piazza and open fireplace, was quite inviting to visitors on sunny winter days after a sleigh ride. The club also featured a café and main dining hall finished in rich red, and a ladies’ parlor with velvet carpeting, green walls, and big easy chairs and divans.


In this 1900 Sanborn map, you can see the old Rathbone house on the left (now the Suburban Riding and Driving Club) and Rathbone’s other residence on the right. NYPL digital collections.

In 1904, Robert Rathbone sold all of his property along Depot Lane to Roxton Realty.  The real estate syndicate’s plan was to develop the 105 lots, but for some reason the plans fell through.

Robert, who was about 80 years old at this time, moved into an apartment building at 118 West 130th Street.

RobertRathbon_ house_HatchingCat

The old Robert C. Rathbone house and former horsemen’s clubhouse, sometime around 1910, when it was home to Ben Riley’s Arrowhead Inn.

By 1908, development in Washington Heights was in full swing. All the streets were opened, sewers were installed, and the large rock formations had been removed from the more prominent plots to make way for apartment buildings.

Despite all the surrounding development, the area around the old Depot Road remained bucolic.

That year, Benjamin Riley, an inn keeper from Saratoga, New York, leased the former Rathbone property and opened a roadhouse inn called the Arrowhead Inn in the former horsemen’s clubhouse.

For the next five years, the crowds came to the Arrowhead Inn to feast on Ben’s specialty — frogs’ legs (Ben liked to boast that more frogs legs were consumed at the Arrowhead than at any other place in America). The crowds also came to participate in Ben’s famous four-in-hand road races, which he started in October 1908 to tie in with the horse show at the Madison Square Garden.

The idea was to have all the participants race from the inn to the Garden, where the horses would then be judged in the ring at the National Horse Show. The winners received a $500 cup called the Arrowhead Inn Challenge Trophy.


The Arrowhead Inn Challenge was a popular four-in-hand race that originated from the hitching post at Ben Riley’s inn. In the first year (1908), entrants included Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Paul A. Lorz, C.W. Watson, J. Campbell Thompson, George W. Watson, Morris E. Howlett, and Morgan P. Leiby. Howlett’s “Fort Washington Road Coach” won in 42 minutes, beating Vanderbilt’s “Brighton to London Coach” by 8 minutes. NYPL digital collections.  

When his lease on the Rathbone house was up in September 1913, Ben Riley decided to build a new and even better inn across the street on the former property of John M. Hopkins and Augusta Haven Hopkins, pictured below. He purchased the two-acre plot, which included a large estate then occupied by W.H. Summerville, for about $160,000.

New ArrowheadInn-HatchingCat

Ben’s new Arrowhead Inn on part of the old Hopkins/Haven estate featured sunken gardens and a restaurant that seated about 1,000 people. Notice the new brick apartments in the background on the right.  

In Part II, I’ll tell you about the final years of the old 42nd Precinct police station and Arrowhead Inn (as is typical for Old New York stories, devastating fires and development are involved)…





Mille Farm, painted by John Bradley in 1835, is the earliest depiction of a Staten Island. I’m not certain that Andrew Mille’s farm is the same one occupied by Joel Wolfe in the late 1840s and 1850s before New York State took over the land, but I do know that Wolfe’s Pond Park in Prince’s Bay is now on this very site. From the Staten Island Museum Collections

In 1799, the New York State Legislature relocated the Quarantine Establishment of the Port of New York from Governor’s Island to the northeastern tip of Staten Island, in the present communities of St. George and Tompkinsville.

This move to Staten Island was, for all intents and purposes, the start of the 60-year Quarantine War on Staten Island. The “war,” which pitted the local Board of Health and residents concerned about the spread of yellow fever against the Quarantine Commission, was a Not-in-My-Backyard (NIMBY) battle on steroids, with, sadly, vitriol and civil disorder not too different from what we see in our world today.

Joel and Udolpho Wolfe

In 1774, Benjamin Wolfe, a German Jew, emigrated to London. Two years later, he moved to Virginia, where he served under George Washington in the Revolutionary War for seven years. Major Benjamin Wolfe — now a very successful merchant — joined the army again in 1812, taking command of the troops in Richmond, Virginia. He passed away in 1818, leaving a large estate to his seven sons and one daughter.

Sometime around 1824, Joel Wolfe moved from his father’s home in Richmond to New York City, where he established a counting house at 109 Front Street. His younger brother Udolpho came to the city two years later and joined Joel as a clerk in the business. By this time, Joel was then largely engaged in the importation of brandy and gin from France and Holland.


The Wolfe’s counting house at 109 Front Street burned down during the great fire of 1835, which broke out on December 16. The two-day conflagration destroyed the New York Stock Exchange and most of the buildings on the southeast tip of Manhattan around Wall Street. New York Public Library Digital Collections

In 1839, Joel Wolfe established the first American-owned distillery in Schiedam, Holland. He also established a warehouse for his liquor business in a brick building at 27 Beaver Street (which burned down in July 1946).  Ten years years later, in 1849, Udolpho made some fortunate discoveries that led to the manufacture of the world-famous “Wolfe’s Aromatic Schiedam Schnapps,” which was manufactured at the Holland distillery.


I found several Wolfe bottles for sale on eBay.

By this time, Joel Wolfe had retired from the liquor business, having amassed a fortune not only in gin but in real estate. In addition to his Manhattan residence at 305 Fifth Avenue — a four-story brownstone with a stable for his horses —  Joel owned property at 121 and 124 West Houston Street, six lots in the village of Wakefield, Bronx, and a farm on Seguine’s Point in Prince’s Bay (Westfield), Staten Island, which served as the Wolfe’s country seat.

The Wolfe Farm at Seguine’s Point

Following his retirement in 1848, Joel Wolfe and his wife, Rachel, spent much of their time at the family’s country seat on Staten Island. The 131-acre farm featured a large mansion house, a farm house, and several outbuildings, in addition to a very large freshwater pond.

The farm was just east of Prince’s Bay Road (today’s Seguine Road) and adjacent to the 140-acre tract of Joseph Seguine, a farmer, oyster harvester, and factory owner who had a dock and palm oil factory (Staten Island Oil and Candlemaking) at the water’s edge.

(The Sequine Mansion, a Greek Revival-style house built in 1838, still stands on Seguine Avenue, as does the Manee-Seguine homestead, built prior to 1700 near Purdy Place.)

In addition to farming, the “retired” Joel Wolfe served on the first Board of Directors of the first railroad on Staten Island, a 13-mile track completed in 1860 that ran from Vanderbilt’s Landing (today’s Clifton Station) to Etingville. (Joel and Udolpho were also accused of being rebels who were loyal to the Confederates during the start of the Civil War, but that’s another story.)


The Wolfe Farm was directly opposite the Prince’s Bay Lighthouse, constructed in 1826 and pictured here in 1885. 

New York State Buys the Wolfe Farm

Back to the Quarantine War…

By 1849, infectious diseases from the Quarantine on Staten Island were epidemic among residents of the surrounding area. A Study Committee recommended that the Quarantine be removed to Sandy Hook, but no action was taken. The tipping point came in 1856, when 11 people on Staten Island died of yellow fever. A more remote location had to be found.

On May 1, 1857, the Quarantine Commissioners purchased 50 acres of the Wolfe Farm for $23,000 and vested the property in the people of the State of New York. Wolfe and his family moved out of the mansion and returned to their city residence (the mansion was going to serve as the residence of the quarantine’s physician). Wolfe put his former steward, Martin Morrison, in charge of the property until it could be fully conveyed to the state.

The Wolfe Farm Burns Down

On the morning of May 6, 1857, the Quarantine Commissioners issued an advertisement for the proposal of bids to erect several buildings for housing sick immigrants on the site. The ad enraged the local fisherman and oystermen, who feared that such a facility would contaminate the freshwater pond that they used to wash off their oysters. That evening, just around midnight, about 30 such men burned down one farm building after another in protest of the new quarantine.


This 1874 map of Richmond County (Staten Island) shows the Wolfe farm at left, most of which by that time was owned by New York State. Today’s Wolfe’s Pond is also visible.

They men started with the large mansion, which was occupied by Samuel Fitzpatrick (a family waiter), a young boy named James Murray, and a black girl named Mary Atkinson (possibly a slave; it has been reported that Joel and Udolpho had slaves). According to The New York Tribune, all three were sleeping in the house when the fire started. Fortunately, Mary heard the commotion and alerted the young men, allowing all three to escape by jumping from a second-story rear window.

The mob then proceeded to the two-story farmhouse, which was occupied by Martin Morrison, his wife and two children, a civil engineer, and a young boy hired to pack up the Wolfe’s furniture. Awakened by a flickering light from the flames, Mrs. Morrison alerted her husband to the fire. As the men set fire to the farmhouse, Martin shouted to his children and other occupants to make their escape as the flames closed in on them.

Within a few feet of the farmhouse was a large, nearly new cow barn filled with hay, straw, farming equipment, and two cows. One of the cows escaped but was severely burned and had to be killed; the other cow was consumed by the flames. A stable housing Joel Wolfe’s two horses — one a valuable brown mare — was also set on fire. According to news reports, both horses were led out of the stables safely by Mr. Fitzpatrick.

As the New York Herald reported on May 8, all the arsonists escaped:

At a distance, and within the confines of a wooded space, [the victims] saw the forms of men, gazing upon the spectacle with apparent delight. They laughed mockingly at the condition of the poor people, and then, like evil spirits as they were, disappeared in the darkness of night.

In June, the Quarantine Commission constructed two new hospitals, a wash house, and a small cook-house on about three acres of the former Wolfe Farm, all surrounded by a 10-foot-tall fence. The buildings were all constructed of wood on brick foundations. All of these buildings were set on fire less than a year later on April 26, 1858. No effort was made to rebuild or bring the incendiaries to justice.

Following this second fire, the quarantine station was relocated to Tompkinsville (and later, after mobs burned down those facilities, to Hoffman and Swinburne Islands). The state established a burial ground on the old Wolfe farm site — near today’s Holten Avenue — which it used for the burial of yellow fever victims through 1890. (Apparently, the cemetery was so close to the water that coffins sometimes washed out onto the beach.)

QuarantineBurning_HatchingCat.jpgOn September 1, 1858, leading citizens of Castleton and Southfield set several buildings of the new Quarantine at Tottenville on fire. The following night, the remaining buildings were burned to the ground. One man was killed during the ordeal. Following the fire, New York State brought suit against John C. Thompson and Ray Tompkins. They were acquitted of all charges by Judge Henry B. Metcalfe, a Staten Island resident who had argued for the removal of the old Quarantine in 1849.  

Wolfe’s Pond Park

Joel Wolfe died at his Fifth Avenue residence in November 1880 and was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery. In 1901, his estate sold the remaining 81 acres of the farm at Prince’s Bay. Although the land was sold to a private developer in 1907, it stood vacant, save for a summer bungalow colony, until New York City purchased the land in 1929 for the creation of a public park.

WolfePondColony2_HatchingCat.pngWhen the City acquired land for Wolfe’s Pond Park in 1929-30, it was a popular recreational spot for Staten Island residents and visitors from other boroughs and New Jersey. More than 90 bungalows and summer cottages that surrounded the freshwater pond were razed as a result of community protest in 1933, and substantial park improvements were undertaken.

SeguinePointAerial_HatchingCat.pngLocated just 100 yards from the ocean, Wolfe’s Pond at Seguine’s Point is a freshwater pond that was once a tidal inlet. In the 1700s and 1800s, oystermen used the pond to wash off their hauls of shellfish. Today, Wolfe’s Pond Park is one of Staten Island’s largest parks, offering numerous facilities including a beach, hiking trails, and tennis courts.