Less than 20 miles away, from this urban jungle called New York and New Jersey, lies the third largest and the least populated borough of New York City. Lately in the news for all the not so great reasons, Staten Island with its lush greenery, tree lined streets and its 2.5 mile boardwalk (which is the 4th largest in the world), is an oasis in itself.
Having driven through the borough a number of times, and never seeing anything interesting, we decided to make a day of it last weekend.
Driving past the Bayonne Bridge, we entered the island and set off in the direction of the ‘Postcards’- the September 11 memorial. Please make a note- there is literally no place to park on a Sunday.
Another item on our bucket list was the Snug Harbor Cultural Centre. This first opened between 1831-1833, and originally served as a home for 37 retired sailors. It has now become a cultural centre not only for Staten Island, but for the city of New York.
The estate comprises amongst others- various gardens, a secluded pond, a butterfly garden, an herb garden, a healing garden, an ‘Allee’ of trees, the Staten Island children’s museum and above all, the Connie Gretz Secret Garden.
For those of you who have read the book ‘ The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, I was transported into a land far away, in Yorkshire, with Mary and Colin. The Secret Garden at the Snug Harbor was built in 2000, by Mr. Randy Gretz to honor his late wife Connie Gretz (thus the name). The garden here is modeled after the book. As a child, I was obsessed with the book, and craved my own little secret garden. I still hold on to the book today. Imagine my delight, upon this find!
The plaque placed there mentions that ‘the secret garden is concealed by a hedge maze, which is meant to teach children, an act as a reminder to grown ups that although life’s path is never straight, we should look for magic and joy in each step of the journey- for it is only though life’s journey that we can find the peace and beauty of our own secret garden’.
Tearing ourselves away, we toured the grounds walked through the healing garden, the Lion’s sensory garden and finally ended up at the pond.
After having spent a good couple of hours here, our next stop was the ever famous Franklin Roosevelt Boardwalk to take in some sunshine, sand and sea!
The beautiful homes, tree lined shady streets and friendly people, screamed ‘old world charm’! South beach and Midland beach, both share the boardwalk. The Ocean breeze fishing pier (pic above), at South beach, is one of the city’s most popular spots to fish, and is the largest steel and concrete recreational pier built in the last 100 years on the Atlantic ocean in the New York region. Midland beach used to the the summer resort attracting hordes of vacationers from the surrounding areas, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Another must visit site is Fort Wadsworth. The views of the Verrazano Bridge and Manhattan are stunning. This is a former US Military installation and is situated on the Narrows which divide New York bay into upper and lower halves. Fort Wadsworth was the longest continually manned military installation in the United States, and closed not too long ago, in 1994. It is now part of the Staten Island Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, maintained by the National Park Service. The New York City Marathon, an annual marathon (42.195 km or 26.219 mi) that courses through the five boroughs of New York City, starts on Fort Wadsworth.
So, if you are looking for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, pack a picnic, board the Staten Island Ferry (which is free) or drive if you please, and set out to discover the sights and sounds of this beautiful underrated borough.