Third County CourthouseThe area that is now Historic Richmond Town's main site served for nearly two centuries as the government center of Staten Island (Richmond County). After Staten Island became one of the five boroughs of New York City in 1898, the county offices were gradually moved to the northern part of Staten Island, closer to Manhattan, and Richmond Town became a quiet community as government offices, and the many businesses that served them, left the neighborhood.
In the 1930s, the Staten Island Historical Society saw a historic preservation opportunity in the buildings that had been vacated, and in 1933 the Society obtained permission to renovate the former County Clerk's and Surrogate's Office for use as a museum. The museum opened in 1935, and in the following years the Society acquired several other nearby historic buildings. In 1948 the Society was granted use of the Third County Courthouse (which today serves as the Visitor Center). In the early 1950s, the City of New York acquired the 100-acre Richmond Town site, which was designated Richmondtown Restoration and set aside for preservation. Today this site, with 30 historic structures, serves as the largest of the four sites that make up Historic Richmond Town.
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Decker FarmhouseDecker Farm is located at 435 Richmond Hill Road in New Springville. It comprises approximately 11 structures on 11 acres of land. Major structures include the farmhouse, large barn, small barn, and drive shed. Smaller outbuildings include a privy, chicken coop, smokehouse, and others. Most are on their original sites, but the smokehouse was moved to this property from another location in the 1960s.
Decker Farm (ca. 1810) remains New York City's oldest continuously working family style farm. The first known residents on the property were Japhet Alston (1774-1842) and his wife Sara Decker Alston. Among their 12 children was Sarah who continued to reside in the house with her husband John M. Decker, from about 1832. In 1841, Japhet sold the farm to Lorenzo Dow Decker for $1250. Tax assessments suggest that L.D. Decker made substantial improvements to the farm in the decade of his occupation. It passed to his widow, Mahala Ann Decker, who continued to keep the farm active.
The Billiou-Stillwell-Perine House is located at 1476 Richmond Road in Dongan Hills. It was built close to the time of Staten Island's first permanent settlement in 1661. The building is on its original site, though one section of the house may have been moved from South Beach and rebuilt ca. 1670-1680.
This is a one and one-half story structure that was built in five sections which were completed from ca. 1662-1663 to ca. 1830. The two original houses (ca. 1662-1663 and ca. 1670-1680), both built of rough fieldstone, were at first joined only at an overlapping corner with no connecting interior door. The later three sections are wood frame structures, built by members of the Perine family ca. 1760, ca. 1790, and ca. 1830. There are seven rooms on the first floor and about nine rooms upstairs, with three stairways.
The earliest section of the house is distinctive for its steep medieval roof and large Dutch jambless fireplace. The second section of the house appears to have been a Dutch-style house that was moved from another location and rebuilt ca. 1670-1680 with English stylistic features.
In August of 1661, nineteen Dutch and French settlers under the leadership of Pierre Billiou asked Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant for land on Staten Island. They established Oude Dorp (now called South Beach), the first permanent settlement on Staten Island, but within a year or two Pierre Billiou moved inland and built his house on Richmond Road. The road is said to be the earliest settlers’ road on the island, connecting Oude Dorp to a Huguenot settlement on the Fresh Kills.
Billiou lived in the earliest section of the house until 1702. His daughter Martha married Captain Thomas Stillwell in 1670. (Staten Island was an English colony by that time). They moved a second house to the property, possibly from the Oude Dorp settlement, and rebuilt it adjoining Billiou’s house. Captain Stillwell was part of the new English political system on Staten Island, and he served as sheriff, magistrate, captain of militia, and member of the Colonial Assembly from Richmond County. He owned the property from 1677 to 1704.
Colonel Nicholas Britton, Stillwell’s son-in-law by his marriage to Frances Stillwell, was also active in local political affairs, and he resided in the house from 1704 to 1740, becoming the property owner in 1709. Soon after Nicholas Britton’s death, his widow Frances mortgaged the land to Walter Dongan, nephew of Colonial Governor Thomas Dongan. Walter Dongan died in 1749 and the property was purchased by Joseph Holmes Sr., who may have used the building as a tavern.
After Joseph died, his widow Sarah continued to live in the house, but apparently found the management of the property to be difficult. In 1764, she released the estate to her daughter Ann’s husband, Edward Perine, because she found “the care, trouble, charge and oversight too cumbersome for her.” In exchange, Edward was to give her lodging in two rooms of the house, as well as firewood, food for her hog and cow, and twenty pounds a year in rent.
When Edward Perine died in the late 1770s, his widow Ann received the use of the estate until their youngest child turned twenty-one, and she raised her seven children alone as the Revolutionary War was being fought. By family tradition, Ann Perine hid her valuable silver shoe buckles in a secret compartment in the house to protect them from British soldiers, but the story is not documented.
After the Revolutionary War ended, Ann, as the widow of a Loyalist, attempted to get reparations from the British government for the enormous number of trees on her property that were cut down for lumber by British troops during the occupation. The Staten Island Historical Society archives contain Ann’s claim letter detailing her request.
Ann Perine died in 1806, and the house and land remained in the Perine family until 1913. Several members of the family are known to have served in the military; among the many Perine family papers in the SIHS archives are documents regarding Captain Henry Perine’s service in the Richmond County militia, and letters written home by A.J. Perine while serving in the Civil War.
In 1914-15 the house and land were purchased by the Staten Island Antiquarian Society. For a few years in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate operated the “Box Tree Tea Room” in the house. The Antiquarian Society merged with the Staten Island Historical Society in 1922, and the Society has cared for the property since then. The building was designated an official New York City landmark in 1967, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. In 2013, Historic Richmond Town raised funds for a new roof on the Billiou-Stillwell-Perine-House with the help of the Richmond County Savings Foundation, the Staten Island Advance, and dedicated community leaders. Click here to learn more about the fundraiser.
Judge Jacob Tysen House
The Judge Jacob Tysen House is located at 355 Fillmore Street on the corner of Tysen Street in Livingston, Staten Island, adjacent to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. Its original location was on Richmond Terrace, one block away from its present site; it was moved in the 1880s.
Built in 1834, the two-story wood frame features three different architectural styles displaying typical 18th century design, Federal style, and Greek Revival. Judge Jacob Tysen (1773-1848) was a judge, member of Congress from 1826 to 1828, and a New York State Senator from 1828 to 1830.