Third County Courthouse: Center of Civic Life on Staten Island explores the building's form, function, and its central role in Staten Island's civic life. Sections of the exhibit describe courthouse architecture, notable trials, the political process, and the county jail.
In the early 1800s, the growing County of Richmond needed a new and bigger courthouse to replace the nearby 1790s courthouse, so leaders commissioned an impressive structure in the new style known as Greek Revival. Completed in 1837, the building was designed to reflect and inspire civic power and pride.
This was the place where generations of Staten Islanders exercised their political rights--once they'd been granted. In the early years of our nation's history, voting was generally restricted to white men who owned property and paid taxes. Constitutional amendments brought voting rights to a broader segment of Americans, and laws continued evolving due to the diligent work of determined citizens.
Among the criminal cases documented is the matter of the destruction of the quarantine. In 1858, two Staten Island residents, considered the ringleaders of an angry mob, were charged with arson after taking steps to eradicate hospital buildings that were seen as a danger to the community. The sensational case of accused murderer Polly Bodine is also presented, as well as the conviction and execution of Edward Reinhardt in 1881.
Images of historic photographs and documents show the fortress-like jail building that was constructed in 1860s (it was rebuilt in 1903, vacated in 1953, and demolished afterward). Among the imprisoned were Civil War soldiers charged with desertion, as well as the more typical larcenous, drunk or disorderly miscreants.
After Staten Island became one of the five boroughs of New York City in 1898, government and court functions were gradually moved to new facilities at St. George. The last court session at Richmondtown was in 1919. The structure continued in use for much-needed community service agencies until finding its current role as the proud centerpiece of Historic Richmond Town.