The 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, along with Borough Historian Loring McMillen, 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.