Among the boroughs, Staten Island has the largest number of hidden waterways, most of them still in their natural condition as this borough is often regarded as the city’s last frontier. Long before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connected the island to Brooklyn, its north Shore was already an established hive of industry. In the West Brighton neighborhood, Factory Pond supplied water for the New York Dyeing and Printing Works, a major employer and polluter on the North Shore.
In the undated etching above, Factory Pond is seen behind the smokestacks, with Staten Island’s Broadway in the foreground. The pond was gone by 1908, and today on its site is Corporal Thompson Park. Here’s the story of a Staten Island pond that is no longer there.
Where it Flowed
Relying on the dependable Julius Bien atlas of 1891, Factory Pond appears above the “New” in West New Brighton. It was fed by water diverted from Clove Brook and by an unnamed tributary originating from the corner of Bard Avenue and Forest Avenue.
On this detailed map, one can also find Clove Lakes, Silver Lake, Palmer’s Run, Bodine Creek, Logan’s Spring Brook, and Harbor Brook, all of which flow north into Kill Van Kull. At the time, these streams were within the Town of Castleton, which was annexed by NYC in 1898.
In 1688, the undeveloped North Shore was designated by Governor Thomas Dongan as the Manor of Castleton, which later lent its name to the town, today’s Castleton Corners neighborhood, Castleton Avenue, and Castleton Bus Depot.
Its landscape began to change in 1819, with the arrival of New England industrialist Col. Nathan Barrett, who established the island’s first industrial enterprise, Barrett, Tileston & Co., a textile dye house, printing works, and fabric cleaning establishment. The business was located on a sixteen acre tract near the present-day intersection of Broadway and Richmond Terrace that incorporated several springs and a small mill pond. In 1824, the company was incorporated as the New-York Dyeing and Printing Establishment. Twelve years later, properties around the factory were developed as the community of Factoryville. As the community grew, its given name was deemed unattractive and by the 1860s its residents called it West New Brighton after an adjoining upscale neighborhood. The company went through a couple of name changes, its last being Barrett, Nephews & Company. Barrett’s former estate at 614 Broadway became the grounds for Staten Island Zoo in 1936.
The 1885 Sanborn Atlas of Staten Island shows a detailed plan of the factory complex with a “race” channel flowing out of the pond, through the factory, towards Kill Van Kull.
Filling in the Pond
As the pond became more polluted from industry, the factory’s use of it declined and it was gradually filled in. Looking at a 1908 survey of the site, the pond is gone, its only trace are the channels that once flowed into it, still serving the factory complex. I highlighted Broadway, Richmond Terrace and Castleton Avenue as reference points. A portion of the pond site was used as the “Alaska Ball Field” by workers and residents. I am not sure why it was named after the arctic territory, but today Alaska Street runs across the site. A 1924 aerial survey does not show the channels. In 1932 the factory closed and the site sat empty for the following 50 years.
In 1886, the Staten Island Advance set up its printing shop near the dyeing factory and remained in West New Brighton until 1960. A year after its relocation to Grasmere, it published a history article about its former location that included a rare photo of Factory Pond. It is the only daily print borough-wide newspaper left in the city.
As a Park
In 1972, it was designated as a park and named after local resident Corporal Lawrence Curtis Thompson, the first African–American from Staten Island to be killed in the Vietnam War. Refusing a medical discharge for a foot ailment, Thompson re–enlisted for a second tour of duty and was killed in action in 1967. The first park item built was its swimming pool, followed by the baseball field, running track and playground.
Around the Park
At the northwestern corner of the former pond, overlooking the park’s football field is a wooded patch of land pockmarked with tombstones. The Fountain Cemetery, Staten Island Cemetery and Trinity Chapel Cemetery are believed to be the oldest on the island, originally used as a burial ground by the native Lenape residents. Under the leadership of Lynn Rogers, the group Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island manages 11 cemeteries across the borough. Since 1998, the organization has restored fallen headstones, provided tours and assisted individuals in finding the graves of ancestors buried in one of its cemeteries. Another local resident, Pat Salmon authored Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island, which tells the story of these three graveyards, known collectively as the Factoryville Cemeteries. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Each of the city’s boroughs has a Broadway, and the one for Staten Island runs for 1.2 miles from Clove road to Richmond Terrace, partially along the eastern border of Cpl. Thompson Park. The neo-urbanist Markham Gardens across Broadway was built on the site of a former public housing development that was razed in 2005 in favor of a privately-built complex open to former residents with good credit scores. In contrast to typical NYCHA projects, Markham Gardens was different. It comprised of low-rise townhouses built during the Second World War for shipyard workers, later used as public housing. It is also a rare example of a NYCHA site that is no more. Cpl. Thompson grew up in Markham Gardens.
On the southern side of Cpl. Thompson Park are the West Brighton Houses, more typical of public housing: red brick boxy buildings on a superblock with ample open space.
Much of the information for West New Brighton can be found in the 2005 Landmarks Preservation Commission’s report on the John De Groot House at 1674 Richmond Terrace, located a couple of blocks north of Cpl. Thompson Park. Descended from early Dutch settlers, the De Groots owned the property from 1802 through 1914, with the landmarked home dating to 1870. De Grot worked at the dyeing and printing plant.
In the News:
NY1 News reports on the reintroduction of the alewife to the Bronx River.
Crain’s Detroit Business reports on the Flint River dam removal project.
The Royal Gazette of Bermuda reports on Dr. David Wingate’s efforts to restore ponds and marshes on the island territory.
Jakarta Post reports that outgoing governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama will continue the Gendong River restoration project until the end of his term in office.