Staten Island’s unofficial nickname is Borough of Parks and as history shaped this borough, it has a disparity with most of its parks on the South Shore in contrast to its urbanized north. When an opportunity arises to transform a sizable parcel into a park, civic activists and elected officials spring into action. That is how the former Blissenbach Marina on the Kill Van Kull was transformed from an abandoned brownfield into a waterfront park.
The views from the 9.7-acre Heritage Park include the Bayonne Bridge and boats being repaired at the neighboring Caddell Dry Dock. The neighborhood here is not very residential, but the parking lot and bus stop provide access to visitors coming from further afield.Where it Is
The park is situated on a knob of land sandwiched between Kill Van Kull and the abandoned right-of-way of the North Shore Branch, marked in purple. The land was created in the 1970s, extending the shoreline further north. The entrance to the park is much tighter, with industrial properties on either side.
As is often the case, one Hidden Waters feature is never too far from another. A short distance inland is Cpl. Lawrence Thompson Park, which used to be Factory Pond. to the west of Heritage Park is Palmer Run flowing into Kill Van Kull. Further inland the tributaries of this waterway include Clove Lakes and Silver Lake.
The entrance to the park slopes down from Richmond Terrace with a red brick paved parking lot, two former light beacons, and a larger parking lot beyond. Note the paved portion between the two bricked sections. This portion is used as a park but does not belong to the Parks Department. It is the right-of-way of the North Shore Branch. The tracks were removed many years ago.
On the right side of Heritage Park is a floating piece of U.S. Route 9 being refurbished at the Caddell Dry Dock. The piece is the Cape-May-Lewes Ferry, which connects the Delaware and New Jersey portions of this road. This busy shipyard began operating here in 1903 and services over 300 vessels annually. While much of the city’s waterfront is becoming residential and recreational, this is one business that will not be closing any time soon. Note the electricity-generating windmill across the waterway.
Within the park the brownfield remediation and landscaping has covered nearly all hints of its past use as a marina and boat storage yard. Rusted remains of a dock can be seen facing the city of Bayonne, New Jersey across the Kill Van Kull. For a park named Heritage, I would like to see more nautical flotsam and jetsam. Perhaps a few discarded anchors, bollards, bells, and steering wheels littered on its lawn.
History of Heritage Park
Going back to 1874 for our first map of the site, its location is north of the intersection of Van Street and Richmond Terrace (known then as Shore Road). A horse-dawn trolley line paralleled the shore. It would be upgraded into a railway in 1886, running along the water’s edge. On the inland side of Richmond Terrace is a cluster of cemeteries and the dyeing works that used Factory Pond as a source of water. The green dotted line is the Broadway of Staten Island. Its ferry dock titled West Brighton Landing is today the Caddell Dry Dock site.
In the 1960s German-born Hans Blissenbach purchased land to the west of Caddell Dry Dock. Using land reclamation, he expanded his property across the abandoned tracks to form a knob of land used for boat storage. In the above undated photo the Marine Power & Light Company, also known as the Blissenbach Marina is in its heyday.
In recognition of the disparity in parkland between Staten Island’s north and south, the marina was purchased in 2004 by the Trust for Public Land and transferred to the Parks Department.
At the time the acquisition was celebrated by local leader as it opened up a section of the waterfront to the public. Between the dry dock, marinas, repair shops, sewage treatment plant and abandoned railway, there weren’t enough places long the North Shore where the public could access the water’s edge.
On this property survey the straight lines ignore the actual water’s edge, extending the park into the water, protecting areas up to the pierhead line from fishing and boating. I should note that the other parks along the Kill Van Kull include Faber Park, Richmond Terrace Wetlands, Mariner’s Marsh preserve, the no-access Shooters Island preserve, Snug Harbor, and the recently built North Shore Esplanade near the St. George ferry terminal.
The Abandoned Railway
Increased car ownership, cheaper fares from competing buses doomed the unprofitable rail line. Freight service continued on the line until its abandonment in 1989. As Staten Island’s population and traffic woes grew over the decades, the well-preserved rail line remained unused despite numerous attempts to jump start a revival.
Once a railroad is abandoned, it is extremely costly to restore so instead the city is focusing its plans on a busway for the North Shore using some parts of the elevated trestle with stops located near the former train stations. An alternative plan proposes a rail-trail for this line, connecting parks along the shoreline. This debate is identical to the Rockaway Beach Branch in Queens. Abandoned since 1962, it is also the subject of competing proposals between a linear park and a restored railway.
In contrast to Staten Island Railway’s Tottenville Branch, the North Shore Branch never had the star treatment. Although the section west of Heritage Park was given a trestle and trenches, which are still in good condition, as seen above at the Tower Hill station. To the west of this park, the line runs through the Caddell property. Any rail revival here would require a costly grade separation all the way to St. George.
The flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, sent the park’s planners back to the table and the result was a landscape that can absorb the storm surge. Initially titled North Shore Waterfront Park, also known as Blissenbach Marina, it opened to the public on October 27, 2014.
The ceremony included two Native residents of Elm Park who spoke of the Lenape people who lived here prior to colonization. Councilwoman Debi Rose spoke of growing up near this park and playing among its boats when it was a marina. Cleaning up a brownfield, providing public access to the waterfront, and creating open space that responds to storm surges, Heritage Park is a 21st century park for Staten Island’s North Shore.
In the News:
AM New York reports on the planned restoration of the World’s Fair fountains in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
The Architects Newspaper goes into details with renderings and a plan for the fountains by the firm Quennell Rothschild & Partners.
Also on Staten Island:
When I am not exploring waterways and shorelines, I look for hidden history inland for Forgotten-NY. Earlier this week I documented the story of Fort Hill Park.
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