The southernmost point in New York City and state is the neighborhood of Tottenville on Staten Island. At the tip is the 286-acre Conference House Park, which needs no introduction. A couple of blocks north of it is another park that lines the shore of Arthur Kill, a wild landscape of a seashell-covered beach, ravine, and thick tree cover.
At only nine acres, Tottenville Shore Park is a nature preserve that also serves as a miniature bluebelt that collects runoff from nearby streets and channels it into the ocean, reducing the burden on the sewer system.
Finding this Park
The park is located on four city-owned parcels that were assigned to the Parks Department in 1997. The largest of these is located on Hopping Avenue, where it makes a dip, collecting rainwater and sending it into the park.
Two smaller lots are on the dead-end of Bentley Street, at the Tottenville terminus of the Staten Island Railway. The smallest parcel is a private home standing on parkland.
Arthur Kill Road has its southern end at this park, running east from here for nearly nine miles towards Historic Richmondtown. Nearby Amboy Road is also a lengthy road, running from the shore of Arthur Kill within view of its namesake city, east towards New Drop at nearly the same distance. Not seen on his map is Hylan Boulevard which also ends at Tottenville, running for 14 miles along the South Shore from its start at the Alice Austen House.
To see whether the ravine in Tottenville Shore Park is a remnant of a hidden stream, I went back in time to 1901, shortly after Staten Island was absorbed into New York City.
Some of the streets on this map were proposed while those lined with buildings existed at this time. On Hopping Avenue one can clearly see a brook extending inland for a couple of blocks amid the waterfront mansions of this former village.
On the top of the map is the train terminal and ferry dock that took passengers across the Arthur Kill to Perth Amboy, NJ. At the time there wasn’t a single bridge to connect Staten Island to other lands. The earlier 1891 Julius Bien map also shows the brook in the ravine at Hopping Avenue.
The scene at the tip of Bentley Avenue has changed dramatically from a century ago. The last ferry plied this crossing in 1963. Since then the dock washed away and some of the buildings next to it were demolished. While the rest of Staten Island has experienced more development in the past half century, this corner of Tottenville became more tranquil. Travel to New Jersey these days is done on the Outerbridge Crossing to the north of Tottenville.
With the return of ferry routes between the city’s other boroughs as an alternative to cars and buses, perhaps this dead end will again see waterborne transportation between Tottenville, Perth Amboy and the rest of the city. Should the boats return, the park parcel here could be repurposed as a sitting area or plaza connecting the station to the dock. Across the state line, the Perth Amboy side of Arthur Kill still has its “Ferry to Tottenville” dock as a historical centerpiece in a waterfront park.
On Bentley Avenue the main parcel of Tottenville Shore Park is a forested terrain that dips towards the shore. A lone sign with the park’s name indicates its ownership by the city. A grate at the lowest point on this avenue collects runoff from the road and it spills out into a ravine that descends to the shoreline. Kevin Walsh beat me to this park. He visited it in October 2017.
The condition of the ravine is deplorable. It is littered with discarded plastic bottles and aluminum cans. It is sad to think how easily this trash washes down into the Arthur Kill and the ocean, where it harms marine life. Looking at the trash, the harsh disposable plastic ban in Kenya no longer seems so draconian. It is necessary.
Unless this park is fenced off, the public will continue to trespass and leave behind trash that will end up in the waterways. Perhaps then the solution is to offer responsible access that capitalizes on the views offered by this park. I can imagine an elevated walkway above the ravine with a gazebo resembling a treehouse. We have a High Line that is squeezed between high-rise buildings, so why not a walkway that snakes its way around tall trees?
At the visitors center in Conference House Park there is an exhibit on the trash that washed up on the park’s shoreline. Notice that the majority of it is disposable plastic. For every park and waterway that I’ve documented, I try to find a corresponding book. for this park the book on exhibit is Skye Moody‘s Washed Up: The Curious Journeys of Flotsam and Jetsam.
There are also two excellent books on the neighborhood’s history published by the Tottenville Historical Society, both of which tell the story of New York’s southernmost community.