Staten Island (1990 pop. 378,977), 59 sq mi (160 sq km), SE N.Y., in New York Bay, SW of Manhattan, forming Richmond co. of New York state and the borough of Staten Island of New York City. It is separated from New Jersey by Kill Van Kull and Arthur Kill, which are crossed by bridges. Ferries connect the island with Manhattan, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge links it with Brooklyn. The hills of NE Staten Island rise to 410 ft (125 m) at Todt Hill, the highest point along the Atlantic coast S of Maine.
The industrial area of Staten Island is located in the north, where docks line the northern and eastern shores. The availability of open space made the island the site of large container-handling facilities, as well as New York City's 3,000-acre (1,215-hectare) Fresh Kills landfill, the largest such facility in the country until it was closed in 2001. Fresh Kills will be redeveloped as park. Centers of trade include St. George (the borough hall) and Port Richmond. Beaches and parks, including part of Gateway National Recreation Area, are found along the southeastern coast.
The island was visited by Henry Hudson in 1609 and was called Staaten Eylandet by the Dutch. The Native population drove off the first white settlers, but by 1661 a permanent settlement had been founded. Though there was considerable industrial activity on Staten Island in the 19th cent., its predominant character was semirural, something which had not changed when it became a borough of New York City in 1898.
The turning point in the island's recent history was the completion of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (1964). Since then Staten Island has had an influx of new residents and industries. Changes in the 1980s in the structure of New York City's government led many Staten Islanders to believe their voting strength was being diminished. In 1993, Staten Island residents voted to secede from the city, but such a move would require state approval. Low-lying coastal areas of the island suffered serious flooding from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Among the extant buildings of the 17th, 18th, and 19th cent. is the Billopp, or Conference, House (built before 1688), in which an unsuccessful Revolutionary War peace conference was held in 1776. The Richmondtown Restoration, an example of 18th- and 19th-century life on the island, includes Voorlezer's House (built c.1695). Other points of interest include several old churches, Sailor's Snug Harbor, the Garibaldi Memorial, Fort Wadsworth, and the Staten Island Zoo. Wagner College, Richmond College of the City Univ. of New York, and a branch of St. John's Univ. are on Staten Island.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. Physical Geography