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Port Richmond, Staten-island, 10307

Port Richmond is a neighborhood situated on the North Shore of Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City, USA. It is along the waterfront of the Kill Van Kull, with the southern terminus of the Bayonne Bridge serving as the boundary between it and Mariners Harbor, the neighborhood which borders it on the west. Formerly an independent village, it is one of the oldest neighborhoods on the island. In the 19th century it was an important transportation and industrial center of the island, but this role has vanished nearly completely, leaving a largely blue collar residential area bypassed by the shift of development of the island to its interior after the 1960s. The formerly bustling commercial center along Richmond Avenue (now Port Richmond Avenue) had been largely abandoned at the time, But in recent years many small businesses have opened in the area with the commercial activity shifting inland to Forest Avenue (or leaving the neighborhood altogether and relocating to the Staten Island Mall when the latter opened in the summer of 1973).

[original research?]

Early exploration and settlement

The first European contact with Staten Island was recorded in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano. Contact was recorded again in 1609 when Henry Hudson established Dutch trade in the area and named the island Staaten Eylandt after the Staten-Generaal, the Dutch parliament. However, it was not until the mid-1600s that a mixed Dutch and French settlement was established at New Dorp. Settlers established a cemetery at nearby Port Richmond, which served as the burial ground for residents of northern Staten Island until 1696. The community of Port Richmond grew up around this cemetery, beginning with the Dutch Reform Church that was built there in the early 1700s. The colonnaded Dutch Reformed Church that still stands on Port Richmond Avenue was built in 1824 after a fire destroyed the original building. From those Dutch roots, Port Richmond evolved into a thriving waterfront industrial and transportation hub. The village incorporated as Port Richmond in 1866, the same year as the Staten Island villages of New Brighton and Edgewater.

Port Richmond has had many names through the years. In the late 1600s it was known simply as The Burial Place. Subsequently, the area was alternately known as Bristol, New Bristol, Irvington, Cyrene, and Cityville. These names were proposed, but Port Richmond eventually won out in 1866. The name "Port Richmond" was given to the place by Rev. Dr. James Brownlee of the Dutch Reformed Church

In 1700 the area was known as the "burial place" from a cemetery of the Dutch Reformed Church near the present location of Richmond Avenue along the waterfront. It later became a transfer point between ferries from New York City to New Brunswick, New Jersey. A ferry landing (called variously as including "Ryer's Landing", "Mercereau's Landing", and "Decker's Landing") was later constructed for a route linking Staten Island across the Kill Van Kull to Bergen Point (present-day Bayonne, New Jersey). The Bayonne Bridge was constructed in 1931 yet ferry service continued until 1962.

Transportation Hub: Ferries and Roads Port Richmond's location on the Kull Van Kill made it a prime ferry launch from Staten Island to New Jersey. It was a transfer port for freight and passengers traveling by boat between New York City and New Brunswick, New Jersey. This point is the part of Staten Island closest to Port Elizabeth, New Jersey and was once called Mersereau's Point, after Mersereau's Ferry. This point was also known as Lambert's, Collyer's, and Bowman's Point. It was called Lambert's Point during the Revolutionary War and later Collyer's Point. Other ferries that operated from that point were: Dacosta's, Indian, Decker's, Ryers', and Hilleker's. Ryers' and Hilleker's ferries were in competition with one another until David Mersereau bought out both companies in the late 1800s. Ferries ran continually until shortly after the Bayonne Bridge was built in 1931. The area also became the site of an important stop on a coach route between the city and Philadelphia. Port Richmond Avenue has been known over the years as Church Road, Port Richmond Plank Road, Stone Road, and Richmond Avenue. The road is a continuation of an old highway called the Morningstar Road.

Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt, railway tycoon and patriarch of the Vanderbilt family, was born in the area in 1797. In 1836, former Vice President Aaron Burr died in Port Richmond at the St. James Hotel, a prominent hotel which once stood on Richmond Terrace until it was demolished.

In the early 19th century, the area was an overnight coach stop between New York City and Philadelphia. In 1836, a public park was built. In the middle 19th century, the area began to attract immigrants from Ireland and Germany. Among the industries established in the area was the only whale oil processing plant on Staten Island. It was later replaced by a linseed oil processing plant that operated until the 20th century. Other industries included lumber and coal yards, as a dye processing plant. Because oyster harvesting was a booming business along the mudflats in New York Harbor, many successful oyster boat captains built mansions on Richmond Terrace facing the Kill van Kull in the 1840s and 1850s. Industries along the waterfront included lumber and coal yards.

In 1883, Port Richmond was described as a model village:

"The general appearance of Port Richmond is inviting and pleasing. The streets are wide, well-macadamized and smooth; the side walks well paved and generally shaded by trees of large growth. The business blocks are substantial and the dwellings range from pretentious mansions to quiet cottage"

In 1866 the neighborhood was incorporated as Port Richmond. In the 1880s, the Staten Island Railway constructed a North Shore branch with a stop in the village on Richmond Avenue, which had become a main shopping area of the island. In the 1890s, an African-American church was established. At the beginning of the 20th century, it attracted large numbers of Italian, Polish, Norwegian, and Swedish immigrants. A public library was built with funds from Andrew Carnegie in 1902. Temple Emanu-El erected its domed, Classical building in 1907. ‎

When telephone service was upgraded in New York City in December 1930, a telephone exchange bearing the designation "Port Richmond 7" was created, its territory including the neighborhood itself along with many other communities on the western and central North Shore plus the island's then-sparsely-populated, rural interior. This exchange was disconnected in 1948 when a "Port Washington 7" exchange was established to serve the town by that name in Nassau County, on Long Island; the Port Richmond exchange's customers were then moved to exchanges that heretofore had been found to the east, such as "Saint George 7."

The neighborhood suffered a severe economic decline in the latter half of the 20th century, largely as a result of the shift of development and commercial activity to the center of the island, following the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railway that ran through the neighborhood connecting it to St. George was closed in 1953, leaving behind a dilapidated track and station along Richmond (now Port Richmond) Avenue (plans for reopening this line were studied at various times during the 1990s and early 2000s, but it is seen as unlikely that this will actually occur prior to the mid-2010s).

Make the Road New York, a community outreach program that serves Port Richmond along with two other distressed New York City communities describes Port Richmond as being "predominantly populated by poor and working class Latinos and African Americans, including many immigrants."

The African-American community that had long occupied Port Richmond's decaying quarters began to see a large influx of Mexican immigrants move in alongside them starting early in the 1990s. The Mexicans transformed many boarded up storefronts along Port Richmond Avenue and quickly made the commercial strip the center of Latino culture on Staten Island. Still many of Port Richmond's Mexicans line busy neighborhood streets every morning looking to be picked up for work as illegal day laborers. Since they often commute on foot and usually have money in their pockets, the immigrants have long been targeted for violent muggings and meaningless attacks on Port Richmond streets, usually by African-American youths. The tensions between the area's long-time inhabitants and its new comers have been well documented for years. Several outreach groups have since popped up to address the community's issues. Still though, mistrust persists on both sides of the fence. Even on the part of neighborhood blacks despite making up the majority of the area the Mexicans now call home.

Port Richmond has long been plagued by high levels of crime, such as prostitution, drugs and violence.

2009 findings show that Port Richmond (zip code 10302) received a 7 on a scale of 1-10 in terms of violent crime level - the highest for any zip code on Staten Island (one other Staten Island zip code also received a 7). The United States violent crime average for a zip code is a 3.

Port Richmond also received a 6 on an identical scale measuring property crime. The United States property crime average for a zip code is also a 3.

Port Richmond's social issues makes it a virtual hotbed for several communtiy activist and outreach programs and organizations. Some of which include:

Port Richmond Anti-Violence Task Force - Deals with the neighborhood's extensive criminal dealings, specifically Mexican immigrants being targeted for robberies and random assaults by the area's black youths.

Make the Road New York - Promotes economic justice, equity and opportunity for all New Yorkers through community and electoral organizing, strategic policy advocacy, leadership development, youth and adult education, and high quality legal and support services. Also serves two other struggling New York City minority communities in two other boroughs.

Eye Openers Youth Against Violence - A Staten Island youth group that started in Port Richmond with the aim of addressing simmering tensions between blacks and Hispanics by providing a forum of communication for teens from various ethnic backgrounds.

Project Hospitality - A Staten Island interfaith effort feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and caring for people with HIV/AIDS, started and is still based in Port Richmond.

El Centro de Hospitalidad (Latino Civic Association of Staten Island) - Educates Port Richmond's large Latino immigrant day laborer community and provides them with breakfasts, a place to wait for work, Bible study, clothes drvies, among other things.

Port Richmond Improvement Association - A community group that holds events to inform community members of important things taking place and to help bridge the gap between the NYPD and the area's residents, also allowing them to have their voices and concerns heard.

Community Health Action of Staten Island (formerly Staten Island Aids Task Force)/Port Richmond Wellness Center - Helps the relatively large amount of neighborhood residents living with HIV/AIDS.

Community Health Center of Richmond - Staten Island's first community owned and operated primary health clinic. The center is aimed at the poor and/or uninsured, providing affordable health care to Staten Island residents (especially those in Port Richmond) regardless of their ability to pay.

Amazing Grace Interfaith Church - A Staten Island church that, with the help of volunteers, holds monthly giveaways of clothes and other necessities to the poor and needy at Port Richmond's Levy Playground.

Community By Community - A non-profit organization based in Port Richmond that is dedicated to helping young people through various initiatives and programs including providing them with productive activities to partake it to keep them off the streets.

New York Public Library operates the Port Richmond Branch at 75 Bennett Street at Heberton Avenue. Throughout the 19th Century the Port Richmond area had sporadic library service. Interest in a library began in 1833. Various private library groups opened. Andrew Carnegie financed the Port Richmond Branch, which became Port Richmond's permanent library.

Most students in Port Richmond are zoned for Port Richmond High School. Port Richmond High School had a new building constructed in 1993, but the school was originally opened in 1927. The school has about 2,700 students and is known as one of the best high schools in Staten Island. The high school has a reputation for excellence in sports and academics. Newsweek has named Port Richmond High School to its list of "Best High Schools" for many recent years

Port Richmond High School

Port Richmond is the site of the Castleton Bus Depot, at Castleton and Jewett Avenues. As a result, it is served by many local and express buses. The abandoned North Shore Branch of the Staten Island Railway runs through Port Richmond.

Denino's Pizzeria Tavern is located at 524 Port Richmond Ave. and is a legendary jewel of Port Richmond. Established in 1937, it has been open in the area for over seven decades and is known throughout all five boroughs of New York for amazing brick-oven pizza and a unique atmosphere. It is a typical hangout for locals and a popular destination for outsiders looking for a good meal.

Ritz Theater The Ritz Theater was built in 1924 by Sol Brill, who was also responsible for the construction of the Liberty, New Dorp, and St. George Theaters, all of which are also located in Staten Island. The spacious theater boasted over 2,100 seats. The theater was a prime rock venue in the 1960s and 1970s; the Kinks and Jethro Tull have played here. The Ritz later became the home of rock concerts and roller skating, which made the Ritz one of the integral entertainment venues on Staten Island for many years. During the blizzard of 1947 the theater's marquee was destroyed and was never restored. Since 1985, the theater has been owned and operated as a tile showroom by the Pedulla family. Portions of the theater's original function can still be seen inside, and its famous murals still grace the walls

Old PS 20 Now essentially a retirement community, it is one of the few remaining examples of nineteenth-century school buildings in Staten Island. Old PS 20 was the site of a school since 1842, when the two-story brick building and old stable served as classrooms for the students. The building that now stands on the site was built in 1891 after the old buildings were condemned for sanitary reasons. An addition to the 1891 construction was added in 1898 by James Warriner Moulton who attempted to give the addition what he termed greater "strength" and a "more manly character." The architecture of the building draws from a variety of styles including Romanesque Revival, neo-Classical, Italian villa, and Americanized Queen Anne. The hodge-podge of styles suggests a vernacular approach and reflects the reality of the nineteenth century, when school districts were responsible for designing, constructing, and maintaining their own buildings. Old PS 20 was within the Staten Island school district until it was disbanded following the consolidation of New York City in 1898. The bell tower on Old PS 20 is significant because it reflects a great deal of civic pride. It was the first school building to have such an impressive tower and is the last remaining example. Old PS 20 was designated a Landmark Site by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1988

121 Herberton Ave. 121 Heberton Avenue is a two-and-one-half story frame building, is located on the eastern side of Veteran's Park, once the most fashionable locations in the neighborhood. Heberton Avenue is known for a plethora of handsome old houses. 121 Heberton, built by James G. Burger around 1859-61, is one of the most impressive. The residence is a rare surviving example in New York City of a picturesque villa in the Rustic style. The design combines elements seen in the pattern books of Gervase Wheeler, Calvert Vaux, and Samuel Sloan. Features associated with this style are broad gables, openwork brackets, long outside galleries, raised basement, and simple ornament. The house was first owned by a prosperous oysterman and abolitionist named Captain John J. Housman, then leased to tenants, and finally fell into the hands of the Brown family. The Browns had a number of notable family members in government in Richmond County. Though the house is no longer in the Brown family, it is still used as a residence today and recent renovations have preserved the unique historic quality of the house. The 121 Heberton Avenue House was designated a Landmark Site by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2002.

121 Herberton Ave.

Bodine Creek A short walk from The New York Public Library and Veteran's Park is Bodine Creek. Bodine has had many names over the centuries, including Palmer's Run and Mill Brook. Near Bodine Creek was Bodine's Pond, used for years by various industries. The Richmond County Water Company once supplied water to the area, but when Bodine's Pond was evenutally drained, the wells of the company were sunk in the remaining marsh. The edges of the pond are still visible on the landscape in the form of Columbia Street and Jewett Avenue. In 1922, the New York Times reported that a 13-year-old boy was killed by a train while crabbing from the railway trestle over Bodine Creek. Other fatalities have been reported from drowning and train accidents.


Aaron Burr's Death Site The Port Richmond Hotel, a barracks-like building facing the Bayonne ferry terminal, was once the elegant St. James Hotel." The St. James Hotel was erected in 1787 remained until 1945, when it was demolished. As identified by a plaque on the Griffith Block building [see right], it was the last home of Aaron Burr, the third Vice President of the United Stated. He died there on September 14, 1836.


Reformed Protestant Dutch Church and Burial Ground Built in 1845 in Greek revival style, this is the third church on the site. The first, a hexagonal wooden building erected in 1714, was destroyed by the British during the revolution. The original building, a long structure around which the community now known as Port Richmond grew, was erected on land donated in 1714 by Governor Hunter. The original license to the Dutch Congregation signed by Governor Hunter in 1714 is preserved. The grounds also serve in commemoration of the Five Brothers from Staten Island who served in the Revolutionary War. The Daughters of the American Revolution recognized the The Brothers Mersereau: Joshua - 3rd Quarter Master General, Jacob - Colonel, Cornelius - Solider, John - Captain, and Paul - Sailor.

On the headstone of Cornelius Mersereau in the church burial ground is the verse:

My flesh shall slumber in the ground Till the last trumpets joyfull sound, Then burst the chains in sweet surprise And in my Savior's Image rise.



The cult classic movie release Combat Shock, the independent directing debut of Staten Island native Buddy Giovinazzo, is set in and was largely filmed in Port Richmond, where the main character dwells in apocalyptic squalor. The movie has been hailed for its raw depiction of inner city life and use of the gritty streetscapes it was filmed amid.

In December 2009, Arcadia Publishing released a book named Port Richmond on its Images of America product line about the neighborhood's history, including its ethnic diversity and the effect various immigrant groups have had on the community.

Port Richmond has been mentioned and "shouted out" in various songs by Staten Island rappers ranging from Hip Hop heavyweights like Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Shyheim to lesser known underground artists such as King Just, Fes Taylor and 9th Prince, the younger brother of legendary rapper/producer RZA.

Aaron Burr: An American politician and Revolutionary War veteran, Burr was a notorious New York character. He served as a member of the New York State Assembly, became the New York state Attorney General, a United States Senator, and the third Vice President of the United States (1801-1805) under Thomas Jefferson. Burr had a long-standing feud with Alexander Hamilton, who he killed in a duel on July 11, 1804. He was tried for treason in 1807 and acquitted. Finally, Burr suffered a debilitating stroke in 1834, which rendered him immobile. He died in Port Richmond at the Winants (also, Port Richmond) Hotel, but is buried in Princeton, New Jersey.

Anning S. Prall: Born in Port Richmond in 1870, Prall served as a U.S. Representative from New York and was Chair of the Federal Communications Commission from 1935 to 1937. He died in office in 1937.

William T. Croak: Croak represented Richmond County in the New York State Assembly in 1907.

Thomas W. Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald lived in Port Richmond, Staten Island and was a Democratic delegate from the 6th District to New York state constitutional convention in 1894. His burial location is unknown.

Jacob Tyson: Born in Richmond County,New York on October 8, 1773, Tyson was the U.S. Representative from New York's 2nd District from 1823-1825 He also served as a member of the New York state senate from the 1st District in 1828. He died on July 16,1848 and was buried at the Dutch Reformed Churchyard.

David Mersereau: Mersereau was born in Richmond County, Staten Island in 1769. He was married to Cornelia Rolf and Maria Bennett. Mersereau served as a member of the New York state assembly from Richmond County from 1806-09. He also worked as a common pleas court judge in New York. Mersereau died in 1835 and is buried at the Reformed Church Burial Ground.

William B. Muirhead: Muirhead lived in Port Richmond, Staten Island, Richmond County and was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention from New York in 1940 and 1944.

Harry J. Palmer: Palmer was born in Morris County, N.J. on February 28, 1872. Palmer, a merchant by trade, later moved to Port Richmond, Staten Island and was the Democratic member of New York state senate 24th District from 1929-1934.

Clinton J. Sharrett: Sharrett was born in 1877. From 1923-1930, he was the Chair of Richmond County Republican Party and an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention from New York in 1928. Sharrett was a also a member of the Freemasons. He died of heart disease on March 6, 1930.

J. Walter Thompson: Thompson lived in Port Richmond and served as an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention from New York in 1940, 1944, and 1948.

Frieda Vaughan: While living in Port Richmond, Vaughan was a member of New York Republican State Committee, (Richmond County, 2nd District) in 1936.While living in Port Richmond, Vaughan was a member of New York Republican State Committee, (Richmond County, 2nd District) in 1936.

George Garby: A resident of Port Richmond, Garby was a Member of New York state assembly from Richmond County in 1897.

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