The New York City Farm Colony – Seaview Hospital Historic District

The New York City Farm Colony – Seaview Hospital Historic District, the first historic district in Staten Island, was designated in 1985. The district consists of the buildings and grounds of two municipal institutions sited on approximately 320 acres at the center of Staten Island. The two institutions lie across Brielle Avenue from one another. For two short periods in their history they fell under the same administration, but they were founded separately – The Seaview Hospital as a tuberculosis hospital, the Farm Colony as a poor farm.

Go to more information on the Seaview Hospital part of the Historic District.

Farm Colony Building

In 1902 a predecessor charitable institution, the Richmond County Poor Farm, was renamed The New York City Farm Colony. Its purpose and assets were described as follows: " …as to the New York City Farm Colony…much can be said of its importance to the City. While the inmates at other institutions under the Department of Public Charities look around and have nothing whatever to do, here they pay for their board twofold by their labor, working on the farm raising vegetables, not only for themselves, but for other unfortunates. No healthier spot within miles of Greater New York can be found, situated on the western slope of Todt Hill, the highest land in Greater New York – it being 368 feet above sea level – a beautiful site with its fertile fields, where any kind of vegetable thrives. All it needs is cultivation…"

The character of this historic complex is absolutely unique in the City of New York. Gambrel-roofed dormitories and service buildings of fieldstone and brick were built between 1904 and 1916. Extreme care was taken to place these solid structures strategically in the landscape. This sensitive site planning resulted in preserving the rural landscape and views often by hiding the buildings with slopes and/or complementing the terrain by their shape and height. The use of the Dutch Colonial Revival Style maintained the continuity of local architectural traditions and created a unified complex.

The first building, known as Dormitory 1 & 2 was designed by the firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen and was opened in 1904. It formed the prototype for subsequent dormitories and service buildings constructed prior to the 1930s. The recently demolished building - Dormitory 3 & 4 was the second building constructed in the Farm Colony. It was designed by William Flanagan and completed in 1909. See Preservation Alert!

The recent history of the Farm Colony is pretty dismal. The last residents were removed in 1975. Beginning in 1980, the city has repeatedly tried to sell land within the historic district for development, despite the protests of Staten Island environmentalists, who are committed to making the unbuilt land part of the Greenbelt, and of preservationists, whose aim is adaptive reuse of the buildings.

In 1983, a City Planning Commission report recommended adaptive reuse of the 12 buildings and "a preservation of open spaces surrounding the buildings." That same year, the borough president’s commission for the Greenbelt issued a report recommending that the city "should not offer this property with any inclusive new development rights (no construction of additional residential or commercial units)."

In 1984, 22 of approximately 95 acres were transferred to the Parks Department to be included in the Greenbelt.

In 1988, the city issued an "request for expressions of interest" for purchase and development of the Farm Colony Site, approximately 75 acres called "Woodlands, NYC" in their rather fancy booklet. The request called for residential development along with renovation of the historically and architecturally distinct buildings. This plan was vigorously opposed by environmentalists and preservationists and apparently went nowhere.

In 1999, the New York City Economic Development Corporation issued a Request for Proposals to construct senior housing on the forested land to the north of Seaview Hospital. Staten Island’s environmental advocates "The Protectors of Pine Oak Woods" unequivocally oppose this plan and have filed suit against the city.

Over the years, there have been arson-related fires at the Farm Colony. Roofs are gone, leaving the buildings open to continuing deterioration.

last revised September 6 1999
by Preserve & Protect