Tottenville Businesses of the Past
by Angie Mangino
Originally published in the STATEN ISLAND REGISTER, September 12, 2000 as part of an ongoing series
Perth Amboy Ferry
First operated in June 1860 with steamboats, the first true ferryboat was the Maid of Perth which set sail in 1867. The ferry was a profitable enterprise as an adjunct to the Staten Island Rapid Transit. Even after the Outerbridge Crossing opened in 1928, it continued as a profitable project because of its frequent and reliable service over a period of 81 years. This company’s last ferry, the Charles Galloway, left Perth Amboy for Tottenville on October 16, 1948.
Subsequent ferry service was provided by smaller boats until 1963, when this service between Staten Island and New Jersey was terminated.
In 1898 there were eight boatyards in Tottenville. After 1900, however, they declined as steel replaced wood in ship construction.
The biggest shipyard was Brown, across from Ward’s Point, off Hopping Avenue. The others included Ellis, Rutan, Butler, Sleight, Nass, Tracy and O’Boyle.
World War I brought another massive expansion in shipbuilding to Tottenville, with the most notable shipyard being Cossey. Opened in 1908, this 20-acre plant was the center of Tottenville’s shipbuilding for 22 years until 1930. Its 250 workers built 1,149 boats.
Hotels and Restaurants
After 1897 the “Palaces of the Public,” as they were called, offered indoor running water for the guests in Tottenville’s hotels. In the early 1900’s, Amboy Road and Broadway (now Arthur Kill Road) were the only two streets paved with stone, and that’s where most of the hotels were.
A few of the many hotels in Tottenville were the Aquehonga Hotel, Morton House, Old Ferry Hotel, Tottenville Ferry Hotel, Tottenville Hotel and West End Hotel.
During the early 1900’s, Main Street was lined with six hotels – John Boss’s, William O’Brien’s, William Carpenter’s, Bloom’s, Porter’s and Streeter’s.
The Tottenville Casino, on Surf Avenue, started not as a gambling casino, but as a huge restaurant. By providing music and dancing, this establishment became Tottenville Beach’s center of social activity.
Staten Island Transcript
Begun in 1861 as a four-page weekly newspaper called the Westfield (Staten Island) Times, the newspaper later renamed the Staten Island Transcript became increasingly important in the 1890’s. The Transcript, by serving Tottenville faithfully, grew to a semi-weekly newspaper serving the entire South Shore of Staten Island with 12 to 16 pages.
In 1898 it reported on the Spanish American War and the concrete battery built at Ward’s Point and informed its readers about the consolidation of New York City.
It also told of the opening of the Tottenville Library through the work of the Philemon Library & Historical Society. The society, first called the Philemon Club, was founded in 1897 with its primary goal being the attainment of a Carnegie grant for a public library in Tottenville, which was, in fact, received in 1904.
In extant copies of the newspaper, one can still read about the Outerbridge Crossing opening in 1928 and the 1936 opening of the new, million-dollar Tottenville High School.
Disosway’s was the only grist mill to serve Tottenville for over 200 years, begun around 1700 by Cornelius Disosway. In 1786 he left the mill to his sons, Cornelius and Israel. As years went by there were name changes to the mill as the ownership changed.
In the 1800’s it was Butler Mills. Many years later it became Cole’s Mills. The apparent last owner, W. Weir, added a saw mill in 1870, with the subsequent name becoming Weir’s Grist & Saw Mills. Shortly after 1900 the mill was entirely razed, removing it from the Tottenville landscape and concluding a long history as a business there.
In 1850 Samuel Hopping started a lumber company, which was to become the Tottenville Lumber Company of Runyon. In 1907, it was one of three separate businesses to consolidate as Seguine-Runyon-Styles, Inc. These were the Tottenville Lumber Compny of Runyon, the coal business of Henry G. Styles and the masonry supplies business of Joseph C. Seguine of Princes Bay.
Gage’s Sandpaper factory was built in 1866. Gage’s sense of humor combined with his pride in his sandpaper by his having a rebus printed on each sheet of sandpaper. The rebus deciphered read “Gage’s Lasting Respects to All.” The factory was torn down in 1948.
Atlantic Terra Cotta
Begun in 1897, Atlantic Terra Cotta was in operation until the early 1930’s when it fell victim to the Depression, as so many other businesses did.
By 1906 the company was employing up to 500 people, making it one of the largest employers on Staten Island. Fondly talked about by current Tottenville residents, the company is credited with providing housing for their employees.
Terra cotta was fire-resistant, lightweight cladding and construction material which was extremely versatile and relatively inexpensive.
Atlantic Terra Cotta was the primary manufacturer of architectural terra cotta ornaments used on major skyscrapers and other buildings, one example being the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The company’s smokestack was a familiar Tottenville landmark for 80 years until 1988 with the demolition of the 135 foot structure.
Nassau Smelting & Refining
Nassau Smelting & Refining Co.’s plant was built in 1900 on the Richmond Valley line of Tottenville. The smelting works (Tottenville Copper Company) was bought by Western Electric in 1931, another result of Depression times. In 1971 it became a metal recycling plant and renamed Nassau Recycling Corporation.
As the Depression had an impact on Tottenville with the closing of Atlantic Terra Cotta and the changeover of Nassau Smelting and Refining, a few unemployed craftsmen went into business for themselves. One of the notable ones was Walter L. Howat, who had been the chief chemist at Atlantic Terra Cotta. He established a small ceramics plant near his home on Hopping Avenue in 1933 which continued in business until the mid 1960’s.