Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden

January 20, 2021


Snug Harbor is also known as Sailors’ Snug Harbor, is a collection of architecturally significant 19th-century buildings on Staten Island with a rather remarkable history.

The buildings are set in an 83-acre park along the Kill Van Kull in New Brighton, on the north shore of Staten Island.    Say Kill Van Kull quickly…

Ahh, the Kill Van Kull…OK, let me share that one with you…The Kill Van Kull is a tidal strait between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey–approximately 3 miles long and 1,000 feet wide and connects Newark Bay with Upper New York Bay. The Robbins Reef Light marks the eastern end of the Kill and Bergen Point its western end.

OK, back to Snug Harbor…Going back to 1801 and a Mr. Robert Richard Randall provided in his will that his family fortune and estate to be used to build and operate a haven for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors”.

Over the next century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor expanded from its original three buildings to 50 structures and 900 residents–sailors from every corner of the world. By the turn of the 20th century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor was reputedly the richest charitable institution in the United States and a self-sustaining community with farms, a dairy, a bakery, workshops, a power plant, a chapel, a sanatorium, a hospital, a concert hall, dormitories, recreation areas, gardens, and a cemetery.

In the mid-20th century, the number of residents dwindled as programs like Social Security and Medicare provided a financial safety net for retired sailors while the Randall endowment started to run out.  The historic buildings of Sailors’ Snug Harbor began to deteriorate, and several were demolished in the early 1950’s, including the Randall Memorial Church, the hospital, sanatorium, and several ancillary service buildings.

Fortunately in the 1960’s, the newly formed New York City Landmarks Commission stepped forward to save the five Greek Revival front buildings and the chapel at Snug Harbor by designating them as New York City’s first landmark structures. They are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Local activists and artists worked with elected officials in the early 1970’s and persuaded the City of New York to purchase the property, with the objective of transforming it into a public cultural resource.  In 1975 the not-for-profit Snug Harbor Cultural Center was formed to operate the buildings, and the Staten Island Botanical Gardens managed the gardens. The two organizations merged in 2008 to form Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden.

Today, Snug Harbor is a place where history, architecture, visual and performing arts, gardens, agriculture, and education come together and provide dynamic experiences for all ages.  It is one of the largest ongoing adaptive reuse projects in America and is one of New York City’s unique architectural complexes and historic landscapes.

Majestic buildings of classic architectural styles are home to exhibitions on historical subjects and contemporary art.

Snug Harbor’s Music Hall is the one of the oldest concert halls in New York City. Fourteen distinctive botanical gardens are spread across the site and include the celebrated New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden

The Snug Harbor campus consists of:

►28 historic structures

►14 botanical gardens

►2-acre urban farm

►10 acres of wetlands

►6 of those original buildings were the first to be designated as NYC

landmarks in 1965.

The grounds are open dawn to dusk, 7 days a week, all year round.   The Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden’s main campus, as it is called, is free of charge to the public.

However, there are also special events, such as the Chinese Lantern Festival, and special exhibits where these is a small admission charge.   Those would include the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art–$5 for an adult, $4 for seniors, and the first Saturday of every month, FREE to SI RESIDENTS.

Snug Harbor is also is home to the

►Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art,

►Snug Harbor Artist Residency Program (SHARP),

►Staten Island Museum,

►Staten Island Children’s Museum,

►Noble Maritime Collection,

►Art Lab,

►Children’s Harbor Montessori School, and the

►Staten Island Conservatory of Music.

Snug Harbor is also a proud Smithsonian affiliate.

However, due to the pandemic, much of the special exhibits are closed until