Historic, but not famous

Kate Walker, lighthouse keeper

Katherine Walker (1848–1931), born in Germany, was an American lighthouse keeper. She married Joseph Kaird and they had a son, Jacob, in 1875, but Joseph died shortly after. In 1882, the widow and her young son emigrated to the United States. She met her second husband, Captain John Walker, while she was a cook in a boarding house in New Jersey.

The couple married in 1884 and became the keepers of the lighthouse in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. A year later, they were assigned to the Robbins Reef Lighthouse in the New York Harbor and she had a daughter less than a year after that. Her husband died of pneumonia in 1886 and Katherine stayed on as the lighthouse tender for the next 33 years, motivated by her husband’s final words to his wife, “Mind the light, Kate,”.

She worked as the assistant keeper for her husband and it took 4 years of men refusing the job at Robbins Reef before she was offered the job as main keeper. She eventually became so used to the island life, it made her nervous to leave. Generally she only left to row her children to school in Staten Island. Once a year, a lighthouse official would stop by the lighthouse to drop off a few tons of coal, barrels of oil, and an envelope containing her wages.

In 1919, at the age of 71, Walker reluctantly retired as the Robbins Reef keeper, as required by a federal law passed the previous year. Her son Jacob took over as keeper. In her thirty-three years at the lighthouse, she saw the progression from kerosene lamps to oil vapor lamps and eventually to electricity. She died in 1931, at the age of 1983, and is buried in Ocean View cemetery on Staten Island. A US Coast Guard Coastal Buoy Tender is named for her. The folk song, “Lighthouse Keeper” by Neptune’s Car was reportedly inspired by Walker.

There is a proposal to restore the lighthouse at Robbins Reef and turn it into a museum with information on Ms. Walker’s life and dedication to the sailors of NY Harbor.

 

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Historic, but not famous

Henry G. Steinmeyer, historian

Henry Steinmeyer wrote one of the definitive books on the history of Staten Island from 1524-1898. Originally published in 1950, this book from the Staten Island Historical Society chronicles the Island’s history from colonization through the turn of the century.

A native of Staten Island, Steinmeyer helped to establish the Richmondtown Restoration project. His genuine love of the Island and its past illuminates the pages of this lively and amusing history. The book was updated in 1987 with additional photographs of landmarks throughout Staten Island including the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The original printing in hard cover is hard to come by and is valued at over $2000.

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Historic, but not famous

Joseph Sanguine, Staten Island Business Man

Joseph Sanguine (1801 – 1856) was a prominent businessman on Staten Island. He founded several companies, including the Staten Island Railway, serving as its first president. A boat ran daily between Joseph’s dock and Manhattan. He had an extensive oystering business, huge revenues in salt hay (from Lemon Creek wetlands, used to keep ice), and a candle factory, in addition to agricultural property and livestock.

Sanguine built a large plantation house in 1838 in the Prince’s Bay area of Staten Island. At the time, he added a hay barn, carriage house and stables. Joseph did business with Cornelius Vanderbilt and for a time, was the neighbor of Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central and Prospect parks. Olmsted helped landscape the property, planting Osage orange trees that line Seguine Avenue and still border what remains of the property today.

The home is now owned by the NY Parks Department.

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Historic, but not famous

Cornelis Melyn, early settler of Staten Island, instigator

Cornelis Melyn (1600 – c. 1662) was an early Dutch settler in New Netherland and lived on Staten Island. He was the chairman of the council of eight men, which was a part of early steps toward representative democracy in the Dutch colony. He was born in Antwerp which was part of the Spanish Netherlands. He decided to move to New Amsterdam on his second visit in 1638. He returned to the Netherlands and applied for the Patroonship of Staten Island, which he was granted July 3, 1640. A Patroonship allowed a landholder in New Netherland and its colonies, proprietary and manorial rights to a large tract of land in exchnage for 50 new settlers to the colony.

Melyn and his family were forced to flee Staten Island during a war with the Lenape and his plantation was destroyed. He purchased three plots in Manhattan where his family lived for 3 years while waiting to return to Staten Island. During that time, Melyn is attributed with having written the Vertoogh van Nieu Nederland’ (‘A Tale of New Netherland’), considered one of earliest descriptions of life in colony and condemnation of Dutch West Indies Company policies. He was in conflict with the govenor, Krieft and eventually also Peter Stuyvesant. Cornelis was sent to trial in Amsterdam, but returned again to resume his attempt to colonize Staten Island, along with a group of about 70 persons.  His feud continued with Director-General Stuyvesant, who had him arrested and imprisoned without trial or hearing in 1655.

In 1659, he relinquished his right of Patroonship of Staten Island. His death is not recorded but believed to have been in 1662.

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