Time Travel: A Journey to Historic Richmondtown

As of late, I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to get to know the parts of my city that are remarkable, yet unseen.  I get to spend a lot of my time with people who are not from New York City, and this has opened my eyes to the fact that they often do not know of of the outer boroughs (everything but Manhattan).  As I am a Resident Assistant, I thought it would be clever to do a bulletin board about this, one that listed interesting things that my residents could do in each borough.

In all its glory! Subway directions included!

However, I was at a loss when thinking about something interesting to do on Staten Island.  No offense to the locals, but nothing came to me off the top of my head.  I know many Staten Island residents, yet I think they would agree with me when I say that the only remarkable things that jump out at you would be that it has a better mall than Brooklyn, and you need to pass through it to get to New Jersey (more on the armpit of America to come in a later post).

Never underestimate the powers of the internet though.  Google brought my attention to quite the attraction in “the borough that might as well belong to Jersey”, Historic Richmondtown.  This timewarp is actually a collection of conserved and restored buildings in the heart of Staten Island with structures dating back to Dutch colonial times (the 1600’s).  As part of my commitment to learn more about the unseen of NYC, I decided to set out to see this site with my favorite ginger, Caitlin Nolan.

Do we look excited yet?

Upon our arrival, I was happy to see that there were people actually dressed like they lived in the colonies!  I was so fascinated! Where did they live?  Did they stay in character? What did they wear when they went home?  Why be a reenactor?

I felt like I was in Amish Country!

We quickly learned that the illusion of colonial life would be easily broken, as the village actually had cars running through it, and was bordered by stereotypically gaudy Staten Island residences.

As soon as I saw faux stucco, I was forced back to reality.

However, I did get to take more pictures of people in costumes.  We learned in one building that operated as an actual Tinsmith that there was an apprenticeship program going on to educate 11-14 year olds… more on that later.

Learning how to make tin things.

They also have a museum on site with lots of large restored pieces.  They’re currently doing an exhibit on baby stuff, and lemme just tell you, I went batshit crazy over it!

A highchairs timeline!

Really old baby stuff.

Baby seats through the ages.

A real boat!

Horse-drawn milkman carriage.

When the time came, we embarked on a village tour.  To our surprise, we were the only people taking the tour who were not visiting from another country. This was interesting to me since I always thought of foreign tourists as the types that would be spending their time in Times Square or at the Statue of Liberty.  We also found that our tour guide was full of wit and practical knowledge.

Our guide

Do you know the origin of “mind your P’s and Q’s”?  Well now I do, thanks to this man!  He brought us through various buildings and explained how life was in this exact town through the ages.  Very interesting.  What I liked about the tour was that the guide did not pretend to be a citizen of the time period.  He spoke as if it was 2010 and was informative without being boring… except for a few points, like when he explained to us the wonderful story about how he learned the name for a pig-tall cow-high fence.

I kind of never want to see one of these things ever again.

Overall, I would have to say that Historic Richmondtown is like historic town lite.  You can get through the whole thing in about two hours, which is just what I needed.  However, the high point of our journey really came at the end of the tour.  We were left off at a basket weaving facility of some sort, where we met the sassiest bitch in all of Richmondtown.

Get it!

Now, this basket lady was probably like any other.  You could tell that she probably mildly enjoyed her job, coming to work every day to be an 18th century basket maker.  However, this week was not like every other.  Apparently, basketmaking was very popular among the preteen apprentices that had come to Richmondtown in order to dress in borrowed historic garb and step in copius amounts of geese shit (sandals were a bad choice for Caitlin).  Our basket lady seemed to have no patience left, so she vented to the tour of ESL tourists and myself and ginger for about 5 minutes about how she only had a few more days left of the torture she had been subjected to by the higher ups that actually cared about children, and how she would use physical violence to keep the basket children in check if it were legal.  She then asked if we had an questions about baskets and was answered only by the noisiness of the children outside.  I ventured a useless basket question simply to break the silence.  Baskets were passed around, but basket lady could not be heard over the children outside AND THEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!

Poor children.

Basket lady walked to the door and opened with “Hey you guys, I have something called a ‘tour’ going on in here.  Maybe you all should shut up!”  The yelling continued for another 30 seconds before basket lady returned to the most awkward silence I have ever been a part of.  The only sound heard was my uttering of “Get it!”  Oh and that day, it had been gotten.

Fast forward to myself and my faithful historic exploring companion in my time traveling Pontiac driving into the sunset, back to Brooklyn and the 21st century.  We had much fun composing a rendition of Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” which we dubbed “Rock Your Bonnet”.

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