Richard Mather Bayles.

History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time online

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Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 2 of 72)
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tion of the subject now under investigation.

" I find by observation, that there is a series of admirable
springs commencing at the famous Hessian springs, near La-
fayette and Brighton avenues, below Silver lake; also the Be-
ment boiling springs, then various lesser springs, to the large
springs at the Four Corners or Constanz brewery, and so on
to the Willow brook and down to Springville. I have esti-
mated, and find the amount of water discharged is vastly in
excess of any surface drainage on the higher grounds of the
island adjacent, and am thus led to the belief that these springs
arise from the rock below, and have their source on hills far

. The climate of the island is subject to frequent and sudden
changes of temperature, but is generally more mild than that
of other localities in the same latitude farther away from the sea-
shore. The mercury varies during the year between ninety de-
grees and zero, very seldom passing either of these extremes.
The prevailing winds of winter are from the north or northwest.
In summer the south shore receives a breeze from the ocean al-
most daily, and southwest winds prevail throughout the island.
Being surrounded by salt water the island is naturally subject
to fogs, especially about the shores, though they seldom pene-
trate far into the interior. They are prevalent toward spring
and continue to occur at times until June or July and occasion-
ally at other seasons. Thunder showers in summer sometimes
suddenly arise in the north and are wafted over the island on


heavy gusts of wind, and are occasionally accompanied by a
fall of hail stones.

The island has long been celebrated for the salubrity of its
climate, except perhaps for affections of the lungs and throat.
There are few localities on the continent where the number of
instances of extreme longevity in proportion to the population
can be equalled, many of them being more than centenarians.
To show that the healthfulness of the northern part was recog-
nized we quote from an announcement in 1788 as follows: "The
healthy and clear westerly breezes on the one side, and the
thick southerly atmosphere, abstracted by a ridge of hills on
the other side, make it so healthy that it must induce gentle
men of fortune to purchase, who wish to lengthen out their
days and enjoy all the temporal happiness this life can afford."

Some very cold winters have been recorded in the climatic
history of the island. That of 1740-41 was unusually severe.
Whenever alluded to it was spoken of as the '* hard winter."
Its extraordinary severity continued from the middle of No-
vember to the end of March. Snow fell to the depth of six feet
on the level; fences were buried out of sight: domestic animals
were housed during the whole period, and many of them per-
ished: intercourse between neighbors was suspended for several
weeks; physicians were not able to reach their patients because
of the utterly impassible condition of the roads; many families
suffered for want of bread while their granaries were filled with
grain, because the mills were inaccessible; the roofs of dwell-
ings and out-buildings in many cases were crushed by the
weight of snow upon them; churches remained closed and the
dead unburied. At length a day or two of moderate weather
came and with a light, misty rain, softened the surface of the
snow, which froze hard again, and formed a solid crust suffi-
ciently firm to bear the weight of a horse. This for a time af-
forded great relief to the imprisoned people, and enabled them
to procure fuel and other necessaries. Again, the winter of
1761, beginning with January, was an exceedingly cold one,
continuing until March, meanwhile the Narrows were frozen
over. Another severe winter was that of 1768. Ten years later
brought a recurrence of climatic severity, of which the follow-
ing record, dated December 12, 1788, gives us a hint:

" The intense cold weather has, within these two days occa-
sioned the quick-silver in the weather glass to fall four degrees


lower than has been observed for the last seven years; several
ships, &c., and many lives have been lost by the monstrous
bodies of ice floating in our Bay.''

But perhaps one of the most memorable winters for its sever-
ity was that of 1779-80. The waters surrounding the island
were then firmly frozen over, so that troops, cannon and mill
rnry stores of all descriptions were conveyed hither from New
York on the ice. Sleighs were driven across the Narrows and
over New York bay on the ice. A New York paper (JRiriny-
tori's Gazette} of January W has an item saying that several
persons came from Staten Island to New York that (layover
tlic ice, and on the first day of January it records the fact that
a four-horse sleigh made the same passage.



Point of the Beach





Scale, i : 120000


<M'M|II-_> Fl fa of the Island. Animal Life. Indian Relics.

IN the matter of geology Staten Island presents a great
variety for so small a section of territory. For our repre-
sentations of the subject we have drawn largely upon the facts
gathered by the investigations of Dr. N. L. Britton, of Columbia
College. He tells us that within the limits of this territory we
find strata of the Archaean, Triassic. Cretaceous, Quaternary and
Modern eras, each of which will be noticed in the order of
its age.

Arclnrn n ^lin/a. True granite occurs on the shore of the
Upper bay. about four hundred feet southwest of the Tompkins-
ville steamboat landing, and directly in front of the old build
ing known as Nautilus Hall. The surface of rock exposed at
low tide is about eighty feet wide by fifty feet long: the rock
disappearing at high-water mark beneath a hill of drift some
fifteen feet in thickness. More of the same rock is exposed
about two hundred feet south of this. Elsewhere on the island
the granite is covered by newer formations. There is reason to
believe, however, that it extends in a belt of unknown width
all around the eastern edge of the main range of hills, covered
by the glacial drift and Cretaceous strata to an unknown depth,
and that the same belt continues in a southwesterly direction to
Artlmr kill, and thence across the state of New Jersey to
Trenton, where it again conies to the surface.

At the exposure at Tompkinsville before spoken of, this
granite is very coarsely crystalline in structure, and for that
reason could never be very satisfactorily employed for building
purposes. The feldspar is mainly orthoclase, occurs in large
masses, and is greatly in excess of the other two constituents;
the quartz varies in color from dark brown to nearly white;
\\-t ;tt mica there is appears to be muscovite. In places the last
\najHed mineral is absent, the rock being then a kind of peg-


matite or graphic granite. No stratification is observable, but
the surface of the rock outcrop dips about fifteen degrees to the
east. Mather calls this grarJte primary, and to the best of our
present knowledge it belongs to the oldest geological formation
in Xorth America.

The magnesian rocks, serpentines, form the upper portion at
least of the main series of hills. This rock originally is sup-
posed to have been of very considerable thickness, for a large
amount must have been removed by erosion; the serpentine
area is estimated at about thirteen and a half square miles. It
is impossible to estimate accurately the present thickness, but
it is probably over one hundred feet. The most eastern exposed
boundary of the serpentine rock is marked by a series of very
sharp slopes, which are nearly continuous from Tompkinsville
to Richmond, and in some places these are as straight and
regular as they could be constructed. This regularity of the
slope is a characteristic of these hills, and is not the least
element of their beauty. It is not known how far east of the
foot of these hills the serpentine extends, but it is probably no
great distance, as the granite at Tompkinsville occurs within a
few hundred feet of it. The southern end of the ridge descends
rather gradually and is lost under the Freshkill marshes not far
from Richmond. The western boundary of the formation, or
more properly the eastern limit of the Triassic sandstone whicli
rests upon it, cannot be accurately located, as there are no out-
crops, and any attempt to designate it would be speculative
and only approximate.

The magnesian rock varies in color from light green to nearly
black, and in texture from compact to quite earthy, much of it
being fibrous. Its specific gravity is about 2.55, and ia chemi-
cal composition it is all a hydrated magnesian silicate. The
best exposures are at several places around the base of Pavilion
hill at Tompkinsville; in cuttings for streets in the village of
New Brighton; near the school house at Garretson's station; on
Meissner avenue near Richmond, and near Egbertville. The
highest point of the ridge is nearly opposite Garretson's sta-
tion, and about half way across the hills, where the elevation
measured by an aneroid barometer is four hundred and twenty
feet. Among the interesting minerals associated with the ser-
pentine rocks that have been collected at Pavilion hill and in.
NVw Brighton are compact and fibrous serpentines, marmolite,


silvery talc, apple green talc, gurhofite, dolomite, calcite and

Near the new railroad terminus at St. George's there was
formerly an outcrop of very tough actinolite rock. This has
been covered by the filling in of the water-front at that place.

The metamorphic rocks of Staten Island are apparently a
southern continuation of those of Hoboken, N. J., and New
York island, their strike, position with regard to the other
rocks, and their composition being generally alike or nearly so.
The serpentines are supposed to have been originally highly
magnesian limestones which by metamorphic agencies were
brought in contact with highly heated carbonic acid and silica
bearing solutions, which, by removing the greater part of the
calcic carbonate and altering the magnesic carbonate to a sili-
cate, left the rocks in the condition of hydrated maguesian sili-
cates. During or at the close of this period of metamorphism,
the eastern edges of the strata were tilted up, forming an ele-
vated axis, while the extension of the formation to the west-
ward was subsequently covered by the shale and sandstone
deposited from the Triassic sea.

The true geological age of this belt of metamorphic rocks,
which runs through Staten and New York islands, extends far
northward through the New England states, where it has a
wide expansion, and has been traced southward as far as North
Carolina, is not definitely known. Perhaps of all the theories
in regard to it, that which claims it to belong to the Laurentian
age, as portions of the Highlands of New Jersey and the Adi-
rondack mountains, is the one most generally held by those
who have studied the evidences most thoroughly.

Triassic Formation. Strata of the Triassic age extend over
the parts of the island bounded by the assumed western edge
of the serpentine rocks, the submerged gneissic belt, Arthur
kill and Newark bay. This area contains about fourteen and
a half square miles. The rocks consist of red ferruginous shales
and sandstones, which dip to the northwest, and are broken
through by a dyke of diabase or trap rock. They are in part
the eastern extension of the Triassic strata that cover so large a
part of New Jersey.

The shales and sandstones are exposed in but few places and
only in small quantities. They appear on Shooter's island and
on the adjacent shore. Here the strata consist of shaly red


micaceous sandstone, which differs in no essential particular
from that so abundantly exposed in eastern New Jersey. No
fossils have hitherto been found in these rocks on Staten Island,
and the exposed surfaces are not sufficient to warrant any great
expenditure of time or labor in search for them.

The diabase ridge that disappears beneath the Kill von Kull
at Bergen Point cuts through the red sandstone of Staten Island
from Port Richmond to the Freshkill marshes, and appears as
a low, long, round-backed hill, having a general strike of south
40 degrees west, thus being nearly parallel with the serpentine.
Toward the south end its elevation is so little above that of the
sandstone that its position cannot be well distinguished. The
length of this outcrop is about five and three-quarters miles,
and its width, measuring from its assumed eastern verge to
where the sandstone covers it, has an average of less than half
a mile. Both the eastern and western boundaries, however, are
so much obscured by drift that their exact positions cannot be
determined, and the outcrop may be wider or narrower than
the most careful estimate would lead us to suppose.

The only places at which the diabase is exposed so as to be
easily studied are at and near the so-called granite quarries at
Graniteville and near Port Richmond. The rock is not a gran-
ite, but a coarsely crystalline diabase, mainly composed of
angite and triclinic feldspar, which is probably labradorite. It
has been found in well-digging within the belt that has been
indicated, extending from Port Richmond to the Fresh kill near
its junction with the sound, in the water at Linoleumville, and
in outcrops near Chelsea, on the road to Spriugville. It is
noticeable here, as in other localities, that the trap-dykes seem
to shun the exposed Archfean rocks and cling closely to the
Triassic, none being found outside of the red sandstone era.

The Cretaceous formation. This, more or less covered by
glacial and modified drift and salt meadows, extends through
all points of the island lying east and southeast of the Archaean
rocks. The area underlaid by it is therefore about twenty-eight
and a half square miles. The strata consist of beds of variously
colored clays and sands, dipping slightly to the southeast, and
having a general strike of about south 45 degrees west. They
are a direct continuation of the v ' Plastic Clay'' division of the
Cretaceous, so named by the New Jersey geologists, and lie at
the base of the formation in eastern North America.


South of the terminal glacial moraine, the strata are generally
covered by a deposit of grayish yellow sand and gravel of vari-
able thickness, known as the " Yellow Drift." This is seen on
the island only in the vicinity of Tottenville, for the area lying
southeast of the moraine near New Dorp and Garretson's is cov-
ered with modified drift, imperfectly stratified. These Creta-
ceous strata of clay and sand extend eastward to Long Island,
where their extent is unknown. The clays are white, yellow,
brown or black. They appear on the surface at a number of
places, and the purer varieties have been extensively used in
the manufacture of lire-brick, drain-pipe, gas-retorts and other
refractory ware. White clays outcrop on the road just north of
Rossville, at various places south of Rossville and near
Kreischerville, along a stream near Prince's bay. They have
been noticed near Gilford's, and are said to occur at the bottom
of a well near New Dorp, and perhaps maybe found in other

The extension of this formation to the east is indicated by an
outcrop of buff-colored clay on the shore of the Lower bay
about one-half mile south of the Elm-Tree light-house. The
fact that all the pits from which clay has been taken are in the
region between Rossville and Kreischerville does not prove by
any means that clay occurs only in that neighborhood. It is
probable, on the contrary, that the beds extend with some inter-
ruptions, across the island, but are deeply covered by the drift-
hills of the moraine, and materials washed from these which
cover all the territory assumed to be underlaid by the clays,
except that portion where pits have been excavated.

Thin beds of Limonite iron ore, of limited extent are found in
terstratified with and overlaying the clays and sands. This sub-
stance frequently cements the sand and gravel, and forms a con-
glomerate of variable coarseness. Hitherto this iron ore has
not often been discovered in sufficient quantities or sufficient
purity to warrant its use in the manufacture of iron. Lignite
and pyrites are frequently found in the clay excavations. The
former substance may also be seen on the shore of Arthur kill,
near Rossville, aud in a ravine a short distance northeast of the
same village, after slides of the banks occur. It is generally
impregnated with the pyrites, and with copperas which mani-
fests itself upon exposure to the air for a little time. No fossil
leaves or shells have been found in the clays of the island,


though it is not improbable that they may be found in more
extended excavations than have been made.

As these beds are composed of fragments of quartz, mica and
clay, or decomposed feldspar, it is evident that they are the
products of the disintegration of gneissic or granitic rocks.
That they have not been formed in place, but have been de-
posited from suspension in water, is proved from their stratifi-
cation and by the assorted state of the materials composing
them. That the waters that deposited the clays were fresh, is
indicated by the absence of fossil marine organisms, arid the
presence of shells apparently allied to the modern fresh-water
genera, in the clays of New Jersey.

The Quaternary Epoch. Deposits of material brought from
the north by the ice of the glacial epoch, are found distributed
over the greater part of the island, but do not entirely over-
spread it. The most southern terminal glacial moraine crosses
the island from the Narrows to Tottenville, and is distinctly
marked by a continuous line of hills. These hills mark the
farthest southern extension of the ice-sheet, and the line along
which the glacier deposited much of its burden of boulders,
pebbles, sand and clay, which it had torn from the rocks in its
southward journey. In many places these hills have the pecu-
liar lenticular form which they assume on Long Island and in
the Eastern states. The moraine has been partially removed
by the wash of the waves from Prince's bay northward to near
the Great kills, leaving a bluff of variable height.

The glacier moved across the island in a south-southeasterly
direction. This is proved by the markings on the trap-rock
near Port Richmond, which have about that bearing. The sur-
face of this rock is also smoothed like portions of the Palisades
and Newark mountains. There are no such markings on the
serpentine rocks, because they are too soft to retain them. The
ice extended over their whole area, however, with the exception
of a small area on Todt bill, which is east of the moraine.
North and west of the morainal hills the drift is not so abund-
ant, and rarely forms hills of any considerable size. But
boulders are to be found over all this area, except when it is
covered by newer formations and the soil is often very clayey.

"Diabase of various degrees of coarseness is the most abundant
rock in the drift. This has been carried from tiie Palisades
and the Newark mountains, and probably in part from the


trap-dyke on the island itself, and is found over the whole drift
area. Gneiss of various kinds, largely syenitic, is perhaps the
next most abundant rock, and occurs often in very large masses.
One of these large boulders rests directly on the top of Fort
hill, New Brighton; another along a roadside near Pleasant
Plains, and a third worthy of notice lies in a field near

Moderately large boulders, both of trap and gneiss, abound
on the moraine between the Narrows and Garretson's. The
gneiss has come either from the New Jersey Highlands or from
much farther northward, and perhaps in part from New York
island. Triassic red sandstone, carried from New Jersey or
from the northwestern parts of the island, is often met with.
A specimen impregnated with copper salts was obtained from
the bluff at Prince's bay. This locality has yielded many other
interesting specimens illustrating the material brought by the
glacier. Among these may be mentioned Potsdam sandstone,
a number of rocks of Helderberg limestone, a specimen of
granite containing graphite, a cherty rock which may belong to
the Corniferous, and a conglomerate of uncertain age, but
thought to be of the Oneida epoch. A boulder of Hamilton
limestone occurs near Richmond, and a rock containing galena
was found in some excavations near New Brighton.

1 1 is evident that the ice-sheet passed entirely over the day-
beds of the Cretaceous formation in the vicinity of Rossville,
apparently without deteriorating them to any great extent.
At first sight it would appear that these soft, unconsolidated
strata would have been greatly eroded and almost entirely
removed down to the bed-rock, by such an immense mass of ice
moving over them, but although some was undoubtedly carried
away, the ice seems to have swept across the clays without cut-
ting into them very much. South and east of the drift line
(which flows in general in a course parallel with the south shore
of the island in some places running inland a mile or more for
short distances) boulders are almost entirely absent, being
chiefly found in the beds of brooks, where they have been
^carried by water since glacial times, and are never very large.

Modified drift, or material derived from the glacier, but more
or less sorted and stratified by water, may be seen on the plains
lying east of the moraine from near Gilford's to Clifton. The
soil over this area is seen in well-diggings to be imperfectly


stratified, and to consist of loam and sand, with few pebbles
and fewer boulders. On Todt bill, near the moraine, there is
quite an extensive deposit of gravel colored yellow by oxide of
iron 1 , this is the pre-glacial drift, which has a greater develop-
ment farther south in New Jersey. Occasionally some stratifi-
cation may be seen in the morainal hills themselves, but these
are generally very heterogeneous in composition. Modified
drift also occurs in small quantities along the edge of the
moraine near Tottenville. The true glacial drift in this vicinity
is not thick, but generally forms a mere mantle over the Cre-
taceous strata, and was probably deposited by a local pro-
jection of ice in advance of the main glacier.

The era of the formation of limonite iron ore deposits is only
provisionally referred to the Quaternary. Their deposition is
supposed to have begun long before the glacial epoch, but since
the magnesian rocks, upon which they rest. These beds of iron
ore are found resting directly upon the serpentine or talcose
rocks at a number of places, in some of which mining has been
carried on. All the deposits have the same general character-
istics they are superficial, though sometimes covered by glacial
drift to a variable depth. The ore consists of the hydrated
sesquioxide of iron, limonite, and is either compact or quite
earthy in texture, and is associated with colorless, green and
red quartz. It has been extensively mined near Four Corners,
at several places on Todt hill and Richmond terrace, and along
the Clove road, and is known to occur at several places on the
serpentine hills. The deposits vary from a few inches up to
twenty feet or more in thickness, and their lateral extent is
limited to a few hundred feet in any direction. The Todt hill
mines are the only ones wholly uncovered by glacial drift, be-
ing east of the moraine.

These superficial deposits have probably had their origin in
the deposition of the material composing them from the waters
of thermal springs, which have come to the surface through
crevices in the serpentine. The iron in the solutions was prob-
ably in the form of the carbonate, which on reaching the sur-
face became oxidized by contact with the atmosphere, and was
thrown out of solution and deposited as the hydrated sesqui-
oxide, as we now find it. Magnetic iron sand occurs with the
limonite in one of the deposits on Todt hill. This was prob-


ably washed in mechanically while the hydrated oxide was be-
ing deposited from solution.

Extensive deposits of light-colored sand, similar in character

Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 2 of 72)