In 1756, the Marine Society of New York was formed. Captain Thomas Randall, a philanthropic seafarer became a member of the society, which served as a charitable organization for seamen. His prominence in the society and as a sea captain led to his son, Robert Richard Randall, getting involved in the Marine Society. In fact, he was so strongly involved that when he died in 1801, he requested in his will that after much of his money was divided and given to inheritors, the rest would be used to build a facility on his estate to be used "for the purpose of maintaining and supporting aged, decrepit and worn-out sailors."
In 1833, Randall's dream saw fruition, as Sailors' Snug Harbor opened for the purpose stated in his will. For years, the asylum supported these retired seamen. By the end of the century, roughly one-thousand people inhabited Sailors' Snug Harbor. By 1945, however, there was less than four-hundred sailors living on the grounds and the number was steadily declining.
By the 1960's, the retired sailors were relocated to Sea Level, North Carolina, and the property of Sailors' Snug Harbor was purchased by the City of New York. Plans were made to demolish the five Greek Revival-style buildings that occupied the site, so the New York City Landmarks Commission stepped in and attempted to save the structures. On October 14, 1965, they were individually designated as New York City Landmarks. After years of contemplation on what should be done with the land, the city finally decided to convert the land into a "cultural and educational center and park." On September 12, 1976, the facility opened to the public as the Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
Through the years, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, and Botanical Garden has certainly fulfilled its purpose. In 1890, a music hall was constructed by the governor of Snug Harbor, Captain Gustavus Trask. It opened two years later and was in use for many years. It closed down for over two decades, but reopened along with the rest of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. It currently accommodates 850 guests.
In 1975, the Art Institute known as Art Lab opened in the neighborhood of Clifton. After a growth spurt, the facility had to be moved to a bigger building. This bigger building, as you might guess, is located in the Snug Harbor Cultural Facility, where the institution has been housed ever since. There are a number of classes people may register for, including Applied Arts, Drawing, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture. Aside from the adult courses listed, there are classes for children of different age groups, between the ages of three and seventeen.
In 1976, the Staten Island Children's Museum opened in one of the Center's buildings. There are many exhibits for children to utilize within the museum. The Big Game exhibit enables children to play life-size board games. The Bugs and Other Insects exhibit teach children about insects. The Block Harbor exhibit allows children to pretend they are a sailor. Children can explore a number of different environments in the Great Explorations exhibit. Children can work on the building of a house in the House About It exhibit. In Portia's Playhouse, children can put on skits using the many props and costumes provided. Ladder 11 allows children to pretend they are firefighters. The last exhibit is the Sea of Boats, an outdoor exhibit that enables children to pretend they are seafarers.
In 1977, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art was established within the facility. It was established among 15,000 square feet of space with the intention of showcasing the art of lesser-known Staten Islanders from the 1946 until the present. More recently, however, the exhibits have become more lenient and now show the works of non-Staten Islanders, as well.
John A. Noble was among the many sailors who were involved in trying to preserve Sailors' Snug Harbor. Aside from being a sailor, however, he was an artist and lithographer. His home had been converted into a museum following his death in 1983, showcasing his work as an artist's studio. Less than one decade later, in 1992, the museum was moved to one of the Greek Revival-style buildings of Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
In 1998, a few dozen Chinese artists began to build the New York Chinese Scholar's Garden, reminiscent of the gardens of China's Suzhou, in Staten Island Botanical Garden. Across from the garden is the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, which was inspired by the novel written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. In 2008, the Staten Island Botanical Garden merged with the Snug Harbor Cultural Center to become the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, which it is known as today.
Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden is located 914-1000 Richmond Terrace, by Randall Manor. At the present, the facilities are open during different days and hours. The majority of them are open when school is in session, from noon until five-o'clock in the afternoon. From the St. George Ferry Terminal, visitors may take the local s40 bus to the facility, which will drop you off by the front gate. To find out the hours for certain exhibits, you must call the respective phone number for each facility.