Learn The History Of The Staten Island Ferry

Today, human transportation comes in different forms, shapes, and sizes. It can be in the land, air, or bodies of water accessible by man, and the ferry transportation system is one of them. Ferries are still used today in different countries as a form of transportation system to carry passengers, vehicles, or cargo. And of the most famous ferries in the world is the Staten Island Ferry.

Staten Island Ferry is located in one of the central boroughs of New York City, hence the name Staten Island. It is a passenger ferry transport system that is primarily operated by the New York City Transportation Department. Its official operation started in 1817. It runs a single route of 8.4 kilometers connecting the two central boroughs of New York City, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Every single trip to each borough takes approximately twenty-five minutes.

This fascinating water carriage is deeply rooted since the time of British colonizers settling on American soil. And there is a lot to learn about the history of Staten Island that involves their methods of transport systems.

Predecessors of Staten Island Ferry

Before the official operation of the Staten Island Ferry in 1817, sailboats were used in the province of New York to carry passengers and barrels from Manhattan. These old vessels are shallow-drafts with flat-bottomed two-masted sailboats without a bowsprit, and they were called periaugers. Periaugers were steered by private individuals during the late 18th century and were used as a means of a water transport system.

The first recorded usage of periaugers was in 1776 when the former British Province of New York finally became part of the United States and declared its state independence from the British Empire. By that time, the use of periaugers began to gain popularity among the Americans.

Father of Staten Island Ferry

The most iconic name for the birth of Staten Island Ferry is Cornelius Vanderbilt. Whenever Vanderbilt’s name is told, the ferry transport system in Staten Island is always attached. He is a wealthy entrepreneur in Stapleton, Staten Island that started the ferry service business stretching from Manhattan to Staten Island in 1810. By that time, Vanderbilt was still using his father’s periauger to transport his passengers back and forth.

On his birthday in May 1810, he received a monetary gift amounting to one hundred dollars that he capitalized on buying his first periauger. Vanderbilt had sentimental attachments to it that he even named his first periauger, Swiftsure. Since then, he became eager to transport passengers from Staten Island to Manhattan, that he would even compete with other boatmen. Because of it, Vanderbilt was even called Commodore due to his fiery eagerness. Purchasing Swiftsure became the start of the water transport service business that eventually made him earn a lot of money.

The Birth of Staten Island Ferry

The competition also started to grow in Staten Island since the Village of Tompkinsville began to be developed by Richmond Turnpike Company at the time. Richmond Turnpike began the first operation of a motorized ferry in 1817 with the help of Vanderbilt’s brother-in-law, Captain John DeForest, for navigating the Nautilus. However, Richmond Turnpike Company did not prosper in the following years due to the growing popularity of the faster steamboats as operated by Fulton Ferry.

Vanderbilt became interested in steamboats and sold all his ships in 1818 to start working with steamboat operator Thomas Gibbons. Years have passed, Vanderbilt gained several steamboats operating in New York waters and has grown wealthy. His wealth from the steamboat business provided him the opportunity to gain control of the Richmond Turnpike Company in 1838. All former leases and titles of the company were transferred under Vanderbilt’s name in 1844, making him the chief executive of the company.

Through the Years Until the Modern Times

The use of the ferry as the main transport system in Staten Island had many ups and downs. Its usage even started to decline at various times due to the construction of railroads and the financial crisis in the US. But, it remained persistent through the years and proved its worth as a significant water transport system. For more than two centuries since the official operation of Staten Island Ferry in 1817, this has served millions of passengers and still counting today.