Remembering the Forgotten Borough

It’s not called the forgotten borough for nothing (a dubious distinction it sometimes shares with Queens). Chances are that you have forgotten, or may never have known, that the first American tennis match was played there, that Cornelius Vanderbilt got his start there, that Sandy Ground was the first community established by freed slaves in North America, that by one account Manhattan’s first suburb sprouted there, that the last commercial farm there closed only three decades ago and that it will soon be home to a greensward three times bigger than Central Park.

It may be forgotten, but it’s not gone, at least not at the Museum of the City of New York, where the exhibition “From Farm to City: Staten Island 1661-2012” opened Thursday and runs through Jan. 21.

The exhibition is accompanied by a Web site, Mapping Staten Island, that guides visitors through historical milestones in the borough.

Liz McEnaney, a cultural heritage consultant, was the guest curator, along with Sarah M. Henry, the museum’s deputy director.

The maps, photographs and artifacts explore the emergence of Richmond County (Staten Island’s formal municipal designation) in its own right, and how it was shaped by the history of New York.

The island, the curators note, “served as a breadbasket for New York City; a pleasure ground of estates and sporting grounds, including cricket, tennis and fox hunting; a refuge for the needy at charitable institutions such as Sailors’ Snug Harbor; a center for early industrial activity at Linoleumville and Factoryville; an international port with shipbuilding facilities; and a place people call home, from early suburbs to public housing developments.”

By the way, the first tennis match was played at the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball club in 1874, Vanderbilt ran a ferry service in the 19th century, suburban Tompkinsville was established in 1815 and a former landfill is being converted over several decades into the 2,200-acre Freshkills Park.

The museum’s exhibition was underwritten by the Richmond County Savings Foundation.

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