‘It’s a part of the American story’_ Staten Island mission to revive the nation’s oldest free Black settlement has begun

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — It took years to gather artifacts, just like the instruments from Joseph W. Bishop’s blacksmith store which operated from a wood barn in Rossville for over 125 years; the handmade quilts that pointed to the route of freedom for individuals who escaped the shackles of slavery by way of the Underground Railroad; and old style tintype images from the 1800s that includes the pictures of residents of Sandy Floor, the nation’s oldest free Black settlement nonetheless inhabited by descendants of the unique settlers.

Two centuries price of wealthy tradition — one that may be a vital a part of Staten Island, New York and American historical past — was, for a time, displayed within the museum run by the Sandy Floor Historic Society, a two-story white ranch dwelling at 1538 Woodrow Rd.

The Sandy Floor Historic Museum has fallen into an entire state of disrepair over the previous few years, has turn out to be inhabitable. It wants a brand new roof, full mildew remediation, new plumbing and extra. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

However that museum, which has fallen into an entire state of disrepair over the previous few years, has turn out to be unhabitable. It wants a brand new roof, full mildew remediation, new plumbing and extra. All of the museum’s historic relics sit boxed in a storage facility, hidden from the various faculty youngsters and vacationers who used to go to year-round to study Sandy Floor and its historical past.

Julie Moody Lewis stands with William Henrique, an inspector with Windsor Environmental, who’s testing the air for mildew inside The Sandy Floor Historic Museum at 1538 Woodrow Rd on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

Nonetheless, a significant step in restoring the museum and this necessary historic group has lastly transpired.

The New York Landmarks Conservancy — a greater than 50-year-old group that gives monetary and technical help to homeowners of historic properties — issued a grant to the Sandy Floor Historic Society to assist restore the museum. Step one occurred on Monday, when the group employed an organization to finish an investigation of the construction to find out what species of mildew is rising within the constructing, mentioned Blaire Walsh, director of preservation companies for the Conversancy.

“That is undoubtedly only the start of what is going to most likely be a bigger mission. We’d actually like to see this constructing return into use,” she mentioned. “We’d like to get it again to a situation the place they [the Historical Society] can proceed to make use of the constructing once more.”

The Sandy Floor Historic Museum has fallen into an entire state of disrepair over the previous few years, has turn out to be inhabitable. It wants a brand new roof, full mildew remediation, new plumbing and extra. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

The Conservancy has additionally engaged an structure agency, the Manhattan-based Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, to conduct a circumstances evaluation.

“[The mold investigation] is required to know if the architects should be sporting respirators or one thing like that once they’re within the constructing. After which, clearly, we have to know what sort of mildew we’re coping with in order that we are able to abate it,” mentioned Walsh.

Walsh mentioned the story of Sandy Floor is “so inspiring.”

“I feel it portrays a historic development the place folks had been fleeing the South’s restrictive insurance policies, even when they weren’t enslaved folks. I feel that the evaluation of communities like Sandy Floor, Weeksville and Seneca Village actually exhibits that that is one thing that was occurring on a big scale. And these communities had been thriving finally. It’s a part of the American story …it’s a extremely fantastic story that folks overcame adversity to create this group,” she added.

The grant was made attainable after the Sandy Floor Historic Society had its 501c3 non-profit standing restored this previous spring after it had lapsed in recent times. A connection between the Historic Society and the Conservancy was made by Laura Jean Watters, govt director of the Staten Island Basis, a not-for-profit group with the mission of enhancing the standard of life on Staten Island, notably for the least advantaged.

“There may be Sandy Floor the group, and there’s the Sandy Floor Historic Society,” mentioned Watters, noting the Basis has been working with the Historic Society to protect the historical past of Sandy Floor. “The Historic Society are the caretakers of such an necessary piece of American historical past. And it’s important that they construct with assist from anybody who can present assist to construct a sustainable construction in order that they’ll carry on telling that story.”

After the Advance launched a collection known as “Rebuilding Sandy Floor” in February highlighting the group’s challenges, there was an outpouring of assist from Staten Islanders providing varied companies to assist get the Historic Society again on observe. Now, this historic group, that simply months in the past gave the impression to be on the verge of obliteration, holds a promising outlook for the longer term.

Joseph W. Bishop’s blacksmith store operated from a wood barn in Sandy Floor for over 125 years. It was destroyed by a hearth labeled “suspicious” within the Nineteen Eighties. (Advance composite)

Julie Moody Lewis, president of the Sandy Floor Historic Society, mentioned she is completely satisfied the restoration of the museum is now underway.

“I’m extraordinarily inspired and excited as a result of it is a essential step. It’s one of many first steps to figuring out a plan and a technique for our constructing. This can inform us what route we must always take,” she mentioned.

On this 1998 picture Sylvia Moody D’Alessandro reads to highschool youngsters on a tour of the Historic Society museum. (Irving Silverstein/Staten Island Advance)

Moody Lewis mentioned the Conservancy is a part of the “workforce” working to preserving Sandy Floor.

“We’re impressed by the willingness of the Conservancy to turn out to be part of a workforce that’s dedicated to making sure that the historical past of the Sandy Floor group and the work of the Historic Society is acknowledged,” she mentioned.

“This workforce contains the Basis, the Staten Island Advance, DOT, the group of Staten Island and all others who’ve reached out to supply their assist in no matter capability they’ll. These efforts are these that can be sure that that historical past stays in place,” Moody Lewis added.

Julie Moody Lewis and Sylvia Moody D’Alessandro pose collectively on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (Staten Island Advance/Jason Paderon) Jason Paderon

Along with renovating the museum, the Historic Society is on the hunt for a brand new govt director, because the Sandy Floor descendant who at the moment holds the place, Sylvia Moody D’Alessandro, Moody Lewis’ mom, is able to retire.

The Historic Society Board can be working to boost much-needed funding to revitalize its operations.


Settled within the 1820s, Sandy Floor is the third recorded group in New York the place African People owned land, in response to metropolis Landmarks Preservation Fee.

The primary recorded Black landowners in Sandy Floor had been Moses Ok. and Silas Ok. Harris, brothers from New Jersey who initially got here to the world to work as gardeners within the 1820s. In addition they owned property in Manhattan, in response to Moody Lewis. Early on, the group was most identified for its fertile strawberry crops that might yield an abundance of the fruit.

Girls made quilts that contained hidden messages for these escaping slavery by way of the Underground Railroad. (Staten Island Advance/Luke Peteley)(Staten Island Advance/Luke Pete

Within the 1850s African American oystermen from Maryland turned interested in the world due to the considerable oyster beds of the Raritan Bay. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the group turned self-sufficient and thrived because it housed a spread of pros and tradesmen, from blacksmiths and retailer homeowners to academics and midwives. Quickly, Sandy Floor turned a group the place African People discovered prosperity and freedom from persecution.

As we speak Sandy Floor is tucked away amid dense housing and paved roadways that function a important bus route for 2 public colleges. However, in case you look carefully whereas driving alongside Woodrow or Bloomingdale roads, you possibly can see the remaining properties and landmarked buildings in Sandy Floor that also exist at the moment.

Tintype images of late Sandy Floor residents are a part of the museum’s assortment. (Staten Island Advance/Jason Paderon)Jason Paderon

There are a number of properties in the neighborhood designated New York Metropolis landmarks: two tan clapboard Baymen’s cottages on Bloomingdale Highway, that are 120-year-old-plus properties as soon as owned by the affluent oystermen who got here to the group within the 1850s; the A.M.E. Zion Church, constructed on Bloomingdale Highway in 1897; the Rev. Isaac Coleman and Rebecca Grey Coleman dwelling at 1482 Woodrow Rd.; and the Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church Cemetery on Crab Tree Avenue — a peaceable respite the place each weathered and newer headstones inform the story of the group’s pioneers who as soon as lived, labored and thrived there.

Rossville A.M.E Zion Church Cemetery on Crabtree Avenue, west of Bloomfield Highway, in Rossville. February 11, 2022. (Staten Island Advance/Derek Alvez)Staten Island Advance

To contact Sandy Floor, go to: thesandygroundhistoricalsociety.org/

Learn the complete collection right here: https://www.silive.com/matter/sandy-ground/.