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The recently renovated cottage at the Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Center & Home is just another chapter in this property's long and storied past. And, its story began in 1803 when two acres and a farm house were purchased by the County Supervisors. Richmond County established its first "poor farm" in Staten Island. Up until this time, the indigent had been cared for either in private homes or as boarders. Prevailing wisdom was that labor was an antidote to poverty.
In 1829, an adjoining 91 acre parcel of land was added and the Richmond County Poor Farm was created. A two-story dormitory, which was referred to as a cottage, was added. It would be the first of a variety of buildings that housed the residents. In 1837, notes from the time revealed that the residents raised so much produce that they were able to generate enough money to keep everyone fed and clothed.
In 1832, due to its elevation and perception as a particularly healthful setting, a cholera hospital was opened on the opposite side of the property. This marked the beginning of Seaview Hospital. Five years later, housing for the insane was added. By the end of the century, Staten Island had become a part of New York City and the farm fell under the administration of the new Department of Public Charities and it was renamed the New York City Farm Colony. This was also the site of the Staten Island potter's field until 1905.
The city chose the site for a new hospital in 1905 that focused on treating people who had tuberculosis, which was also known as the "white plague." At the time, the only known treatment for the disease was fresh air, sunshine, a nutritious diet, and rest. Pneumonia was the leading cause of death for NYC residents, with tuberculosis right behind it. However, this hospital would eventually become instrumental in the cure for tuberculosis.
According to the 1912 census, the Farm Colony had slightly less than 1500 residents and in 1915 Farm Colony merged with Seaview Hospital to become known as Seaview Farms. The hospital was one of the most expensive built to date, costing roughly $4 million.
In 1916, the still-existing cottage was completed. Designed by Charles B. Meyers, it was one of two that were actually constructed, though a third was planned but never built. Windows were a prominent feature of its design, and a large window provided illumination for the main staircase. All of the existing windows have been replaced with historical reproductions of the original windows.
This particular cottage was used by the Farm Colony until the late 1930s when it became the residence of the director of Seaview Hospital. By that time, the hospital was no longer a part of Seaview Farm, which had become a home for the elderly.
Seaview Hospital led groundbreaking research which resulted in a cure for tuberculosis in 1952. With a children's hospital and a maternity ward, which was a first for a tuberculosis hospital, Seaview operated at full capacity and treated nearly 2000 patients. The first clinical trials of the drug that would cure tuberculosis were conducted at this hospital. According to an account from that time, patients "celebrated their new lease on life by dancing in the halls of the hospital."
By 1961, there was no longer a need for a tuberculosis hospital and the facility transitioned to geriatric care. The hospital property and the farm property once again merged and in 1973 new buildings were opened while others were left to decay.
The entire property, encompassing both the former farm and the hospital, received landmark status in 1985. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. The abandoned buildings, however, have a more dubious distinction. They are considered to be among the most haunted in New York City.
- Linda Childers