1939: Sailors’ Snug Harbor, Staten Island, NY

Summary: Life in Sailor’s Snug Harbor in 1938 as described by a writer in the Federal Writer’s Project.

Text from: Library of Congress American Memory Collection

The interviews took place in an anteroom of Hospital Ward 2; on the hospital balcony; and at the bedside of Mr. Perry. The anteroom is unfurnished, except with chains in which sit a few of the inmates of the ward who are able to take recreation without assistance. A door leads to the balcony, which overlooks the beautiful grounds.

The Sailors’ Snug Harbor, a home for aged and disabled mariners, stands on the north shore of Staten Island, New York. It is situated on the banks of the Kill Von Kull, a narrow channel connecting Newark Bay with the Upper Bay of New York Harbor. The grounds cover an area of one hundred acres, and are entirely enclosed. About sixty acres are laid out in lawns, flower beds, and shade trees. More than fifty buildings stand on this portion of estate, and represent expenditures of several millions of dollars. Eight main buildings, used as dormitories and mess halls, are connected by corridors of brick and stone, thus obviating the necessity of the Home’s guests walking outside during inclement weather. The term [guests?] is used advisedly; for while this is a benevolent institution, it does not conform to the general conception of a place of charity. The old sailors are treated with due respect and receive every care and consideration. They are provided with all reasonable comforts. The rooms are bright and cheerful, and reflect that scrupulous neatness and cleanliness which is characteristic of seamen, ashore or afloat. Most of the sleeping-rooms have but two occupants. A generous table is maintained and food of excellent quality furnished; in testimony where of the unstinted praise of the residents themselves is heard by all who choose to mention the subject of cuisine.

Residents of this Institution are allowed the fullest liberty compatible with good order and their own peace and comfort. Subject to minor restrictions, they may go and come at their pleasure, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Should a guest desire to remain away later than nine o’clock, or if he wishes to absent himself over night, or longer, he must anticipate his procedure and get special permission and a pass, which may be obtained almost for the asking.

Situated within its large acreage, the Home has its own bakery, dairy, storage warehouse, laundry, power plant, hospital and dispensary. A church, modelled after St. Pauls of London, and one-sixteenth the size of that famous cathedral, holds religious services on Sundays. There is also a chapel, where prayer-meetings are conducted on certain week-nights and where the members of the church choir meet to practice.

A commodious auditorium with a large seating capacity provides entertainment in the way of moving-pictures and occasional concerts. Many stage-plays have been presented here, too; and, incidentally, the old mariners still sing the praises of the W. P. A. Theatre Project and the histrionic ability of its members who, until recently, have been giving performances for their benefit. Much regret is expressed of the discontinuance of these shows.

A considerable part of the domain is under cultivation, and most of the vegetables consumed are grown upon this land. Cattle stables and piggeries are situated within the grounds. The animals actually are [bred?] upon the premises. Twenty pigs are slaughtered at a time, to supply the tables with fresh pork. The dairy, already mentioned, has its own machinery for pasteurizing the milk, all of which is furnished by the Institution’s own cows.

A large staff of hired help includes farm hands, engineers, mechanics, carpenters, repair men, clerks, orderlies, laborers, butchers, stablemen and persons in various other capacities. The hospital staff includes a Superintendent and two resident physicians. A registered pharmacist has charge of the dispensary.

The local administration of this vast social enterprise is vested in a Governor who, with his family, occupies a beautiful residence, situated apart from but close to the main building, wherein he has his private office. The present incumbent is Captain W. F. Flynn, retired master mariner and courteous gentleman. Governor Flynn presides over the well-being of approximately seven hundred old mariners.

Sailors’ Snug Harbor was founded by Robert Randall, Esq., of New York City, whose last will and testament – drawn by Alexander Hamilton, on June 1, 1801 – bequeathed almost his entire estate for the establishment and maintenance of a home for aged and disabled sailors. Mr. Randall’s estate, a twenty acre farm, occupied the site of what now is valuable property in Manhattan. It lies between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, and Sixth and Tenth Streets.

The income from real estate on this rich property furnishes adequate funds for the up-keep and perpetuation of the imposing buildings which stand on the ground of The Sailors Snug Harbor, a monument to the benevolence, philanthropy and foresight of its distinguished founder. Although the will was made in 1801, litigation and other causes delayed the purchase of the site for the Home on Staten Island until thirty years later.

The first building was erected in 1831-32, and during the year following, fifty seamen were admitted to the Institution. Since that time, it has provided for nearly nine thousand sailors. It’s present guests are ex-mariners of various ranks. Among them are a great many former masters of all type of vessels that sail the seas.