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Historic Richmond Town in the center of Staten Island, New York is a city-owned recreation of a largely 19th century village that is partly original to the site and partly moved there from elsewhere on the Island. Located at the head of the Fresh Kills, the walkable living museum is a very worthwhile day trip into the nation's past.

In 1685, Richmond Town was called Cocclestown after the clam and oyster shells prevalent in piles and along the sandy roads. The oldest building is the 17th century Voorlezer's House, built around 1670, which served as the first schoolhouse for Dutch and Huguenot settlers in the area. It is the oldest known elementary school in the country. A typical one-room schoolhouse, it is the only one of its kind in New York City. Nearby is the 18th century Rezeau-Van Pelt Burying Ground, holding the graves of owners of the Voorlezer's House after the first Dutch Reformed Church was built on the north shore of the Island. Queen Anne chartered an English church here in 1703, presenting a chalice and church bell to the congregation. The first church building was damaged in the American Revolution and occupied by British soldiers. It was damaged by fire twice during that time, but in 1872 a new church was built incorporating the original walls. The new church was designed as an English country church in the Victorian Gothic style. St. Andrew's Episcopal Churchyard holds many graves of early settler families of Staten Island. The stone church is picture perfect and Queen Anne's church bell is still in use today.

By 1730, the town had a courthouse, jail, a tavern, and about a dozen homes. By the time of the Revolution, there was also a blacksmith shop, a general store, a poorhouse, a tannery, and a gristmill. Until the early 20th century it served as the county seat of Richmond County.

Among the 19th century reconstructions is the Stephens House and General Store, which was in operation on the same site in 1837. The Moore-McMillan House, built in 1818, served for more than a century as the Rectory for St. Andrew's. It is a handsome Federal style building with a view of the Staten Island Lighthouse. The Third County Court House, built in the 1830s, is the Visitor's Center for the Restoration Project. The Second County Clerk's and Surrogate's Office, built in 1848, is now the home of the Staten Island Historical Society Museum.

Some of the living museum houses were moved from other parts of the Island as a historical preservation step when they were slated for demolition. The Lake-Tysen House, built around 1740, was moved in 1962 just in the nick of time to save it from the wrecker's ball. With its low-pitched gambrel roof that swings out over the porch, it is considered one of the finest examples of Dutch Colonial architecture in the metropolitan area. The Cubberly-Britton cottage is even older, built around 1670, and was moved several miles to its present location to save it from demolition. The Cooper's House, built around 1790, was moved from just up the road in Egbertville.

Restoration is ongoing for several buildings that date from the 1750s to the 1860s, including a Basket Maker's Shop from 1810 and a grocery store from 1860. St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, built in 1862, is within the bounds of the restored village, but like St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, is not part of the living museum.

The setting is picturesque and peaceful with ducks on the millpond and a border of marshland. Rising above the village is Lighthouse Hill with its 1912 Lighthouse, Jacques Marchais Tibetan Museum, "Crimson Beech," Frank Lloyd Wright's prefabrication that is the only Wright house inside the city, and Latourette Park and Golf Course. Also on the hill is the Sylvanus Decker Farmhouse, complete with red barns, which is being restored by Historic Richmond Town as a typical farmhouse of the 1830s.

All in all, well worth a visit.

For directions and hours: (718) 351-1611.