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Mariners Harbor, Staten Island

Building and repairing boats and ships was Staten Island's most important industry before the First World War. One of the Island's earliest and most important shipyards belonged to William and James M. Rutan. Their shipyard produced about a 100 schooners and sloops per year. There were 17 shipyards on Staten Island by 1880, located on the North Shore, in Stapleton and in Tottenville. Tugs, propeller yachts and coal barges were built there. US Navy and international shipping in the late 1800s produced a need for large shipyards. They could be found along the Kill van Kull near Mariners Harbor and Port Richmond. In 1901-1902, Townsend and Downey Shipyard built the Meteor III, an imperial yacht for Kaiser Wilhelm. By the 1920s, 18 shipyards employed 6,800 people.

The Port Richmond Iron Works was founded in 1895 as a machine shop. The Burlee Drydock Company was founded at about the same time. The two firms consolidated under the Burlee name in 1898 at Port Richmond, Staten Island. Burlee later started a shipyard for the construction of wooden vessels. The firm's name was changed in 1907 to Staten Island Shipbuilding Company. Steel ship construction began in 1916 when a foundry was added.

Port Richmond is a neighborhood lying in the south of Kill van Kull in northwestern Staten Island. The area was known for a cemetery of the Dutch Reformed church near the shore on Richmond Avenue and was called the Burial Place in 1700. It was a point of transfer for freight and passengers traveling by boat between New York City (NYC) and New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was also a ferry landing known variously as Ryer's Landing, Mersereau's Landing and Decker's Landing, built as a terminus for a route to Bergen Point (now in Bayonne, NJ). Ferries ran continually until shortly after the Bayonne Bridge was built in 1931.

In 1925 activities shifted from Port Richmond to Mariners Harbor. In 1929 the yard consolidated with another and began operations under the name United Drydocks Company. The name changed to United Shipyards, Incorporated, in 1938.

Long associated with maritime businesses, Mariners Harbor is a neighborhood in western Staten Island bounded by Kill van Kull to the north, to the east by the approach to the Bayonne bridge, Forest Avenue to the south, and the Goethals Bridge to the west. Commercial fishing and the harvesting of oysters, which was curtailed in the early 1900s due to pollution of the harbor, and shipbuilding.

The yard was bought by Bethlehem Steel Company in 1938. Bethlehem Steel, which emerged from World War I in a strong position, retained it prominence in the industry during the depressed years of the 1920s and 1930s. Its yards at Fore River in Quincy, Massachusetts, at Sparrows Point near Baltimore, and on Staten Island still built ships, and repair facilities on both coasts added to its capacity.

By 1938 there was an influx of workers brought to the Island by Bethlehem Steel to work in the former United Ship Yards. The number of shipyard workers on Staten Island would soon equal the high of 12,000 that had been reached during World War I. During World War II the huge Bethlehem Steel Plant in Mariners Harbor was working a twenty-four hour period. Bethlehem Steel Corporation had 15 shipyards during World War II. The Bethlehem yards at Staten Island and San Pedro in Los Angeles Harbor launched destroyers. Staten Island also had a foundry that specialized in making propellers for all of Bethlehem's other yards. At its peak during World War II shipbuilding - mostly at Bethlehem Steel Shipyard- as well as boat repair were notable businesses.

The Merrell Class Staten Island ferry was designed by Kindlund & Drake and constructed by the Bethlehem Steel Company's Staten Island Shipyard between 1950-51. The largest and fastest ferryboats up until that point, the Pvt. Joseph F. Merrell, Cornelius G. Kolff, and Giovanni da Verrazzano were added to the S.I. Ferry service in order to eliminate the 10 minute wait between trips. These three double-ended boats measured 290 ft. in length, with a 69 ft. beam, and a hull 20 ft. 10 in. deep. Each had a displacement of 2,350 tons with a draft of 13 ft. 2 in. With three decks and three gangways, the Merrell Class ferries were 23 ft. longer and capable of carrying 700 more passengers than those in the Manhattan Class.

The Island's shipping business took a hit during the Great Depression. It virtually died off in 1960, when Bethlehem Steel Corp. closed its shipbuilding plant on Richmond Terrace. However, its propeller plant and foundry operated through 1971. Today, Richmond Terrace has addresses that lead to a dry dock and to tug boat companies. But ship building is no longer an industry on Staten Island.

May Ship Repair, sits on the side of the Bayonne Bridge. It has 50 people working on three dry docks - and does a lot of new construction, such as a 180-foot-square ferry landing for Battery Park. During World War II, the Bethlehem Steel shipyard occupied the land where May's is now.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:57:03 ZULU