Staten Island Museum History

The Staten Island Museum traces its beginnings to 1881, when a group of 14 young naturalists on Staten Island had the foresight to pool their collections and research efforts out of a concern that “the rapid growth of the community [has already] obliterated many of our most interesting natural objects.” Their goal was to keep a record for future generations against the anticipated loss of plant and animal species and to advocate for environmental preservation long before it was fashionable to do so.

Today, the Staten Island Museum maintains and continues to build, in authentic specimens, photographs and field notes, an unbroken record of the changing biodiversity of the region, spanning more than 150 years.
Founded as a private society of local naturalists who pooled their personal collections to create the public museum in 1908, the Museum continues to focus on environmental protection and has participated in the preservation of High Rock Park and the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, named after our co-founder. Since 1908 staff and members have conducted annual bird counts together with the Audubon Society. In 1909, the Section of Arts was organized, and in 1918 the Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences was incorporated to reflect the broader mission which also includes local history. The Staten Island Museum has been called a “Mini Smithsonian” because of the breadth of its collections and because it  is based on a 19th century model of creating the complete resources for a cultural education within one’s own community.
As the Staten Island Museum grew throughout the 20th century, it became a center for intellectual and scientific discourse, reaching well beyond its walls to be instrumental in the founding of a number of important institutions such as the Staten Island Zoo, the S.I. Historical Society, the S.I. Greenbelt and the New York Botanical Garden.

The Museum is currently operating out of three locations. The original building, the Staten Island Museum in St. George (1918) is conveniently located just two blocks from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Less than 2 miles down the road on the historic ground of Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden is the Staten Island Museum History Center & Archives (Building H, 2009), and directly adjacent is our flagship location, the Staten Island Museum at Snug Harbor (Building A, 2015). Snug Harbor is 83-acre campus situated on parkland that is home to several cultural agencies in a unique cluster of 19th century Greek Revival buildings. Since the completion of the $24.4 million New York City funded renovation of an 1879 dormitory for retired sailors into a state-of-the-art museum, we present engaging exhibitions such as Remember the Mastodon (biodiversity), Opening the Treasure Box (World Art), From Farm to City (history), and changing exhibitions. 

To properly exhibit and care for its Natural Science and History Collections, the Museum is embarking on the renovation and restoration of Building B with about $7 M toward the $15 M construction project raised from the City of New York. Seen in the light of the current renaissance of Staten Island’s North Shore, this will further advance Snug Harbor as a cultural destination.