The Watering Place is a location with a very long and rich American history. The name – Watering Place – was given by early colonial navigators and Dutch merchants to the place on Staten Island where a stream flowed down from the inland hills and emptied into the New York harbor. Here ships anchored to replenish their water supplies.  Prior to the first European explorers the Munsee-speaking Indians frequented this place.  In their later interactions with the European settlers they referred to themselves as the Delaware Indians and today they are more commonly known as the Lenape Indians.  Names often do change over the course of time.  Today the Watering Place is known as the Tompkinsville and St. George area of Staten Island.

The Watering Place is arguably one of the most historic places on Staten Island. Many things happened here. The Watering Place was once a British camp during the French and Indian war and again during the Revolutionary war. But perhaps the most notable historic event that took place here was the operation, for six decades (1799 – 1858), of a Quarantine and Marine Hospital. The Quarantine, as it was often called, served several functions including to receive the massive number of immigrants coming to America well before the establishment of Ellis Island.  The Quarantine came to an abrupt end, however, when Staten Island residents, fed up with the fear of infectious diseases spreading beyond the walls of the Quarantine grounds, destroyed the buildings in a great conflagration.

There are some connections to the Seton Hall story too. A lot of what is known about the Lenape Indians comes from the work of the late Seton Hall professor Herbert Kraft. When the Quarantine Grounds opened in 1799 the first health officer was Dr. Richard Bayley.  He was a well-respected physician, professor of anatomy and  surgery,  and humanitarian who played a significant role in the early approaches to quarantine and in gaining a better understanding of infectious disease.  He was also the father of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton and the grandfather of Seton Hall’s founder, Bishop James Bayley.

This project blog site will tell the story of the many historical events that took place at the Watering Place.  But the project is not just about history. The Quarantine story, for example, provides insight into scientific thinking (e.g., how ideas about disease changed). Interestingly, the Staten Island Quarantine is also directly connected to the birth of federally-funded biomedical research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) was born on Staten Island in a nearby federal facility when a scientist was hired to establish a laboratory to find a way to reliably diagnose cholera. The laboratory was successful and it was moved to Washington DC.


Additional content on historical men and women associated with the Watering Place will be added to this project gradually. Explore the names below for a preview:

The Munsee-speaking Lenape Indians, the original settlers of Staten Island,  engaged in several conflicts with Dutch at the Watering Place, delaying the founding of the first permanent European settlement of Staten Island.

 David Pieterszen de Vries (ca 1593 – ca 1662) was a 17th century merchant mariner  who  established the first European settlement on Staten Island  at the Watering Place in 1638.  Having  kept a diary of his many voyages the accounts of his activities in America (New Netherland)  were published in 1853 as excerpts translated by  Henry C. Murphy,  Voyages from Holland to America, A.D. 1632 to 1644.  The Dutch colony at the Watering Place did not last, however,  having been wiped out  in 1641 because of armed conflicts between Dutch settlers under the direction of the vice-directors of the colony in Manhattan  and a group of Raritan (Munsee) Indians.
Henry David Thoreau lived for a short time on Staten Island in 1843 as a tutor for the children of Judge William Emerson (brother of Ralph Waldo Emerson). In his writings Thoreau described Staten Island and the Quarantine Grounds.
Daniel D. Tompkins was 6th Vice President of the U.S.A under James Monroe. Tompkins was also the 4th New York Governor. A resident of Staten Island he built a ferry service from a pier located near the southeast corner of the Quarantine Grounds and established Tompkinsville, a village that gradually grew to surround the Quarantine. Not surprisingly, it was the Tompkinsville residents who burned down the Quarantine buildings in 1858.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, the shipping and railroad tycoon, was born on Staten Island where he began his empire. Among his early investments was the private ferry service from the Tompkinsville landing.
When Bishop James Bayley, founder of Seton Hall College, was at St. Peter’s church in Staten Island he ministered the people at the Quarantine Grounds and Marine hospital that was established by his grandfather Dr. Richard Bayley.
Dr. Joseph K. Kinyoun – By an act of Congress the Marine Health Service (MHS) was established  in 1798 under the Department of the Treasury to provide for the medical care of merchant seamen.  The merchant seaman in need of medical care were initially treated at the Quarantine and Marine Hospital Grounds at the Watering Place along with immigrants and any person from New York City diagnosed with a potentially contagious disease. In 1831 a new facility was opened at nearby Stapelton for the exclusive use of the MHS.  This place  was called the Seamen’s Retreat.  In 1887 the MHS authorized Dr. Kinyoun to set up a “laboratory of hygiene” (a bacteriological laboratory) in an attic of the Marine Hospital at the Seaman’s Retreat to serve the public’s health.  Here Dr. Kinyoun demonstrated how to confirm suspected cases of cholera by identifying the cholera bacillus  with a microscope. In this one-room attic laboratory was born the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Alice Austen (1866 – 1952) was one of America’s pioneering female photographers. At the turn of the century Austen took many photographs of immigrants and quarantine workers as well as the quarantine establishment. The quarantine facilities and hospitals were on the artificial Islands (Hoffman and Swinburne) in the lower New York bay and the boarding station was in Rosebank. Austen was raised in Rosebank in her family home, Clear Comfort, and later lived there with her partner of over 50 years, Gertrude Tate. The Alice Austen House  was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and more recently was designated as a National Historic Landmark specifically with  LGBTQ heritage.
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the first American-born saint. She was the daughter of Dr. Richard Bayley and spent the summers at her father’s home on the Quarantine Grounds.  In 1800 she gave birth to a daughter Catherine at her fathers residence. The following summer she was by her father’s side comforting him as he died from an infectious disease.


Michael Vigorito, PhD
Department of Psychology
Seton Hall University