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Name SI Ferry After Underground Railroad Stop, Local Politician Urges

By Nicholas Rizzi | February 27, 2017 4:28pm
 Councilwoman Debi Rose started a petition to name one of the new Staten Island Ferry boats after
Councilwoman Debi Rose started a petition to name one of the new Staten Island Ferry boats after "Sandy Ground," one of the first free-black settlements in the country that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

STATEN ISLAND — Sandy Ground, in Rossville, was one of the country's first free, black-founded settlements. It was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Now, a local politician wants to commemorate the historic community by naming one of the new Staten Island Ferry boats after the location.

Councilwoman Debi Rose started a petition last week to ask the mayor to consider the proposal.

"The earliest Staten Island ferry boats were named after places in New York City, including each of the five boroughs and many neighborhoods of Staten Island," Rose said.

"I have asked the mayor and the Department of Transportation to return to that tradition and name one of the three new ferry boats after Sandy Ground, the oldest settlement of free African Americans in the United States."

The Sandy Ground settlement was founded in the 1830s by a Maryland oyster farmer trying to escape laws restricting his business. He settled on a patch of land in Rossville, according to the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

The community later grew to house about 150 families, opened a cemetery in 1850 and the Rossville Zion A.M.E. Church in 1854, which still stands today at 584 Bloomingdale Road.

The church later became a major stop on the Underground Railroad and helped escaped slaves find freedom in northern states and Canada.

Last year, as part of a study to stabilize the church, a radar survey found 574 unmarked graves on the site dating back to at least 1853.

The city is replacing three of the oldest boats in the Staten Island Ferry fleet. Mayor Bill de Blasio allocated $328 million for them in last year's budget.

One of the new boats will be named after Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, the Staten Island soldier who died while shielding a Polish fighter he didn't know from a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. That vessel is expected to set sail in 2019.

The second 4,300-passenger boat is expects to be ready in 2019 and the third in early 2020.

Rose's petition, which had nearly 275 signatures as of Monday afternoon, faces stiff competition.

Council members Joe Borelli, Steven Matteo and Mark Treyger plan to introduce a resolution to call on the city to name one after NYPD officer Russel Timoshenko, 23, who was gunned down in 2007 during a car stop in Brooklyn.

The resolution came after a group of Russian-Americans started a petition to name the boat after Timoshenko, which got nearly 5,800 signatures.

The unnamed boats led to several other campaigns from Staten Islanders to name the boats after others.

Suggestions include NYPD detectives Rodney J. Andrews and James V. Nemorin, who were killed during an undercover gun bust in 2013; former Richmond County Clerk Mario J. Esposito and his wife Angelina J. Esposito, who worked with charitable and community organizations; and Edward del Pino, a retired NYPD officer who subdued a crazed man who had killed two people with a sword aboard the ferry in 1986.

The mayor's office said it does not have a timeline for when names for the new boats will be chosen.

“We always look forward to working with constituents and elected officials to determine the future names of our ferries," Raul Contreras, a spokesman for the mayor, said.