Manhattan has Central Park and Brooklyn has Prospect Park, but until the early 20th century, Staten Island didn’t have a comparable space. Not until Silver Lake Park was established around 1904.
Though this green space is named for the lake it once surrounded, that particular body of water doesn’t really exist anymore—Silver Lake was drained in 1913. Instead, at the center of the park is Silver Lake Reservoir, the endpoint of the Catskill Water Supply that brings 40 percent of New York City’s water down from the Catskill Mountains.
When Silver Lake was still a natural waterway fed by a spring, it was a popular destination for boating and ice skating. Some companies harvested ice there in winter, and the lake even hosted the National Skating Amateur Championship in 1897. A casino and saloon also made their home at the lake, much to the concern of some residents. Eventually the state assembly heeded the calls and condemned and acquired the land around Silver Lake, beginning its conversion to public space.
Today the park includes a golf course, tennis courts, softball fields, and bike paths. The golf course is actually built on the former site of the Marine Cemetery, established in 1849 to handle the dead from the New York Marine Hospital Quarantine. The quarantine was established in 1799 to treat immigrants from incoming ships. While the deceased were formerly buried on hospital grounds, a combination of overcrowding plus negative public sentiment forced the hospital to purchase additional land in 1849, with the stipulation that it be as far from homes and roads as possible while still lying within a mile of the original facility.
Between 1849 and 1858, over 5,000 patients from the Marine Hospital were buried there. Only a handful of grave markers were laid, however, and none survived the land’s conversion to a golf course. The only marker remaining is a boulder near the clubhouse with a plaque calling it the “Forgotten Burial Ground.”
As for the reservoir at the center of the park, it isn’t even used for potable water anymore. An underground storage tank was built in 1971, and now the reservoir only serves as part of the drainage system.
Know Before You Go
Take the S61 from the ferry terminal and exit at any stop between Forest Avenue and Silver Lake Park Road.