A View From Under the Bridge: Staten Island (part 1)

 A panoramic view of the Lower Bay and Verrazano Narrows from the Alice Austen House Museum.

The original Dutch farmhouse on this site dates back to the 1690's. The property was bought in 1844 by Alice Austen's grandfather who expanded the house and named it "Clear Comfort". Alice was born nearby in 1866, after her father abandoned them she and her mother moved into her grandparents' home. She continued to live in the house until 1945 when financial problems and illness forced her to move. In her absence the house fell into disrepair, but was saved from demolition in the 1960's. It was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and was restored in the mid 1980's.

                                          Austen's photos from the 1880's

Clear Comfort
view from the front yard

same view different era

the front veranda
view from the front door

Manhattan skyline to the north
Verrazano Bridge and Brooklyn to the south

Austen was one of America’s earliest and most prolific female photographers. Starting at age 10, she learned how to use a dry-plate camera brought from abroad by her uncle. Her first subjects were the people and places closest to her -- her family and friends, her house and garden -- she also made many early self-portraits using a long cable release to trip the shutter.

Alice and friends on the front lawn

self portrait on the veranda age 26

front hall & parlor recreated

the original parlor

Photos from the Historic American Buildings Survey prior to renovation of the upper floor and basement which are not open to the public

Carrying up to 50 pounds of cameras and equipment throughout her travels, Austen created some 8,000 images, more than 3,000 of these images survive today.      

Samples of Austen's NYC photos from the 1890's
snow removal

double decker bus
selling newspapers
rag carts

organ grinder

Though she is best known for her photography work, she was also a landscape designer, master tennis player, bicycle enthusiast, and the first woman on Staten Island to own a car. She never married, but spent over fifty years with Gertrude (Trude) Tate. Living the "larky life" as she called it; she broke away from her Victorian environment and created her own independent existence.

"Trude and I masked, in short skirts"  and smoking! (1891)


Alice and Trude on the left and below in a Life Magazine feature from 1951 after Austen and her photographs were saved from obscurity.

archive photos Alice Austen & Life Magazine
color photos copyright nycedges 2011

and shout out to The S.I. Historical Society for saving this photographic legacy


  1. this is a wonderful glance into the past. i always tend to think of the past as being in black and white instead of color. that's why i loved the juxtaposition of the b&w pic next to the one in color of the same view. what i loved the most, though, are seeing the people, especially the kids. if you look past the clothing, you see faces that you could be looking at today. thanks for making me smile, edgyleh!

  2. Thanks Nonnie!! this started out as a post about the waterfront areas around the bridge, but I got so caught up in Austen & her photography -- such an amazing life & photographic record -- will cover the other areas in part 2.

  3. thanks edges again, for a glimpse at what made my life in NYC more than bearable. I love Staten Island and my Sunday morning bike rides after the trip on the ferry. I always ended up spending time at the Alice Austen House. You know that not too far away is a humble little house where Garibaldi lived for a while in exile on Staten Island?
    I hope we get to visit the Conference House!

  4. Monsieur M, always a pleasure to hear from you! I will be posting more on S.I. soon -- it seems that almost every time i head out there the skies turn grey making very dull pix -- more excursions are planned. The Garibaldi house is only open for a few hours a week -- maybe one of these days the timing will be right.
    Sadly, almost every place I've featured in this blog are now under hurricane watch...fingers crossed.

  5. I watched Manhattan Live Hurricane Cam all day here in La Sechere. It seemed to have been a view from around my nieces apartment in the West Village on a 16th floor looking towards mid town.
    I think I should do a live La Sechere Cam....look, a cow moved....It could be very zen if you were in Manhattan.
    Glad NYC survived Irene!

  6. I really enjoyed the look into the history of Trude, and totally love the old black and white photos you've shared. I especially like the one of her self portrait because of the background and clothing.

  7. thank you again for stopping by and I really appreciate your positive comments!

  8. There is a mistake here. Gertrude Tate and Gertrude Eccleston are 2 different women. Gertrude Eccleston was Alice's girlhood friend. She was married and divorced, but not a lesbian according to family members. Gertrude Tate and Alice Austen did not meet until around the turn of the century. It was Gertrude Tate and Alice who became intimate friends for many years. (see Alice's World by Ann Novotny, page 64-65.

  9. That was a gorgeous tour and history. I've written about Alice too. FYI here: http://seesaw.typepad.com/blog/artist-alice-austen/
    Thanks. Cheers. Liza