NYC’s Last Working Farm Protected
November 16, 2003

New York

Staten Island, NY, 11/16/03: The Decker Farm, New York City’s last working farm, located in the New Springville section of Staten Island, will remain a farm and be protected from future real estate development in perpetuity. Through the sale of a conservation and preservation easement to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Staten Island Historical Society has guaranteed the farm’s preservation.

The transaction was negotiated by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Funds for the easement were obtained by former Assemblyman Eric Vitaliano.

“In New York City, the Trust for Public Land is working with Governor Pataki and the state to permanently protect sites like the Decker Farm, rich in history and natural beauty, for future generations to enjoy and from which they can learn,” said Clark Wallace, project manager for TPL.

Located at 435 Richmond Hill Road, the Decker Farm is near the Staten Island Mall and has long attracted the interest of residential and commercial real estate developers.

“This is a very good day for the Society, for Staten Island and for al New Yorkers who treasure open space. The Decker Farm, with its tie to our agricultural heritage, allows visitors the opportunity to see and experience a lifestyle once so important, but now all but lost to this community,” said John W. Guild, Executive Director of the Staten Island Historical Society. “The Decker Farm will remain a resource to schoolchildren, the public and future farmers.”

“Working with our other partners, we are safeguarding Richmond Town’s unique agricultural heritage, so that future generations can experience farming’s rich history right here in the city,” said Governor George Pataki.

The story of the Decker Farm began in 1809 when Japhet and Sarah Alston mortgaged the 11-acre property for $1,000 and began building the farmhouse that still stands today. The property was sold to Lorenzo Decker in 1841 and until 1955 various members of the Decker family continually owned and worked the farm. Alberta Decker, the last direct descendant, gave the farm to the Staten Island Historical Society.

“The money from the placement of the easement will provide and endowment to support the Society’s operations,” said James Coyle, President of the Staten Island Historical Society’s Board of Directors and President of S. I. Bank & Trust. “Two hundred fifty thousand dollars of the funds are earmarked for restoration of the farm and the addition of needed infrastructure.”

The Decker Farm is the site of both educational and public programs. Visitors can learn about farm life through hands-on activities including rug-beating, washing clothes on an 18th century washboard, raking hay, and carrying water with yokes and buckets, in addition to hay rides and pumpkin picking.

The Decker Farm is also the site of two collaborative farm projects. The Council on the Environment of New York City’s Greenmarket Initiative and Cornell University Cooperative Extension sponsor the New Farmer Development Program. Immigrant farmers learn organic methods for growing crops in New York’s mid-Atlantic climate. Now in its third year, the program has gained national attention. Participants in the program sell their produce weekly in the Greenmarket in the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island, near the ferry terminal.

A public transfer of the deed to the Decker Farm is scheduled in the spring at a ceremony to be attended by state and local public officials.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. The Trust for Public Land has long been a conservation partner on Staten Island and has made significant strides in protection and research, particularly related to the harbor and waterways. Additional information and publications including An Islanded Nature: Natural Area Conservation and Restoration in Western Staten Island, Including the Harbor Herons Region (2001) and the Harbor Herons Report (1990) are available at http://www.tpl.org.

Decker Farmhouse

Decker Farm is located at 435 Richmond Hill Road in New Springville. It comprises approximately 11 structures on 11 acres of land. Major structures include the farmhouse, large barn, small barn, and drive shed. Smaller outbuildings include a privy, chicken coop, smokehouse, and others. Most are on their original sites, but the smokehouse was moved to this property from another location in the 1960s.
Decker Farm (ca. 1810) remains New York City’s oldest continuously working family style farm. The first known residents on the property were Japhet Alston (1774-1842) and his wife Sara Decker Alston. Among their 12 children was Sarah who continued to reside in the house with her husband John M. Decker, from about 1832. In 1841, Japhet sold the farm to Lorenzo Dow Decker for $1250. Tax assessments suggest that L.D. Decker made substantial improvements to the farm in the decade of his occupation. It passed to his widow, Mahala Ann Decker, who continued to keep the farm active.
Census records show that in 1855, she had 2 acres of meadow, 2 acres of winter wheat, 3 acres of corn, 1 acre of potatoes, 6,000 heads of cabbage, and a small number of livestock. After Mahala remarried, her son, Caleb Van Name Decker, was owner of the farm from 1858 to 1873. Sylvanus Decker (1825-1909), a cousin of Caleb, purchased the farm in 1873, and it was during his ownership that most of the structures on the property were built. The last Decker family residents at the farm were Sylvanus’ children, Richard, Robert, and Alberta. Alberta Decker bequeathed the farm to the Staten Island Historical Society in 1955 for use as a museum farm. 
The entire farm property was designated an official New York City landmark in 1967. In 2003, the Staten Island Historical Society guaranteed the farm’s continued preservation through the sale of a conservation and preservation easement to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The Society has collaborated with new American farmers and supporting agencies to keep the land cultivated in recent years, as well as offering educational and public programming to the farm’s many annual visitors.