Like a grand dame, the landmarked house sits on a steep bluff at 710 Bay St. in Stapleton, then called the village of Edgewater, with commanding views of the Narrows, appearing much the same today as when she was built in 1848.
“When you stand on the cupola and look out at the waterfront, you get an idea of all the ships that passed by,” said Barnett Shepherd, the former director of the Staten Island Historical Society, who restored the home’s interior and grounds when it was bequeathed to him in 2009. “You feel a sense of history.”
Here is how the story of the Boardman-Mitchell House begins: In 1834, W.J. Staples and Daniel D. Tompkins -- the fourth Governor of New York State and the sixth Vice President of the United States -- combined their properties and divided them into lots for commercial and residential development.
Four adjoining lots of the Staples-Tompkins property were sold to John E. and Marie A. Jennings in 1841. On Sunday, June 8, 1845, the couple sold “all lots and premises” to James R. and Matilde Boardman, according to the City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).
Dr. Boardman was the resident physician of the nearby Seaman’s Retreat Hospital -- later Bayley Seton Hospital -- from 1836 to 1844 and again in 1849, along with maintaining an extensive private practice. He was also an “early investor in Staten Island real estate buying and selling various parcels of land, some of which he later turned over to his son.”
The Boardmans built their house in 1848.
“It is not known if the house was designed by an architect, but its solid construction and well-executed details exhibit fine craftmanship,” wrote the LPC in designating the Boardman-Mitchell House a landmark on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 1982. “A large Italianate villa, it was designed in the preferred style for a fashionable suburban dwelling in the mid-19th century. This style was widely used in such picturesque early Staten Island suburban developments as New Brighton and Clifton, but its use in the more urbanized setting of Edgewater gives the house special distinction and character in the community as befits the prominence of the original owner.”
Dr. Boardman died in 1893 without a will and the property passed to Stephen D. Stephens, a court-appointed referee. Matilde Boardman was able to purchase the house back at a public auction for $6,000.
“She immediately sold it to Captain Eugene Elvin Mitchell, a prominent Sandy Hook pilot who was something of a local hero,” the LPC wrote.
Elvin Eugene Mitchell was born in Maine in 1856, the son and nephew of sea captains. He was also the grandson and nephew of Sandy Hook pilots.
“At 17, he came to Staten Island from Maine to become a pilot, and with his family’s help, managed to get his license in 1883,” according to the LPC.
His heroism was on display in a dramatic Titanic-style rescue in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 14, 1886, “following the first watch in high seas” in the Long Island Sound.
A coal sloop “rammed with great force” into the S.S. Oregon -- the Cunard Line’s “greyhound of record-speed fame, capable of 30 knots.”
“Water swamped the engines and she listed sharply, pitching the bow,” the LPC wrote in its designation report. “The (coal sloop) sank immediately with the loss of all on board.”
The closest vessel to the wreck was Captain Mitchell’s sloop, called the Phantom.
“Mitchell tacked the Phantom to the lee of the Oregon, then removed all 176 persons aboard the sinking ship,” the LPC wrote. “The women and children were placed aboard the Phantom and the men passengers and the crew were towed behind in lifeboats. The Oregon sank beneath the waves at eleven o’clock.”
A German liner arrived at the scene at noon and “took all the Cunarders aboard and into New York Harbor. Mitchell salvaged what he could; all lifeboats, but one he took in tow and returned to the Cunard Line.”
Captain Mitchell received a gold medal from the British government, along with “Award Money from the Cunard Lines out of what they received from Lloyds of London for the insurance,” the LPC reports.
He used the Award Money to purchase the house at 710 Bay St. from Matilde Boardman in 1894 -- thereby giving it the name the Boardman-Mitchell House.
Capt. Mitchell, a founding member of the Sandy Hook Pilots Benevolent Association, maintained a “lookout” in a small, third-floor room which had a pair of central arched windows.
“Here, he kept a long telescope and a logbook in which he recorded the names of the ships he saw passing the Narrows,” according to the LPC.
He retired in 1926 after a 43-year career as a Sandy Hook pilot. He died in his home at the age of 80 on Monday, Nov. 30, 1936.
His daughter, Elvina Mitchell, continued to live in the home until her death at the age of 82 in 1966. The house was purchased from her estate by Donald Glyn who lived there for about 10 years. In 1978, it was purchased by Gordon and Leila Roberts -- only the fourth owners of the home in its 130 years.
The couple lived in Manhattan, but Leila Roberts wanted more property.
“Leila had an interest in historic houses and she contacted me,” said Shepherd. “She wanted to live in a country-like setting where she could tend a garden and raise her dogs.”
Upon her death in 2009, she left the home to Shepherd. He said the house had fallen into some disrepair, but the original materials, including the trimming, were intact and little was removed since it was built. He began both interior and exterior renovations before selling it in 2011 to a couple with two young children who were committed to further restoring the home.
Before the sale, Shepherd found an architectural gem: Tucked away in the basement were the home’s original front doors in perfect condition. He wasted no time in rehanging them.
“It was part of putting the history of this house back in place,” he said.
(Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Advance/SILive.com)