By: Erik Bascome, Staten Island Advance
June 25, 2022
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The second of three new Staten Island Ferry vessels, the Sandy Ground, made its maiden voyage on Friday, marking a significant milestone in the city’s efforts to modernize the fleet.
The SSG Michael H. Ollis, the first of the three new boats built by Eastern Shipbuilding Group, was placed in service in mid-February, with the Dorothy Day, the third and final new boat, expected to be delivered to New York Harbor later this year.
Here’s what you need to know about the Sandy Ground and the rest of the new Staten Island Ferry boats.
The Sandy Ground is the second of three new boats in the Ollis-class, the first new boats added to the Staten Island Ferry fleet since 2005, representing a major upgrade from past boats in terms of aesthetics, functionality, comfort, safety and amenities.
The class is named after the first of the three new boats, the SSG Michael H. Ollis, named in honor of hometown hero Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, a New Dorp native who died at age 24 while saving a Polish soldier from a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in August 2013.
ABOUT THE BOATS
Upon boarding the $85 million Ollis-class vessels, riders will notice the boats’ sleek, modern, well-lit interiors, with room for 4,500 passengers spread across the boats’ three decks.
The benches installed throughout the vessels offer more comfortable seating than older Staten Island Ferry boats, with additional phone-charging outlets to accommodate the modern commuter.
For those looking to take a stroll and drink in the views of New York Harbor, the oval-shaped, upper-deck promenades double as an outdoor walking track, giving riders their first chance to make a full loop around the exterior of a Staten Island Ferry boat.
The new storm-resilient vessels are also better-equipped than previous Staten Island Ferry boats to operate in a wide range of weather conditions and locations — and can be used in emergency evacuations, if necessary.
SANDY GROUND NAME
The Sandy Ground vessel is named in honor of the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited free Black settlement.
Sandy Ground, which is in Rossville, was originally settled in the early 1800s. It was once full of 150 Black-owned homes, each one built and centered around the Rossville African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, which historians believe was an important stop along the Underground Railroad.
The neighborhood, which is still inhabited by approximately 10 families, has been home to farmers, businessmen, doctors and other influential Staten Island residents. Its name is a reference to the sediment-rich soil found in that part of the borough; the area was cultivated as farmland, its sandy soil a fertile environs for strawberries and asparagus.
Community leaders, including mother-daughter team Sylvia Moody D’Alessandro and Julie Moody Lewis, who are descendants of Sandy Ground settlers and lead the Sandy Ground Historical Society, were on hand Friday to witness the historic moment.
“The ferry is a part of Staten Island and to recognize Sandy Ground as a ferry and part of Staten Island, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said D’Alessandro, who told the Advance/SILive.com that she was excited to see the legacy of Sandy Ground honored, particularly for young children to learn about the community’s rich history and contributions to Staten Island.
Lucille Herring, who is president of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Park board of directors, was also elated to witness the commemoration of the distinguished community where she was raised.
“I am just so happy and honored to be here today as a Sandy Grounder and a homeowner in Sandy Ground. This is wonderful to honor the town that way,” she told the Advance/SILive.com. “The boat is beautiful and it really was an honor to be here today.”
ELECTED OFFICIALS REACT
Councilwoman Kamillah Hanks (D-North Shore), Borough President Vito Fossella, State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) and former North Shore Councilwoman Debi Rose were among the hundreds of people who boarded the new boat for its maiden voyage.
Councilwoman Hanks expressed her pride in witnessing the historic moment.
“I am immensely proud to honor the legacy right here in our wonderful borough of Staten Island. Staten Islanders who ride this ferryboat will now see the name Sandy Ground and be reminded of that incredible legacy,” she said.
Hanks and Fossella joined in singing along with community members in an impromptu performance of “Let it Shine” led by members of the Rossville AME Zion Church.
“It’s another historic day for Staten Island as we sail on the Sandy Ground Staten Island Ferry for its maiden voyage,” Fossella said. “We hope all riders – commuters and visitors alike – will use the opportunity when riding this boat to discover the historical significance of this community we are proud to have here on Staten Island.”
Rose, who played an integral role in petitioning for the name during her time in office, described the naming as “lifting the contributions of Sandy Ground out of the shadows of our distant past and into the very fabric of our everyday existence.”
“The Sandy Ground will proudly ride the waves of a new consciousness as it joins the fleet of the New York Ferry system and will serve as a significant reminder every day to thousands of Staten Islanders, New Yorkers and tourists from around the world of the rich history of the Sandy Ground farmers, oystermen and entrepreneurs who developed a thriving self-sustaining community,” Rose said.
She also pointed out the symbolic timing of launching the Sandy Ground going into Juneteenth weekend.
“It is fitting that it’s taking place during Juneteenth weekend, a celebration that also was long overdue,” the former councilwoman added.
The SSG Michael H. Ollis was placed in service on Feb. 14, with Bob and Linda Ollis, parents of the late-Michael Ollis, in attendance for the boat’s inaugural ride, offering heartfelt thanks to all the people who helped ensure their son’s legacy will be honored for decades to come.
“This is a tremendous honor. I’m so grateful to the city of New York for doing this. It’s just a wonderful feeling to be here,” Bob Ollis said.
When riders from across the world board the new boat for years to come, Ollis said he hopes they think about all the veterans, not just his son, who have given so much for our country.
“So many go unnamed and unnoticed, but they’ve all done such an important duty,” he said.
A special thanks was given to former Borough President James Oddo, who tirelessly advocated for the new boat to be dedicated in honor of a Staten Islander who embodied bravery and made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for his country.
“Jimmy Oddo came over to me and said, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Ollis, I don’t want a boat named after me or another politician on this Island. I want it named after your son.’ My jaw hit the ground, and Jimmy came through,” Ollis recalled.
For Oddo, who now rides the Staten Island Ferry each day on his way to his new job as a member of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration, boarding the SSG Michael H. Ollis is bittersweet.
“When I get on the Ollis, initially, I will be sad at the loss and the sacrifice,” Oddo said. “But then, a smile is going to come over my face because of the pride of a mom and dad who did not stop until their son got the recognition he deserves.”
The third new boat, the Dorothy Day, named after the renowned Staten Island journalist and social activist, is expected to be delivered later this year, though the DOT could not provide a more specific timeline.
The Dorothy Day will be just the third Staten Island Ferry boat ever to be named after a woman, in addition to the now-decommissioned Mary Murray and the Alice Austen, which continues to provide overnight service.
Day, who has been bestowed the title of “Servant of God” and is being considered by the Vatican for sainthood, was baptized at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Tottenville in 1927.
In 2015, Pope Francis, in his address to a joint session of Congress, invoked the name of Day as a model for social activism and for her treatment of the poor and oppressed.
“How providential that the ferry from lower Manhattan to Staten Island should be named after a brave, loving woman who cherished both those areas of our city and the people who live there,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.
“How appropriate that a ferry transporting people would honor a believing apostle of peace, justice and charity who devoted her life to moving people from war to peace, from emptiness to fullness, from isolation to belonging,” Dolan added.
During the Depression, Day met Peter Maurin, a French peasant-philosopher who would inspire her future work to aid the needy.
Between them, they established the Catholic Worker newspaper and founded the Catholic Worker Movement, which offered food and shelter to the destitute during the Depression.
Day began a cooperative farm on Bloomingdale Road in Pleasant Plains in 1950, operating it for the needy and followers of her philosophy until 1964, when it was sold.
Her outspokenness against U.S. involvement in Vietnam earned her new respect among the youth movement of the 1960s, and in 1973, she was jailed for the last time for picketing on behalf of striking farm workers.
She died in 1980 at age 83 and is buried in Resurrection Cemetery, Pleasant Plains.