Staten Island Native, George Burke's life
is a circle of colorful relationships,
reminding us that history is, ultimately, about the people who live it.
From Fifth Avenue, Manhattan to
" the Fifth Avenue of Staten Island"
how George Burke came home.
Up to the mid 1950s shopping on Staten Island meant Port Richmond with Woolworths, Kresge's, Lerner's Stores and especially Garber's.
Garber Brothers department store was founded in 1919 by brothers Louis, David and Paul Garber, who started a peddling business. Each day they would set out to a different section of Staten Island selling house to house.
The Brothers later opened a retail store on what is now Port Richmond Avenue and another in Stapleton, and in 1969 in the Hylan Shopping Plaza in New Dorp.
Garbers' was nicknamed the "Lord & Taylor of Staten Island" and used the slogan "We treat you like family."
Harold Garber, the brothers' cousin, who rose to be president, initiated cutting edge merchandising and buying strategies that made Garbers the go-to store for better men's, women's and children's clothing and accessories on Staten Island.
In 1964 the Goldring Corporation, a national apparel chain, purchased Garber's.
One day shortly after that purchase, Mr. Goldring brought his six children to Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan
for back-to-school clothes.
The sales associate was George Burke, a 33-year-old native Staten Islander,
just out of 14 years in the Air Force and living in the Bronx with his sister.
Mr. Goldring was so impressed with Burke he asked, "How would you like to be the manager of my store in Staten Island?"
Burke was thrilled to come home. He worked for Garbers for 17 years.
Burke was also affiliated with Sherwin Williams, directly across Port Richmond Avenue from the Reformed Church, for 16 years. His "Victorian Colors" collection was one of the first lines of color created by a designer for any paint company. He provided a full range of interior design services, including wallpaper, to clients who came from all over the metropolitan area to consult him.
"There was plenty to do in the neighborhood, shops, restaurants, the Ritz movie house. There was always something going on at the [Reformed] Church across the street. Every day about 9 am an old lady, her name was De Hart, would come to the Church and set up a chair in front of it, on the sidewalk to the left, and sit there all day until about 5 pm, like she was going to a job. People would bring her sandwiches at lunchtime. She walked down to the shore at the end of the block and gathered firewood. She and her sister lived in a huge house, but used only the kitchen. They were very wealthy, even had a street named after them, De Hart. Everyone said they had $5 million stashed away in the house somewhere."
The Voorlezer's book has seven entries for De Hart just between 1707 and 1720. Several family members are buried in the cemetery. No wonder that "old lady," Miss De Hart, was happy, and at home, in front of her Old Dutch Church, and that the community that was happy to care for her.
In 1980 Burke rescued the 1838 Joseph H. Seguine Mansion in Prince's Bay.
The Voorlezer's Book tells us that in 1730 Lady Mambret, the great grand- mother of Joseph H. Seguine, brought Joseph H.'s grandfather, James,
to be baptized in our
Old Dutch Church.
In 1989 Burke sold the Mansion to New York City for half its value while retaining a life interest - the legal right to live there. He personally takes care of the 1838 building and its property every day. It is part of the Historic House Trust and sits within Lemon Creek Park. It is open for tours by appointment. Burke hosts a summer White Party in June.
In 2017 Burke donated historic land papers to our archives.
One day George Burke got a call, out of the blue, from a man who lives near Shanksville PA. He explained that he was a 92 year old Seguine descendant who learned about the Seguine Mansion on the internet, Since he had no heirs, he asked if Burke wanted some land papers that he did not know what else to do with. "Send them along," Burke replied and thus came into possession of several original deeds and documents, the earliest created in 1688.
Burke gave the entire cache of papers, including the 1688 deed, to our Old Dutch Church archives based on the Seguine baptism connection.
We were unaware of the close connection to be discovered.