Cornelius G. Kolff: In His Own Words

Cornelius G. Kolff:
Staten Island’s Obedient Servant
In His Own Words
(September 2nd 1860 – February 27th 1950)

In association with Historic Richmondtown ,Staten Island Historical Society and the Conference House Association & the forthcoming Kolff: Staten Island’s Obedient Servant exhibit at the Conference House Visitor’s Center we will be publishing:

Cornelius Kolff:
Staten Island’s Obedient Servant
In His Own Words 

A multi-volume series publishing the papers of Cornelius G. Kolff. We will begin pre-orders Spring 2020 for the 1st two volumes.

The Fairies’ Scribe
by Alice Sargent Johnson

The life and work of Cornelius G. Kolff, a leading Staten Island Real Estate Developer, is a previously overlooked chapter in American history and literature. Kolff wrote historical treatises and travelogues, collected and preserved local folklore, wrote hundreds of human interest stories, and was the author of several books including A Short History of Staten Island and Staten Island Fairies.  The method of his collecting stories is inspired by Elias Lönnrot who was a Finnish physician, philologist, and runo collector of Finnish oral poetry, known for composing the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala.  This shall be discussed further down.

Anthony Burdge, Independent Scholar and Author, has been visiting the archives at Historic Richmondtown for more than a decade.  With each visit, Anthony and his wife Jessica have extracted copies from the thousands of documents once belonging to Cornelius Kolff.  The Kolff papers Burdge has collected have been organized into a multi-volume series. There have been many publications concerning Staten Island and Kolff is only cited for his civic and business affairs, very rarely is there a mention of his Log Cabin Retreat, his local historic preservation, conservation efforts or his hundreds of stories collected from locals in every place he lived.  The stories, histories, essays and commentaries by Kolff were primarily circulated amongst Kolff’s friends and family.  Therefore only a small amount was actually published, a very small run of each title and has all but disappeared. This project will not only publish the Kolff papers but contain a biography and annotations to the papers.

This page serves to introduce the reader to Cornelius Geertruyus Kolff and the publication of his work.

Cornelius Kolff: Staten Island’s Most Obedient Servant

A look at Cornelius G. Kolff
by Anthony Burdge:

As life long fans of J.R.R Tolkien,  my wife Jessica and I have studied a vast array of Tolkien’s work, literary criticism, his inspirations and literary group, The Inklings.  In our study, we have become familiar with how influential The Kalevala and compiler Elias Lönnrot was on Tolkien. The methodology of Elias Lönnrot, would be of an equal inspiration to a young Cornelius G. Kolff.

Commercial Apprenticeship 1876-1880
Lubeck, Germany

At Handels Schule, in the fall of 1876, Kolff received an additional education in bookkeeping, correspondence, and business practices and usage. In the eyes of foreign merchants, a testimonial from a leading firm, such as Halterman and Brattstroem, the apprentice clients dealt with was assured to have a thorough education and commercial training. The commercial education was as well respected as a diploma or degree from a College or University.

In the Spring of 1877, Kolff reported ready for work at a leading firm Halterman and Brattstroem and presented himself to the head of the house affectionately called, “Der Alte,” or Old Man.  As the “juengster Lehrling,” or youngest apprentice in Germany, Kolff  received training for a career in commerce, and was exposed to the life, culture, and oral traditions of Finland via Finnish clients. In addition to his training in commerce and future career, Kolff’s literary pursuits would begin to take shape after learning of Lönnrot and other Finnish literary masters.

Image from Staten Island Advance
Kolff’s Philosophers Retreat and Log Cabin

In the early 1900’s after returning to Staten Island, New York after establishing himself in business and local civic affairs, Kolff would establish his own literary group.  As with Tolkien, a member of the The Inklings, Kolff formed the Philosopher’s Guild and Retreat where authors, philosophers and critics would meet and discuss their literary efforts, history, politics. These meetings would take place in a Log Cabin on Emerson Hill, Staten Island built in 1911 by Kolff. The cabin had a long seven year life and unfortunately burned down in 1917.  The afformention hill was named after essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson who once visited. The Philosopher’s Guild was but one of many clubs and societies Kolff belonged to.  As one of the Island’s most prominent civic leaders, Kolff either founded, or was a trustee, President, Secretary, or keynote leader for many of Staten Island’s institutions, such as: The Staten Island Historical Society, Staten Island’s Institute of Arts and Sciences, the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, the Belle Lettre Society, and the Staten Island Rotary Club to name a few. 

Connie Lane and Anthony Burdge stop in front of a great oak on the Emerson Hill property where Cornelius G. Kolff built his philosoper’s retreat.

In 2009 the Kathryn Carse of the Staten Island Advance interviewed me concerning Kolff’s Log Cabin and my research:
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Cornelius G. Kolff: 
In His Own Words… 

From the time human beings are able to think until they reach the end of the trail to the land from which no traveler ever returns, the minds of most people are filled with memories of events which have happened, words which have been said are worth remembering. Divine Providence in its kindness permits us to forget the disagreeable experiences and to remember mainly the pleasant events. These may have been joyful, amusing, and instructive. They may be humorous or even sorrowful, but of human interest. Those who can remember these and preserve these are among the fortunate of this world for their lives are filled with a store of memories. The human brain is the storehouse, and key to the storehouse should be ever at hand. It will be a source of pleasure to you to record these stories because the reading or telling of them will make others happy.” ~~Cornelius G. Kolff

Planned Volumes

Volume 1: Biographical and Genealogical Papers
(Currently scheduled for a June/July 2020 Release)

This volume will consist of  Cornelius G. Kolff’s annotated papers, which concern the family history of his ancestors. From Kolff genealogical data, to histories of his grandfather Ernest Fiedler, to Eli Hart, to ancestors from Holland and Germany. 

Volume 2: Historical People and Places

This volume will concern Kolff’s previously unpublished papers concerning The History of Staten Island and its residents. This volume will concern the early history of Staten Island, historical homes and locations such as Historic Richmondtown, and the Conference House.  Additionally this will include biographies of Life long friend William T. Davis, Commodore Vanderbilt, Ira K Morris, and many more. This volume will include annotations and commentary concerning the content of Kolff’s papers.

Volume 3: Histories and Travelogues
As we move beyond Staten Island, this third volume will contain Kolff’s lenghty volumes concerning his travels to Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Germany and more.  This volume will include, An American Boy in Europe, DenmarkA Staten Island Boy in HollandThe Rise and Fall of Dithmarschen, Ireland and Suomi.

Highjinks in Conference House by Alice Sargent Johnson.
Staten Island Fairies 1939

Volume 4:  Staten Island Fairies and Haven of Wooden Shoes.

These two volumes, written by Kolff were published seperately by the Richmond Borough Publishing and Printing Company in 1939. 

“This story is written for the purpose of entertaining young friends and some of the older ones. It is likewise intended to acquaint them with the natural beauties of our Island and to tell them some of the stories  and legends which belong to the community in which they live.” ~Preface, Staten Island Fairies

Staten Island Fairies opens with Kolff receiving a letter at his home from author and fairy scribe to The Council of Staten Island Fairies, Adrianus Post.  Post’s letter expressed the fairies’ sentiments on the good fortune of Kolff’s election as President of the Staten Island Historical Society since he had always been their friend and protector.  Post echoed Kolff, of course, who had firmly believed that Staten Island was particularly adapted to be a Fairyland, and a home for Fairies.  However, after the opening pleasantries, the fairies establish their purpose of writing, which resonates with Kolff’s authorial voice and furthers his thoughts on what he wrote in 1919:

“In view of the fact that before very long, ‘the Island of the dark woods on high grounds,’ of the Aquehonga Indians, the original dwellers on this beautiful Island, will have changed into a great brick, mortar, and steel city, with cement roads, long rows of modern houses built closely together and will in the very nature of things no longer be a home of fairies, we feel that it is our duty to leave, as a matter of historical record, a description of the life, customs and activities of the fairies, as well as a picture of Staten Island to show what it looked like when it was still a fairyland, with its hills and valleys, its lakes and dells, its forests, its wild flowers, its golden grain fields, its delightful country lanes, its waving fields of salt meadows, its orchards, with luscious fruits of peaches, apples, pears, cherries and plums, its many elderberry and blackberry bushes and its fields of delicious strawberries and other fruits, and its wild life filled with song and other birds of all kinds.”

Haven of wooden shoes by Cornelius G. Kolff ; with illustrations by Howard Lane Jr.

This is an excerpt from Kolff’s own publication and Volume 4 of this series. The Haven of Wooden Shoes is a tale of old Staten Island families of Dutch descent and their servitors the Dutch fairies.

The Haven of Wooden shoes by Cornelius G. Kolff ; with illustrations by Howard Lane Jr.

The Companion Blog

Once the 1st Volume is nearing publication we will be launching a “Companion blog” to further explore historical locations and people that Cornelius G. Kolff wrote about.  Here is a preview.

The Christopher House
Historic Richmondtown

 

Concerning The Christopher House: 
“It is considered by patriots and historians to be the sanctum sanctorum of Staten Island.”

— Cornelius G. Kolff

 “It is a one and one-half story stone farmhouse in a simple vernacular style with Dutch influences such as a spring eave and jambless fireplaces.  It was constructed in two sections, ca. 1720 and ca. 1730”
Historic RichmondTown

Cemetery at Historic Richmondtown:
“In the heart of Richmond and a reminder of the past, is an old family burying ground, one of the many belonging to the early Dutch and Huguenot settlers on Staten Island…”

— Cornelius G. Kolff

The resting place of early Dutch Staten Island settlers, Jacob Rezeau and Susanna Van Pelt, which Kolff wrote of and we shall explore further. These pictures are from a recent walk through Historic Richmontown

We are indebted to our friends at Historic Richmondtown and The Staten Island Historical Society therefore a portion of the proceeds of these volumes will be donated to them.

Help Sponsor Research:
Please consider donating to help this research, with archive appointments, reproduction costs, related expenditures, and to support the Staten Island Historical Society/Historic Richmontown.  By donating you will have your name placed within a special section of each volume published and on our website.

Any donation of $25 or more will receive a copy of the 1st Volume
(USA Donors Only, if International please contact Anthony at Mythinkbooks@gmail.com for additional shipping rates)

Cemetery at Historic Richmondtown