Cornelius G. Kolff: Folklorist and Historian

Cornelius G. Kolff:
Real Estate Developer, Folklorist & Historian
(September 2nd 1860 – February 27th 1950)

About Kolff and this project:
The life and work of Cornelius G. Kolff is a previously overlooked chapter in American history and literature. Kolff collected history and folklore, wrote hundreds of human interest stories, and was the author several books including Staten Island Fairies.  In recent publications concerning Staten Island, Kolff is only often cited for his civice and business affairs, very rarely is there mention of his Log Cabin Retreat, his local history preservation efforts or original writing. 

This page serves to introduce C.G. Kolff and publications planned surrounding his work to examine his literary efforts.

As life long fans of J.R.R Tolkien, we have studied a vast array of Tolkien’s work, literary criticism surrounding it, and 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.

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, but was exposed to the life, culture, and oral traditions of Finland via Finnish clients. In addition to his training in commerce, Kolff’s  education and 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

As with Tolkien, a member of the literary circle, The Inklings, Kolff, too, had a foundation in literary historical groups on Staten Island. After returning to Staten Island and establishing himself in the 1890s, Kolff would build a Log Cabin on Emerson Hill in Staten Island.  The cabin was home to the Philosopher’s Guild and Retreat (click to read more) where authors, philosophers and critics would meet and discuss their literary efforts, history, politics, which would pre-date The Inklings by several years.

In 2009 the Staten Island Advance interviewed Myth Ink Books editor Anthony Burdge concerning Kolff’s Log Cabin and his research:

Cornelius G. Kolff: Staten Island’s Most Obedient Servant
In His Own Words… Volumes I and II
Fairy Scribe from Staten Island Fairies by C.G. Kolff Illustrated by Alice Sargeant Johnson

Kolff left behind hundreds of stories, histories and volumes of folklore.

The first volume that we will be publishing of Kolff’s previous unpublished papers concern The History of Staten Island. This volume will publish forty-five previously unpublished Kolff papers, which cover early history of Staten Island, historical homes and locations.  This volume will include annotations and commentary concerning the content of Kolff’s papers, plus an introductory biography of Cornelius G. Kolff.

This volume will be published in the Fall of 2018.

The second volume additionally be prepared concerns people that Kolff wrote of such as:

Erastus Wiman, Ernest Fiedler, William T. Davis, Commodore Vanderbilt, Ira K Morris, and many more.

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.

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

Help Sponsor Research:
Please consider donating to help this research, with archive appointments, reproduction costs, related expenditures, and 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 for additional shipping rates)

Donate $55 or more and receive the 1st and 2nd Volumes
(USA Donors Only, if International please contact Anthony at for additional shipping rates)

Cemetery at Historic Richmondtown
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