There’s more to Todt hill than just extravagant homes, the history of Todt Hill actually began with the last Ice Age, or at least toward its end. When the last glacier receded, it created the geological and geographical characteristics that make the area so unique. Long before Todt Hill became a residential community with beautiful estates and homes, it supported a variety of commercial activities. The first Europeans to settle in the area were attracted by the rich deposits of iron ore.
The receding glacier exposed much of the ore, making it easier to mine. Unlike many “underground” mines we are familiar with, these were “strip mines” where the ore was dug out of the surface of the land instead of digging it from underground. Iron mining began as early as the 1600s and became so dominate in the early days the area was known as Yserberg or Iron Hill. Later, the area was called Toad Hill and finally Todt Hill. Much of the landscape was shaped by these strip mines and carved by the miners, including some of the beautiful terrain of the Richmond County Country Club Golf Course. Organized in 1888, the country club moved to the 36-acre estate of Junius Brutus Alexander, its current location, about 1897.
Charles R. Witteman established the world’s first airplane factory in his father’s garage on Todt Hill. The factory, located at 17 Ocean Terr., manufactured hundreds of gliders and airplanes; so successful was his business, he had to move his factory to Teterboro, N.J., in 1917, where he could have larger facilities. Later, Witteman helped to organize the Aeronautical Society of America in 1908.
Todt Hill also hosted an unusual winter sport, ski jumping. A 35-meter tower was built with timbers from the old South Beach Boardwalk just west of Ocean Terrace and attracted jumpers from all over. Tournaments were hosted by the Staten Island Ski Club, drawing crowds up to 3,000 during the 1930s. The Ski Club lasted until World War II, when most of its members went into the armed services.
Another predominate American who made his home on Todt Hill was Edward R. Stettinius. Stettinius served as Secretary of State under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and aided in forming the charter of the United Nations.
One of the most interesting landmarks of Todt Hill is the Moravian Church and Cemetery. The cemetery rolls are a who’s who of distinguished Staten Islanders, including Charles Witteman; John Merven Carrere (who designed many famous public buildings, including the U.S. Senate and House office buildings, New York Public Library on 5th Avenue, Staten Island Borough Hall and the public libraries at St. George, Port Richmond, Stapleton and Tottenville); John Eberhard Faber, whose family made Faber pencils; George Cromwell, our first Borough President; and Alice Austen, one of the country’s most prominent woman photographers of the late 19th century and early 20th century, to name a few.
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