Father John C. Drumgoole (1816-1888) made the care of homeless and destitute children his life’s work, founding Mount Loretto on Staten Island’s south shore in 1882:
Fr. Drumgoole was a great innovator in the field of childcare. The layout of the Mission was designed to provide plenty of light and air to each resident so as to avoid the spread of influenza and tuberculosis, which was common in the tenements of the day. Fr. Drumgoole felt that the general environment of the City at the time was a great threat to younger children, so he sought out a more rural setting. He looked to the Borough of Staten Island and found a farm for sale that must have reminded him of his earliest years in County Longford, Ireland. With the purchase of this and several adjacent lots, Fr. Drumgoole founded Mount Loretto, named as a tribute to the Sisters who accompanied him there to teach the children on a completely self-sufficient farm. Mt. Loretto
Bus: S78 to Sharrott Avenue or Page Avenue.
The school, as well as the Church of Sts. Joachim and Anne*, are still going strong today, offering care for developmentally disabled children and foster children from Staten Island. The church, and its adjacent cemetery, are worth a visit. Today, though, on a sunset visit, we’re by the southern limit of the Mt. Loretto property, a mile of shoreline adjoining Raritan Bay purchased from the Catholic Archdiocese by the Trust for Public Land and New York State in 2000 and converted to public space. As you’ll see that might be one of the single greatest accomplishments of the Pataki administration. But I digress.
*The church appears in The Godfather, filmed in 1972; the church burned down the following year, but was subsequently rebuilt retaining the spire.
Two roads, Cunningham and Kenny Roads, trail off Hylan Boulevard south toward the bay. Along Cunningham Road we see a couple of rusting remnants, as well as some bare patches in the grass just off the road. Could something have been here?
Indeed….St. Elizabeth’s Building, an orphanage that was part of the Mount Loretto complex, seen here in evocative photos by Shaun O’Boyle, home for thousands of parentless girls, burned down March 6, 2000… just after the State took title to the land. It would have made a picturesque sight for joggers, cyclists and walkers, but it had been abandoned at the time for years and would not have been open to the public. Had it stood till now, would it have been razed or converted to condominiums? It was originally constructed in 1888.
One extant remnant on the orphanage grounds is this stone shrine
The new park overlooks Raritan Bay atop 85-foot high cliffs (the tallest-facing ocean cliffs in the state) that go back to the age of dinosaurs. Binoculars provide a view of New Jersey’s Middlesex County and Sandy Hook regions. The spot remains popular for people who come to meditate or pray.
At the eastern edge of the park is another remnant, a pair of houses used by caretakers. One in particular features beautiful ashlar stone finish and is dated 1869, which made it older than the now-destroyed orphanage.
A short drive down Hylan Boulevard to Sharrotts Avenue and you will find a concrete fishing pier with sculpted fish to greet you. Ignore the pier, unless you want to fish in Raritan Bay, and head west along the beach and the tall cliffs above it.
The rocks, of course, are no natural formation. They have been painstakingly arranged like this by one Douglas Schwartz, an employee of the Staten Island Zoo. The rocks, in his words, “[provide] a spiritual side to the science of zoology.” He has been arranging the stones, which by now amount to over 150 sculptures, since 1996.
His work has become well known on the island, if not universally understood. Mr. Schwartz had the mixed pleasure of seeing his art splashed across the front page of The Staten Island Advance beneath the headline “Sophomoric Prank or Cult Activity?”
“What I made as a bench for the happy children to sit on, they saw as a sacrificial altar,” he said. NYTimes
The City Concealed [thirteen]
2011: Schwartz has been banned from creating further sculptures at Mount Loretto by NY State, fearing environmental damage. He has continued them on other Staten Island beaches.