In a wide valley to the east of Grymes Hill is a 17-acre park containing three glacial kettle ponds tucked in a preserve that is its own miniature watershed.
In contrast to the island’s south shore that has dozens of preserved ponds and creeks, Eibs Pond is on the eastern side of Staten Island, a short drive from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Where it Is
The park is located between a set of apartment complexes and recently-built tract housing on a parcel that used to have a golf course and military hospital. It nearly became developed as well, were it not for civic groups that valued the ponds in their neighborhood. The terrain here is knob-and-kettle, suggesting that there may have been other ponds nearby. Less than a mile to the south are Brady’s Pond and Cameron Pond, all of which inspired the neighborhood’s name, Grasmere– after a village in the Lake District of England.
Eibs Pond’s namesake is a German immigrant family that operated a farm around the pond in the 19th century. Among the distinguished guests at the farm was poet Henry David Thoreau in May 1843. “The whole island is like a garden,” he wrote. He stayed at the home of Judge William Emerson on what is now Emerson Hill, where Thoreau tutored Emerson’s children. William was a brother of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
While Walden Pond in Massachusetts is synonymous with Thoreau, Eibs Pond is rarely mentioned in association with this writer. In the 1870s, property owner Lewis Henry Meyer named his Fox Hills in a nod to its pastoral scenery and fox hunting.
Fox Hills Golf Club
In 1899, the 110-acre farmland was transformed into a cricket ground. Failing to generate revenue, it reopened a year later as the Fox Hills Golf Club. The ponds served as a water hazard for golfers in the summer and a curling competition site in winter. The golf club survived through 1935, when the Great Depression and competition from other colf courses on Staten Island forced it to close.
Fox Hills Base Hospital
In 1918 as the country was experiencing the First World War and an influenza pandemic, a parcel facing the golf course was developed into a military hospital that housed 20,000 patients, at the time a world record for a hospital complex. On the postcard above, the hospital barracks overlook the golf course.
The hospital closed in 1922, relinquished by the federal government due to its high cost of operating the facility. During the Second World War the site was reactivated by the government as a prisoner of war camp for Italian soldiers. Following the war, the former military hospital was demolished and land around the pond again became neglected.
Changes In a Century
Using old maps and aerial surveys as reference, one can see how Eibs Pond was transformed from an undistributed pond in 1874 to a golf course centerpiece in 1924, to an unused military base in 1951, to the park in 2012. Along with encroaching residential development another great change on the landscape is the Staten Island Expressway (I-278). Although the highway has noise barrier walls, standing by Eibs Pond, one can hear plenty of traffic from the highway. Perhaps it’s the paving that results in an echo spreading across the neighborhood.
Another interesting map of Eibs pond is a 1980s hand-drawn Hagstrom map where unbuilt roads are shaded in gray.
Although the neighborhood here has historically been known as Park Hill and Fox Hills, here it is labeled Concord. One possibility for this name was the Emerson family, whose famous poet lived in Concord, Massachusetts and often visited his relatives on Staten Island. to be precise, Park Hill to the west of the pond while Concord is to its south.
Eibs Pond has been greatly reduced in size by the cartographers with Palma Drive and Manton Place slated to run atop covered sections of the pond. Smaller ponds nearby are gone entirely from the map.
The thin black line following Mosel Avenue is the Staten Island Railway, which has a long stretch here between the Clifton and Grasmere stations.
As difficult as it is to believe, Staten Island had more train stations in 1953 than today. That year, the North Shore and South Beach branches were abandoned, leaving only the main line between Saint George and Tottenville in operation. All but two of its stations charge a fare, the rest allow for a free ride, but there are not so many trains going up and down this line.
Preserving the Pond
With the property abandoned, drug dealing and car dumping took place in wetlands throughout the city, including at Eibs Pond. Change arrived in the late 1980s, when the Urban Investment Development Company planned the construction of an apartment building and multi-story hotel overlooking the pond.
Amid concerns over the environmental impact of building around the pond, the state had it designated as a wetland in 1987 and the developer donated the designated portion of the land to the nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL). Two years later, it was transferred to the city as Eibs Pond Park.
In 1990s, 37 acres to the north and east of the pond were mapped out for Celebration at Rainbow Hill, a neo-urban gated development of private streets and 600 townhouses.
In 1999, Trust for Public Land donated an additional nine acres of land to the park. That year, the Fox Hills Tenants Association, led by Reverend Hattie Smith-Davis, teamed up with the Parks Council to restore the park. In tribute to the activist, one of the three ponds in Eibs Pond Park is called Hattie’s Pond. A third pond, perhaps the most difficult to reach on account of thick vegetation is North Pond. When water from the pond overflows, it can be seen flowing into a drain on Hanover Avenue and Palma Drive.
A pond that languished for a half century has become a focal point in the revival of older apartments, a selling point for new townhouses in Park Hills, an outdoor learning space for nearby Public School 57 and home to more than 80 bird species.