Towers, Cabins, and Castle

The Ramapo Mountains are a rugged line of peaks and ridges rising about 1000 feet above sea level in northern New Jersey and southern New York. The Precambrian metamorphic rock that they are made of has lasted more than 600 million years while the softer rocks around them eroded away.

The rugged Ramapo terrain prevented much early development, and the mountains have served countless people looking for a break from the more crowded parts of North Jersey. On Sunday, Darian and Helen went to explore some of the structures they left behind.

We parked at the upper Skyline Drive lot. That’s the one farther from I-287, because who wants to start a hike right off the interstate? We headed west on the short white and red trail, made a right on the Cannonball, and a quick left on the Castle Point Trail.

The trail soon reaches an exposed rock, where you can see a stone tower rising from the next hill. It looks cool in the fog too.

Tower in Fog

As you come up to the tower, you might think this is the castle that the trail name and the map are referring to. But more is to come.

Hiking to Tower

This tower once housed a water cistern.

Van Slyke Tower

It’s difficult to tell if there used to be stairs or a ladder to the roof, but it would be silly if there wasn’t.

Inside Tower At Van Slyke

There are still pipes sticking out of the tower.

Pipe from Tower at Van Slyke Castle

Then, the stone ruins of the main building are ahead.

Grounds of Foxcroft, the Van Slyke Castle

The concrete thing in the ground was once a swimming pool with a very steep floor.

Van Slyke Pool

And now we arrive at the ruins of Foxcroft, which today is often called the Van Slyke Castle. Foxcroft was constructed from 1908 to 1909 for William Porter, a stockbroker, and his wife Ruth. It was made of rock taken from surrounding ridges and transported by mule and oxen. An account of the house from when it was inhabited describes the first floor as containing a living room, an “unusually large reception hall,” a dining room, breakfast room, kitchen and service rooms. The second floor had multiple balconies, “four master bedrooms and three baths, also servants’ rooms and bath.” There was also a garage and a chauffeur’s cottage with multiple rooms.

Van Slyke Mansion - Foxcroft

Getting inside gives you a sense of how extensive this place was.

Van Slyke Furnace

Looking out a window you can see a tower on the hill to the east. We’ll get there later.

Ryecliff Tower From Foxcroft

Just a few years after Foxcroft was built, William Porter died in a vehicle accident. In 1913 Ruth married a prominent lawyer, Warren Van Slyke. Warren died in the 1920s but Ruth continued to live at Foxcroft until her death in 1940. The property changed ownership several times in the 1950s and the abandoned mansion became a hangout for local youth. Sometime around 1960 the house was burned in a fire generally attributed to vandalism.

On a clear day, the New York City skyline is visible when looking southeast from the ridge. Today was not a clear day, but the view looking south over Ramapo Lake was nice.

Ramapo Lake From Castle Point

Castle point is a popular local hike, and there are some pictures of the ruins online. But not many people seem to think of climbing down the outer retaining wall.

Which is probably why there aren’t many pictures of the tank room online.

Van Slyke Tank

A hole in the side of the retaining wall leads to a brick room with a big rusty tank in it. I don’t know what it contained, but my guess would be heating oil. There is nothing behind the tank besides a space large enough to walk through.

Whenever hiking, take care to leave things at least as good as you found them so other people have the opportunity to enjoy them like you did. The same goes for exploring ruins, which are sometimes fragile. Watch your feet and head too!

After descending from the castle, we headed to the tower on Rye Cliff.

Rye Cliff Tower - Ramapo Mountains

The tower is surrounded by private property, so it’s best to stick to trails and roads for this part.

Tower and Shed

North of Skyline Drive, the Ramapo wilderness contains more trails and more ruins. If you’re up for venturing off the trail, following creeks can lead to interesting things.

In this case, picturesque Lake Tamarack.

Lake Tamarack - Ramapo Mountains

Leaving things at least as good as you found them requires even more attention once you get off trail.  Unfortunately, the ground near the shelter in the center of the picture was littered with broken bottles.

Camp Tamarack was a Boy Scout property purchased by Bergen County, so presumably the structures around Lake Tamarack were part of the camp.

Along the shores of the lake are the remains of a collapsed building.

Lakeside Rubble

And on a hill just northwest of the lake is another collapsed cabin.

Wrecked Cabin

These finds bring up an interesting question: what separates garbage from artifacts? The easy answer would be that artifacts are useful, but use is subjective. If ruins are likely to add to the visitor’s experience, then should they stay where they are or be put on display somewhere else? Should they be studied by professionals or left to be pondered by amateurs?

And another thing to contemplate: if your cabin is in the middle of the woods, would anyone know if you lost your mind and started throwing teapots around?

Teapot

All in all, an excellent hike. Happy adventuring!

Notes:

Daniel Chazin, Editor. New Jersey Walk Book, 2nd Edition. Mahwah, NJ: New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, 2004. Pages 35-37, 67 (geology); 83 (Tamarack); 92-93 (Castle Point Trail and Foxcroft).

Discussion with Rich Moon, Nov 30, 2012. (History of Foxcroft)

Foxcroft construction and layout information is from a photocopied section of a book found in the Wanaque Library archives (“Foxcroft: The Estate of Mrs. Warren Clark Van Slyke, 36-41). According to Rich Moon, the book was Attractive Homes of New Jersey, probably published in 1929. This is most likely accurate; a book fitting that description can be found on the Chicago Rare Books site

Highlands Sites in New Jersey, Geology of National Parks, USGS. http://3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/nyc/highlands/ramapo.htm. Retrieved Dec 5, 2012.

The Map we used is North Jersey Trails, Trail Map 115, New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, 9th Edition, 2009.

Marriage Certificate of Warren C. Van Slyke and Ruth A. Porter (copy), Aug 7, 1913. Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York. Rich Moon collection.

Physiographic Provinces of New Jersey, New Jersey Geological Survey Information Circular, http://www.state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/infocirc/provinces.pdf. Retrieved Dec 5, 2012

Those with an interest in the human history of the Ramapo Mountains should also be aware of the region’s mining history (north of the area covered here), as well as the Ramapo Mountain Indians and their struggles for recognition and against toxic waste dumping in abandoned mines.

14 thoughts on “Towers, Cabins, and Castle”

  1. Hi, I can confirm that indeed the buildings at camp tamarack where used by the boy scouts. I was a boy scout from 1967 to 1976 and spent a lot of time at camp tamarack. The collapsed cabin at the end with teapot looks very familiar. Did you find this up the hill, beyond the a-frame chapel? If so this was the cabin of the explorer scout group I belonged to (troop168, Rutherford nj). The last time I was there was Aug. 1976. I spent the month there just reading, hiking and fishing. It was a beautiful rustic cabin where I had many wonderful experiences. I had stopped by around 2000 but there was a sign saying it was private property. Now it seems to be part of the park. I’m going to have to get my act together and take a hike up there.

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Steve! It sounds like you are thinking of the right cabin – the one with the chimney was up the hill from the A-frame.

      The camp is now on Oakland Boro land. I am fairly certain that the land surrounding it is public as well. I took the orange trail then followed the creek east to the lake. I did not use the road that comes in from Skyline Drive, so I can’t vouch for that route.

    1. I do not know what the exact elevation is. The contour lines on the NYNJTC map put it at about 850 ft.

  2. Thank you for the information. I wish there was more on the castle. I hiked there last weekend and it was magical.

    1. Thanks. I was awed by the castle ruins the first time I was there and I enjoy going back and looking around the area.

    2. I am presenting a program on the Van Slyke Castle in April. I used to go inside the mansion when it was abandoned. I have interviewed people who have also been inside the house.

  3. I was wondering who the builder was? The castle at Sawmill Road in Kinnelon and Lambert’s Castle in Paterson were all of similar design and materials used. I wonder if they were related as you can see two others if you’re at the top of the towers. The Kinnelon castle had a wooden tower.

    1. According to “Foxcroft: The Estate of Mrs. Warren Clark Van Slyke” (cited in the post), the architect was John Ingle of New York City. I probably should have included that in the post.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Great information do you know if metal detectors are allowed in the area? I love to uncover the history that lies beneath the ground!

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