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.
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.
This tower once housed a water cistern.
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.
There are still pipes sticking out of the tower.
Then, the stone ruins of the main building are ahead.
The concrete thing in the ground was once a swimming pool with a very steep floor.
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.
Getting inside gives you a sense of how extensive this place was.
Looking out a window you can see a tower on the hill to the east. We’ll get there later.
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.
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.
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.
The tower is surrounded by private property, so it’s best to stick to trails and roads for this part.
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.
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.
And on a hill just northwest of the lake is another collapsed 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?
All in all, an excellent hike. Happy adventuring!
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.