Abandoned on the Palisades: The Ruins of Cliffdale Manor

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been scouting the Rockland County area, and every time I drive the Palisades  north…

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…I notice this strange castle-like structure whiz past out my window:

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Clearly the ruins of something, it kept bugging me each time I drove by until finally, I had to stop and figure out what it was.

I found a place to park near the highway and came across a trail that seemed to be leading to the structure…

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It took about 15 minutes of walking, and then I saw it through the trees…

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A fascinating two story stone castle-like structure set into the hillside overlooking the Hudson…

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But what was it? An old fort? I had to get to my first scouting appointment of the day, so I couldn’t stay long. But I snapped a few pictures, and planned to look up more info when I got home.

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I’m not sure what I was expecting…But later on, when I found out that this…

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…used to be this (line up those four windows for orientation)…

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Picture Courtesy NJPalisades.org

I was blown away. And yeah, I had to go back to explore further.

From the authoritative Palisades Interstate Park website, I learned that I had stumbled on the ruins of Cliffdale Manor, built in 1911 as the summer home for one George Zabriskie. Zabriskie hailed from one of Bergen County’s wealthiest and most prominent families and worked as a NY representative for the Pillsbury Flour Mills.

His estate stretched far out around the manor house…

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Picture Courtesy NJPalisades.org – Click for more photos!

…winding down the natural embankment to this incredible garden pond near the Palisades cliffs…

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Picture Courtesy NJPalisades.org – Click for more photos!

…as well as a series of terraced gardens:

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Picture Courtesy NJPalisades.org – Click for more photos!

So how did Cliffdale go from being one of the most remarkable mansions on the Hudson to these dilapidated ruins?

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As detailed by the Palisades Interstate Park website, the property was purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1930, along with much of the surrounding area, in an attempt to halt over-development of the cliffs spurred by the newly built George Washington Bridge.

In 1933, Rockefeller donated the land to the Park Commission with the request that the cliffline be returned to its natural state. In the following years, numerous turn-of-the-century mansions were bulldozed, including Cliffdale Manor.

Except, you can still find plenty of Cliffdale ghosts if you take the time to look past the surface:

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The largest chunk of Cliffdale still standing is the two story foundation/basement, which also housed a garage. If you walk up on top of it…

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…you’ll find yourself standing on what was once a patio overlooking the Hudson:

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Picture Courtesy NJPalisades.org – Click for more photos!

Even cooler, if you look at the ground…

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…you’ll see that a portion of it is still covered in red tiles…

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Very likely the same tiles from when the original manor, as seen in this picture of the patio (most visible in the bottom right corner):

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Strewn around the area are a number of columns…

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…which are most likely the numerous columns seen in the above two photographs:

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The view from the patio today…

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…and in 1921 as depicted in Valentine’s Manual of Old New York:

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As you move away from the old patio area, the tiles disappear but the flooring remains. This is where the actual manor once stood…

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Go back 100 years, and I could have been standing in Zabriskie’s ballroom!

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Picture Courtesy NJPalisades.org – Click for more photos!

Going back down the hill, “1911” is written on the stone, commemorating the construction date:

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Below, the basement is fully open to be explored.

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Going inside through what was once the garage entrance, I’ll admit, my New York paranoia instantly kicked in. Intensely silent, with the Palisades traffic strangely muted and only the sound of dripping water to be heard, I suddenly realized there were a LOT of nooks and crannies for some deranged killer who called this place home to jump out of…

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…like this caved-in cellar area:

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Or, more likely, up these stairs…

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Realizing this website is clearly worth sacrificing my life for, I went up…

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As it turns out, just an empty room (for now!):

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Outside the manor ruins…

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…There’s a pretty neat stone staircase…

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…which winds up around the building…

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…to a lower level terrace.

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Additional basement space has since been closed up…

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For example, you can see a stoned-up door and window here:

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However, portions have been broken through, and you can even spot old brickwork inside:

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What especially fascinated me was whether anything was left of the garden pool, which really must have been incredible to see:

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Picture Courtesy NJPalisades.org – Click for more photos!

The above picture was probably taken from the patio, and the same view today doesn’t seem to hold much promise:

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However, as it turns out, it’s pretty hard to completely erase the past. On the way down to where the pond and garden used to be, I found this neat curved double staircase…

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One side of the curve:

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And lo and behold, once you’re through the trees, a portion of the garden/pool does still remain!

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At the end opposite the cliffs, you can see a pair of stairs…

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…which meet in the center to form a single staircase down to the lower level – did this once lead into water?

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Meanwhile, strewn about the grounds are these short columns…

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…which appear to be the last remnants of the old pool:

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Picture Courtesy NJPalisades.org – Click for more photos!

A column today…

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…and in 1911:

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There are a few other unidentifiable structures, like this short stone pillar set in the ground. Probably will never know what this was:

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The columns sprawl right up to the cliffs. Looking back on these pictures, I’ve begun to wonder: what would you find if you started digging?

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Finally, one last very cool bit most likely dating back to Cliffdale: a neat stone overlook tower (now fenced off for your safety!):

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Exploring the Cliffdale remains was a lot of fun, and it’s just one of the many mansion ruins dotting the Palisades Park trail.

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Along the way, there’s bunch of great views and lots of little details to stumble on, and I definitely recommend a trip if you get the chance.

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To visit, park your car at the scenic lookout (the second one, I believe, after heading north from the GW Bridge) and take the trail at the north end of the parking lot. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the ruins (click here for the general area on Google Maps).

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While Rockefeller’s work ultimately saved the Palisades from over-development, it’s nice to know that the ghosts of Cliffdale still remain, hopefully enchanting generations for decades to come.

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For more information on visiting the park and its history, be sure to visit The Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

-SCOUT

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76 comments

  1. nick, glad to see your back on track. these are great shots and totally
    enjoyed viewing ‘em all. you’re da bes!!
    bmack and family

  2. This is wonderful, thanks for much for posting.

    WOW

  3. I have been reading your blog for a while now and never took the time to tell you how much I enjoy it. Each post like this one is a little journey. Thanks for that.
    Greetings from France.

  4. thanks so kmuch for this awesome post. I love the juxtaposition of the current pics with the old ones. I’ve researched the NJ Palisades extensively but never knew half of this about the estate. I’m linknig to this post on my blog. below is a link to my main post about the palisades. great work!

    http://lostinjersey.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/history-of-the-nj-palisades/

  5. Thanks for finding this place. More than finding a lovely ruin from a bygone era, I was struck that it was owned by a Bergen County Zabriskie! My family is some line of Bergen County Zabriskies, but certainly not this one -my Grandfather, who was born in the early 1900’s was not from this kind of wealth AFAIK. You’ve given me something to investigate though.

  6. As usual, your scouting has pulled back a curtain. Your keen observances and the way you share them with photos (past and present) and running narrative are the sort of thing that makes Scouting New York so special.

    Should you ever focus on the French chateau replica that sits on the block next to where I live, and served as NYC’s first cancer hospital, I took photos during its restoration. Abandoned and in decay, it was frequently used as a film location, often by the Law & Order crew.

  7. Wow. Scout, you offer a lot of “scroll-down surprises” but this was one of the best EVER. I did NOT expect those two stories of stone to be from such a magnificent home!

    Is this stretch of the Palisades across from the Cloisters? I know the Rockefeller bought up a lot of the land on the Jersey side so as to preserve a tranquil, distraction-free view from the museum. I guess I’d always assumed that he bought land that was already pristine, not that he’d caused existing structures to be destroyed.

  8. Scout, I’ve traveled the Palisades Parkway everyday now for the better part of 4 years, and I have never seen that before, or even knew that there were mansions there!
    I’m glad that you are Scouting Rockland County. I remember when the Sopranos shot at my favorite pizza place, and ‘Riding in Cars with Boys’ shot their wedding scene at the old Church down the street by me. There’s a lot of untapped potential there. Especially since I tell people I live in Rockland County, and some people in NYC don’t know where it is!

  9. Fantastic post! Really enjoyed seeing the pictures of what it use to look like interspersed with the shots of the ruins today. Abandoned places are so very quiet that it can be a little spooky especially since there really could be other people lurking around. Alive and nutty/drugged is far more scary than any “ghosts.”

  10. Great find. Could you please post an approximate location on the Palisades, such as which exits this sits between? So other intrepid explorers can find this spot without getting in a car wreck..well done!

  11. Priscilla Ballou

    This is wonderful. Thank you for doing it. I grew up in NYC during the 1950s and 1960s, and this piece reminds me of how much fun it was to trace historical relics around the city. Lots of great history hidden just below a layer of nature taking back her own! Please keep it coming. :-)

  12. Wow! Great work on this one! This hurts my soul a bit, though. Even though it’s been years…what a loss! I may have to check this one out…to imagine all the life that passed through that place.

  13. The main impetus for Rockefeller’s actions to “protect” the Pallisaides from development was that he wanted to preserve the monastic view from The Cloisters. When you go there and look out of that medieval castle over the Hudson and you see “wilderness” (instead of condos), this is why. The sad part is that this house probably would have been razed and replace with a McMansion decades ago anyway, so I’d prefer to have the ruins of something great.

  14. This was so fascinating. What a wonderful story and the pictures were so great. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  15. What is with the ghost chair on the mid right in the photo of the ballroom? Spooky!

  16. Nice find :) My girlfriend and I have hiked extensively on the Long Path (green blazes) from State Line Lookout north and in Harriman State Park but sort of skipped the section where you found Cliffdale. We’ll be chkg it out soon! :)

    Other mansion ruins you might like (google em) are: Orak Mansion (in Harriman State Park); Van Slyke Mansion (near Oakland, NJ). Both are legally accessible on foot.

  17. Thank you so much for this beautiful post! I’m so happy to have found you. I’ve always wondered what a location scout did and how you guys find thiese locations. Having traveled Europe ten times, i’ve been in love with castles, art, architecture, etc., etc., etc, all my life. Facebook me if you care too!

  18. LOVED this post! Thanks so much for sharing your investigative work with us (and putting your life at risk by going into the basement!) It’s a bittersweet story of how the house fell into ruins.

  19. Again, excellent write-up Nick. Excellent before-and-after pics and as usual, your detective skills are in top form. :-)

    Thanks for sharing this find!

  20. Extremely deep and thoughtful….brings back to me my childhood memories of my ancestor’s house in Berhampore, West Bengal, India. When I was young the house was already in ruins due to lack of maintainability by our relatives who were running after individual careers after India won freedom and the feudal system was brought to an end. This house was actually a collection of big palace-like houses connected to each other in a queue, each meant for different purposes of the feudal system. I remember the broken staircase — so much similar to the one you found here …filled with fallen pieces of other parts….I remember as it was more a brick and cement construction the rubbish was like earth and made the halls look like made of earth. But one day I was playing with my cousin and started to dig and found the marble floor…it was a great discovery to me at the age of 6 or seven but was natural to my father who had small memories of his childhood when those places were much more alive.

  21. This is SO cool. Totally loved scrolling through the photos and reading about the structure. Thank you!!!!

  22. Yeah this is one of the highlights of the Long Trail along the Palisades’ NJ side. I did an extensive hike last year along the Shore Trail and the Long Trail, both of which have lots of ruins from the former mansions and beach communities, which fell into disuse with the ceasing of ferry service (mostly b/c of the new bridges that were built). You can see my description of the hike and some more photos – including of Cliff Dale – here http://www.avoidingregret.com/2009/07/long-path-to-sleep.html. Thanks for the historic pics for comparison!

  23. I’ve enjoyed this blog for a few months now, but with this entry you have outdone yourself. Thank you!

  24. next time you’re in the area, pull off a few minutes farther down the palisades at the state line lookout. park by the gift shop & take old 9w downhill ’til you reach the bend where it runs parallel to the NY/NJ state line. the path there will follow a brook that ends in a waterfall into the hudson… and the remains of mary lawrence tonetti’s pergola. it’s not as extensive or cool as these ruins– great shots, by the way!– but it’s a nice walk with a neat surprise at the end. (and a swing that goes out over the hudson!)

  25. Once again, thank you for opening my eyes! I grew up passing this and seeing it out of the corner of my eye, and never really wondering, at least not enough. This is why you are the film scout and not me!

    Now I have a strong desire to go dig up there and find things… there must be tons of great stuff

  26. I love your articles, particularly the UE kind of stuff. I just wish you had some more locations up Westchester way.

  27. Fantastic work finding this place, and thanks for the wonderful photo-essay. You are a true adventurer!

  28. What a wonderful post! Thank you for risking your life for us! :-)

    I’m not sure if fascination is the right word, but I am quite intrigued by the ruins of these great old houses. So often, there isn’t the “story” that this one had.

  29. Very cool post- gets the imagination going! Thanks for sharing

  30. EcstaticAsAlways

    I really enjoyed this. Being a Realtor® , I find your analysis of the actual and past photos incredibly interesting. If only all Title companies would keep this lovely a record of former dwellings, from the early homestead days, instead of just ownership name on the Chain of Title on microfilm.
    BLESS You for your appreciation for beauty, structure –AND nature.
    THANK You for your time, your sharing, and your heart.

  31. Very nice. Thanks for your effort and for sharing. I look forward to visiting the site someday.

  32. This house reminded me right away of where the Rachel Weisz character lived in the movie “The Brothers Bloom.”

  33. Thanks Scout! I’ve been a fan of your site for a while, and now you’ve given me a great place to go hiking this weekend!

  34. oh, and to Ken Mac and some of the others wondering about the exact location of the ruins, the Palisades park has hiking maps, etc that gives more details. . . http://www.njpalisades.org/

  35. Have you done any research on my great grandparents’ estate,Henry Fairfield and Lucretia Perry Osborn, often referred to as the “Castle”?

  36. Being an avid history buff, outdoorsman, and amateur photographer stumbling upon this site nearly had me jumping around the room. So I said to the lady, “Hun, we’re going on a hike to find some old building,” and she was instantly excited. Unfortunately we hiked for almost 5 hours and did not find the manor. Upon returning home we realized we were probably a 1/4 mile away from it when we had given up do to nightfall. But we found one basement/foundation under some trees and foliage which was exciting. But once dusk hit and we saw a couple trees with what looked like bear marks (tree bark freshly removed from trees at heights greater than a deer could produce) we decided to stray closer to the highway and avoid danger. One word of warning to anyone going there…make sure you’re prepared. My lady suffered a tick bite mid calf from our excursion. Some mild antibiotics and all will be well. Aside from the pricker bushes that seemed to be the only real danger we were in.
    We’re definitely going back next weekend and we will post our findings on either one of our flicker accounts or on facebook. I will post back soon.
    On another note, are there other “explorers” out there interested in examining forgotten ny/nj history? We’d love to start a group with monthly outings. email me if youre interested and I’ll start setting something up (jeffreycpackard@gmail.com).
    Thanks for posting this up, the past/present picture comparisons, and for posting your historical research. Very exciting.

    -Jeff

  37. Some of my family once lived on a Zabriskie Street in Haledon, NJ…. likely named after the same fellow, I would venture.

    So strange how some of these mansions remained intact (Lambert Castle in NJ, innumerable homes along the Hudson) and some of them fell into ruins! Reminds me of Bannerman Castle in the Hudson, which is probably one of my favourites.

  38. A bit farther north of the Cliff Side location is Camp Alpine, a large Boy Scouts campground. When I was a scout leader about 20 years ago, we used to take the boys for hikes along the Palisades trails when we’d camp at Alpine. We never headed south, but northward, there were a few stone lookouts, very similar to the stonework on Cliff Side. We had a massive snowball war on one winter trip there. Exciting surprises are all over that park, especially when you are with youngsters. Wish we’d known to head south in those days. I’d love to have shown Cliff Side to them.

  39. This is fantastic! Great work. We’re thinking of taking our Scouts there now.

  40. Thanks for posting this. Since your post, I’ve driven past this site about 5 times. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed this before. Now that the weather is getting warmer, I think a hike up there is definitely going to happen soon.

    I’d love to see what else you find in Rockland.

  41. Fascinating. This reminds me of a structure that can be seen near Beaver Lake — no, make that IN Beaver Lake near Rogers, Arkansas. An entrepreneur named William “Coin” Harvey began building a resort near the White River in Northwest Arkansas in 1901. It operated until 1930, when the coming of the Great Depression caused it to be shut down. In the 1960s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Beaver Dam on the White River which created beaver Lake, and what was left of Monte Ne was mostly submerged; depending on the lake level, parts of it are sometimes revealed. More information at http://tinyurl.com/d4kqnb and http://tinyurl.com/45wxtt9

  42. Thanks for this. We went there today, and ran into another couple who also were there bc of your blog. Beautiful day, great hike, cool location.

  43. Thanks for solving this mystery that I’ve wondered about since I was a child growing up in Rockland.

  44. Sydney E. Smith

    Thank You! I guess Rockefeller did the right thing, but I wish the palisades were full of walk ways and restaurants.

  45. Great article!

  46. There is a hike near Woodstock, NY where you can visit the remnants of an abandoned hotel called Overlook Hotel (like in “The Shining”). It’s pretty great.

  47. I am crazy about old ruins, abandoned residences, buildings, etc and this blog is just AMAZING

    thank you so much

    Greetings from Germany

  48. Just finished hiking that section of the Long path weeks ago with my kids and stopped there as I always did ever since I was a teen. Now 41 and in this day and age I figured we could do a little better than 1913. Man were we floored. I punch in ruins along the palisades and we see this. As a kid and up until recently I always imagined what it was. It took my breath away. I have so many similar pictures over the years this made my day. You have done all the leg work and did it well. Thank you. I have so many friend who will enjoy this as much as me. PEACE

  49. Just finished hiking that section of the Long path weeks ago with my kids and stopped there as I always did ever since I was a teen. Now 41 and in this day and age I figured we could do a little better than 1913. Man were we floored. I punch in ruins along the palisades and we see this. As a kid and up until recently I always imagined what it was. It took my breath away. I have so many similar pictures over the years this made my day. You have done all the leg work and did it well. Thank you. I have so many friend who will enjoy this as much as me. PEACE

  50. Just visited today, the lookout is the Alpine lookout.
    We timed it, a 13 minute walk.
    Were told they ticket cars at the lot longer than 20mins… We didn’t get ticketed on a Sunday.
    Go in winter, fall the views were obstructed but still cool to see…

  51. William I. Zabriskie

    We loved your pictures and story of Uncle George’s house and property on the Palisades.I can barely remember going there as a kid visiting. This George was my great uncle. I’ll send your address around to the family Bill Zabriskie

  52. William I. Zabriskie, Jr.

    It was a real pleasure to see Uncle George’s house on the Palisades. I visited there a few times as a kid, but was only 5 in 1930. I don’t think I have any information on this house, but do have some on in house in Florida. I’ll send your address to our kids. Thanks for all the work.

  53. Came across your website and you convinced me to get out there and check it out myself. I got a ton of camera equipment for christmas and have been exploring abandoned places in NY, NJ and PA and when I found your site and the chance to actually get so close to an abandoned places, I said lets go. Thanks for your awesome photos and for getting me to go explore it for myself! Any other abandoned places that you can recommend?

  54. I just hiked to this spot today, what an incredible place this must have been. I have very mixed feelings about what Rockefeller did. We are all grateful that the upper Palisades were saved from the kind of development that dominates the cliff line south of the GW bridge. But why destroy beautiful mansions like these? Imagine this structure as a visitor’s center to the park. The building was only thirty years old when razed. They don’t build them like this anymore. Nobody knocked down Kuykuit, Mr. Rockefeller.

  55. i loved the photo’s…i have visited the area but never saw the structure…i will get my hiking shoe’s and head over there asap. thanks again. bill

  56. Back in the mid 1970s I visited what appeared to be an abandoned factory or industrial building on the Palisades somewhere around Alpine, NJ. I remember large electrical panels and huge switches inside. Does anyone know anything about this site? Where and what it was and if it still exists?

    • I also remember in the early 70’s discovering the remains/foundation of some sort of building that definitely was not a residence. It was very near the Woman’s Foundation Monument. The structure seemed to be in a circular or semi-circular shape and looked like it was a series of
      horse stables. And I do remember a lot of electrical wiring laying on the ground.

    • I recall from the 50’s and 60’s there was a strange building with rounded walls and electrical junk in it. We used to say it belonged to a guy who was searching for a cure to the common cold? Across from Alpine and between the PIP and the cliffs. It used to be visible from the parkway about 50 years ago. As I recall, we got to it by parking at one of the rest areas and walking south. We had to climb out around a chain link fence that stuck out beyond the edge of the cliff, but we got to the building. Among other things, we saw a phone with a bunch of buttons on it – cool technology for the day!

  57. A wonderful find! I am a Zabriskie relative and looking for more info on the family. This site will rate up there with one of the best sources of info of one of their houses. Many thanks!

  58. Wow!! What a wonderful find and a horrible loss of an amazing estate!

  59. That was absolutely fabulous! I can’t say when I have enjoyed anything more than this…. I was born and raised in NJ but now live in FL, so I can’t visit it. Sure wish I could. I would love to ramble through those old walls…. THANKS!

  60. Doing some geneology research and came across this–really well done! My husband’s a Zabriskie on his mother’s side, so it was a double treat!

  61. The old photos really brought this place back to life for me. I have been hiking these cliffs since the mid 70’s and loved exploring the ruins. I have been checking out your site for almost a year now and just wanted to say thanks for the investigative photo story.

  62. This is awesome! I would love to find places like this to explore. I did some in Bar Harbor, ME.

  63. Terrific Job! Thanks so much!

  64. This is awesome! I hiked here in 1979 when I was a kid with my dad and brother and have always wondered where it was! Thanks!

  65. On the East side of 9W just about where the exit for Hillside Ave/Cresskill and Dumont is, is the remains of a stone wall with wrought iron gates. About a quarter mile south of the Hillside Avenue exit on 9W were two stone columns over grown with shrubs wide enough for a car or horse and buggy. And on the right column was the word “Dale”. Makes sense to me now that quite possibly on the left column was the word “Cliff” This quite possibly was one of the entrances or the main entrance to Cliff Dale Manor.

  66. On the East side of 9W just about where the exit for Hillside Ave/Cresskill and Dumont is, is the remains of a stone wall with wrought iron gates. About a quarter mile south of the Hillside Avenue exit on 9W were two stone columns over grown with shrubs wide enough for a car or horse and buggy. And on the right column was the word “Dale”. Makes sense to me now that quite possibly on the left column was the word “Cliff.” This could have been one of the entrances or the main entrance to Cliff Dale Manor.

  67. Great photographs! I have an oil painting done by George A. Zabriskie and dated 1909. I came across this site while researching him. Does anyone know if he was known as a painter? Thanks

    • Wow! I am his great niece and I have a huge amount of info on him, he published books but I never heard of him as a painter. I would love to see it if you have a pic. If you would like to know anything please let me know as I just finished 1000 page ancestry on this part of the family.

  68. I just stumbled across your pictures and it brings back many memories of my childhood in Alpine in Tenafly.as kids we would explore the Palisades and came upon the ruins back in the early 60’s.I think that there was also the rianda property and Rio Vista. Thank you for the beautiful pictures and your article it put a smile on my face with great memories

  69. Virginia Boyle Traver

    Thanks for clearing up the mystery! I walked the Long Path through Palisades Park yesterday with my family, and wondered about all the evidence of former mansions.

  70. This home belonged to my grandmother’s uncle.
    Her name was Marjorie Zabriskie. She grew up in Oradell, NJ.

  71. This house was my grandmother’s uncle George’s house. The pictures were my grandmothers and were given to the palisades by my family. I am so glad for your interest, as this story is very special to me.

  72. First time here..wonderful pics and commentary. I look around sites and see the old mansions of old…..I know it would be to costly to “make them new” but my heart hurts as I see them and what might have been all those years ago. If walls could talk….and maybe a romance history to much. I am saddened when I hear or see all of the intricite work and woods used in these lovely homes. Sometimes I wonder if all the rooms really got used or furnished or……just thoughts…Seeing pics of the Norconian Hotel in CA……more wishes. thank you for your work and pictures.

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