Sometimes it’s a breath of fresh air to take a walk through the woods and not have to worry about the police showing up.
Hidden away in the forest are a small collection of ruins from the Cornish Estate (otherwise known as Northgate the the people who lived there). In 1917, Edward J. Cornish and his wife, Selina, purchased the 650 acre estate from a Chicago diamond merchant Sigmud Stern, who had built the estate 5 years earlier. At the time, the area was subject to intense mining projects, ones that threatened to destroy the face of nearby Mount Taurus. Edward, whose home was close enough to the quarries that it shook with every blast, began to worry about protecting his property as his health began to fail in the 1930s. He offered his estate for sale to the Taconic State Park Commission in 1936, however they declined claiming that the site was “not at all adaptable for a park area,” despite developing parks on several properties nearby (I’m going to take a wild guess that they soon regretted that decision).
In 1938 Edward died from heart disease at his desk at the National Gas Company, located at 111 Broadway in Manhattan. His wife passed away two weeks later. With both of the owners gone, the property soon fell into disrepair, despite it being under under the care of the couple’s nephew. Finally, a fire destroyed a majority of the mansion in 1956. Briefly the Central Hudson Gas & Electric company bought the property with the idea of building a power plant on the scenic spot, but thankfully those plans fell through and by the late 60s the property was sold (this time successfully) to the Taconic State Park Commission and became a part of Highlands State Park.
To access the ruins, you must pick one of the trails that are a part of the park, which runs along route 9D. There are several trail entrances so it was mildly confusing, but luckily we live in the time of Google Maps. Originally, I read that Breakneck Ridge was the trail to take. It would take you past a beautiful view the Hudson River and Bannerman’s Castle before leading you to the ruins. Online, the trail was listed as a “moderate” difficulty.
Fuck you to whomever made that rating.
It was a steep incline up rocks that we
walked scaled up for probably 20-30 minutes. I am not in the most incredible shape of my life, but I would like to think I’m in OK shape. I am a tap dancer and keep active regularly, but holy shit, this kicked my ass. I was also not prepared to do any serious climbing. Before we headed any further, we took a better look at the trail and realized that it’s a 3-4 hour hike. It was July. It was hot as shit. No thanks.
We were really not equipped to do a 4 hour hike scaling rocks and crawling over trees. It’s called Breakneck Ridge. I should’ve known better. So we climbed our way back down (but not before some smug jock tried to take a picture with us because he thought we were dressed funny), and found the trail head for the Cornish Trail, located shortly down the road.
For those of you who do not wish to go on an adventure hike, the Cornish Trail is a leisurely walk down a beautiful wooded path that opens right up to what’s left of the estate’s mansion. It was maybe a 5 minute walk. I could only laugh at how easy that path was as opposed to our aforementioned expedition.
The ruins were stunning, despite having an obnoxious fashion shoot happening during our visit. (Look sad and distant while you wave this piece of chiffon in the air. Perfect. Now let me turn up my techno). The only remains of the building are a peculiar stack of fireplaces and some of the stone walls. As you walk further down the trail, the fate of the rest of the estate is similar – stone walls are being overtaken by the vegetation, with sticks of a roof barely hanging on. Other remnants that can be found are the former swimming pool, barn, and misc. smaller buildings.
Until recently, the history of the estate remained a mystery with not much recorded about it’s origins or the Cornish family. In June 2014, researchers Rob Yasinsac and Tom Rinaldi published an 11-page article finally detailing its history along with never before seen photos of the original estate in the Hudson River Valley Review. For those interested in learning more on this forgotten piece of Hudson Valley history, you can purchase it for $15.
There are also several restoration efforts that have also gone underway, including cleaning up the brush and the vegetation around the estate and even re-building the original gazebo which once stood on the grounds. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s nice to see a piece of history given a little bit more time.