Daycation Destination: The Hidden Palisades
Above the river and through the woods there remains some interesting remains.
I don't know about you, but these daycations are are wearing me out! That's why this week we're keeping it on the down-low and staying close to home. No traffic, no feasts, no off-beat boardwalk folk. Just the wide open space of the Palisades. Best part? You can bring your faithful companion with you. Yes, the dog.
Our first destination atop the cliffs of the Palisades is the Women’s Federation Monument, a miniature castle situated deep within this sylvan paradise.
The most direct way to get to the monument is from 9W right near the Boy Scout Camp. There you will find a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Palisade Interstate Parkway from 9W. Just follow the blue-and-white-blazed Forest View Trail and you'll be at the monument in minutes. You can also park at State Line Lookout on the PIP where a free map will direct you to the monument. (There's free parking at State Line Lookout.)
The Women’s Federation Monument is a miniature blue stone castle dedicated April 1929 to commemorate the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs and their work in not only having the Palisades preserved, but in establishing the Palisade Interstate Park Commission. .
The history of the Federation’s involvement in preservation began in the late 19thCentury, a time when quarries had begun to blast significant amounts of the Palisades for blue stone, gravel for roads, and broken stone for concrete.
The Englewood Women’s Club worked arduously to get the New Jersey Federation of Women’s Clubs involved in their cause and in 1897, leaders of the Federation took a yacht trip to view the destruction first-hand. That is when they decided that the Palisades must be saved.
In 1900, New Jersey Governor Foster Vorhees joined with New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt in signing legislation that would form an Interstate Commission empowered to acquire and manage the Palisades lands. Money and support from powerful men such as J.P. Morgan enabled the newly formed Commission to buy out the quarries.
One of the first things that the newly formed Commission did was to acquire a piece of land atop the Palisades in Alpine and name it “Federation Park” in honor of these pioneering women. They planned to erect a monument to the Women’s Clubs where the magnificent view of the Hudson and the sweeping view of New York could be appreciated.
The Women’s Federation Castle is now a part of the New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail noted for planting the seeds that would lead to the passing of the amendment that would give all American women the right to vote.
Walking south on the trail from the Women's Federation Monument you will come across the remains of the Ringling house, Gray Crag, that sat atop the cliffs almost 100 years ago. That would be Ringling as in Ringling Brothers Circus. For those of you who have read Water for Elephants, or have seen the film, you know that Ringling Brothers Circus is the central competitor around which much of the action of the story revolves. Knowing the history behind the story, visiting this part of the Palisades, and seeing what remains of the estate and the gardens is fascinating.
John Ringling and his brothers began in the circus business in the 1880’s traveling the country looking for new acts to add to their show. In 1905 John married Mabel Burton in Hoboken, and in 1907 he and his brothers bought the Barnum & Bailey circus for $400,000 and began to market their new circus empire as The Greatest Show on Earth. In 1918 he purchased and merged two properties on top of the Palisades and created a one-hundred acre estate called Gray Crag, aptly named after the cracked rock that marks that part of the Palisades. This estate served as the Ringling’s summer home throughout the 1920’s.
By the time he arrived atop the Palisades, John Ringling had already made his fortune in the circus business and now turned his attention to other interests such as collecting fine art and real estate. Because a section of Gray Crag leading to the edge of the cliffs contains a large chasm, he built a concrete span bridge with steel supports (overlaid with wood veneer to lend the appearance of a rustic bridge). This foot bridge crosses over a deep chasm and takes you to a free standing pillar of rock upon which you have access to the most spectacular view of not only the Hudson River, but of New York.
From this scenic vantage point of Gray Crag you can look straight down (about 40 stories down to be exact) to the Hudson River. Stories tell how one weekend every summer John and Mabel Ringling invited all the circus performers and workers to Gray Crag and entertained them. Imagine those parties with those people! The remains of their garden are still quite visible today as you look around and see flowering plants not native to the Palisades: endless vines of blooming wisteria, bursts of orange blossoms, and other ornamental flowers that blanket the ground.
So take a leisurely weekend walk back in time along the Palisades and don't forget to bring your camera.