Photo from MinskysAbandoned.com
If you’ve been following this blog at all, you’ll know that I have a special interest in ruins. From Elda Castle, to the Kress Estate, to the Brandywine Estate, to Rockwood – there’s a plethora of them to explore in the area. Few things are more exciting to me than discovering overgrown ruins hidden in the woods (someday I will write about stumbling upon the Ouvrage La Ferte in the Ardennes sector of the Maginot Line in France in 1984, but that’s a tale for another time.)
There’s something deeply compelling (and rather tragic) about the disintegration of grand, rich houses. It’s a reminder of a past when the barons of industry and arts purchased great swaths of Westchester/Putnam land at the turn of the 20th century and built elaborate country manors. It’s also a reminder of the strength of mother nature and the vicissitudes of life – nothing stands forever.
The Cornish Estate is definitely up there as a remarkable example of an elegant, early 20th century country home that has fallen on hard times. Located just south of Breakneck Ridge in Garrison, you park at the brand spanking new Washburn trailhead and parking lot. We hiked a whole loop, that takes you past an old quarry (which is unusual in its flatness), but you can also do an easy hike up the old driveway straight to the Cornish ruins. Check out this link for a hiking map.
(And yes, I know this isn’t technically within the geographical purview of the Ossining History on the Run area. But I make the rules, so I’m making an exception. I mean, this is just too cool to ignore!)
Built in the 1910s by diamond merchant Sigmund Stern, the estate was originally dubbed “Northgate.” According to Rob Yasinac at Hudson Valley Ruins.org, Sigmund Stern was actively involved in the adjacent Surprise Lake Camp, serving on its Board and selling parcels of land to the camp. (To digress, Surprise Lake Camp is still in existence and is probably one of the first Jewish camps organized in America.) Supposedly, and I cannot confirm this, the architecture of both the Northgate estate house and the main building of Surprise Lake Camp were very similar and built at around the same time. For what it’s worth, I read through this pamphlet on the history of Surprise Lake Camp and could find no mention of a Sigmund Stern. (But there’s lots on Eddie Cantor, an early camper and lifelong supporter.)
Sigmund, it seems, did not spend long at Northgate, selling both the house and the surrounding 650 acres in 1916 to Edward and Selina Cornish. They lived there until 1938, when Edward tragically dropped dead at his desk at the National Lead Company. Selina followed him to the grave two weeks later. After that, it seems that some relatives of the Cornishes lived there until the 1950s, but I couldn’t discover much about that period.
Here’s what it looked like in its prime:
Photo from MinskysAbandoned.com
You can still see the remains of a freshwater, gravity-fed swimming pool, a greenhouse, a pump house some distance away on the creek and a large stone barn. Rob Yasinac asserts that “Cornish raised prize jersey cows here and newspaper articles of the 1920s chronicled the record-setting milk producing efforts of Cornishes dairy cows, including one named ‘Fon Owlet.'” Alas, I have not been able to locate these newspaper articles. . .
In 1958, the house was mostly destroyed by fire. The heirs to the Cornish family sold the property to Central Hudson Gas and Electric, who were planning to build a power plant on the site. (This was around the same time that Con Edison wanted to build a power plant on Storm King Mountain right across the river.) After various local conservation groups fought the project, CHG&E gave up and sold or donated the land to the Hudson Highlands State Park. (Fun fact, the Con Ed power-plant-on-Storm-King idea was active until the 1980s. How lucky we are that neither plant was built.)
Check out Minsky’s Abandoned for more photos of the current state of the ruins.
And for more pictures of the estate in its prime, please visit this link (I’d reproduce the photos here for you, but the website specifically asks one not to.)