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abandoned places

Ghost Town

This tag is associated with 2 posts

The Trapps Mountain Hamlet, Backwoods Ghost Town

A night at the 87 Motel in New Paltz.

If you’re like me, city living can wear you down—sooner or later, you’re itching for the woods again.  The sleepy college town of New Paltz offers a cheap motel and a short proximity to Mohonk Preserve, 5,000 acres of hiking trails, swimming holes, and rock scrambles nestled deep in the ancient Palisades.  The world-worn hills of the Shawangunk Ridge evoke a pleasing sense of permanence to the weary New Yorker, it’s a lifetime away from the teeming avenues of Manhattan.  Time seems to stand still around here, but out in these tall timbers, the ruins of a 19th century ghost town hint at a lost way of life.

The area is known for its landmark luxury resort, the Mohonk Mountain House, which has been run by the same family since it opened in 1869.  True to its Quaker roots, the hotel originally banned liquor, dancing, and card playing; until 2006, it couldn’t claim a bar, and you still won’t find a TV or radio in any of the $700 a night lodgings.  It may sound old-fashioned, but it’s part of a tradition in these parts—since they were first settled in the late 1700s, things have always been behind the times.

The Fowler Burial Ground.

Before the age of mountain tourism, a small subsistence community lived off this land, growing what little food the thin, rocky soil could support, raising a handful of livestock, drinking from the Coxing and Peter’s Kills.  They scraped a living carving millstone out of native rock, shaving barrel hoops, and harvesting tree bark for leather tanning.  In the summer, women and children joined in harvesting huckleberries, a seasonal cash crop in wild abundance at the time.

With a peak population of forty or fifty families, the settlement included a hotel, a store, a chapel, and a one room schoolhouse.  Despite this progress, the population held to its old ways.  So hopelessly and wonderfully at odds with the changing values of the outside world, this oldfangled hamlet didn’t stand a chance.

Starting in the late 1800s, advances in technology gradually replaced the small trades of the Trapps.  Unable to sell their traditional wares, settlers found work in neighboring resorts, including the Mohonk Mountain House, building hotels and maintaining trails and carriage roads. In the late 20s, the construction of Route 44 created a short term boom in the town’s employment, but eventually led to its decline.

Many sold their property to resort owners and headed to nearby villages to find a better way of life, but one man called Eli Van Leuven stayed behind, living in a tiny plank house without running water or electricity until his death in 1956.

The Van Leuven Cabin has been lovingly restored, an unassuming monument to a largely forgotten community.  Aside from this, the humble industries of the two score families that resided here have left little to mark them but shallow depressions in the ground, rubble stacked in odd arrangements, and leaf-littered tombstones.  Only a settlement so bound to the earth could disappear so completely.

On the drive home, the first sighting of the Manhattan skyline elicits a kind of dull horror, signaling the inevitable return to a concrete-bound existence.  As I’m plunged back into the 21st century, the scene is at once overstimulating and shockingly mundane.  In that moment, I’d take an axe and a cool morning in a mountain hamlet over any day in the ad-plastered streets of midtown, but the daydreams invariably dissolve.  Out of habit, obligation, or common sense, I’ll forget the plank house for the brownstone, the Coxing Kill for the coffee shop, as the stony ruins of a mountain town blanket themselves in moss.

-Will Ellis

The Clearwater Ruins are some of the best preserved.

Former site of the Enderly House, most structures incorporated Native American techniques into their construction.

Unfinished work in the millstone quarry.

Path to the Van Leuven Cabin.

The fully restored cabin, constructed in 1889, is occasionally open for tour groups.

This road was built in large part by Trapps Hamlet residents.  Today, it glides through the heart of the ghost town.

Route 44, the road to ruins.

This boundary wall was used to delineate the property of Benjamin Fowler, who owned 150 acres for farming, livestock, and family use.

Many of Benjamin’s young children are buried in this forest plot. This grave for his son William is the earliest, dating to 1866.

The motel pond by night.

Stadium proportions of a New Paltz grocery, a far cry from the corner bodega.

At Split Rock swimming hole.

Bonticou Crag

Climbing to the top of Bonticou Crag.

In the nearby Minnewaska State Park, the Awosting Falls swells from a mid-August downpour.

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For more abandoned places in the rural Hudson River Valley, see:

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Inside Fort Totten: Part 1

Fort Totten

An abandoned battery at Fort Totten

Fort Totten sits on a far-flung peninsula of the Long Island Sound, forming the Northeast corner of Queens.  The grounds of this defunct military installation turned underfunded public park are home to over 100 historic buildings representing a series of changes that have taken place over the area’s quiet 200 year history.  Unfortunately, the majority of these stuctures have been disused for decades, and many are in a state of progressive collapse.  With so much of Fort Totten closed off with caution tape, overtaken with vines, or hidden beneath rusty fences, it makes for an unconventional park, but a fascinating place to wander.

An 1829 farmhouse predating the land’s military use crumbles behind a weedy barricade; out front, a prominent sign bears the inscription: “Please Excuse My Appearance, I am a Candidate for Historical Preservation.”  It’s an image that typifies the current state of affairs in the Fort Totten Historic District.

On the northern tip of Willet’s Point, a monumental granite fortification constructed during the Civil War as a key component of the defense of the New York Harbor sits unoccupied, though it’s used as a haunted house on occasion.  Clustered on the rest of the grounds, dozens of dilapidated Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne Style officers’ quarters, hospitals, bakeries, movie theatres, and laboratories vie for restoration, but so far the funding has failed to materialize.

Fort Totten

The Willet Farmhouse, Fort Totten’s oldest structure, and one of the most at risk.

One such building, a two-story YMCA facility built in 1926, has been abandoned for close to 20 years, but much of what’s left behind lies undisturbed.  On a bulletin board in an upstairs landing, a 1995 thank-you letter from a kindergarten class at PS 201 hangs by a crude depiction of Santa Claus, both lovingly dedicated to an Officer Rivera.  Steps away, in a rotting book room, an incongruous stash of 80s porno magazines.

Most recently used as a community relations unit of the New York City Police Department, the building is cluttered with mattresses, discarded packaging, and unopened toy donations.  The New York City Fire Department, which now operates training facilities in a renovation abutting the hospital building, currently uses the attached gymnasium as a storage space.  The basement was filled with rusted-through shelving and ruined equipment, flooded and too dark to shoot.

The Battery

An overgrown pit in a World War I battery.

On the other side of the peninsula, a series of concrete batteries sit half-submerged in plant life.  These were constructed at the turn of the century, but by 1938, they were declared obsolete and subsequently abandoned.  The boxy design looks like modern architecture to me, but the battery reveals its true age in other ways.

Pencil-thin stalactites ornament the ceiling wherever the rain gets in, suspended over a crank-operated machine designed to lift heavy weaponry a century ago.  The network of maze-like tunnels feature arched hallways with metal doors, winding staircases, and yawning pits, all fit for a dungeon.  Guards stationed at the fort were laid off in 2009, and it was unclear on my visit if the area was open to the public or not.  A rusty barrier, more hole than fence, didn’t keep out a couple of high school kids, but offered a spot for them to park their bikes.

When the military base changed hands in 2005 and became an official New York City Park, Bloomberg predicted that Fort Totten was “certain to become one of New York’s most popular parks.”  Some community members feared that the estimated 450,000 yearly visitors would disrupt parking, increase crime, and change the face of the neighborhood, but ten years later, tourism has yet to pose a problem.

Fort Totten hasn’t lived up to its potential just yet, but the progress that has been made gives hope for improvements to come.  The park now offers regular events and educational programs to draw visitors and enrich the surrounding community.  Several nonprofit groups have occupied and renovated the decrepit buildings, including the landmarked Officers’ Club, which now serves the Bayside Historical Society as an educational facility and exhibition and event space.  These are small but significant victories in the effort to save the historic legacy of a little-known plot that could be the crown jewel of Queens parkland.

(Though in some cases, it may be too little, too late.  One look inside the profoundly decayed Fort Totten Army Hospital, in Part 2 of this post, will assure you of that.)

-Will Ellis

Related Links:
Fort Totten

This obscure Queens park doubles as a ghost town.

YMCA Exterior

The YMCA building partially obscured by monstrous vegetation. On the left, a new renovation.

Inside Fort Totten

Inside, a rusty scale abandoned in the lobby.

Inside Fort Totten

An emptied snack bar once served concessions at sporting events and amateur theatre.

Inside Fort Totten

A community kitchenette still held pots, pans, and complete place settings.

Inside Fort Totten

A bulletin board on the second floor that hadn’t been updated in 17 years.

Inside Fort Totten

This room must have provided temporary housing to minors.  The floor was littered with clothing and old English projects.

Fort Totten

In the opposite corner, a derelict dollhouse. If I had been in the Twilight Zone, I’d have found a miniature me in there.

Inside Fort Totten

The remains of a rotting book room, which also housed a store of nudie magazines.

Inside Fort Totten

Through the library, a crumbling projection room overlooking the YMCA gymnatorium.

Inside Fort Totten

Daylight spills onto the practical planes of an underground battery.

Inside Fort Totten

Other areas had vaulted ceilings and arched double doors.

Inside Fort Totten

The interiors were almost completely empty, except for a dusting of dirt and leaf litter.

Inside Fort Totten

Some rooms held a few remnants…

Inside Fort Totten

Like this one: 100-year-old machinery in a dark Fort Totten nook.

Queens is quickly becoming my favorite borough.  Check out:
Fort Totten Army Hospital

Click through for Part Two: The Fort Totten Army Hospital

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