As you round a clear blue lake, a second, smaller path winds away from the main trail. Up this path, on a peak covered with flowers, lie the remains of a vast stone edifice.
This is Van Slyke Castle in Ramapo State Forest in Oakland, NJ, just 30 miles from midtown Manhattan. I visited with a friend last week and was mesmerized by the spooky ruins and the beautiful natural setting.
Van Slyke Castle was built by a wealthy stockbroker named William Porter at the beginning of the 20th century. After his death in a car crash, his widow Ruth married attorney Warren Van Slyke, who lent his name to the manse.
After Ruth’s death, the castle fell into disrepair, and burned down in 1959:
Ruth died in 1940, leaving the castle without an owner for nine years. It was finally purchased in 1949 by a couple who subsequently resold the property two years later to Suzanne S. Christie. She abandoned it shortly after. No one knows why she left the place, though it’s suspected it could have been the result of a bitter divorce.
After years of desertion, the mansion met its fiery demise when vandals broke in and set the place ablaze.
More on the history of the castle here.
The stone ruins are expansive. Though the structure is overgrown, the pipes are still visible and behind the house is the remains of a large swimming pool.
Beautiful flowers are everywhere. Perhaps Ruth Van Slyke planted them? From the peak, you can see the New York City skyline in silhouette in the distance, a marked contrast to the woodsy surroundings.
My friend and I lied on a rock near the castle and enjoyed the sun, flowers, and beautiful lake view. As we descended, I reflected on how amazing it is that inside this beautiful woods was a grand castle we could’ve easily missed.
If you haven’t been to Ramapo State Forest, I strongly recommend it! The scenery is beautiful and the hiking is easy. Add great views and the odd chipmunk, and it’s hard to beat!
Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:
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