In 1969, my father finished his master’s at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy NY ahead of being assigned to the math department at the United States Military Academy at West Point. We were all very excited about the prospect of moving to West Point with promises of a "kid's paradise". A post my parents boasted of the zillions of other children we could play with. Much to our disappointment though, the housing area in which our family drew quarters was still under construction and way behind schedule. This meant having to live off post for the first of our three year assignment in rental property. So it was in the summer of love that the Phillips family moved into what we came to refer to as "Greystone Mansion". I don't know if we concocted that name, or whether that was it's official moniker, but that's what we called our new home.
Greystone was an old hotel nestled against the west side of the Hudson River. it's entrance was off of old route 9W in Highland Falls, NY, between the Veteran's Cemetary and a Church. It had stone piller markers which flanked the entrance to it's long switchback driveway. We shared this enormous place with an older retired couple (Mr. and Mrs. Pierson [sp?]). To the best of my fading recollection, the old hotel was essentially divided in half with the two occupants sharing the main winding staircase in the majestic foyer to access the upstairs bed rooms. The place had a huge yard with a patio area that butted up to the cliff that looked out over the river where I can imagine guests once dined al fresco in the warmer Hudson Valley seasons. There were so many rooms that all five of us could have had our own, but I remember us choosing to bunk together (me with my brother and my two oldest sisters together. Michele was only a baby having been born in January of that year).
At first it was cool living there. There were the cheap rooms in the basement that still had the old timey metal headboards in them. It was a perfect set for a scary movie. The big yard was cool too, but it didn’t take long for all of us to get sick of each other and realize we were isolated from the rest of the world. The highlight of our day was my father coming home for lunch dressed in his army green fatigues driving a jeep he’d filtch from the motor pool every now and then. After lunch, he’d drive us up to the top of the driveway in it, drop us off, and head back to work. We’d then walk down the long drive and back to our boredom. I’m not completely sure, but I think my folks loved living there. There was plenty of room for once in their young married lives after having just moved from some tiny quarters we occupied on Watervliet Arsenal back in Albany. They hosted many parties and we had my grandparents up for Christmas that year (the picture at the top is of my grandfather who was more than a little aggravated to discover that the white Christmas we had would prevent him and my grandma from beating a quick path home to NC after being driven nuts by the likes of five kids, a dog, and a cat for a couple of days). Greystone had a huge kitchen, cavernous marble dining room space that also double as our living room, crystal chandeliers, etc... all the accoutrements you’d expect to find in a 19th century upscale hotel. Given the vastness of the grounds, It seemed that Greystone was the default location for all multi-family events with my parents friends. The fact that it was off post more than likely gave the place added attraction since the young officers could relax a little out of the eye of senior staff.
In the spring of 1970, our new quarters were completed in the Stony Lonesome Housing Area on post and we left the loneliness of Greystone Mansion for the zillion kids we were originally promised the year prior. For us kids we couldn’t wait. In preparation for the move, my folks had reason to go up into the attic of the old hotel to retrive some stuff stored up there. The attic was unexplored territory, so we jumped at the chance to follow them up and stir up some dust. In the attic we discovered all kinds of relics from the days when this hotel was amongst the swankiest digs in all of the Highlands. I remember pictures, old registries, bills, menus, advertisements, etc… The coolest thing was a document that mentioned the location of a hidden wine cellar where illegal booze was stored during the prohibition era. We dug through the old coat check room and sure enough there it was, an old trap door to a very scary, dark, and cold wine cellar littered with broken bottles and cobwebs. Why my folks failed to grab one of the menus from the attic remains a complete mystery.
After moving on post to Stony Lonesome, none of us ever gave Greystone as much as another thought. Afterall, who'd want to remeber all that loneliness. Years later as an adult though, I decided to take the turn off old 9W and see what the place looked like. It had security cameras at the top of the drive and a chain across the road. I, of course, ignored these and let myself down the road. As I parked and got out my car, I was immediately met by two young women screaming at me, “get the hell of here!” before I could even make my nostalgic appeal. I think the year was 1985 when I made that trek down the hill and even though my inspection time was brief, Greystone looked exactly as I remembered it in my youth.
Years later, I again mustered some bravery and took the ride down the hill in the hopes that the buzzards that lived there would allow me a few moments on the grounds to perhaps photograph the place. Much to my dismay and sadness I discovered the place had been torn down. Not a brick or foundation remained. How could someone have torn down such a beautiful place? They better have had a damn good reason.
Which brings us current my readers. While up in the area during the holidays, my dear friend and frequent IDM reader, Hairdresser to the Stars, gave me a most awesome book as a Christmas gift titled “Images of America: Highlands” by Ronnie Clark Coffey. Within it's pages is a complete photo history of my beloved Highlands. There is an entire chapter dedicated to the hotels that catered to Highlands visitors over the centuries. I was very excited about the prospect of seeing the old Greystone Mansion in it’s heyday and perhaps glean some historical info about the place. I was most disappointed to find nary a mention.
What was this strange and beautifully lonely place that I remember as a six year old? How could it disappear and not even warrant a mention in any book I’ve read about the Highlands? Fortunately, there is hope in getting some answers. Hairdresser to the Stars knows the author of this book and could perhaps put me in touch with the Highland Falls Historical Society who might be able to tell us something about this once magnificent hotel. Please, help us out Hairdresser; can you put us on the path to unlocking the mysteries of Greystone Mansion?