Thursday, January 11, 2007

Greystone Mansion...


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?

11 Comments:

At 2:00 PM, January 12, 2007, Blogger fatsacca said...

Nice story.

 
At 9:10 AM, January 14, 2007, Anonymous coolmomma said...

I'm very interested in hearing the ending to this story! I am very curious to learn more about Greystone. Thanks for sharing all this because I have absolutely no recollection of it at all except for what you all tell me!

 
At 10:24 PM, January 15, 2007, Anonymous StarStylist said...

Your wish is my command. I received your email at work on Friday, but was unable to respond due to the unending business of the day...fighting crime and defending freedom.

Tomorrow, my first task will be to get you the information and put you in touch with the folks who can help you with your quest. I am sure Ronnie would be thrilled to chat with you.

Our visit was much too short and I miss all of you terribly. Give your girls a kiss for me and I will call you tomorrow.

 
At 6:27 AM, January 29, 2007, Blogger threekids411 said...

That was a beautiful story. It reminded me of my childhood. I was born in May, 1969. Thanks for the memories.

 
At 9:10 AM, July 12, 2008, Blogger mselah said...

Hello,

My name is Mark Hill from Hutchinson, KS. I would like to contact the author of this article in order to share stories as I lived in the Graystone Mansion from 1967-1968 as a child.

My grandmother, Myrtle Wagner, of Highland Falls, NY was a waitress when there was a restaurant at the Mansion ran by Angelo Culot.

My brothers and I have very fond memories of the Mansion and are truly sad to find out that it had been torn down.

Thanks for any help you can pass along

 
At 1:15 AM, March 26, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

I just ran across your page while googling old Highland Falls stuff, and I'm wondering if you ever unearthed any more information about the Greystone. I was also saddened to see the building razed, but it hadn't been used much in the last few decades, and I imagine the taxes were pretty high. It probably needed a lot of work too. The current owners of that property are relatives of the original builder, and even though they did have the house torn down, at least they didn't sell the land for condo development or anything. In fact they're very philanthropic & involved in the local enviromental conservation movement, so I wouldn't be surprised if this property ends up being protected from future development. I suppose that's something to be thankful for. Just before the Greystone was torn down, my friend Chris was able to snag one of the giant mirrors that had hung over a fireplace on the first floor. She has it sitting on the floor leaned against a wall, as it's too tall to go anywhere else!

Regarding the building itself, I don't know exactly when it opened as a hotel/restaurant or why they chose the name "Greystone Mansion" (especially considering that it was made of brick), but it was originally built as a country home for William Cruger Pell, whose family had several estates in the highlands. The Pells were extremely wealthy, with large landholdings all over New York. He called his country house "Pelham" after the section of the Bronx that his family had once owned. Apparently William was a fairly private person...he wasn't mentioned in the New York newspapers very often. I did find some references to his belonging to various fraternal and civic organizations (the sorts that 19th century rich men were expected to join) and attending this ball or that Society wedding, etc. He also seems to have traveled an awful lot and managed to build up a very impressive art collection during his lifetime. Another large house belonging to the Pell family was located a mile or more to the south. That house is long gone as well, but it was located right about where the trailside museum in the Bear Mountain Zoo now stands. William Cruger Pell's brother, Alfred Pell, had an estate a little further north that was known as "Pellwood." The old main house at Pellwood has been replaced by a modern home, but the estate itself is basically still intact...it's not called Pellwood nowadays though. Alfred Pell's only daughter, Francis, was a childhood sweetheart of FDR and later married the English Lord, Martin Archer-Shee. William Cruger Pell's daughter, Margarita Cress Pell, was married to a Mr. Ridgely Hunt, and their wedding reception took place in the backyard at Pelham (a.k.a Greystone Mansion). Aside from that, I don't know much more about the place. I did find a New York Times article from the early 1900s that mentioned some NYPD detectives digging up the lower level of William Cruger Pell's country home. It seems they'd been tipped off by some ex-con that a missing New York heriess was buried beneath the cellar floor. That convict's story turned out to be a big fat lie though, and evidently the missing girl was never found. I don't know if Mr. Pell was ever compensated for the holes dug in his cellar floor:-)

Anyway, thanks very much for putting this page up. I always admired the Greystone...it really was kind of stately, wasn't it? Well, at least it's nice to know that the old place is being fondly remembered by somebody. And hey, just in case you didn't know this already, your other childhood home at West Point was likely destroyed too! Fairly recently, all the houses up there in Stony Lonesome were deemed unfit for human occupation (something about mold growth), and so they were all slated for immediate demolition. I haven't driven up that way lately, but I have a feeling that those houses are probably all gone by now. There's not too much room for sentiment around the West Point area, huh?

MJ

 
At 9:01 PM, October 01, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived at Greyston Mansion with my Mom, brother and sister in the mid 70's. I also was horrified to drive down that winding driveway to see an empty lot.
We had the best times of our lives there. Times i will NEVER forget.
We were always looking for new hiding places. We did find that hidden wine cellar. I can remember the bacement was like a maze. Never ending my i add. It was so peaceful. I believe we were sent to the mansion for a reason. My Mom passed away a year after we moved from Greystone. We loved waking up to the view of the Hudson River and in the winter watching the deer run all over the property.

 
At 3:30 PM, January 28, 2010, Blogger Tony Alva said...

MJ and Anounymous,

WOW! I'm SO sorry I've not come back to this post to discover you comments earlier. PLEASE come back. I have so many questions. My e-mail is phillips.pat@hotmail.com THANK YOU for all ths info.

I would love to talk with both of you. Looking forward to it!

 
At 9:12 AM, June 21, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My cousins Angelo and Norma owned the Graystone. They ran it as a hotel and Italian restaurant. I remember spending a LOT of thime there in the late 50's through the final sale of the place after Norma died in the late 1960's, probably around 1967. I still have many old photos of the place as it was during that time. I remember numerous parties, weddings, graduation balls and other events being held there. it was a magical place and I am very sorry to hear that it was torn down. I still have one of the old original buisiness cards from the hotel.

 
At 12:27 AM, September 22, 2010, Blogger Tony Alva said...

Anon,

PLEASE! Can you shoot me an email at phillips.pat@hotmail.com so that we can talk more? I would absolutely LOVE to see those pictures if it's possible and hear more about the place.

Pat

 
At 9:05 AM, April 17, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You would need to speak to Mr. Lewis, caretaker of the Constantine Eristoff property located at Ananoura Rd. (off Old State Rd and just down the road from where the mansion/hotel was located), Highland Falls, NY. Mr. Eristoff owns the majority of the land in th area and tore the property down. For what reason I do not know. I wanted to know why whyself, however, I am not in a position to ask frank questions. Maybe you would have more luck. I wish you luck. When you have that kind of money, I guess you can do anything you want (without consequence). Best of luck.

 

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