Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lying in Ruins with the Joneses

Visiting Wyndclyffe Mansion

About 120 miles North of New York City lay the crumbling ruins of one of the finest estates ever built in the Hudson River Valley, Wyndclyffe Mansion.  Erected in 1853 by Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, the wealthy daughter of an Industrialist, it became the focal point of an entire region and coined the term “Keeping up with the Joneses”. A first of it’s kind in many ways, this home inspired an entire generation of wealthy people to build grand, castle-like estates on the Hudson.  

Edith Jones Wharton, Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist and niece of Elizabeth Schermerhorn Jones, was a frequent childhood visitor who later described Wyndclyffe as "The Willows" In her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1933), Mrs. Wharton wrote about Wyndcliffe and her aunt. In those days the property was referred to as “Rhinecliff”
“...Going to stay one summer with my Aunt Elizabeth, my father's unmarried sister, who had a house at Rhinebeck-on-the-Hudson, This aunt, who I remember as a ramrod-backed old lady compounded of steel and granite…My aunt's house, called Rhinecliff, afterward became a vivid picture in the gallery of my little girlhood; but among those earliest impressions only one is connected with it; that of a night when, as I was ready to affirm, there was a Wolf under by bed... The effect of terror produced by the house at Rhinecliff was no doubt due to what seemed to me its intolerable ugliness”

The grand structure has been abandoned since the 1950’s, lying in decrepit ruins, it’s only guard is a fence and thorn bushes.  In the 1970’s the property underwent a historical survey by the Library of Congress, which noted its architectural and historical value.  My interest in the structure was piqued after reading this survey and viewing the numerous photos on the Internet. I knew this was a place I had to visit.

As all my adventures start, I dug deep to learn all I can about the area – studying photographs, writings and satellite images to gain a better understanding of what I may be in for.  So with my knowledge and thirst for adventure I made the two-hour trek to beautiful Rhinecliff. The fresh smells of the trees and air – it is an experience one simply does not get amid the concrete of the Big Apple.

Luckily, I was able to find a place to park my car nearby. I strapped on my sneakers and off I went. I only had a vague idea of my route from the parking lot, and while it included a few roads marked “Private”, a little light trespassing has never stopped me before. Onward through the dark and mysterious forest!

Once I turned a corner the trees cleared and there I saw it, the majestic brick facade was right in front of me. The only thing that remained between me and my goal was a dilapidated wooden fence. Now I’ve seen some formidable fences in my day, and this was not one of them. There was no way this pathetic excuse for a barrier was going to keep out Professor Roderick. I respect the “don’t go beyond the fence” mantra to a certain extent… until, well, I want to go beyond the fence. “You only live once right? This place is going to be torn down eventually and at least I would have had an eyewitness account of its grandeur” I told myself as I prepared to break the defenses. 

So I made the plunge, hopping the fence into the unknown. I had to battle my way through some thorn bushes, some of which cut me up pretty bad, but it was well worth the price of admission.  The structure was clearly not stable and there was real, palpable danger. Let me say this now: I do not recommend people doing what I did. As a seasoned explorer of abandoned structures, I had to proceed. I became so overtaken by the majesty of it all, I had to get closer – for the sake of History.

I spent a solid 45 minutes exploring the shell of the mansion. Most of the roof and its floors had caved in on theme selves. Standing in the basement, with crumbling stone walls extending high above me, I was treated to a view of the vivid blue sky.  I snapped many photographs, which I hope you enjoy.

It was an eerie scene to say the least.  The Ghost of Jones is said to haunt the mansion but honestly, fuck that ghost.  I have been to my fair share of abandoned buildings and haunted cemeteries and not once has a ghost or spirit ever presented itself to me.  I don’t buy it!

After I had my fill I decided to part ways with the grand mansion. Maybe I will return one day to visit its crumbling beauty, amongst the ever encroaching forces of nature.  Only one thing is certain – as the hand of time grinds forward for Wyndclyffe, the elements will continue to take their toll of this lost gem.


  1. Great pictures and you where lucky with the beautiful weather, good for you to have that experience!!

  2. Pretty cool! As a history teacher, I love this type of 'hands-on' history!

  3. Pretty cool! As a history teacher, I love this type of 'hands-on' history!

  4. Very excited to photo myself however your pics are great but tells me not worth the trip. ....sad

  5. I'm really interested in this specific mansion and I wanna know more about its history and if the mystic ways were truly used in that time and what happened exactly