To the casual onlooker, it may look like just some old building tagged with a lot of graffiti. But for Alpine residents who know their history, the story behind the Cliffdale Manor Ruins is an interesting one. Though precious little remains today, the site is worth both a visit and mention in our Jersey Through History series.
Cliffdale Manor sits off the Palisades Interstate Parkway in Alpine, Bergen County. It’s about a half-mile hike from the Alpine Lookout, where parking is available. (As an aside, the Alpine Lookout gives a spectacular view of Yonkers across the Hudson River.) North of the lookout is a trail leading directly to Cliffdale Manor. This flat-ground path is guided by green blazes. There may be some rocks and fallen trees in your way, but the half-mile trip is otherwise smooth.
The History of Cliffdale Manor
Cliffdale Manor was constructed in 1911 but only lasted a couple decades. To begin, Nineteenth century businessman George Albert Zabriskie built the manor as a summer home for him and his family. But even before that, Zabriskie’s roots in the “New World” date back to 1662. Shortly after moving to the colonies, his ancestors settled in New Jersey. Zabriskie grew up in New York, however, and eventually made a career in the flour business. In fact, he became the New York representative for the Pillsbury Flour Mills.
While living in Central Park South, he decided to construct a summer home in Bergen County, New Jersey. To do so, he first bought 25 acres of land from the estate of William C. Baker. (Baker is known for using steam heat to artificially incubate chicken eggs.) Once complete, Cliffdale Manor became the largest home in the area. In addition, Zabriskie built a man-made pond south of the manor, and kept gardens along the Hudson-side of the property.
During World War I, he became the sugar and flour administrator of the Food Administration Board. At this time, he was working under the head of the program, Herbert Hoover. (Prior to his presidency, of course.) This administration was in charge of the country’s food supply, which is especially crucial during wartime. He went on to win several awards for his wartime and post-war work for the administration and WWI allies.
Built it Up and Tear It Down
A history buff himself, Zabriskie took an interest in historic preservation. (The irony of this, given the current state of Cliffdale Manor, is quite a shame.) In addition to his work with the Food Administration, he became a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. Later, he became president of the New York Historical Society.
For over two decades, Zabriskie spent most summers at Cliffdale Manor. After that, he sold the manor and property to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1930. Rockefeller then donated the property to the Palisades Commission in 1933. Throughout the 1930s and the following years, the commission chose to restore the natural terrain of the skyline.
90 years later, Cliffdale Manor lies in ruins. Visitors are, however, able to sift through the rubble of what was once a 15-room mansion. In particular, the upper floors of the manor were razed, but its bones are still present. At this point, mostly only the foundation and basement remain. Despite this, the Cliffdale Manor Ruins provide a fun day trip. During the fall, for instance, the area lights up with vibrant colors; likewise, it provides a lovely view across the Hudson river of New York City, and is a great spot for bird watching.
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ