The NJ Palisades

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Manuel Rionda’s Stone Tower: A large medieval looking tower which was part of an estate that stretched to the edge of the Palisades Cliffs

Old Bridge: In the woods of Creskill is a large stone bridge, which may be a part of the old Camp Merritt. A bit of research and a few emails from readers suggests this bridge is more likely a relic from the Rionda estate…..

There are tunnels and underground chambers in various places thruout the Palisades.

Hitler’s Rock Profile: A 160 ft tall profile of Hitler appeared on the cliffs of the Palisades during WWII

Complete history of the Palisades: A detailed summary of the history of the Palisades.

In an old cemetery in the Palisades is the grave of a fellow named “Whack me Jug”


I have hiked in the NJ Palisades dozens of time as a child with my father and dog. In all that time I never realized there were several abandoned buildings and remains of structures lying within these woods. I never knew the history behind the NJ Palisades and how they almost were destroyed due to quarrying of rock for New York city roads. I never knew that we only enjoy these woods today because of the efforts of numerous individuals, including John Rockefeller, to preserve the cliffs and the surrounding land. In the past 100 years nature has grown unspoiled giving us some of the best views of Manhattan, and some of the best hiking trails in northern NJ.

In the fall of 2001 I decided to hide a geocache in these woods. I came upon what appeared to be the ruined foundation of an old building. We hid the geocacher among some crumbling cinder blocks & pipes coming out of the ground. When we got home I went to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission website and discovered that we had hidden it in the remains of John Ringling’s estate, purchased along with numerous other estates in the effort to create the NJ Palisades.

There had been little coverage of the Palisades in Weird NJ at the time. One of the properties acquired was discussed in issue 10 and referred to it as the Elephant House. In it, the writer commented on this huge house he had seen (and photographed), but which no longer existed. He really knew nothing about the place, and he submitted it as a weird place. Someone from the Palisades Park Commission wrote in & explained a bit more about the background of the place. A picture of the NJ Women’s Monument, was featured as part of a larger story on castles. I began investigating the history of the Palisades, and wrote up a story which Weird NJ published in issue 19, page 30. I later established a lengthy series of geocache hikes.

I received these photos courtesy of Mr Schneider. He was the one who wrote into WNJ & reported the elephant house. He took these two pictures nearly 30 years ago before the estate of Cora Timken was taken down. I so much wish I could’ve seen that house. It looks so massive & impressive. Unfortunately all that remains now are some foundation stones & the pool….



The picture at the start of this post shows a small path jutting out over the cliffs. It is all that remains of the estate of Manuel Rionda. If his name sounds familiar to you, it should, since his stone tower has been written up in Weird NJ before. The walkway extends out over the ledge but is safe to walk on. Regardless it’s a vertigo inducing view… The next pictures are of the George Zabriski estate, which still stands almost fully intact. Hikers have reported finding burning candles in here, and supposedly homeless people (or maybe devil worshipers) have used it as shelter.






John Ringling’s estate is where this all began. There isn’t much to see aside from some pipes & a walkway leading to the best view from a front porch I can imagine…


This is called the Grey Crag bridge.


When the land was preserved, Route 9W was moved approximately a half mile to the west. The old road remains as a hiking trail.


At the northern end of the PIP are the ruins at Peanut Falls. The falls were built by an Italian artist to be used a scenic spot to eat….




18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Gary R. on July 27, 2018 at 5:32 PM

    Thank you for those pictures of the remains of the estate of Manuel Rionda! I made an 8mm movie there for a HS project pack in early 70s. The film was lost and I was never able to find pictures of what we called “Gorilla Mansion”. I remember going up that stairway and climbing out onto that roof. I also remember seeing machinery and what looked like boilers. All sorts of stories were told about what it was, none of them being remotely accurate as it turns out! My favorite one was that it was built as a refuge for post-nuclear war survival but ironically the owner had died when a fire gutted the place.


  2. Posted by Linda wohlers on June 6, 2018 at 9:26 AM

    As a teen we use to explore the remains of this estate. The roof was copper the rest was made of concrete.
    In the basement was a big put with a metal bridge across. Electrical switches were mounted on the wall. We use to call it the Frankenstein room! There was a few chairs and some old newspapers in the small rooms. Lots of small pools surrounded the courtyard and there was a terrace that sat on the cliff. I remembered when they tore it down. Sad


  3. Posted by Jim Dykes on June 6, 2018 at 1:35 AM

    I found a great article in “The Record” from late 1950’s showing the inside of the home while owners lived there. Also outside of property. I had written to Alpine Historical Society and had article sent to me. I no longer have it. You should get it and publish it as very interesting.


  4. […] My experience in the NJ Palisades […]


  5. I also want to add that as late as about 1976 while exploring in the “Elephant House” my friends and I discovered a small door in the basement that led to an underground tunnel. The next visit armed with flashlights we explored it (as it appeared to be very strong – all sides and roof cement). It zig-zagged under ground until we could see where it led – to an opening in the house that housed machinery in a pit area. I believe the article I mentioned earlier in the Bergen Record from the 1950’s talked about it. This basement area was odd – it had an interior opening like a large window but no door from the basement hallway area and you had to climb into it. That is when we discovered the small door. If there was a cave in no one else knew we were there and we would have been buried alive.


  6. I remeber going into the “Elephant House” as a teenager as there was a hole in the fence around the property then (from the trail to the Women Federation monument). You could walk on the roof going out the windows and stepping onto it. I thought it may have been a mad scientist (I was basically right) or an old armory. I wrote to the Alpine Historic Society about 10 years ago and they sent me an article from the Bergen Record from the 1950’s. They were doing an artcle when the people still lived there and the house interior and grounds were beautiful looking. I will try to get another copy and upload these pictures.

    I also love the history of the British Army crossing the Hudson and coming up the path which is assumed to be in Alpine. There is a great painting done by a British soldier of these cliffs right at this view but from across the river.


  7. Posted by Julio Pastoriza on October 5, 2010 at 8:04 AM

    If you want more history on Manuel Rionda you should look up the book by Muriel McEvoy, Manuel Rionda and the fortunes of pre-Castro Cuba. Manuel Rionda was born in Asturias, Spain and came to America as a teenager. He became a sugar merchant and co-founder of the trading firm Czarnikow-Rionda. He built the tower on his estate (about which much has been written) in honor of his late wife, who at one time was buried on his estate. My mother-in-law was one of his great-nieces, and at one time in the 1960’s she signed a consent, together with many of her relatives, in order to have Mrs. Rionda’s remains removed from the site to be buried with her husband, so that more of the property could be developed. Mrs. Rionda was approximately 20 years older than her husband, an irish beauty who had been an actress until she married. The story told by my mother-in-law was that while visiting Cuba with her husband, after Cuba became independent, she convinced her husband to invest in the island, which he did for a great many years.


  8. My family and I used to hike up to the Women’s Federation Monument very often back in the late ’60s/early ’70s and the Elephant House was pretty much intact like in the photo above. In addition to that, attached to the southern side of the house was a 5- or 6-car garage and I remember walking around inside the house and seeing the original wallpaper peeling from the walls and the old plaster and wood slats crumbling to the floor. The floor itself was a hazard because there were pit holes everywhere and the basement itself was one huge black oily-water moat with billions of mosquito larvae swimming around inside it. There were plenty more of the garden walls and the small pool still surviving back then, but the multiple out-buildings often spoken of in the write-ups were by the ’60s already gone. My mother did tell me a thrilling tale of how my father and her used to drive up there in the ’50s to lift sheets of copper off the roofs of the out-buildings in order to sell them for scrap. There is also a concrete basin directly down the small hill behind the Women’s Federation Monument, but it is overgrown with poison ivy and such. I remember that it used to be a lot more visible before the recent restoration of the site. I believe it’s still there, though. From all the stories, this one is the most interesting of the sites. The other Peanut Falls site was also another favorite of mine as a kid, especially after me and my brothers stumbled upon it in 1969 and there was an old man with a long beard and robe there who was doing some sort of ritualistic thing in the large pool there at the bottom while about 10 or 12 men and women were prancing around stark naked! Apparently, we had interrupted a nudist colony-slash-religious cult who were performing some sort of fun ritual at the time. Very funny to see how quickly my mother rushed us out of the area…


    • Posted by lostinjersey on July 12, 2010 at 7:34 PM

      well that sure sounds better then the stories I’ve heard of cults and dancers… at least this one doesnt involve satan.


  9. Posted by Linda Wohlers on October 31, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    For many years my friends and I explored the then still standing elephant house by squeezing through boarded up windows. One room housed a huge pit about 16 x 16 that had a metal walkway across it. On the walls were huge electricalswitches like the kind you see in old frankenstein movies…our imaginations went wild. There were overgrown gardens and structures remains all around the complex. The outside was very organic looking with green exterior and a weathered green copper roof. We were told that the mad scientists fortune was buried somewhere on the property…I’m still looking..LOL


  10. Posted by bringsjord on June 19, 2009 at 2:03 PM

    So sad to see what happened to the gardens and gezebo at peanut leap. If you watch this slideshow ( you will see what it looked like in 1971 (5:20 into the slideshow). We enjoyed swimming and enjoying the falls.



  11. Posted by Walter Teague on May 15, 2009 at 10:52 PM

    Thanks for your photos.
    As a child, I lived in Alpine for a short time with my father. My younger brother and I used to go walking along the cliffs and we found some of the old foundations. One was particularly facinating and frightening. The buildings were mostly gone and some of the foundations had fallen off the cliff. I remember a scarry narrow walkway along the cliff that still had some of its original wrought iron railing. As I recall it was shaky and leaned out over great drop. We could tell that some grand house and grounds had once been there, but never found out anything about it. You mention a walkway over the ledge that is safe to walk on. The one we found in 1949, was not safe and looked like it would soon fall away too.

    Do you know of any maps that locate the foundations you photographed?


    • Posted by lostinjersey on May 17, 2009 at 9:26 AM

      no, but most are easy to find. I know peanut falls is at the base of the cliffs right before the NY border, if you leave the northern most rest area (where they have the coffee shop) and follow the old 9W eventually you go down the cliffs, and its at the bottom. the rest I’d have to look up, I have it written down somewhere…


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