The Sunken House at Ramapo College

There is a legend of a house behind the main buildings of Ramapo College which has sunk into the ground because it was built on unstable, marshy land. In the early 1900’s, the land in that area was mostly owned by the Havemeyers, a wealthy family from NY. The campus was their weekend estate. The sunken house was really a roof that covered an open well, used to provide drinking water to the estate. The mansion was sold to Stephen Birch, and it remained in the Birch family until then 60’s when Stephen Birch Jr died in the home. In 1971 the land was donated to Ramapo College…. Allegedly his ghost wanders the administration building from time to time.

I visited the campus and asked around and explored a little but found nothing. Eventually I found someone who would show me that the sunken house was nothing more then a big well with a roof to keep the leaves and branches out. Unfortunately it had been recently torn down so there was nothing to see.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by donna on June 6, 2016 at 4:33 PM

    hi…i lived at marapo farm…t5he birch estate from 1955-1964. there were 2 spring houses….designed birch, sr. get your facts straight. i lived in the old house, built arounf 1750, and was the college president’s home in 1972. birch sr died in 1940,december and jr died in spring 1970. my parents were friends of his, and i knew him, also.


  2. This blog contains extensive inaccuracies and should not be relied upon.

    The “Birch Mansion” was, in fact, built by Theodore Havemeyer, for his daughter, Nathalie and her husband John Mayer. She died of an accidental gunshot wound in an upstairs bedroom in 1900.

    Stephen Birch, Sr., the CEO of the Kennecott Copper Company, bought the mansion and other property from the widow of Theodore Havemeyer and his estate in 1917. His wife was Mary Rand Birch, not Nathalie Havemeyer. He built the York Room addition to the mansion. He also probably built the so called “sunken house”. It was a reservoir for a very productive spring that supplied water to the property. Mary Rand Birch predeceased Stephen Birch, Sr. and, upon his death around 1942 the property passed to a trust for his son, Stephen Birch, Jr. and his daughter, Mary Birch Patrick. When Stephen Birch, Jr. died in the house in early 1971, it was sold to the College.

    This information is available in Bischoff & Kahn, From Pioneer Settlement to Suburb (1979) which is available at the Ramapo College Library,the Mahwah Public Library and for sale at


    • Posted by lostinjersey on December 31, 2014 at 8:03 PM

      Thank you for adding to the background of the property. I didn’t know two mistakes constituted “extensive inaccuracies”, but we do appreciate your contribution.


  3. Posted by briancreilly on April 10, 2009 at 9:26 PM

    The sunken house is gone and has been completely demolished and hauled away. You can still find a chimney from a house in between the Village dorms and “Loop Road”. There is another sunken chimney down off the side of “Loop Road” by about 10 feet within the first 50 feet of turning onto it.


  4. Posted by erin on April 8, 2009 at 12:06 PM

    The email you received from Ramapo freshman Kelly does NOT accuratly describe the location of the sunken house. I graduated from Ramapo in 2004 and know for a fact that the sunken house (before it was torn down) was located behind the facilities and EMS buildings near Pine and Linden halls. It was torn down to make way for the newest dorm at Ramapo, Overlook.


  5. Posted by daniel on April 8, 2009 at 12:05 PM

    i’m a student at ramapo college and i’m making a short documentary about ramapo’s supposedly haunted history and i noticed that you visited the college to see the sunken house, however the picture you posted isn’t showing up. i was wondering if you would be able to email me that picture so i could get a look at what you found. i plan to go into the woods to look for it myself, but i’m interested in seeing your findings as well. thank you very much.


  6. Posted by kelly on April 8, 2009 at 12:05 PM

    Hi, I was browsing the web for a story behind the sunken house at Ramapo College. I am a first year student there and we happened to find it while on an ecology walk yesterday. I saw the picture you have and I can’t help but think that you were in the incorrect location and did not see the right thing. The sunken house has a stone pillar, most likely what used to be the chimney protruding from the ground. It is, in fact, located in the wetlands behind the village apartments. If you walk along the border of the parking lot, near all the woods, closest to the security booth, look past the gorge and you will see it. I wasn’t able to get close enough for a good look, but it supposedly surrounded by water with a roof somewhat visible over the top of the water. I’m not sure if this is what your photograph was of but I did not see the stone pillar and that is the most obviously visible part of the house. When we were walking it was a random structure right on the border of the gorge and woods… It is not terribly far in, far enough that it is not easily accessed, close enough that you can see it from a good 100-200 feet away. I believe if you walk carefully enough you can reach it. Again, I haven’t been there, I only saw it from a distance. Also, the owner of the estate died in the mansion, which is a completely different building. The myth of his soul wondering the Mansion, located NEAR the academic buildings, is completely separate from the sunken house. I just wanted to see if you had, in fact, found the correct location. If you have any other pictures, I would really like to see them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: