Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Glimpse of the Palisades’ Past

I walked around Beczak’s marsh this morning enjoying, as usual, the view of the Palisades across the river. But today, two patches of yellow crowning the gray cliffs caught my eye. Could that be forsythia? I was pretty sure that forsythia is not a native plant. Was I was seeing a descendant of someone's landscaped grounds… a blooming ghost of one of the estates that used to top the Palisades?

I e-mailed Eric Nelsen, Historic Interpreter at Palisades Interstate Park and asked if there were any ruins on the summit of the Palisades directly across from Beczak. (Eric is Director of the Kearney House, the two hundred year old tavern across the river from Yonkers. Beczak staff call him “our neighbor across the street.”)

Eric replied, “Cliffdale, the estate of George Zabriskie, built in 1911.” He gave me a link to an article that confirmed my forsythia hunch. It said Cliffdale’s twenty-five acres included terraced gardens on the cliff edge. The mansion was demolished in the mid-1930s: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the property in 1930 and donated it, along with other cliff top properties, to the Palisades Park Commission with the stipulation that the Palisades skyline be returned to its natural appearance.

These forsythia’s yellow branches offer a fleeting glimpse of the Palisades’ past, visible only to springtime hikers stumbling through the ruins of Cliffdale and visitors to Beczak who chance to look up at the cliffs at the right time in April.

More about Cliffdale:

Lenore Person
Marketing and Communications Manager