No one would peg the state of New Jersey for being home to its very own castle but that's exactly what Van Slyke once was. While not a castle in the traditional sense (there were no moats or drawbridges), this mansion belonged to a wealthy family by the name of Porter. The mansion originally went by the name of Foxcroft which was a nod to its location on Fox Mountain, which can be found on Fox Hill in Oakland, New Jersey.
Today, the ruins of the mansion are all that remain; however, hikers can get a pretty good idea of the presence this mansion would have once had. Its grand walls and archways are still preserved in stone and brick, and several trails will take hikers up and through what's left of the Van Slyke Castle.
The History Of Van Slyke, AKA Foxcroft
The story of the Van Slyke Castle begins with the widow of a man named Charles E. Halliwell. Her name was Ruth A. Coles and the two were married in 1906, with Halliwell being a well-known businessman and captain of industry in New York. When he fell ill, Coles cared for him until his passing only one year later. In his will, Halliwell left Coles with one and a half million dollars, which was enough for her to start a new life, during which she married her second husband, William Porter, who was also a family friend. Porter was a wealthy stockbroker and when he and Coles were married, he had been in the middle of construction on Foxcraft, which was the first name given to the mansion.
Tragically, Porter lost his life in a car accident before the completion of the mansion, thus, once again, leaving Coles as a widow. She inherited the mansion and married a third time to a man named Warren Van Slyke - this is where the mansion's second and final name came from. When Van Slyke passed in 1925, Coles lived alone at the mansion until her eventual passing in 1940. Her home was left to family, who struggled with a tortured divorce at the time and ended up selling the mansion. In 1959, it was torched by vandals, leaving it as nothing but the ruins that can be found on the mountain today.
Hiking To Van Slyke
Those interested in hiking to the ruins have several options to choose from. Each path ranges in difficulty from easy to moderate, but none are too challenging for the novice hiker. The most popular trail taken to the ruins is the Van Slyke Castle Loop.
Van Slyke Castle Loop Details
- Total Length: 2.3 miles
- Route Type: Loop trail
- Elevation Gain: 462 feet
- Scenic Views: The lake below, the ruins, dense forests surrounding
- Things To Note: The trail is rated as 'moderate' but isn't too challenging; hikers should be wary of some rocky spots.
This trail will take hikers through Ramapo Mountain State Forest, which covers 4,269 acres of land. The highest elevation in the park is 1,100 feet, with the castle ruins sitting on a hill that's less than one-third of that. A popular pastime in the woods besides hiking is bird watching, as the park is home to a collection of different species that can be seen on any given day. The park is also home to various ponds, marshes, and a lake, which has created its own ecosystem within the forest.
The terrain throughout the park is fairly rocky with outcroppings that require a bit of work to ascent, but nothing overly challenging. The blazes within the park are easy to follow and take little to no navigation effort, especially when following a loop trail such as the Van Slyke Castle Loop. Visitors to the park should also note that since the Van Slyke ruins are visited so often, they do show signs of vandalism in the form of graffiti. While this is something to be aware of, it's not a reason to avoid visiting the ruins - they're still quite humbling and are still impressive, considering what's left of them.
Hikers should also be wary of walking in and on top of the ruins due to their age. Although something might look sturdy, the foundation of the mansion and the ruins that remain still may not be safe. Additionally, inclement weather, such as high winds or heavy snow, can cause the ruins to deteriorate even further. Always be aware of the weather conditions before heading out into and state park.