It sits tucked away in an ever-thickening wooded area, but the skeleton of the famed Colden mansion could once again be pushed to the forefront in the Town of Montgomery.
Lauren Tarsi of Qualis Architecture presented a four-phased plan last week to the Montgomery Town Board to create a park at the historic site, located at the intersection of Route 17K and Stone Castle Road. The estimated cost would be $715,000.
The 8.5 acre site was acquired by the town from the New York State Department of Transportation in 2005, after the state completed the widening of Route 17K and adjusted Stone Castle Road to line up with Drury Lane, creating Route 747 and a new entrance into Stewart International Airport.
The site is listed on state and national historic registers and is considered significant in local and state history.
At last week’s town board meeting, Mary Ellen Matise, Town of Montgomery Historian, described the Colden Mansion as being “as important as Washington’s Headquarters, Knox Headquarters, as important as any other site in Orange County.”
According to records, the Colden Mansion was built in 1767 by Cadwallader Colden, Jr., on property acquired by his father, Cadwallader Colden, who was the founder of the Colden family in New York. The elder Colden (1688-1776) was a physician, scientist, philosopher, educator, and historian, who served as Governor of the New York Colony from 1760 to 1776. He also played a prominent role in formulating Indian policy and wrote several important monographs on native groups in the northeast, particularly the Iroquois.
On April 19, 1719, Colden Sr. received a warrant for a 2,000-acre patent in Orange County, which was then part of the County of Ulster. Soon after obtaining this patent he acquired 1,000 acres of adjoining land and named the estate Coldengham (later spelled Coldenham), after his family home in Scotland.
At Coldenham, he pursued his medical and scientific interests, collaborating well-known botanists and naturalists such as John Bartram of Philadelphia and Dr. Alexander Garden of South Carolina.
Cadwallader, Jr. lived at Coldenham from 1728, when he was six, until his death in 1797. Besides his farming activities, he sometimes acted as Deputy Surveyor for his father.
Cadwallader, Jr. married Elizabeth Ellison of New Windsor, daughter of the successful merchant and mill owner, Thomas Ellison, in 1745 and was given 525 acres of Coldenham, on the north side of the road, Cochecton Turnpike, that connected the Hudson and Wallkill valleys. The original house Cadwallader, Jr. built on his portion of the Coldenham tract was replaced by an imposing two-story Georgian-style rectangular residence around 1767, according to a date stone inscribed “Built by J.S. and G. Many, 3 Bros., 1767.” It is this building that is represented by the ruins near the present-day Route 17K.
The house remained in the Colden family for another century. Records show that it was sold in1867, along with 216 acres. In 1936, the house, which had been vacant for decades, was put up for sale for owed taxes. In 1939, the rich Georgian interior wood paneling from several of the mansion’s rooms was salvaged and it now forms the walls of the Verplanck Drawing Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The cornerstone was also salvaged and placed near the flagpole of the East Coldenham School. Since that time, the house and its grounds have undergone further decay, and the mansion is now reduced to foundations and partial walls.
The plan presented by Tarsi has four phases. The first, with a $140,000 estimate, includes cleaning the land for public events, fencing off the ruins, re-locating telephone polls in anticipation of a parking lot, installing electric service, and creating the parking lot.
The second phase includes providing one quarter of a mile of walking trails, setting up placards along the trail that would describe the historical significance of that portion of the property, a welcome kiosk, recreating the original property entrance off 17K with stone pillars and wrought-iron fencing reminiscent of what was there in the 19th century, and a 50-car parking lot. The estimate for phase two would be $255,000.
Phase three includes expanding the trail system by about a tenth of a mile, more placards and a second entrance from the parking lot. The estimate is $85,000.
Phase four includes more trails and placards, a third entrance with welcome kiosk in the parking lot. The last element, according to Tarsi, an is ecological overlook, recognizing the many plant species on the property. The price for phase four is $715,000.
“We would want to locate significant plantings,” Tarsi said. “One of the most important aspects of this property is the botany.”
She said the first phase could go out to bid as early as this winter, setting up the start of construction in the spring of 2023.
Town Supervisor Brian Maher said he’d like to push through phase one of the project, using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay for it. He later released a statement in support of the project.
“This location is one of our town’s gateways and rich with history and unending potential but has been sitting dilapidated for decades. The Town Board will be completely funding Phase 1 with $140,000 of ARPA funding,”Maher said. “The goal of the board is to find grant opportunities and private partnerships to help fund the rest of the project, which totals more than $700,000. In the past, the cost of projects has been a deterrent in the process to properly plan revitalization projects like this. We had our team work with the Town Conservation Advisory Counsel and Colden Ruins Community Group to put a plan together that appropriately showcases this significant State Historic Site. We look forward to this being the first step to truly turning this historic site into a potential tourism attraction.”