Dr. Charles H. Roberts’ Estate (Published in Southern Ulster Times 11/28/07) - Researched and Written by Gregory S. Bailey
History is created every moment yet it is almost always quickly forgotten; the ruins of yesteryear are now rotting away and/or being destroyed before our very eyes. Preservation is not only essential in order to give our children a place to visit to remember the past, but it is vital to preserve the identity of what we once were.However, to begin to preserve our identity we must look to the local area for ideas and motivation.Lying deep within the forest of the tall maple and oak trees lining the Highland side of the Hudson River lays a ruin that can give citizens a glimpse of what America once was.In addition, through understanding this ruin, the story of a piece of Highland’s identity can be captured.
Two years ago when I first saw a satellite image of Highland, NY, I noticed something strange in the woods near the Mid-Hudson Bridge.The various weaving and snaking of the paths led to one place in particular that caught my attention; two stone houses, both with collapsed roofs and deep voids lay in plain sight in the photo.I decided that I would venture into the woods to investigate the homes.Of course, being ignorant of the proper trail to access the houses my friend and I walked up and down steep hills littered with cliffs and sharp shale for an hour and twenty minutes. Eventually we exited onto a carriage trail from the past and continued towards the east.I did not expect to come over a ridge to be met with a view of the Poughkeepsie skyline with the Mid-Hudson and Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridges framing the picturesque scene.After taking many pictures we went down the hill to our right to another carriage trail, which we followed.Soon thereafter we noticed a huge ruin of a house hidden within the greenery of the tall oak and maple trees that enshrouded it.
I had finally found the abandoned home of Dr. Charles H. Roberts.The home was extremely imposing my first time seeing it.The roof had long since disappeared, filling the interior with an abundance of rotting wood.Bricks seemed to be falling off daily from the historical structure; however, the building held a subliminal beauty that left me in awe.After many pictures we went further down the trail to find the other home I had seen in the photo.This building was huge: about fifty feet long by thirty feet wide, and was the carriage house for Dr. Roberts’ Estate.Once again we took pictures and walked further down the path to find a coachman’s house along the old forest road.
I needed to learn more about these houses.For days I searched the New York Times archives, finding any information I could about Dr. Charles H. Roberts and his estate. Finally I had found everything that I could on my own and decided to do research in the Lloyd Town Historian’s office for more information.The now former historian, Terry Scott, was able to answer many of the questions I had about the area with primary documents that Dr. Roberts had written himself.
For years the rolling fields and gorgeous estate lay visible to the world.However, like all things neglected, nature began to reclaim the land; the mystique of the forest would slowly enshroud the Victorian and other houses that had flourished in the area overlooking the Hudson.The past was forgotten; locals called the area in the woods a “ghost town,” and with the death of Grace Roberts in 1956 the story of Dr. Roberts fell out of thought.In the 1980’s urban sprawl threatened the estate.A developer hoping to build a housing complex on the land destroyed many homes in the area.Through the work of locals and the town historian, the project was put to an end; however, the damage had already been done and most of the houses were destroyed.
Without the knowledge of the past there is no possible way we can understand our identities in the present.People like Dr. Roberts made America what it is today and he and his family became an important part of the local history of Highland.Seeing a ruin of an old building or home veiled in a thick forest creates awe and wonder among society; however, to simply allow the story of the ruin to be lost to time is to allow our past the opportunity to disappear.Urban sprawl threatens the places in our area that hold the key to our past; all too often urban sprawl conquers history.Due to this, it is vital to attempt to find out the story behind the decaying façade and allow the history of the ruin to endure into modern society by educating others.Our identity can only dwell unnoticed until we begin the endeavor of understanding our past.