There are some days that are so perfect, they elude words. Last Saturday, my coauthor and I decided to pack a picnic and get out of the city. Our first stop was the supermarket where we picked up some Romano cheese, kalamata olives, roasted peppers, hummus and gluten-free crackers. Next, we got in the car and drove north along wooded Route 208 to Ringwood. We pulled into Skyland Manor, but were told that we couldn’t picnic on the grounds so we headed down the road to Ringwood Manor.
Ringwood Manor History
Victorian-style Ringwood Manor was originally built in 1740 by the Ogden Family. After many more portions were added on, Robert Erskine, purchased it.
During the American Revolution, Robert Erskine managed the three ironmaking plantations from Ringwood. Siding with the patriots, Erskine played a major role as the army’s first geographer and surveyor, ultimately becoming Washington’s map maker. The Colonial Manor House at Ringwood saw several visits from General Washington, including one on April 19, 1783, the very day that a cessation of hostilities was declared between American and Great Britain. General Washington valued Ringwood for its iron products, Erskine’s map-making defense agency and as a safe route through northern New Jersey.
Ringwood iron was crucial in forging sections of the great Hudson River chain, as well as for camp ovens, tools and other hardware. The military road was routed through Ringwood, which was the half-way point from West Point to Morristown.
Erskine died in Ringwood Manor in 1780 and is currently buried in the old cemetery along with more than 400 pioneers, early ironmakers and Revolutionary War soldiers, including French soldiers of Rochambeau’s army.
In 1807, the home was sold to Martin Ryerson who tore the original building down and built the manor house that stands today. In the 1830′s, Peter Cooper bought it and passed it on to his son-in-law, Abram S. Hewitt who eventually bestowed the estate and grounds to the state of New Jersey.
Local legends say that there are various ghosts that still inhabit the manor and the grounds, particularly down by the old cemetery. A servant was allegedly beaten to death in an upstairs bedroom. Visitors have heard footsteps, crying and have experienced falling objects. Ground keepers have found rumpled sheets and previously locked doors unlocked.
Behind the manor pond, a small cemetery contains hundreds of graves although only a few original gravestones remain. In one of these graves are the remains of Robert Erskine who has been said to sit on his tomb at dusk and stare across the pond. Some visitors claim to have seen him walking along the lake with a lantern. A blue orb of light has also been seen hovering near the gravesite.
Near Erskine’s grave is a shallow depression marks a mass grave where French soldiers lie buried. At night, ghost hunters claim to have witnessed apparitions and heard French being spoken.
Most people go to Ringwood Manor to visit the exquisite interiors of the manor house, but Marzio and I were looking for a place to lounge. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we smiled at each other. The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect and the gardens beckoned. The once magnificent formal gardens have dilapidated over the years, but the bones still shine through. Rusted finials peek from verdant foliage and time worn caryatids preside among beds of wild flowers. A lonely urn dominates the top of a hill that offers views over the lake, the house and a distant mill. We meandered slowly, taking in the beauty of the grounds–letting our imaginations wander. Along the way I snapped pictures, capturing the beauty that has survived over two centuries.
We wandered through the grounds, picnic basket in hand until we saw the spot–a gently sloping bank that faced the lake. Framed by wild roses and walnut trees and graced by a gentle breeze, it was idyllic. We set up our blue velvet blanket in the shade and stared off into the distance, truly grateful for the incredible vista before us. Two swans glided in the sunlight while dragonflies hovered atop the water.
After a sumptuous lunch, complete with delightful dandelion wine, we lay back and talked about our books and reminisced about our characters. It was the perfect spot to daydream and plot, but more importantly, it was a perfect place to just relax.
After lunch we wandered the paths that led down to the old cemetery. We spent some time reading the old grave inscriptions and gazing out over the lake, much like Erskine’s ghost. There is certainly an air of mystery in the ancient cemetery. I wouldn’t be surprised if the legends are true.
At sunset we drove back home, feeling grateful, inspired and–simply put–happy.