Secrets of Harriman State Park: Tycoon's Ruins, Jackie Jones Tower

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Ruins of the Orak mansion. Photo by Michael Sergio/ Courtesy of ScenicHudson.org.

Not far from Gate Hill Road in Haverstraw lie the ruins of an early 20th century estate whose name holds a clue to its provenance.

The Orak mansion was built by George Briggs Buchanan, a Haverstraw native who amassed a fortune as a Wall Street trader and vice president of a corn refining company that made a gooey sweetener. He named his summer retreat by spelling the name of that product — Karo syrup — backward.

Orak’s dining room was reportedly designed to resemble a ship’s cabin, with a floor that rocked gently from side to side.

Buchanan, whose family had worked in the local brickmaking and shipyard industries, died at Orak in April 1939 at the age of 64, according to his New York Times obituary.

It’s fitting that the Orak property and its demolished mansion later became part of Harriman State Park: Buchanan was the stockbroker for E.H. Harriman, the railroad tycoon whose son, Averell, donated the land for the park bearing the family name.

Tales Along the Trail

The remains of Buchanan’s estate — the mansion’s retaining walls and foundations, and some smaller out buildings — will be among the attractions of a Dec. 4 hike along the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail.

The 3-mile hike is being presented jointly by the Haverstraw King’s Daughters Public Library and the Historical Society of Rockland County.

Historical Society Trustees Gordon Wren Jr. and Tony Benedict will lead participants to the top of Jackie Jones Mountain and the 60-foot steel fire tower. The summit boasts commanding views of the Hudson River and, if the day is clear, the New York City skyline.

It’s unclear who the tower and mountain were named for, although the Jones family once had a farm nearby, Wren said.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, fire towers were used to alert nearby communities during brush fire season, Wren said. The structures were phased out in the 1960s. The tower was originally made of wood before being rebuilt with steel in 1927.

A taller communications tower standing beside the fire tower was first erected in 1947.

Hike Through History

  • When: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4. The Historical Society lists the event as rain or shine. The library has designated a rain date for Dec. 11.
  • Where: Meeting location provided with confirmed reservation.
  • There is no cost for Haverstraw King's Daughters Library cardholders. Those registering with the Historical Society will be charged $25 per fee, which includes a book about Rockland County history.
  • The 3-mile round trip is rated moderate to strenuous, with some areas of difficult terrain. Sturdy footwear is required.
  • Space is being limited to ensure safety.
  • All hikers must bring their own water and snacks.
  • Library patrons can register here or call 845-786-3800.
  • To register with the Historical Society, click here or call 845-634-9629.

Jackie Jones Tower. Photo by Scott Salotto
Ruins of the Orak mansion. Photo by Scott Salotto
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