Hiking to a Ghost Town in Bear Mountain State Park — In Search of Doodletown

This place with its quaint name of Doodletown doesn’t exist any longer. A mysterious ghost town in Bear Mountain State Park along the mighty Hudson River, though, it receives many visitors, who make the hike to explore this mysterious abandoned hamlet.

My sister and I have familial connections to the ghost town of Doodletown, a small hamlet that was incorporated into Bear Mountain State Park in the 1960s: our great-grandmother’s sister, Ida Cronk, married Caleb June.

The Junes go back on the mountain long before Ida met Caleb. A June purchased 72 acres on Bear Mountain in April 1762 and the clan figured prominently in the town’s history. They established two cemeteries, preached at the churches and were the core of the mountain community.

My grandmother, mother, cousin and older sister all remember visits to Doodletown and then to Stony Point to see Aunt Ida, “Cal,” and their daughters, possibly Gerti and Naomi, and Gerti’s daughter Drusilla, who is about my mom’s age. The collective memories include visits by boat between Jersey City, where my great-grandmother “Gram,” grandmother “Nana” and mother grew up, and Bear Mountain, by train and then by car. Too young to remember even the visits to Stony Point, I grew up hearing stories of Aunt Ida and Doodletown.

It was the name that captured my imagination, along with the stories. Any place with such a quirky name should be a fun place. Who wouldn’t want to live in Doodletown? Oral history accounts, gathered by Elizabeth “Perk” Stalter, a former resident of Doodletown, paint a picture of a warm and close community in her book Doodletown: Hiking Through History in a Vanished Hamlet on the Hudson (Palisades Park Commission Press, 2017).

Our family memories seem to imply that Ida and her family were extremely poor: Nana and my grandfather “Baba” would bring items up to Nana’s Aunt Ida and her family. Although mining, logging and farming were the dominant work in Doodletown’s early days, by the 1920s, many of the residents worked at military and tourism-related enterprises on nearby Iona Island as well as the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which was instrumental in developing Bear Mountain State Park. We’re not sure whether Cal had other work, but he served as preacher for one of the town’s two churches; Ida and Cal lived in four different houses in Doodletown.

The Palisades Interstate Park Commission began developing Bear Mountain as a park in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, this included purchasing property from the landowners in Doodletown; many of the Doodletown residents resisted the park’s encroachment on their hometown. The plans at the time were to create a ski resort on Bear Mountain — I wonder what the people of Doodletown, who were not well off by any stretch of the imagination, thought of that. The ski resort never came to fruition. Despite that, by the 1950s, most of the Doodletown residents had moved away — many to nearby Stony Point.

One by one, residents left the town, with the last leaving in 1965 — a June of course, although not one we were related to. Park employees — many former Doodletown employees — demolished remaining buildings, cleared away the debris, closed off the roads, transforming this once close-knit community a ghost town. Only the stone school house, crumbling macadam roads and the foundations and stairs and stoops of houses remain. (The stone school house, which had been kept as a shelter for hikers, was torn down in 1980 because of vandalism.)

If you want to visit Doodletown, you may do so primarily by hiking in, as we did. It’s worth noting that AllTrails refers to this hike as the 2.8-mile “Doodletown 1777 Trail Short Loop,” although it wasn’t much of a loop, as we would have had to bushwack a bit to complete the loop. Instead, we followed the trail up the mountain, starting at the Corning Mine trailhead off of 9W; when the Corning Mine Trail branched off, we continued following along the old Gray’s Hill Road. We ended up clocking 3.6 miles, which included explorations of two of the three Doodletown cemeteries.

As we came into town, I imagined my Nana and Baba driving in an old fashioned car into town in the late 1940s and 1950s, the motor chugging at the steep hill, the kids and Gram and possibly Aunt Fanny, Gram’s and Ida’s other sister, piled in the back. I wondered if Nana would bake a cake to bring on the visit, or whether she’d have walked down to a bakery along Jersey City’s Journal Square to pick one up from her favorite bakery.

A longer 5.8-mile loop hike will carry you past waterfalls and the abandoned mines. The only other way into town is if your relative, a descendent of one of the Doodletown families, dies and is buried in one of the two remaining active cemeteries. When that happens, the park will open one of the roads into town. From the looks of the roads, though, it would take a hardy vehicle to make it in.

We found Ida, Cal, Drusilla and Noemi, by the way — all resting in peace (we hope) in the “2nd June Cemetery,” near the reservoir. After briefly visiting with them, likely the last visit from this branch of the family, we left stones on their graves. Then we took some photos to share with our mother, aunt and cousin, and headed back the way we came.

When you visit, don’t expect ruins, so much as a few stone walls, foundations and retaining walls. There’ll be steps leading up to no where, much like the crumbling macadam roads that now also lead to no where. The electric poles and lines are pulled closer back to earth each year as the vines and forest reclaim what was once theirs. That’s all that’s left of this once vibrant hamlet, except for possibly the ghosts of whispered memories and dreams still floating on the breezes of Bear Mountain.

Know before you go: Winter is really the best time to go so you can see the remains of the steps and foundations. There are holes so be cautious if you explore around the homesites.

Getting there: Rte 9W, Tomkins Cove, NY; use AllTrails and follow directions to the Cornell Mine Trail / Doodletown 1777 Trail Short Loop
Hours: Daylight
Websites: Bear Mountain State Park and trailmap