The Former Community of St. Mary in Peekskill

Perched high above the Hudson River in Peekskill, NY is the former Community of St. Mary in Peekskill. According to Peekskill’s Historic Community of St Mary. New York Almanac, January 26 2016:

The Community of St Mary (CSM) and the remarkable religious buildings they had constructed at Peekskill, NY from 1872 to 1963 was founded by Sister Harriet Starr Cannon, (1823-1896) its Mother Superior. Based on a Benedictine model, the CSM adhered to a simple monastic life centered on prayer, reflection, and service. The community at Peekskill operated a high school for girls and the manufacture and sale of “Alter Bread” (aka communion wafers) was one of the CSM’s primary means of self-sustainment.

The story of their Peekskill buildings begins in 1872 when they acquired 30 acres of land in the then Village of Peekskill some 40 miles north of New York City on a hilltop they named Mount St. Gabriel overlooking to the Hudson River. It was here that they built their convent, chapel, a school for girls, several other structures and a burial ground for their departed members and other persons associated with their order. The initial convent was a repurposed clapboard farmhouse found on the property when they purchased it.

The first convent was built in 1876. It was a three-story wooden building conceived by architect Henry Martyn Congdon (1834–1922) who designed numerous Episcopal churches during his career, mainly in the Gothic Revival style.

In 1909, construction of a new home for a high school for girls was begun. The main St. Mary’s School building is considered a noteworthy example of the Gothic Revival style, with its large gothic quadrangle, designed by architect Ralph Adams Cram. Cram was considered to be among the principal 20th century American proponents of Gothic Revival architecture, particularly Collegiate Gothic. In 1920 a wing was added to the school. It extended outside the quadrangle and contained a gymnasium and space for a swimming pool. This addition was designed by another well-known architect of the time, the skyscraper pioneer, Cass Gilbert.

The building projects begun in the late 19th century were completed in 1963 with the addition of a swimming pool. In the early 1980s the school and convent properties were sold. The Ginsburg Development Company (GDC) ultimately bought the convent and chapel for a proposed project called “The Abbey at Fort Hill”. The former St. Mary’s Convent property has been transformed into a resort-style tourist destination with a spa, inn, restaurant and apartment complex. The GDC plan includes provisions for the preservation and restoration the existing historically and architecturally significant chapel and convent that had been abandoned.

In addition to the historic convent and chapel structures, the site includes a cemetery where the remains of former sisters and workers at the former school are interred. The cemetery is not maintained and its gravestone markers are uprooted and stacked in a corner of the cemetery. Only the grave monument of CSM founders, Sister Harriet Starr Cannon and a few dozen unmarked cement crosses remain. Another developer bought the school and converted it into an apartment building.
The site sits adjacent to the City’s Fort Hill Park which includes Revolutionary War era artifacts. It is believed also that Revolutionary War era barracks were located in the area of the current cemetery.

In 2003 the Sisters of St. Mary Community moved to their new home in Greenwich.

Taken with a Sony A6000 and Sigma 35mm f2.8.

An Unpleasant Surprise

We have a large metal chest on our dock. We keep garden furniture cushions, old fishing tackle left behind by the previous owners etc. in it.

The other day I went to get some cushions out of it and this is what I found.

You’ve got to admire the precision with which they build these nests. Luckily we wasps weren’t in a bad mood and didn’t pursue me.

Taken with an iphone SE (second generation).