Friday, September 16, 2011

Convent of St. Mary, Abbey and Chapel, Peekskill, NY


The 1876 Abbey of the Community of St. Mary, shot by moonlight.

For over a century, the Convent at Mount St. Gabriel, a picturesque plot of land in the highlands of Peekskill, NY, was home to the Community of St. Mary. From its humble beginnings in 1872 in a clapboard farmhouse, the Convent soon grew into a multi-building complex with a full church, a school, and ample housing for both the Sisters and their charges. By 2003, when the convent moved to Greenwich, NY, the school had already been repurposed, but the Abbey proper, as well as the Chapel, remained vacant, as they have to this day.

Based on a Benedictine model, the Community of St. Mary adheres to a simple monastic life centered around prayer, reflection, and service. From tumultuous beginnings, including an uphill battle against the established positions of the Church on monastic orders in general, the CSM eventually flourished after being widely recognized for the selfless acts of its Sisters in service to the community. It is the oldest indigenous Anglican order in the New World, and the first monastic body constituted by the Episcopal Church since the dissolution of monasteries in the 16th century.

While the forms of service practiced by the nuns of the order have varied over the years and regions, at this particular complex, the running of a school and the manufacture of communion wafers were a primary focus. In 1977, as a result of declining enrollment, the Episcopal church closed the school, and the parcel of land containing it was sold off to a private developer; in the early 1980s, the 1911 building was converted to luxury condominiums. The Chaplain's House on the grounds is now the private residence of a local doctor, and has been gut renovated.

But since the CSM moved to a larger property in Greenwich, New York, in 2003, little has been done to the 1876 Abbey and 1896 Chapel buildings. The interiors of each are, for the most part, gutted; work was begun on the buildings, but never completed, due to the subprime mortgage collapse. Some significant interior architectural features have been left intact, but the majority of the structures have been stripped down to their frames. The properties are owned by Ginsburg Development, and their website indicates that they will be developed as "The Abbey at Fort Hill", a 12-unit luxury condo complex. This would be to the benefit of the town of Peekskill, which sorely needs the tax revenue, but also to the benefit of the Community of St. Mary - as part of the proposed development, Ginsburg would relocate the cemetery to the Greenwich location, bringing the founding Sisters to the modern convent.


The majority of the Abbey was gutted in between 2003, when the property was vacated, and the subprime mortgage collapse of 2008.



Untouched so far, the chapel on the second floor of the Abbey is remarkably intact.



During the heyday of the Convent, this chapel was primarily used to provide services for ailing nuns, who were housed on the second floor of the building.



As membership in the Convent and its school declined, the small chapel was used for most services, and the large 1896 Chapel building was only used for special functions.



The ornate hand-painted walls were finished prior to the start of the First World War, and are holding up remarkably well.



Very few interior architectural details remain, but apparently the developers feel that the original wooden staircases will fit with their luxury condo designs.



A view through one of the dormer windows on the third floor, looking towards the Chapel building.



An ornate spiral staircase leads from the first to the third floors.



This mechanism, with an array of gears and dangling weights, led up into what was possibly a bell tower.



View of the grounds at sundown. To the left is the Abbey, and to the right is the Chapel.



A dusk view of the 1896 Chapel, which was constructed of locally quarried stone - during this time period, labor was cheap, and materials expensive.



A font on the outside of the chapel; the inscription translates (roughly) as "Lydia: rest thou well and pray for us".



The bell tower on the Chapel building.



A view to the road leading away from the Convent.

For more images of the Convent, check out Amy Heiden Photography.

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

nice work! such a great find.
-mike

Goggla said...

Nothing makes me sadder than the words "luxury condo."

What a beautiful place. If there's a good side to this, I hope it's that the developers are able to save as much of the original features as possible. That spiral staircase is divine.

ShelbyAwEsome said...

I'm so glad to see a new post. I most enjoy this site.
These buildings are like time machines. So beautiful.

So Yeah So said...

Glad to see a new post. Gorgeous photos as always. I also always enjoy the background you provide for the buildings.

roadsidewonders said...

Both sad and gorgeous. Your photos are just beautiful!

barbarac said...

I just love how you use light in your photos! Glad.to see you are still illuminating these magnificent structures.

Kristen Lothspeich said...

The shots taken at sundown are amazingly beautiful!
I wish all the old buildings in the world could be saved and kept with all their natural beauty.
I love what you do/are doing!!

Judy said...

Thank you for this latest gallery; beautiful and evocative, as always.

nana said...

Beautiful photoset:)
EPIC!

Anonymous said...

The Mechanism is a Tower Clock Movement, originally weight driven but since converted to synchronous electric drive.
Interesting place.

Nicki said...

Absolutely gorgeous.

Gayle said...

What a stunning set of photos! The chapel photos are so beautiful. I hope it can all be saved. Keep taking photos! It makes my day when I see you have a new post.

Anonymous said...

does anybody have any information on the bell that was left there by the convent please email me at richardmor.10@sunymaritime.edu

Robyn Crosby said...

What beautiful pictures, and they evoked so many memories. I graduated from St. Mary's School in 1972, and sadly, we students then did not appreciate the physical beauty of the structures.

Emily de Rham said...

I too went to St. Mary’s School, but contrary to the experience of a previous poster, I was deeply influenced by the beauty of the architecture. My four years there shaped my aesthetic sense today. The fate of the school building, which was a spectacular gothic quadrangle designed by Ralph Adams Cram c. 1911, is heartbreaking. It has been massacred by its current owners and is now a run-down and overcrowded apartment building.

Anonymous said...

I also went to St Mary's School, and made the mistake of driving up to see it some years ago.
You are right. It is very depressing. I was so sorry I had made the trip. What a waste. But I must say these photographs make it look a lot more beautiful than I saw it as a teenager.

Anonymous said...

the wood arches in the small chapel are incredible - don't see that workmanship any more

Miss C said...

Hope you don't mind but I have posted some of your work on my Tumblr and linked it back here. Beautiful photos - so evocative. I like the image implied in each of you roaming these empty spaces, camera in hand, leaving footprints in the begrimed floors.

Anonymous said...

...wow, beautiful, but a hard life...my grandmother went there...I am grateful for the photos, wish I knew more...

Leah said...

Thank you for a stunning and talented collection of photos. I can see the Divine Lorraine from my home and have always questioned it's history and space hidden inside.

Klikdana said...

So beautiful. Your photos are just beautiful!

Anonymous said...

My great-grandfather built the chapel. Your photos are absolutely incredibly beautiful, and sad! I am working on a publication on great-grandfather. I would love to be able to use your photos, and any that other people might have from before the convent closed. Are you sure the school was built by Cram? Might it be one of the architects from the same period whose work is attributed to Cram or Upjohn, such as Hallsey-Wood, or Congdon? Does anyone know the fate of the organ: it is a treasure that should be rescued and brought back to playing since it is by a very famous and innovative builder and was a beauty?

Anonymous said...

These are beautiful photos. In the mid-to-late 30s my mother attended and then graduated from St Mary's School for Young Ladies. What a wonderful commemoration of the building, which I was lucky enough to tour while it was still in use as a school.

Anonymous said...

Steve ask's a question.
I use to live in an Apartment and I think it use to be part of this Abby. I could see the River from my second floor apartment.
Is this the place? Chateau Rive???

Ginger said...

Chateau Rive is the former school, Saint Mary's School. The photos are of the Convent, which was down the hill from the school.

I attended Saint Mary's School in the 8th grade, during what turned out to be the last year in existence (1976-77).

Kay said...

My mother graduated from St. Mary's in 1926. I am wearing her class ring. My father wore it from 1929 until he died in the 70's. I would really like to see what the ring looked like when it was new. It is well worn now. We visited the convent in 1956. Thank you for the site. Daughter of Dorothy Stoltz.

Lyn Washington said...

I attended St. Mary's School as a boarding student, and graduated from there in 1965. As students we were never allowed in the convent proper but attended church every Sunday in the convent church. It was a beautiful space and the high church mass was wonderful (although not always appreciated by teenage girls.) We all learned "plainsong" a form of Gregorian chant (I think) and had choir practice every Friday afternoon in the School Auditorium. It broke my heart when the school closed and was sold, I had four happy years there. My mother had been a student at St. Mary's starting in 8th grade until she graduated in 1942. I hope the new owners of the convent retain some of the amazing beauty and grace of the old church and convent!
Lyn Washington class of 1965

Anonymous said...

My parents bought The Junior School property on 4 acres below the main school in 1947. We lived in all of the three buildings from that time until 1955 when it was vs old to Farber Whitman developers who tore down the main building which my parents turned into a hotel...it was a wonderful, magical place to grow up and I was heartbroken when it was sold...on my way to school in highland falls, passing thru South St by the Parkway Plaza, I could see the wreckong ball tear down this stone Victorian gem-- floor by floor--it still brings tears to my eyes. If you look at photos on 'Project Canterbury,' the white pillared building was part of our property and my father sold it to the Peekskill VFW which they used for years.
The Carriage House was also torn down and only a small building remains which is the Motel Mager's residence.
If anyone has photos or info to share, I am Carol Renza:
crenza@earthlink.net

ellie swallow spillett said...

I was a student there in the 1950's - Because of this school and the wonderful nuns and people, I had such a strong foundation in my faith and relationship with God! How lucky I was - Pictures are beautiful - Thank you! Ellie Swallow Spillett

Alexander Boyle said...

I went there from 1975-1977 and it is really sad to see such a landmark structure stripped to the bones as if it were some kind of tenement being flipped for condos.

Lee Ann McCarthy said...

I have lived in this area for over 30 years and always wondered what these buildings are...yesterday I got off the highway and found the road and drove up...I was in awe...such architecture and history, thank you for your pictures...I sure hope the developers keep the 2nd floor chapel...the paintings and antiques, the features are gorgeous...it is history that must be preserved...it is sad it had to close.

Kyle Dahncke said...

I stayed at the convent for the better part of a summer in 1976, when I was nine. My parents had split up, and my mother worked in the altar bread department until we had enough money to fly out to Indiana. I know every inch of that property, since I was regularly in trouble for going "out of bounds." Reading "Life with Mother Superior" brought a lot of the places back to life for me, as well as this photo series. Thank you.

Kyle Dahncke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Emley Stanton said...

I attended St.Mary's School for four years, graduating in 1964. On the weekend of June 6, 2014, some of my classmates and I gathered at the school. It was exactly 50 years from the date of our graduation. Our first stop was the convent. Your pictures are a perfect reflection of what exists today. That is with the exception of the second floor chapel, which is not quite as well preserved. There is still the beautiful painting on the walls. I was heartbroken that the large chapel was boarded up and totally inaccessible. We all spent many hours in there and it has always held a special place in my heart. I hope the Ginsberg Company or whoever might own it now, have the sensitivity to maintain some of the beauty treasured by so many in the past. Jane Stokes Emley Stanton, SMS, Class of 1964

Anonymous said...

I graduated in '66....so sad to see the pictures now, it was such a beautiful place, and our class friendships have lasted all this time....I was lucky to have gone there, as did my mother in the 40's and my granny before that, in the 20's.....

Deb Roberts said...

My grandmother went here as a young girl in the early 1920s. I wish I knew more but remember her stories so well. Is it possible to explore the grounds now? Does anyone know if old attendance records are available? Thank you for posting these pictures.

Sheila Myers said...

I'm writing a novel on the life of Wiliam West Durant and his family. William's sister Heloise Durant (Ella) attended this convent in 1881-83. She was a famous poet for her time. Her father Dr. T.C. Durant built the Transcontinental Line. Thanks for the webpage. I was wondering where this convent was as I am reading about her entrance to the convent in court testimony. Her brother's lawyers claiming it was a place for 'fallen women'. Here is my website. http://www.wwdurantstory.com/

fred said...

It was a great day for Peekskill when Ginsberg was chased away.To bad it was not done before they got their hands on the old Saint Mary's area.

Anonymous said...

This brings back fond memories! I had been there 3 times. The first time with a men's group from church, then with my wife, and again with our baby. The last time, because of the baby, they arranged for us to have an apartment reserved for visiting priests ... fold out sofa bed, private bathroom etc.

The first visit with the men's group was very special. I got home, and my wife was sitting there with a bowl of strawberry ice cream and a pickle! She had no intention of eating it, but a way to make a VERY special announcement!! I called Fr Marc, our parish priest, who had just dropped me off from the retreat. I asked about the cost of a Requiem Mass. He was taken aback at first, knowing my father was in his last days, so asked, haltingly w-w-who is it for? I told him ...... THE RABBIT!!

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Anonymous said...

What is the status of the convent now? If "Ginsberg has been driven out", who owns it now? Who does one contact to be able to go to the old convent buildings and see it? I have seen one photo from over-head: what is the "1 St. Mary's Convent" house for sale built on? Has some of the convent or school been torn down? I see the inside of the old convent: My great-grandfather designed the convent and the 1896 chapel, and oversaw the building. Ginsberg strung me along about whether I could get in to see it. Never did.
If you have info, please post and we will exchange emails.

Anonymous said...

It is a spectacular place. I'm writing a biography of architect Anne Tyng who was a member of the class of 1937. One of the nuns at the new location told me that at least some of the buildings were designed by Ralph Adams Cram. I'd be very interested to know whether or not that is true.

Can anybody help?

Anonymous said...

An Answer, and a Plea:

Answer:
So sorry, Anonymous, to have to tell you that the majority of the convent was not designed by Ralph Adams Cram. It is, in fact, the work of an architect very little known, because he did not advertise, but very prolific in his work: Henry Martyn Congdon, Architect, who had his offices on Broadway in New York City, and lived in Brooklyn Heights. To a number of his works (which he did not sign the way some of his compatriots did), modern authors have mislabeled as the work of Upjohn, Cram, or other contemporary architects. The nuns actually had, in the past, proof of Congdon's work. He received the original commission to build the convent, then returned in 1896 to build the external main chapel. He built several other buildings for the Episcopal Church that served to house groups of people for extended periods: such as the House of Mercy school at Inwood-on-the-Hudson, and the St. Mary's Free Hospital for Children in New York City. Most of his works, however, were Episcopal churches, Houses, or furnishings. As you might note from previous posts, he was my great-grandfather. I am trying to find more information about him, especially how he worked with the clients and the contractors, so that I can write a biography about him.

The Plea
I really would like to know what is happening with the convent now. I found a "city of Peekskill Common Council" bill on the net where the Common Council agrees to lift the limit on the number of units (suggests they will be less that overly-expensive luxury condos. The crucial part of law 3 of 2015 for the planning commission says "now knows as "Abbey at Fort Hill" has been revised by proposing a greater number of dwelling units that would occupy a smaller portion of the property. Does that mean that the "luxury condo" idea has been ditched for...? Small apartments, a prison, what? Does anybody know what is happening to this really interesting property?


. If anyone happens to know of documentation about Henry Martyn Congdon

Anonymous said...

I've in the past been in touch with Henry Martyn Congdon's granddaughter, who is able to document some of his work (and that of his son, who also was a church architect). I found her because I had discovered that our church, Trinity Lime Rock (CT), had been mis-attributed to Upjohn, and that we had documentation proving Congdon's role. I'd be glad to try to put you in touch with her -- email me at webmaster @ trinitylimerock.org

Colles Schultze said...

My great grandfather, the Ref. Dr. John Jay Elmendorf founded St. Mary's. It is wonderful to see so many pictures of places where he lived and worked. It is a shame that it will be turned into condos, but I'm glad the buildings will not be destroyed..

Colles Schultze said...

p.s. His son, Rev. Augustine Elmendorf, baptised Hetty Green. I'm thinking that is why there is a memorial building with her name.

tapers02 said...

I stayed here when seeking if I had a calling. I was shown beautiful classic robes that were from many years past. I was allowed into the Cloister for relax time and shown how the sister crocheted the rope belts. My cell was small. The small chapel was beautiful. Most of the sisters were elderly, and there was only 1 novice. I wondered what would happen in time. Now I know.

Unknown said...

I have lived in Peeksksill all of my life. And to have this beautiful building torn down and made into condos; It is a disgrace We as youngers use to walk down the long road and just look at St. Marys and wonder

ME said...

So beautiful landscape with beautiful complex of unique architecture. All should be preserved as much as possible and carefully renovated. It deserves better future then "luxury condos". Peekskill is going thru its renaissance time and this real estate is like Peekskill's jewel. How about to turn it into museum, whether local history or arts?

FRBILL said...

I was chaplain at SMS nearly 50 years ago and can answer some questions. There were two plaques at the school (may still be there) and one of these named Cram as the architect of that building (he had not begun his career when the convent itself was built), the other memorialized Hetty Green (I believe as a benefactress of the school -- which may have grown out of the circumstances of her baptism.

I don't know what happened to the school organ though some of the sisters at Greenwich might recall. When I last visited Peekskill the exterior of the present apartment building still looked nice, but I haven't been inside since the school closed.