#3  High Point State Park, New Jersey  (1,803 ft.)

In 1910 philanthropist Anthony R. Kuser (18621929) bought the Inn at High Point, in northern New Jersey, from the estate of one Charles St. John and remodeled it as a sprawling country mansion.

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Kuser and his wife, Susie Fairfield Dryden (daughter of Senator John Fairfield Dryden, founder of Prudential Insurance), rarely stayed in the house, and so in 1922 they donated it, along with 11,000 acres of land, to the State of New Jersey for use as a park.  Known as the “Colonel,” Kuser (below) was an ardent political progressive and early conservationist. He helped found the New Jersey Audubon Society, for one, and for thirty years was an associate of the American Ornithological Union. (He was  particularly fond of pheasants and kept an aviary of them at his primary residence in Bernardsville; see the slideshow).

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Colonel Kuser later commissioned a memorial to be built on the summit at High Point, which was on the opposite side of Lake Marcia from the mansion, to honor “New Jersey’s Heroes by land, sea, and air in all wars.”The memorial, built as an obelisk with 291 interior steps, was officially opened on June 21, 1930, just months after Kuser’s death. In later years mansion and monument both suffered from neglect and chronic underfunding from the state. Although several attempts were made to save the mansion, the decaying structure was eventually deemed beyond repair and was demolished in 1995 despite a public outcry. The obelisk was renovated in 2004, but ventilation and moisture retention continue to plague the structure. As of 2012 the original bronze doors are still not replaced, and a coating of damp and mold spoils the upper stories and obscures the view. When I was there last bugs prowled the walls of the inner tower.

Despite the condition of the monument, the park itself is picturesque if not too crowded, especially in autumn, when the obelisk is reflected amid the fall foliage on the dead-calm surface of the waters of Lake Marcia below.


Dolley Shot: Broken Obelisk

I've done more "research" on this highpoint than on many of the others, perhaps  because the backstory is so interesting, to which I can add a bit of trivia with a personal touch: I've actually met the ex-wife of Colonel Kuser's son, who was by most accounts a scoundrel (the son, that is; they divorced in 1930). She is better known to posterity as Brooke Russell Astor, doyenne of New York society and a major benefactor of my employer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Big museum, small world.


Brooke Astor

Mrs. Astor

When I say I "met" Mrs. Astor, what I mean is that I once waved politely to a frail but still feisty matron in a wheelchair at the first staff Christmas party I attended (she was and continues to be the noblesse behind that bit of holiday oblige). Rest in peace, Colonel Kuser, and the same to you, Mrs. Astor, and to all you heroes of land, sea, and air. 


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