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High Ideas

by Patrick Higgins, Jr.

Kuser Mansion shortly before its demise in 1995. Photo by Donna Traylor.

On June 9, 2005, then-acting Governor Richard Codey announced the largest capital investment for the New Jersey State Parks in their 91-year history. The following day, he re-dedicated High Point Monument, located within High Point State Park, the largest land donation in the history of New Jersey. In the philanthropic spirit of the donors, Colonel and Mrs. Anthony Kuser, the governor's $75 million investment honors those whose dedication to conservation and recreation have given the state the very parks that he intends to improve. Still, many lament the fact that a similar program was not in place ten years sooner, in time to save the crown jewel of the Kuser's donation: the Kuser Mansion. The family's wondrous gifts to the state -- the mansion, the land and the monument -- were allowed to fall into a heightened state of disrepair, so much so that the mansion is now gone. And the monument had deteriorated to the point that it was closed to the public in 1997.

The 1923 donation of High Point State Park and the completion of the Monument six years later were watershed events in the history of New Jersey State Parks, indicative of the Progressive spirit that had swept the nation since the beginning of the twentieth century. Colonel and Mrs. Kuser's donation epitomized the dedication to civic betterment that so characterized the Progressive initiatives of the period. In an era that saw the formation of the National Forest Service and the preservation of millions of acres of land as National Parks, the Kuser Family carved out a nearly 11,000 acre parcel that became this state's largest park.

Anthony R. Kuser was born into a world of privilege, but came of age as the Progressive Movement, made up primarily of urban middle class workers, was beginning to influence the political and social thinking of all levels of society, including the very wealthy. In 1896, Kuser married Susie Fairfield Dryden, whose father, Senator John Fairfield Dryden, founded the Prudential Life Insurance Company and was an ardent conservationist. Men of Dryden and Kuser's stature were not defined in singular terms as banker, senator, or engineer, but rather chose more pluralistic endeavors.


The monument restored.

In all, Colonel Kuser served as a director in more than 50 corporations, among them South Jersey Gas, Electric, and Traction Company, the Peoples Brewing Company, the Trenton Hygeia Ice Company, Prudential Life Insurance Company, and the Fox Film Company. In keeping with his sense of civic duty, Kuser sought appointments on various state boards and committees. He was an organizer for the State Fair, served on the State Tax Board, the Highway Commission, the Interstate Bridge Commission, and the New Jersey Public Service Corporation. His title of Colonel was bestowed on him by Governor Abbot, one of three governors whose staffs he served on in the early part of the last century.

It is in the most passionate aspect of the Kuser's life that the citizens of New Jersey benefited most: their dedication to conservation and preservation of animals and parkland. Colonel Kuser was a founding member of the New Jersey Audubon Society, and a member of the New York Zoological Society. Mrs. Kuser was an associate of the American Ornithological Union for thirty years. So deep was Colonel and Mrs. Kuser's affection for wildlife, birds especially, that they personally financed what became known as the "Kuser-Beebe Expedition" in 1909, a comprehensive study of the pheasants of Ceylon, India, Burma, the Malay States, Java, Borneo, China and Japan. Colonel Kuser also kept a private aviary in his home in Bernardsville.

In 1910, the Kuser's purchased the High Point Inn from the National Bank of Port Jervis, and transformed it into a magnificent country estate and private wildlife sanctuary. Despite large-scale improvements to the estate, the Colonel and his wife rarely used the neo-classical mansion, and in 1922, began exploring the idea of donating the entire 11,000 acres to the state. By the following year, legislation had been adopted by the state legislature, and the High Point Park Commission was created to oversee the property. Initially, the Commission used the mansion as headquarters and offered lodging to travelers "automobiling" through the park. Park headquarters were relocated to their present day location on Route 23 at the entrance to the park, but visitors could procure a room at the Mansion until 1977, when it was officially closed to the public, victimized by age and neglect.


Replicas of the original bronze doors, one of which was stolen while the monument was closed, greet visitors at the entrance.

Public outcry temporarily saved the mansion from destruction in the late 1980s, and a $2.7 million dollar renovation was to begin in 1990. But funds for the job were frozen along with $150 million in capital projects. By 1995, compounded decay deemed the mansion unsalvageable. Despite public pleas, it was razed that year.

In the winter of 1927, Kuser hired an architect to erect a monument on top of High Point. Designed as a lasting tribute to "Glory and Honor and Eternal Memory of New Jersey's Heroes by land, sea, and air in all wars of our country," construction began in 1928. The June 23, 1929 description in the New York Times of the nearly completed monument captures the essence and excitement created by its construction:

"By day the grayish-white granite shaft will gleam from afar as a horizon landmark to guide the eastbound flier heading toward New York City. By night, or in foggy weather, the memorial will be equally serviceable to the aviator, for from the tip-more than 2,000 feet above sea level-will shine a powerful fog-piercing beacon light."

On June 21, 1930, several months after the Colonel's death, a dedication ceremony was held at the monument's base. State Senator Dryden Kuser, the Colonel's son, presented the monument to Governor Morgan Larson. Flowers were dropped from an airplane, and the speeches and music were carried via speaker for all those in the surrounding area to enjoy. Two hundred twenty feet of New Hampshire granite faced with local quartzite stood proudly above the state's largest park, for all its residents to enjoy. For the next 54 years the monument served park-goers with panoramic views of the Pocono, Catskill, and Kittatinny Mountains from its top, 291 steps high.

Closed for repairs in 1997, the monument outlasted spending freezes by the state until its reopening eight years later. By the spring of 2004, the last portion of a $3.6 million budget was appropriated. The Princeton firm of Holt Morgan Russell repaired miles of mortar joints and cleaned thousands of granite blocks. New stairs were installed along with computer-controlled ventilation to ensure proper moisture levels. The monument stands as a symbol of a renewed commitment to parks and recreation. From its majestic peak a stunning landscape sprawls before the eye: verdant valleys to the north and east, rugged ridgelines to the southwest, and the steady flow of the Delaware as it winds through Port Jervis.

High Point Park and its famous monument are well-known, and once again proud, symbols of the region's beauty, with thousands of acres of pristine wilderness set aside for public use. So are the ideas of the Kuser family once again crystallized; that the desire to preserve must come from those it most directly benefits. To fully realize the value of these resources, public involvement in their preservation and utilization is imperative. The Colonel and Mrs. Kuser would have had it no other way.

Comments

Chris
12 Feb 2014, 19:22
My friend and I were driving out I84 today and saw the monument for the first time. We didn't know what it was so we looked into what it could be and we found what it was. We can't wait to come visit and check out the park
Holly
21 Nov 2013, 12:06
Does the High Point Monument go by any other name? I know it is an Obelisk but I recall it being referred to by another name possibly starting with an "S"?
Scott Houston
16 Jul 2013, 16:02
There was a bear at High Point. The cage was sort of built into a rocky outcropping.
Constance keane
13 Apr 2013, 09:11
Was there ever a live bear at high point park?
Barbara Carey
24 Jun 2012, 16:47
My husband and I attended the American Legion ceremony today for the first time. We have always enjoyed coming to High Point, but this ceremony brought out a wonderful new dimension to it. As we visited with other people from our Legion post, we all started to wonder where Mr. Kuser might have been buried. Does anyone know?\r\n\r\nThank you
Meg Climo
01 Nov 2011, 08:33
Robby Fletcher.. I would like to see that picture, but you did not leave you email available to be seen, to send you a message.\r\n\r\nI personally haven't been to High Point State Park in many, many years... as a kid.\r\nI no longer live in NJ, been gone since 1995, but the memories of the property still remain with me, and will forever.\r\nIt was a great part of growing up in the Garden State.
robby fletcher
19 Oct 2011, 20:23
I was there with my family about 2 weeks ago and had a family pic taken and there is a little girl standing right by me and holding my hade...im not jokeing this is real.. a little girl from the 30s or 40s. its was so scary to see this girl holding my hand... if you would like to see the pic e mail me and i'll show u the pic. \r\nthe little girl is on my right side you would have to look but u can see her.
Michael Alexander
10 Aug 2011, 01:27
In the late 60's, my Dad was a ranger at High Point. I lived just down the street and used the facilities every day during school break. Fishing for perch and swimming in Lake Marcia, climbing the stairs of the monument, sledding down the monument hills, cutting snowmobile trails, watching the captive bears, and my favorite........ Pretending I lived in the Kuser Mansion, which at that time, was an open museum. I would stay there for hours at a time, walking the wide central stare case and looking for secret passages in the attic. I was saddened when it was destroyed by the State.\r\n\r\nThe park is a treasure of the people of NJ. And I hope the citizens can convince the state to renovate as necessary for future generations.
robert thomas
22 Aug 2010, 07:19
my first trips to high point park and monument were during WW2, when cars were black with running boards. my parents were particularly fond of the freedom of space which has always been a calming effect to our cramped lives. through the many years of good times and not so good times, highpoint monument has remained a staple of consistency and a moderating tranqilizer to what ails us. winter, i find, gives one a "one on one" perspective as to the enormity of this old monument. visiting high point now, allows us to peer rearward into the looking glass of our pasts, and see and understand the shifting plates of change as our culure twists and turns into different unrecognizable shapes through the passage of time. high point keeps us moored to a simpler time when n.j. was truely the "garden state".
melissa c.
10 Jul 2010, 18:00
my family and I visited the monument on the 4th of July. my 5 year old son had such a great time, we live nearby in PA and can see it from anywhere in town, he's been fascinated with "the monument" for quite some time.now that he has had the chance to have seen it up close, it is all he talks about, we look forward to many more trips to visit what my son calls "such a wonderful place". it was an awesome way to get outdoors, spend time with loved ones, and take some awesome photos.what a beautiful place, so close to home!!
Mark B
02 Jul 2010, 16:29
Thank God High Point is still open, this is one of the best Parks in New Jersey for hiking and camping. What idiot would want to close it down?
ANA
22 Jun 2009, 08:27
June 21, 2009\r\n\r\nHigh point monument is open during the day! so is the beach! it's $5/car during the week and $10/car on the weekend/holidays!\r\n\r\nSpend the whole day there, bring charcoal and food to grill, plenty of picnic areas!
theresa korey
27 Jul 2008, 18:13
I am trying to find out about the beach area at high point . how much addmission is. etc.
sue j
02 Jul 2008, 15:01
is high point monument open?
kenia
01 Jul 2008, 21:17
high point is open i went swimming there today july 1st but the concession stand is closed
Earl Karlsen
27 Jun 2008, 05:35
Closing High Point State Park Will break my heart. A low point in history of the Garden State.
virginia mccracken + samantha gafkowski
09 Jun 2008, 05:31
High point is a very nice place! probably the nicest place in new jersey. they should not shut it down!!
J.
15 May 2008, 11:03
We called the governor's office to protest and they said they are still keeping a tally per day of calls that come in. So call and let them know that NJ residents love High Point! (And the other parks!)
Pat
29 Apr 2008, 14:36
Recallcorzinemow.com You can make a difference, and keep these parks open. Including swimming.
Russ Van Zile
29 Apr 2008, 12:00
As a youngster, my parents would take sunday drives to High Point. A very pristine area. I have since taken my children and grand children to the park. Even enjoyed fishing with my son and grandsons. I wonder if Gov. Corzine ever spent any quiet time at the monument. If not, I realy feel sorry for him.
Sam Iam
18 Apr 2008, 11:50
It is at times like this that I am reminded of why we need to keep government in check and out of the fabric of our lives. Funny, when I heard about the Governor's nasty little "accident", I remember thinking he's a bad man and we'll be better off without him in office....would rather be rid of him than HighPoint, wouldn't you? I've been enjoying that place since 1973.
I'll miss this place a lot
08 Apr 2008, 16:41
High Point State Park will be permantly closing on July 1st, 2008, as well as 11 other parks, due to Governor John Corzine's budget program. PERMANENTLY. If you love this park you will contact state represenatives and let them know. The state parks of New Jersey will be but a distant memory!!
zakeeyiahsellars
03 Apr 2008, 11:40
high point is awsome
destiny johnson
31 Mar 2008, 08:45
i think highpoint is very beautiful and elegant.

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