Nearly two years after the mountaintop Mount McGregor state prison closed, the future of the former sanitarium-turned-prison remains up in the air.
An effort last year by Empire State Development to attract formal interest in the site didn’t draw any responses that the state considered serious, said Wilton Supervisor Arthur Johnson.
He said he’s had no recent updates from the state officials looking to sell the 325-acre property, which includes about 70 buildings, though in the past they have included him on conference calls with other local officials about potential reuse.
“They’ve made it pretty clear they didn’t want to put in anything that the town didn’t want,” Johnson said. “A couple of parties have toured up there.
It could come down to them auctioning the property.”
The view of the Hudson Valley and Adirondacks from atop Mt. McGregor is attractive enough that a resort hotel was there in the late 1800s, before it was destroyed by fire, and that’s seen as a major plus. “It’s such a good site you’d think somebody would want it,” Johnson said.
An Empire State Development spokeswoman said there was nothing new to report.
“ESD is working with the local advisory group to evaluate re-use options for the former Mount McGregor Correctional Facility that will create jobs and spur economic activity for the community and region,” the state economic development agency said in a statement.
The prison sits empty. The situation has created uncertainty for the operators of the Grant’s Cottage State Historic Site just outside the prison fence, which opened for the season in late May.
The site preserves the small house that former President and Civil War Gen. Ulysses S. Grant occupied in the summer of 1885 to complete his memoirs before he died of throat cancer. Historians generally consider it among the finest presidential memoirs. Grant died at the cottage that August.
Tim Welch, president of the Friends of Grant’s Cottage, said there will be increased security at the site now that the security once provided by the prison and a staffed gate near the bottom of the mountain are gone. There continued to be a staffed gate last summer, but it won’t be staffed this year.
Welch said the gate will be locked when the cottage isn’t open. During the summer, the site is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
He said there will be enhanced video security at the cottage site.
“Mt. McGregor is an extraordinarily desolate place with no events going on,” Welch said. “I felt Mt. McGregor was in extraordinary danger of being vandalized.”
He said the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which actually owns the property, is paying for a system that will trigger an alarm if anyone attempts to enter the cottage during off-hours, and real-time video of whatever is happening will also go to the private security firm hired by the state.
He said he’s also reassured because state police continue to do weapons training on part of the old prison grounds. “It ensures that the state police are going to pay close attention to the mountain,” he said.
The prison included nearly 1,200 acres on the mountain, which is divided among the towns of Wilton, Moreau and Corinth. Road access is from Wilton.
Since the medium-security facility closed in July 2014, some 750 acres have been made part of Moreau Lake State Park, and 43 acres are assigned to the historic site, which includes not just the cottage but an interpretive center and a scenic overlook offering a view of the upper Hudson Valley.
Welch, though, emphasizes the site’s historical significance. Programs on Grant and the Civil War are offered nearly every weekend of the summer.
“The beauty of Grant’s cottage is that everything is just as it was in 1885,” Welch said. “There’s a new video telling the story of Grant as a general and president, and Mark Twain visited at least once and probably twice, since he was the publisher.”