Rockland County: St. Johns in the Wilderness

In a quiet corner of Rockland County, just a few miles from downtown Haverstraw, NY, stands St. Johns in the Wilderness Episcopal Church. Today it is a reminder that there was once a small but thriving community there, long since grown over.

Located near present day Lake Welch in Harriman State Park, St. John’s was constructed in 1880 through the patronage of Mrs. Margaret Zimmerman, a wealthy New Yorker, as a memorial to her husband John who had died suddenly while they were honeymooning in Palestine. Mrs. Zimmerman (who never remarried) had a retreat estate in Tuxedo Park and enjoyed hiking throughout the area, ultimately buying the land where St. John’s now stands.

In June of 1880, the cornerstone was laid and named for St. John the Evangelist and on November 23rd of the same year, the church was dedicated and officially opened for services. Three years later, Mrs. Zimmerman and Mrs. Carey, director of this church, founded a parish school for orphaned boys from New York City.

That Much Good Might Be Done: St. John’s-in-the-Wilderness, the Legacy of Ada Bessie Carey and Margaret Furniss Zimmerman, is a historical biography of these two 19th century women who devoted much of their lives operating the school and the chapel for the poor families of the Ramapo Mountains. The book details both their efforts and the history of the church.

The author, Odessa Southern Elliott, was caretaker at St. John’s for 30 years. She collected data locally and from around the world. She obtained the memoirs of Dora Ruth West, Mrs. Carey’s adopted daughter- and Sean Furniss, the great-great-great nephew of Mrs. Zimmerman shared his family research with her.

Copies of the book are available at the Harriman Park Visitor’s Center located between exits 16 and 17 on the Palisades Parkway for $15. For more information, call: 845-786-5003.

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One thought on “Rockland County: St. Johns in the Wilderness

  • August 6, 2014 at 6:53 am
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    This church and the hall across the road were used for several years as a summer camp for children of the diocese. I attended camp here in 1959 and 1960 .. It was conducted as a work camp where we worked on improving the facilties. We had morning prayer in the beautiful church, group discussion in the grounds, recreation and swimming at Sebago Beach (i think), dinner, rec and evening prayer. It was an idyllic place and a formative experience for. me.

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