Mount McGregor

  • Jeannine Woutersz - Town Historian

Picture: The ramp with the center flagpole served as the approach to the administrative building and was a focal point for activities of the Metropolitan and also the New York State Veterans Administration. The ramp covered a tunnel that went from the basement of the administrative building to the laundry. (Note the smokestack on the horizon.) It is said that not only laundry but deceased were sent down the hill so the hearse was never seen by the patients to maintain their feeling of well-being.

The Palmertown peak known as Mt McGregor in the Northwest point of Wilton has served many purposes since the early 1600’s.

The Mohawk Indians used it for signal fires and our early settlers built a blockhouse for protection and observation before the revolutionary war.

Duncan McGregor cleared the top for lumber and built a small hotel as a destination for travelers to spend the night and enjoy the view. In September of 1872, 4,000 members of area churches gathered on the mountain top for one of the largest revivals in local history. This event was arranged by the Rev. R.G. Adams who was the pastor of the newly built Methodist church at the foot of the mountain, now the home of the Wilton Heritage Society.

McGregor’s hotel was later sold to Joseph Drexel, one of the financiers who developed the Balmoral resort, an elegant hotel with a small railroad bringing summer visitors to enjoy the fresh mountain air. Mr. Drexel used the little hotel as his private “cottage” and in the summer of 1885 he offered this cottage to Ulysses S. Grant, the former General of the Union Armies, and former President of the United States, to rest and finish his memoirs in his final days.

The Metropolitan Insurance Company built a complex of thirty buildings for a tuberculosis sanatorium to “cure” their employees of the New York City Company. The Sanatorium opened in 1913 and thousands of employees were cared for and sent back to work.

In 1945 New York State bought the “Met” buildings to serve as a Rest Camp for returning Veterans of World War II. The purchase of the property included lockers full of food, silverware, x-ray equipment, research labs and the supporting farms in the valley with sixty-five purebred cattle and 3,000 chickens. Approximately 3,000 veterans used the rehabilitation center each year. The stay was limited to 90 days for each veteran and the State paid all expenses including transportation. The Rest Camp closed in April, 1960.

The site was reopened in 1961 as the Annex of Rome State School for Mental Retardation. The name was changes to Wilton Developmental Center and the facility was maintained until November of 1975 when the residents were transferred to a new building on Ballard Road. There is very little information about this period of time due to privacy laws. No pictures were taken and no news articles were written. Most of the employees were residents of Wilton and many fond memories were exchanged.

The “Mountain” was again open for another use and was considered by New York State Parks and Recreation but the need for increasing prison population was a priority. In 1976 the Department of Corrections opened the McGregor Work Camp with 150 minimum security inmates who worked in crews in the community doing public service. By the end of 1984 The McGregor Corrections Facility was housing 300 Camp men in dormitories and 450 medium security inmates within secured buildings.

The Drexel cottage, now known as U.S. Grant Cottage is now a New York State Historic Site maintained by the “State” and open to the public courtesy of “The Friends of Grant Cottage”, a non-profit volunteer organization. www.grantcottage.org

The “Mountain” has served a changing purpose for the people of Wilton over 4 centuries.