Exotic animals once lived next to the Highland Crossing Trail

Exotic animals once lived next to the Highland Crossing Trail

[Photo: David Kramer 2/21/21. The Highland Crossing Trail. To the left are the abandoned structures to the right is Empire State College on Westfall Road.]

As seen in Before and after the (disappointing) Déluge at the Highland Crossing, since last March, we’ve visited the Highland Crossing Trail in Brighton several times, usually after a snowfall. (SEE SERIES AT END)

One mysterious feature of the trail are several adjacent abandoned farm buildings. The first December snowfall at the Highland Crossing Trail in Brighton describes what I knew of the structures:

As I entered the Westfall Road entrance, I saw to the right of the Trail dilapidated and abandoned buildings, now snow covered. A couple of years ago, I met a man who was working to clear out some of the buildings. While I can’t now recall everything the man said, he explained that, supposedly, in the ruins previously had lived a secluded, almost hermetic family. They even maintained farm animals making the scene look more like Appalachia than leafy, suburban Brighton. Apparently, the eccentric family had — but rejected — offers to buy their anachronistic farm.

In an early December snowfall, the abandoned structures reminded me of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome (1911), her story of early 20th century impoverished New England farmers where a reckless sledding excursion in a snowstorm becomes the doom of its characters.

Before and after the (disappointing) Déluge at the Highland Crossing caught the attention of Barbara Flender who often visits the trail:

Barbara Flender 

Does anyone happen to know what the old playground equipment off the trail belonged to, and what those solar looking panel things were for? I did learn that the cement building on Westfall at the beginning of the trail used to house EXOTIC ANIMALS [emphasis mine] behind it…hence all those weird cage structures. I love the history of it all!

Barbara Flender

I love that trail!!! There may have been a residential facility back there which would explain perhaps the merry-go-round/swings. What those shiny panels are, I can not figure out!

3/7/20 Industrial debris where the trail enters an open field from On the Highland Crossing Trail in Brighton after an early March snowfall

View of the ruins from the trail 2/22/21

Hoping to learn more, I contacted Brighton Town Historian Mary Jo Lamphear who wrote:

A woman who lives at Brickstone contacted me a couple of years ago about an odd structure she came across when she was walking in that area, before the Trail. St. John’s property that includes Brickstone was part of the 35-acre Maxion horse farm.  Before that (1940) it was a dairy farm. I looked through the folder I have on the property and can find no references to animals other than horses during the Maxion years.

Then, two readers filled in many of the blanks:

Tom Brownyard Sr. writes:

The family used to have a lot of goats on the property back in the 80s. The father was very old then but he had a son that tended to the animals for him. A large framed red headed fella. We used to bow hunt the property next door. In the seventies that area was loaded with pheasant. . .

I can’t remember the family name. I think it began with a W. But the general manager at Koerner Ford where I worked also had exotics and he did business with the dad. I think it may have been Emu. Like an ostrich.  Don’t let the grounds fool you, pretty sure he was wealthy but just a simple old man. . .

Two ostriches are standing by a fence at the Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester, NY. [Editor’s note: do emus qualify as “exotic animals?”]

Seneca Park Zoo. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 12/9/53. GREETINGS! Haughty emus, gray birds resembling the ostrich, look out from the interior of indoor cage.

The playground pieces were part of the Al Sigl center for children. I think that was the name of it. When it was all overgrown that was my favorite hunt spot.

On 4/22 and 4.24, Ernest Tschanz provided a history of the area that fills in many of the blanks.

4/22 I used to be the Senior Groundsworker and later the Grounds Department Supervisor, for Monroe Developmental Center of N.Y.S. in the early 1980’s. What you now call “The Highland Crossing Trail” was N.Y.S. Land managed by Rochester Psych. Center or Monroe Dev. Center or the adjoining properties. The property lines were not well defined at that time. Part of the back area of M.D.C. property was a secluded play area behind a tree line where the folks, in our care, could go and feel they were “away” at a park or “wilderness”, to play and relax without the need for travel. We jokingly called the area “Camp Itzaduzy”. The Camp was surrounded on 3 sides by brushland and on the 4th by the tree line. The brushland was crisscrossed by deer trails. There was at that time a small herd of deer that “hung out” there, and in the surrounding brush area. Before the build up of the apartments, the Highland Crossing Trail and other “improvements” there was a flock of 13 turkey, squirrel, racoons, large hawks (Cooper or Gros ), skunk, and all manner of wildlife. The “farm” to the east, was kept by a wonderful old man. I am at fault, I do not recall his name. He and I talked a number of times before he past on. He used to keep the exotic animals so that the folks, in our care, could come to the wire fence and see and pet the animals. He had Scottish Highland Cattle, all manner of goats, sheep, ducks, geese etc., etc. I just wanted to give you a bit of history of that area. The wooden tree stand, to the best of my recollection was there at that time. I think that if you tried to sit in it at this time that your descent might be very sudden and rapid. I know of only one “Bow hunter” that tried to use the area and he was caught, charged and convicted of illegal hunting.. WITH MEMORIES OF THE LONG AGO, ERNIE

4/24 The area that I described, and that we in Grounds Dept. called Camp Itzaduzy, originally had some play equipment. There was a metal “jungle gym”, an oddly shaped asymmetrical triangle slide, some “hobby horses” spring mounted and some other equipment. Most of the equipment was viewed as dangerous for “our folks”. Some was removed as being too dangerous for the people we served, by my Grounds Department. Some was removed later when most of the folks we served were moved into “Group Homes”. It was originally designed and installed when the building was to be Monroe State School. The building and grounds were supposed to be a school for higher functioning clientele than what we served. Shortly after completion it was designated to be a “live in” Institutional Facility which it was never designed to be, and fell short of function

Bust stop across from the buildings on Westfall Road. 2/20 and 2/21/21

2/20 and 2/21/21










Abandoned squirrel’s nest next to abandoned farm. 2/21 and 2/22/21


A hunter’s tree stand on the Highland Crossing Trail during a late April snowfall

Illegal and unethical dumping next to abandoned farm at the Highland Crossing with Christine Platt

Before and after the (disappointing) Déluge at the Highland Crossing

Tracking the prints of a deer on the Highland Crossing in Brighton

Following a gaggle of wild turkeys on the Highland Crossing Trail in Brighton

The first December snowfall at the Highland Crossing Trail in Brighton

First November snowfall at the Highland Crossing in Brighton

Distributing masks in Brighton and revisiting (again) the Highland Crossing Trail in (another) May snowfall

During a dusting of May snow, revisiting the Highland Crossing Trail in Brighton

On the Highland Crossing Trail in Brighton after an early March snowfall


Abandoned farms in Brighton

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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