Sylvania Country Lodging and Tree Farm is a twelve hundred acre private estate surrounding the Old Village of Mast Hope on the Delaware River. This area is rich in history, legends and natural beauty. The property is privately owned by the McKay family, descendants of the owners who settled here and developed the village in 1840. Today, the old village of Mast Hope can be described as a "town time forgot."
According to legend, this spot on the Delaware River was the "last hope" of finding a tree large enough to be used as the main mast of the U.S.S. Constitution and hence the name Mast Hope. There may be some truth to this legend.
The Pennsylvania forests directly along the river furnished pine and hemlock for spars and masts. The timber was made into rafts and in the mid 18th century these rafts navigated the Delaware River to the naval shipyards in Philadelphia. In 1764, Daniel Skinner was the first to set rafts of timber down the river. In 1828 it is reported that one thousand rafts containing fifty million feet of lumber descended the Delaware during rafting season.
The 1,200 wooded acres runs for two miles along the Delaware River. Guests can walk the miles of trails here on the property once used by the Lenape Indians. In the summer months the river and forests provided most of their needs. Using wood, bone, stone, horn, sinew, and hides, they made weapons and other implements, including bowls, mortars, and pestles. In the McKay's private collections guests can view some of these artifacts found on the property. In his book Archaeology of Delaware River Valley by Max Schrabisch, two Lanape campsites that existed on the property are detailed.
Guests can view the ledges where a stone pestle carved with a snake- head was found and is in the McKay's collection. In the book Indian Paths of Pennsylvania , by Paul Wallace there is a description of the Masthope Indian Path that goes along the Rattlesnake Creek to the McKay section of the Mast Hope Brook, ending at the Delaware River. Guests today can walk portions of these trails that are maintained by the owners.
It was not until 1848 that the first portion of the Erie Railroad was completed. This railroad linked New York City to Lake Erie and provided rail passenger service to the Delaware River Valley from New York City. It was this impetus that led David Selden to purchase property on the Delaware River in and around Mast Hope. David Selden is the great- great- great grandfather of John McKay the present owner of Sylvania Tree Farm. David Selden set up his son James and his wife Mary Chapel Baldwin to come to Mast Hope and pursue an enterprise of building of a village, a hotel, and establishing blue stone quarries.
Here in Mast Hope the Seldens built a forty-room manor house modeled after their Georgian style family home in England. The Selden Manor was furnished with marble fireplaces in every room, mahogany stairs, grand porches, "indoor plumbing," furniture shipped on rail from New York, and the best in linen, art and china. Remains of the manor house are still visible today, especially huge pieces of Pennsylvania bluestone that were used for the foundation and walkways.
Guests today enjoy viewing old pictures of the Manor House in its 19th century grandeur. With a collection including turn of the century ones by photographer Hensel, guests can imagine the village of Mast Hope with the Selden Manor overlooking the river, its railroad station , the Manor House and the Mast Hope Post Office including old letters stamped with the Mast Hope postal seal.
Hikers can retreat into the woods and many enjoy the overlook view of the Delaware River. This trail is the same trail used by mules and carts in the late 1800's to bring quarried bluestone to a railroad siding at the village.
James Selden leased these quarries, and the mined bluestone was used extensively in the construction of nineteenth buildings and city sidewalks. Bluestone mining was an important part of the economy during the much of the nineteenth century. Guests can view these large chiseled pieces at the base of the Selden Manor House and see the stone docking area by the railroad. Many like to take a piece of bluestone home for a souvenir.
Maintained trails also lead our guests to the old Mast Hope cemetery. This is a private family cemetery that overlooks the river. Tombstones date back to the early 1800's and enable guests to study the family linage. In the colder months numerous headstones that are not engraved are visible and legend has it that these are unknown victims of a terrible train wreck that occurred nearby in July, 1869. An account of the wreck featured in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper is part of the McKay collection. It is also poignant to see the tombstones of young children and realize the frequency of death in children before the age of antibiotics.
Each cottage has a history book of the local area, "Lackawaxen Township Bicentennial" and we are always willing to share accounts and books in our collection to those that are interested in learning more about the history of this area along the Delaware River.