Formerly spooky spot makes for a nice stroll

Greenery at Hilltop

Formerly the site of a sanatorium, trees and grass line the trails at Hilltop Reservation in Essex County.

I went for an easy Mother’s Day stroll at Hilltop Reservation with my parents on Sunday. We enjoyed the greenery and walked a couple of miles through an area that I once hiked and mountain biked regularly when I was young.

Hilltop Reservation, which was previously the site of Essex Mountain Sanatorium, functioned for most of my life as a peaceful and mysterious playground. I knew just about every trail that went through the area and even explored some of the crumbling buildings at the site before they were torn down. I mounted decaying stairways and explored shadowy hallways.

Although originally built as the Newark City Home For Girls in 1902, the land on what is now Hilltop Reservation, functioned as a 200-acre haven for those with tuberculosis for much of the 19th century, according to a history on

When medical treatment caught up with tuberculosis in the early 1950s, Essex County used vacant buildings at the sanatorium to house mental patients from nearby Overbrook Hospital, according to the history. The sanatorium stayed open until 1977.

Many, including local author Wheeler Antabez, explored the mysterious buildings that remained on the site for so long until they were torn down and the property turned into an Essex County Park, and K-Hovnanian homes.

Most recently, The Hilltop Conservancy, has worked to maintain and promote environmentally sound use of the area. This Saturday, May 19, the conservancy will host their 8th annual family hike/bike to start behind Courter Lane and Mountain Avenue in North Caldwell.