Spring has certainly sprung here in the New York Metro area, and we’re enjoying every sunshine-filled moment of it! In our last post, we visited the Van Slyke Castle in New Jersey, but this week we’re setting out for Long Island in search of a different kind of castle – that of King Zog!
Who the Heck is King Zog?
King who, you might be wondering? Chances are you have never heard of King Zog, and that’s okay! Many people haven’t. King Zog was born Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogolli in 1895 in Albania, which was part of the Ottoman Empire at that time. Zog became governor of his district in 1911 and then helped his country declare its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.
Though he was exiled from Albania in 1924, he returned to his country in 1925 and was elected as the first president of Albania for a seven-year term. Shortly into his tenure as president, though, Albania was converted to a monarchy in 1928 making Zog, King Zog! As a Muslim, he took his oath in Parliament on both a Bible and the Quran and became the only Muslim monarch in modern European history.
Zog had a lot of enemies, and it’s been reported that he survived more than 50 different assassination attempts during his lifetime. And though Zog and Albania were closely aligned with Italy during the early years of Albanian independence, Albania was still invaded by Mussolini during WWII, forcing Zog and his family into exile (supposedly with much of Albania’s gold, by the way).
In the years that followed, Zog and his family fled from one European country to another and it was during this period of exile that Zog purchased his estate on Long Island.
About King Zog’s Estate, aka the Knollwood Estate
The Knollwood Estate was originally built between 1906 and 1920 for a man named Charles Hudson. It was designed by an NYC architectural firm called Hiss and Weekes, who mostly built hotels and apartment buildings in Manhattan, in addition to designing summer homes for Long Island’s Gold Coast elite.
Prior to joining up with Hiss, Weekes had worked with the renowned firm of McKim, Mead, & White (whom you may recall from our prior post on the Morgan Library.) All of the landscaping was done by Ferrucio Vitale, who is also known for his work at the National Mall and Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. In other words, the place was rather grand.
Situated on 270 acres, the Knollwood Estate included a 60-room mansion, outdoor swimming pool, tennis court, acres of formal gardens, and a 2-acre enclosed vegetable garden. More than 100 acres of the property were also used as a commercial farm, known as the Westbrook Farm.
The Knollwood Estate was purchased by King Zog in 1951, but he never ended up actually living there! While it sat vacant, the mansion was ransacked and vandalized, and Zog eventually sold it in 1955 (rumor has it that it was ransacked by people searching for some of that stolen gold). Less than a decade later, the mansion was razed and all that presently remains are the walled garden and the double staircases that led down to one of the formal gardens near the mansion.
To see what Knollwood looked like in its former glory, check out the photos from this super cool old advertising brochure!
How to Find King Zog’s Estate
I have to tell you, finding King Zog’s Estate isn’t especially easy, but I’m going to help you get on your merry way. Nowadays, King Zog’s estate is located at what has since become the 550-acre Muttontown Preserve, located in Muttontown, NY.
Within the preserve, there are two different parking areas that will lead you to Zog’s Estate: the Bill Paterson Nature Center and the Muttontown Preserve Equestrian Center. If you don’t have a lot of time or care much about doing an actual walk through the preserve, I suggest parking at the Equestrian Center, as it’s much closer to the ruins.
We, however, wanted to enjoy a bit of a stroll through the preserve, so we opted to park at the Nature Center instead. There are restrooms here, but they were, sadly, all closed. We didn’t see anyone working at the preserve, so we couldn’t ask whether they’re normally closed in the off-season or if they’re permanently closed due to COVID. We visited in March, so it’s possible they’ll be open later in spring and this summer, but I’d either call in advance to check or plan your needs accordingly, especially if you’re bringing kids on your hike.
Hanging up near the restrooms at the Nature Center were several maps with suggested routes. Unfortunately, the trails aren’t marked well within the preserve and the map colors and numbers are really rather confusing.
So for the easiest, most hassle-free way to reach the ruins, I highly suggest you just download and use the the handy, dandy map provided on AllTrails. This app works with GPS on your phone and will help you decide whether to turn left or right when you encounter one of the MANY unmarked intersections you’ll find in the preserve.
We set out for the ruins in a counter-clockwise direction, but the trails are all nice and flat here, so there’s not much to consider when choosing which direction to walk. If you do head counter-clockwise, though, you’ll actually come to the old estate’s walled vegetable garden first.
There’s not much to see within the walled garden at this point. You can see the remnants of some kind of walkway or path leading from the entrance into the center of the garden, but otherwise there are a lot of weeds and downed trees. Not wanting to encounter any creatures who may be hiding in the underbrush, we decided not to explore the garden too thoroughly, but it’s possible you may find some other hidden treasures if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous than we were.
From the walled garden, it’s about another five minutes until you reach the ruins of the mansion and formal gardens. Since the house itself was razed, there’s not much left here to see other than the double staircase that would have led from the mansion level down to the formal gardens.
As with most abandoned spaces and places, everything is covered in graffiti. However, the staircases themselves are still structurally sound, though they’re more ramps than stairs at this point having been covered by years of dirt and mud. From up top, you can see what the view would have been like from the front steps of the mansion and observe the remains of what must have once been a stone balustrade.
Back at ground level, as you continue to follow the trail you’ll pass the remains of a small central fountain and then you’ll encounter two stone gazebos. Interestingly, the stone columns were hollow! We assumed that they were just stacked stone, but nope. In this overhead shot, you can see where these gazebos would have sat at the end of two long rows of hedges in the formal garden.
Finally, you’ll walk down a short set of stairs leading away from the formal garden, and from here you can see all that’s left of a retaining wall at the end of this section of the garden. In the past, yet another formal garden would have sat at this level, but from here, we continued to follow the trail back to the Nature Center.
On our return journey, we encountered several soggy, swampy sections of trail, so you might want to wear your boots if you plan on visiting here after it rains. We passed the Equestrian Center soon after the ruins, as well as several ponds with the loudest frogs we’ve ever heard!
Whether you start from the Nature Center or Equestrian Center, it’s a pretty easy hike to Zog’s Estate. I suspect that as things start blooming and growing more the ruins will be a bit more difficult to see, so late fall through early spring will probably be the best time to make a visit here. If you have time for a longer visit, there are tons of trails you can enjoy at the Muttontown Preserve – just be sure to bring your phone to help navigate your way back to the car!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Muttontown Preserve: Muttontown, NY 11791
When to Go
- Anytime! Muttontown Preserve is open year-round.
- Late fall through early spring is good if you want to see the ruins before all the spring growth comes back in.
Tips for Visiting
- There are two main parking areas from which you can access the ruins: the Bill Paterson Nature Center and the Muttontown Preserve Equestrian Center. For quickest access to the ruins, park at the Equestrian Center. From the Nature Center, it’s still only about a 3-mile loop.
- The absolute easiest way to find the ruins is by using the AllTrails app! There are maps posted at the Nature Center, but the trails are not well-marked or easy to navigate AT ALL. Use the app for the most direct route!
- There are restrooms at the Nature Center, but they were locked when we visited on a Saturday in March. It was unclear if they’re only open seasonally or if they’re closed due to COVID, but either call ahead of your visit or plan for your needs accordingly!
- Some sections of the trail are a bit swampy and muddy – wear your boots if you’re hiking after it rains.