GOSHEN — Wellness-center guests farming, strolling on a nature trail and noshing on organic, pesticide-free local produce at a gourmet restaurant, before retreating to cozy, comfy sleeping quarters.
All are part of Susan Shapiro’s ambitious plans for converting the former Ontaroga Property, also known for decades as the Griffith Estate, into a retreat in the Town of Goshen.
The Iroquoian-named 145-acre spread, and its stately 116-year-old Georgian Colonial Revival mansion at 3302 Rt. 207, have sat empty for two years.
Built by Gates McGarrah, a former New York Federal Reserve Bank board chairman, the estate has had several residential and commercial occupants. Cardiologist Elsa Pascual used it, most recently, from 1996 to 2017.
Last April, Shapiro reached a purchase agreement with Pascual, contingent on approval by the Town of Goshen Planning Board, to which she simultaneously applied.
Now, Shapiro is conducting water and septic-system engineering studies. And she expects to seek final planning board approval by year's end, or early 2020, while shooting for a late 2020 or early 2021 opening.
The 61-year-old Rockland County environmental attorney owns the 136-acre Goshen Green Farm, across from and adjacent to the Ontaroga property. Shapiro's farm and the estate were once linked.
Her plans call for restoring the estate's mansion, while including 16 one-bedroom guest rooms, a 35-seat restaurant, a 20-seat café/bar and a commercial kitchen.
Plus, she would add 10 two- and three-bedroom cottages, a nature path and a wedding-tent area. An existing 420-square-foot dwelling – built for children and called the playhouse or dollhouse – would be converted into a honeymoon suite. And activities such as yoga and qigong would be offered.
“This (wellness center) project is about sustainability and historic preservation,” said Shapiro, a Nyack native and a Goshen resident. “It’s such a beautiful place. We want to share it with people, so they can see sunrises and sunsets and rainbows in our big sky.”
Americans increasingly want to connect with the Earth, while living simply and more thoughtfully, said Orange County Tourism Director Amanda Dana.
“The project is unique,” Dana said of a retreat design more common in neighboring counties and closer to New York City. “It’s trend-setting for Orange County. I think it’s going to be very popular.”
Neighboring the estate, Shapiro’s 9-year-old organic, pesticide-free Goshen Green Farm wholesales produce, garlic, herbal teas and spices to local businesses.
It also offers an agriculture course for children. But the farm may be best known for its luxe 3-year-old, farm-to-table meal series, “It’s a Dinner,” held in a big, old barn.
Each five-course, $100 vegetarian meal is curated by Shapiro's daughter, Ana Hito, 22, food editor for actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop.
Hito's hand is behind every barn dining-room decoration, sunflower and gold light bulb. And her menu may hint at a future retreat's offerings.
Among last month's courses were a salade niçoise with white beans, potato and onion galette, with brown butter and comte, plus peach clafoutis with crème fraiche.
Shapiro and Hito have partnered on the retreat project with Erin Ralph, 34, of Goshen by way of Wantage, N.J.
Ralph built her millennial style-maker reputation, as a teenager covering fashion and culture in the alternative press, before co-founding Bullett Magazine.
Ralph said she currently consults for companies trying to reach young social media influencers, socially conscious and affluent consumers.
Shapiro and Ralph, who declined to provide a cost estimate for the Goshen retreat project, said they've received healthy interest from private investors.
“This (project) is about inspiring people to feel good, whether that be eating right or touching the earth with their feet, doing a bicycle ride, or feeling alive,” Ralph said.
If the wellness center's planning-board application passes muster, the project could breathe new life into a well-known local property, said Goshen Supervisor Doug Bloomfield.
Before Dr. Pascual practiced at the Rt. 207 estate, Mary Gay-Griffith, a prominent local realtor, lived there from 1968 to 1989.
And the property served as headquarters for the metal casting company Amalloy Corp. from 1990 to 1994.
“It’s a classic mansion from years gone by in Goshen,” said Bloomfield, who also thinks gourmet, natural meals could be a draw. “Organic foods keep growing, and they go hand-in-hand with wellness of the body, the mind and the soul.”