Tales of Storm King

http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~sws/fun/runtales/sk.shtml     Last modified: 02/08/02 05:56:24 PM

I used to live in the "Hudson Highlands" region of New York, near West Point. I have many fond memories of wandering around that backcountry, looking for things that aren't there anymore. (If I ever move back to IBM, this will be why! :)

Much of Storm King is still officially closed, because of the fires a few summers ago. Unofficially, access is still possible; after I wrote the following, I snuck in and photographed many of these sites.

There were many other "treasures" out in the woods. Some undocumented ones I found (and---somewhere---have detailed notes about) include:

(If you're living down that way and want to check some of this out, contact Bob Flavin in the NY-NJ Trail Conference.)

Some regrets:


Tales of Storm King

(There's more, but I haven't written it down yet.)

S.W. Smith, Cornwall NY
May 1999


1. THE LOST STORM KING MINES

In his Vanishing Ironworks of the Ramapos (Rutgers University Press, 1966) James Ransom includes a huge catalog of mines, forges and furnaces in the Hudson Highlands. This catalog mentions a ``Smith Mine'' in the Storm King Clove, which as opened in 1828 and worked a vein 3-4 feet in thickness.

Two things about this entry struck me:

In his Cornwall (1873), Lewis Beach mentions an iron mine in the clove, opened in 1828, abandoned by the time he wrote his book, with a vein 3-4 feet in thickness.

This led to some conjectures:

So, where was the mine? One of these two sources mentioned ``at the foot of the mountain'' which led me to poke around the old CCC camp, and fret that the construction of the Old Storm King Highway had destroyed the mine.

But then, I started reading William Thompson Howell's Hudson Highlands diaries (written primarily 1890-1910, published posthumously in 1933, republished by Walking News in 1982).

Howell wrote about a ``Mine Hill'' in the Clove. Various other clues (e.g., Vol 1, pp. 32, 48) led me to conclude that ``Mine Hill'' is the peak labelled ``North Point'' on the Trail Conference maps (that is, the peak of the western peak of the northern ridge of Cro'Nest). Then, in a footnote (Vol 2, p.17), the missing piece: Mine Hill was named for the ``now forgotten iron mines established there in 1828.''

So (like the joke about the drunk looking for his keys under the street lamp), I first searched all the easy-to-search parts of the hill, and confined this search to the higher parts of the slope (that would more unambigously be considered part of the hill). Then I started into the mountain-laurel-covered face...and found the mines.

WHAT'S THERE:

Two very large trenches with large tailing piles. It looks like each entered some underground shaft, but the openings have long-since caved in. (There may be more on the hill, but it's very hard to see in the laurel. You cannot even see one trench from the other!)

In the plane beneath the mines, there are a couple of ruin-like piles of field stones. A short way to the northeast is a small 4-foot x 4-foot concrete post, firmly embedded in the ground and reaching about 6-foot above ground level; in the eroded top, the letters ``O.P.I.R.'' (??) are still visible.

(Note in 2002: I've later noticed similar posts in Harriman Park, near former park boundaries.)

(In the back of my mind, I still wonder why Ransom placed the mines at the foot of Storm King Mountain. Maybe the Smith folks opened up several sites in 1828? There are still a few ravines down by the river that I haven't searched...)

HOW TO FIND THEM:

SOURCES:

Ransom and Beach are both in the rare book collection at the Cornwall-on-Hudson village library. (Howell will probably go there when I return it---that's what they seem to do with any book I take out. :) As noted, Howell was reprinted in 1982; I've heard that Beach was reprinted even more recently. NY/NJ Trail Conference Map #7 (1992 revision) has roughly accurate trails for Storm King. Map #7 in the sixth edition of the New York Walk Book (and presumably the next edition of the separate map) is a bit better.

2. THE CLOVE CEMETERY

While hunting for the Lost Storm King Mine, I had been poking around the old CCC camp, in the Storm King Clove, down by the river. (Beach's and Ransom's clues led me to believe that the mine was in that region.) I climbed to a high point, to get a good view of the base of Storm King---and found a cemetery!

When I excitedly told Colette Fulton (Village Historian of Cornwall-on-Hudson) of my discovery of a cemetery neither on the maps nor in the Walk Book, she said ``Oh, you mean this one''---and opened up her copy of Howell to the photograph and discussion on pp. 7-9 of Volume 1.

(Which is how I learned that Howell's diaries were a must-read!)

When Howell visited in 1905, many headstones remained; the diary records some of the epitaph poems. When Mrs. Fulton's daughter excitedly discovered the cemetery (some 10-20 years ago), she noted with interest that the date of her discovery coincided with a date on a headstone. But since then, vandals and time have had their way: today, most of the stones are tipped over, and what lettering is visible is badly eroded.

TO GET THERE:

There are two parking areas on the Old Storm King Highway, down in the Clove. Go to the northern one (nearer to Cornwall). If you then follow the old CCC camp road, you'll head east-southeast, then swing around and head northwest, then hit a large ravine with a stream that needs to be crossed. Rather than crossing the stream, climb the knoll to your right to reach the cemetery.

3. HAGAR'S STOVE

The reason I run in the woods is ostensibly to train for the slightly more organized backcountry activities of trail ultramarathons and orienteering. But these days, no matter how much I promise myself that ``this evening, I'm going to concentrate only a strong run on the marked trail,'' I end up seeing some faint woods road, and my promise vanishes. (A century ago, Howell wrote about similar difficulties in the same woods.)

As the Howell Trail climbs east-southeast from the Stillman Spring (on the Old Storm King Highway) up the north ridge of Cro'Nest, it turns left and coincides with an old woods road for a short distance. Then (just before the Pitching Point) the blazed trail turns right for a steep shot up Cro'Nest.

One evening, as I was running up this part of the trail, I turned right on the old woods road, instead of left. (Couldn't help myself.) Judging from the trees and vegetation, one could tell the road hadn't been used in a while. However, the road continued fairly clearly for a while, until it hit a clearing just before a stream bed. A cairn marked this clearing, and a spring trickles out of the ground about 20 meters to the right. The road continues faintly beyond this stream bed, but gradually disappears altogeher. (If you keep going, you end up in the notch between North Point and the North Ridge.)

This diversion left me wondering: someone spent a lot of effort building this road halfway-up a mountain, from a sharp dropoff (the Pitching Point) to the middle of the woods. Why?

Howell's diaries answered my curiosity.

Phil Hagar was one of old-timers that Howell knew. (Portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Hagar are included in the photographs following page 113 in Volume 1.) Page 30-31 in Volume 1 explain things...

When Hagar was younger (in approximately 1870, according to the dates Howell gives), he worked as a logger in the Clove. He brought logs OUT of the forest via the mystery road. At the Pitching Point, the logs were pitched down the notch in Cro'Nest into the river. (This was one of several ``pitching points'' in the Highlands.)

In his logging days, Hagar lived in a cabin at the clearing marked with cairn. When Howell first visited this site (in 1890), all that remained was Hagar's old iron stove. When Howell returned in 1907, the stove was still in the same place, apparently untouched. (Howell photographed the stove, but the photograph is not included in the published diary.)

Today, a short distance downhill from the cairn is an approximately 6 x 8 foot depression lined with rocks---possibly the site of Hagar's cabin?

And about 50 meters east of the cairn, on a boulder just uphill of the trail, lies the pieces of Hagar's old stove---130 years after it last heated Hagar's cabin and a century after Howell first saw it.


4. BILL ROSE'S FARM

Old editions of the New York Walk Book depict all of Storm King as a trail-less, wild area. Even now, the region from the Howell Trail on the Cro' Nest north ridge, across the Cro'Nest Clove to the West Point boundary on the Cro'Nest south ridge still looks wild.

Which is why it was a quite a surprise, one foggy day, when I climbed down into the Cro'Nest clove to see what was there, and found walls, ruins, and roads!

A quick check of Howell (Vol 1 p. 73; Vol 2 pp 25-26) indicates that this was probably Bill Rose's Farm, which a 1906 entry describes as abandoned.

Old men in Howell's day told stories about when they (as young men) had known Bill Rose. Apparently, he was quite a character; for example, ``Rose's Spring'' was also called ``Rum Spring'' since Bill would often carry a bottle of rum back from Cornwall, and stop and drink both rum and water at the spring.

Besides the usual stone walls, the farm includes many piles of small rocks on top of large boulders. One can easily imagine Bill cursing as he tried to plow this rocky area, and piled the rocks he could move on top of the rocks he couldn't. There appear to be at least two foundations, and a few iron artifacts (including hinges and a door-latch)!

The farm---and the whole Cro'Nest clove---deserves more exploration. (For example, the prominent road through the farm serpentines down the clove toward the river somewhere. Where does it go? What about the other end, and the various side roads?)

TO GET THERE:

An adventurous approach is to climb up the Cro'Nest Clove from the Old Storm King Highway. Howell reported finding virgin forest---including a six-foot diameter chestnut---in this region; but I didn't see any. (But there ARE some fairly deep and interesting gorges, that would be worth another visit.)

An easier approach is to descend from the Howell trail on the north ridge. No climbing need be involved; take one of the gently sloping notches closer to the river-end of the ridge top.



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