Saturday, February 17, 2024

What a Saint

     Would you like to be known for your faults? Me either. But with mountains, faults can be the key to understanding their origin and history. Take St. Catherine Mountain for example. It forms the eastern backdrop to Vermont's Lake St. Catherine in the Towns of Poultney and Wells. It is part of a north-south range of hills and mountains with very steep west facing sides that reach their apogee at Pond Mountain. Here, impressive vertical cliffs tower 600 feet and more above the village of Wells. 

Google Earth screen shot of Pond Mountain looking north

Gwenne took this pic of the Pond Mountain cliffs
Looking east from Rt. 30 just north of Wells

       The dramatic topography here is the result of thrust faults where large chunks of the Earth's crust were pushed westward during  a plate collision 450 million years ago. Called the Taconic Orogeny, it gave us the hilly landscape of New York's eastern border.  

On this geologic map the heavy dashed line down the center
marks the position of a thrust fault

     To those of us who love to explore (my hand is raised), features like this ridge and cliff have an hypnotic draw. I've long dreamed of starting in Wells (with coffee and a pastry at the Wells Country Store!) before climbing along the spine of the range and finally coming down for a well deserved swim/beer/cookout at Lake St. Catherine State Park.

My fantasy hike starts with an ascent of Pond Mountain at the 
bottom right and continues along the ridge over St. Catherine
Mountain with a descent to the Park just off the top of the map

     Alas, it is not meant to be. To the best of my knowledge most of the route is privately owned with no public access. Most, but not all. Thanks to the Slate Valley Trails  and a generous landowner there is a path to a vantage point on St. Catherine Mountain that should not be missed. Gwenne, Zia and I hiked it recently and it gives an enticing taste of what the whole ridge walk could offer.

The hike starts at the red balloon on the right.
Two trails lead up the mountain to a viewpoint in image center.
Lake St. Catherine is on the left.

     To get to the Lewis Deane Nature Preserve take a right off Rt. 30 just before the state park entrance (Rt. 30 is the scenic road along the east side of Lake St. Catherine between Wells and Poultney, Vermont). Drive a little less than a mile on Endless Brook Road to a small parking lot on the right. The trail crosses the brook on a new footbridge to open meadows where there is an informative kiosk, some small ponds and a sentry on a hilltop.

Bridge over tumbling waters

Gwenne and Zia with the King of the Mountain

        In 2002 the landowners donated this 85 acre property to Green Mountain College for use in teaching, research and recreation. When the college closed in 2019 the land reverted back to the original owners who continue to let people hike here. There are two trails to the top of the ridge. We took the short and steep yellow trail up and returned via the green trail for a loop of several miles.

Up the yellow trail


     The forests are a mix of hardwoods and evergreens with some sections of dense hemlocks. Careful observation will reveal signs of past land use such as grazing and logging. Rock outcrops are of  greenish gray phyllite, layered and tilted. They originated as off shore muds more than a half billion years ago before taking a wild ride of 50 or 60 miles to end up here. No wonder they're crooked and crumpled.
     After hiking a mile or so you arrive at the top of the ridge and an amazing view. There is a wetland directly below and the lake just beyond. Quarries of the slate belt are visible with the hills of Washington County leading your gaze to the Adirondacks on the horizon. Faults aren't such a bad thing if they give you a panorama like this!

     I suggest taking the green trail back down. It switchbacks at a gentler grade and takes you thru some interesting forest stands. The long even slope down a hogback to Endless Brook is a delight and the final section to the meadow follows the stream.
     The state campground would be an ideal basecamp for adventures in this area. There are other Slate Valley trails nearby and one of my favorite bike tours leads from here to Poultney, Middletown Springs, Pawlet and Wells. The swimming holes of the Poultney River are just up the road and for refreshments you have several options in Poultney and the rustic elegance of The Barn restaurant down by Pawlet. It's a saintly place to spend time exploring.

     Let's finish up with some interesting images of the area that I found on the Web:

Looking south with the Pond Mountain cliffs and hills of the fault scarp left to right

Looking north past the steep west face of Pond Mountain

Looking south with St. Catherine Mountain, the cliffs of Pond Mountain
and other hills of the fault scarp angling from left to upper right

     And finally, a web image of a beautiful oil painting by Andrew Orr. Pond Mountain from across Little Lake:

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Industrial Revolution

     The Village of Salem is a 'blink and you missed it' type of place. Best not to blink because what you'll miss is some of the most interesting architecture found anywhere. Take the eastern approach on Co 153 for example. There are a number of attractive residences and then in short order one passes the following:

The Courthouse Community Center

The school campus

The Episcopal Church with its stone belltower

The imposing Fort Salem Theater


     Come into town from the west on Co 30 past the entrance to SAW and its whimsical sculptors and The Old White Church is not to be missed.

     Swoop in from the north on Rt. 22 and, in truth, the most popular building is the Stewarts Shop. Ok, but once you get your milk, coffee, beer and gas take a minute to notice the old train station across the street. It's small, unimposing but with its own simple charm and tells of days gone by when railroading was a big thing here.

     Finally there's the Rt. 22 southern approach. Try to look the other way when you go by the Dollar General because there is a real treat coming up. The stately three story brick and stone structure that exudes an aura of 'old industry'.

     Mention Washington County and most people think of agriculture, not industry. But that's misleading. Ever since initial settlement  abundant waterpower has been utilized for industrial production. Anybody who paddles the county's streams will tell you about encountering washed out dams and the stone work of long abandoned mills. Sadly, 'abandoned' does seem to be a trend here. The recent leveling of GE's presence in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls being a prime example. And there are many other former mill sites as well. I had to go to Salem for parts last week and and in a brief half hour trip I checked out the following:

     The falls at Fort Miller have long powered a number of mills. All that's left are some graffiti enhanced cement structures surrounded by chain link fence.

     A few miles down the Hudson in Thompson is the site of a former paper mill. I can remember riding the bus to school in Schuylerville and looking across the river when it was an ongoing operation. Many of my friends parents worked there. Now it is mostly razed with a few interesting structures still remaining. Fishermen (even in January!) assure me it's  a public park and OK to access the water here. I'm not so sure. Note that Smokey Greene (1930-2023) had a tavern here that was a favorite stop for workers after they finished their shifts.

       On the edge of Greenwich Village along the Battenkill are the ruins of the Skybel Tissue mill. Another chain-linked wasteland that kids have no problem sneaking into. You can canoe down to the dam here (be careful) with the site actually looking attractive from the water. Occasional talk of redevelopment but that seems increasingly doubtful. Many people wish something would happen here.

     Further upstream is the post-industrial eyesore of Bio-Tech between Rt. 29 and the river in Battenville. With the refurbishment of the Susan Anthony house across the road and anticipation of it becoming an historical attraction it's time to do something with the derelict and slowly collapsing mill structures.
     Not trying to burden you with a post-apocalyptic sense of doom so much as to empathize the sense of hope that comes from the recent reinvigoration of the garment factory building in Salem. Since 2021 Jon and Deana Ketchum, a married couple who went to school in Greenwich, have been busy renovating the building to house their furniture making business as well as to serve as their home. 

Web image

New Collar Goods Table and Chairs
(web image)

     So uplifting to see what can be done with these vintage buildings given a vision and a lot of hard work. Let's hope the Ketchums have sparked a new industrial revolution in Washington County.

Take a look...

     * The Salem garment factory renovations have been documented in Youtube videos here and here and here. There was also a feature on something called the Magnolia Network titled Home Reimagined. Unfortunately I couldn't find it but maybe you'll have better luck. New Collar also has a website and a facebook page to learn more. 
     * Note that Jon and Deanna will be speaking about their renovation of the mill at the Salem Courthouse on Thursday, February 8 at 6pm.

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