Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Peace Place

     It was a perfect winter day. Blue sky, bright sun, mild upper twenties.

     Perfect, except...there was no snow.

     Normally Gwenne and I would head out for a ski tour on a nice Sunday in January. Do a little exploring, look for someplace new. But not this year, not on bare ground. So, no skiing but maybe we could still do some exploring, find someplace new.

     Sometimes you just have to cast off, get moving, be open to whatever. We paused at the end of our lane, a moment of indecision, then headed south. Soon I started to notice things. A Knox monument at Starks Knob. Then another in Schuylerville and later a third in Stillwater. Made a note to myself: do a little research into the events they commemorate. Then there was the trail work along the old canal towpath beyond the Schuyler House. Was this part of the Empire State Trail? Have to look into that. Going by Coveville I remembered how I'ld always wanted to paddle the odd little appendage to the Hudson's shoreline. Was it an old glacial meltwater channel? Not sure but it would be fun to find out. Further along we passed a couple of boat launches offering easy access to the river. Put them on the list for next summer.

The Cove lies in the teardrop formed by the Hudson River on the right
and Rt. 4 on the left

     Stillwater presented a choice. Continue south to check out Peebles Island, or cross the river here and see what we could find to the east. Rensselaer County is something of terra incognita to me so east got the nod. The Lock 4 park beckoned. It's an interesting place but I've been there several times before. We drove on, paralleling the Hoosic River before gradually ascending up onto its glacial delta. Interesting to note that both the Washington County Fair and the Schaghticoke Fair are located on identical landforms: level, well-drained gravel deltas deposited in glacial Lake Albany.

     We crossed the Hoosic at Valley Falls trending south on a long, lovely stretch beside the Tomhannock Reservoir. Then the way lead up onto the Rensselaer Plateau, a high, hilly area that's part of the Taconics. Pushed here from the east during the orogeny 450 million years ago, it's noted for outcrops of graywacke, a hard sedimentary rock originally deposited in deep marine basins by turbidity currents.


        We continued to gain elevation, eventually coming to the small village of Grafton. Here there were signs pointing towards something called The Peace Pagoda. Gwenne looked at me. I looked at her. Neither of us had ever been to a Peace Pagoda before. Who knew when we'd get another chance? We followed the signs.

     Higher, deeper into the woods. Along dirt roads, past stone walls. Then there was a sign: 'Park Here' with a lane leading off to the right. Another sign suggested a trail wandering into the forest. We took the trail, followed hand painted arrows, wound over rocks and around boulders. Soon enough we could see a dazzling glow as the afternoon sun reflected off something beyond the trees. When we finally stepped into a clearing, there it was ... our first, our only 'Peace Pagoda', magnificent in the late-day light. It was a revelation. To come on to something like this so unexpected in what could charitably be called the middle of nowhere. 

     We spent an hour, maybe more, walking around the Pagoda, taking in the life of Buddha as celebrated in signs and bas-reliefs. We found other monuments on the grounds and looked into the adjacent temple where services are held twice a day. We learned of Nichidatsu Fujii and Jun San and Hank Hazelton's roles in creating the Pagoda. Finally, we walked back down the trail, glad to have gone exploring and filled with wonder at what we'd found. 


Friday, January 13, 2023

More Power to You

     We see waterfalls as scenery. Our ancestors saw them as essential. It's hard to overstate the importance water power had to early European settlers in New England. They had intuitively tapped into one of the four fundamental forces of nature. That would be gravity, of course. (If my memory serves me, the other forces are the electro-magnetic and two types of nuclear bonds...all of which we have come to understand and use.) 

     It's gravity, that mysterious attraction mass exhibits (warping time and space according to Einstein), that causes water to flow from high to low. In the past people learned how to tap into that flow, learned that moving water could turn a wheel and that wheel, thru ingenious connecting mechanisms, could saw lumber, grind grain and do countless other tasks useful to them.

     A good place to contemplate the impact of water power is Bakers Falls on the Hudson River (aka Hudson Falls). There's a park on the Saratoga County side with an informative panel on the sites history. Here you can look out on the damed falls or walk down a lane blasted out of rock to access the river from below.

Above and below views of Bakers Falls
Note that all the rivers flow is diverted thru the hydro plant
The falls are dry

      Let's set the stage with a little geology. This is a transition zone from limestone bedrock upstream to shale downstream. The limestone built up along the edge of the ancient North American continent over 450 million years ago. Then, as tectonic plates converged, the limestone was warped downward into a trough that filled with mud eroded off rising mountains to the east. We call the remnants of those mountain the Taconics. This mud lithified over millions of years into the shale that the Hudson cuts into from Bakers Falls southward. 

Bedrock geologic map with Bakers Falls center right and Glens Falls top left.
Shale in green, other colors are limestone.

     What's curious is that the shale, while younger and thus deposited on top of the limestone, now sits at a lower elevation than its carbonate predecessor exposed upstream. Such are the interesting (and sometimes confusing) arrangements the Earth's restless crust creates. Travel a short distance from Hudson Falls to Glens Falls and the river's bed goes from shale to limestone. Go a little further up river to Spier Falls and you'll see much older 'basement' rocks such as metamorphic gneiss.

Layered limestone at Glens Falls

      Both Glens Falls and Bakers Falls have steep-sided, narrow canyons or gorges below the falls. This suggests that they have eroded upstream in geologically recent times. The course of the river from west of the city of Glens Falls to Fort Edward probably dates only from the end of the last glacial period about 13000 years ago. Prior to that there were several drainage channels that converged near present day Albany. Glaciation, with its scouring and filling rearranged the patterns to what we see today. 

     Brief definitions of geologic terms associated with Bakers Falls may be helpful:

Carbonate - the minerals calcite and dolomite that form sedimentary rocks such as limestone, dolostone and marble

Calcareous - rocks composed partly or completely of calcium carbonate

Calciphile or Calcicole - plants that thrive in calcareous (lime rich) soil

     With regards to the last term, if you walk down the rock cut lane that leads to the bottom of the falls on the Saratoga County side you'll see what appears to be light colored layers of limestone within the shale. Apparently water seeping thru these layers creates the right conditions for calciphiles. A deeper dive can be found here. If you have a canoe you might want to paddle upstream from the Sand Bar launch in South Glens Falls to view a similar layered outcrop of shale and limestone and associated plants along the bank of the Hudson diagonally across the river from Havilands Cove.

Light colored layer of limestone embedded in darker shale at Bakers Falls


     So the rocks were deposited many millions of years ago and the glaciers advanced and retreated many thousands of years ago. Then, after the ice there was water. Huge meltwater lakes that eventually drained to make way for the rivers and streams of today. Plants and animals reclaimed the barren ground and people followed. Archeologists have found evidence of their camps at Fort Edward, near Fort Miller and along the Snook Kill. The Hudson was their travel corridor and a source of fish and fowl. But the falls and rapids above the rivers bend at Fort Edward precluded upstream progress so this became 'the great carrying place' where overland trails struck off for Lake George and Wood Creek/Lake Champlain. 

John Hill painting of Bakers Falls with early mill

      With the coming of Europeans there was a long series of clashes between the French and English that also involved their Native allies. Eventually, after enough blood had been shed, the situation resolved and permanent settlement began. Albert Baker arrived in 1764, building a house, wing dam and saw mill at the falls that now bear his name. Peace was short lived and during the Revolution the British burned most of Sandy Hill (today's Hudson Falls) including Baker's mill. After the war Baker returned to rebuild his saw mill, subsequently adding a grist mill and a carding and woolen mill.

Baker Cemetery in Hudson Falls

     As it became safer and easier to travel, a nascent tourist industry developed. It is still going strong today. Lake George was always a prime destination but many sightseers stopped to view Glens Falls and Bakers Falls along the way. Some kept journals or published their impressions. Here are a few excerpts:

* Timothy Dwight was a prolific traveler who left four hefty volumes chronicling his journeys in New York and New England. He visited Glens Falls a number of times. His impressions from 1798:

     "The perpendicular descent of the water at this place is seventy feet. The forms in which it descends are various beyond those of any other cataract within my knowledge. All the conceivable gradations of falling water, from the mighty torrent to the showery jet d'eau, are here united in a wonderful and fascinating combination."

     "Originally these falls were in the neighborhood of Fort Edward, five miles below their present station. During a long succession of ages, the river has gradually worn this deep channel backward to this place."

     "The rock over which the Hudson descends at this place is a vast mass of blue limestone, horizontally stratified; and, I believe, exactly resembling that which produces the falls of Niagara."

     On a return visit in 1811 Dwight was dismayed with changes at Glens Falls:

     "To my great mortification I found it encumbered and defaced by the erection of several paltry buildings, raised up since my last visit to this place ... Another was a wretched-looking cottage standing upon the island between the bridges. Nothing could be more dissonant from the splendor of this scene, and hardly anything more disgusting."

     Ah, progress. While Dwight mentions being at Sandy Hill several times I could find nothing in his Travels about Bakers Falls.

John Hill's 'Glenns Falls'

* Benjamin Silliman was a protege of Dwight's at Yale and emulated his mentor by writing of his travels to Quebec in 1819. He gives us a good description of Bakers Falls:

     "The entire fall is seventy-eight feet; but it takes place at several leaps, and forms  succession of violent, tumultuous rapids, not inferior in grandeur to Glens Falls, and superior to them in picturesque effect; these falls are really quite as well worth visiting as the more celebrated cataract a few miles above."

     "... a handsome picture is presented by the veins of white calcareous spar, which in great numbers, intersect the black slate rocks, and give them a tesselated appearance ... "

     Silliman mentions a gunpowder manufactory located here and then gives us a morbid accounting of recent fatalities at the falls:

     "Another man in a boat was impelled into the current, and finding his case hopeless, calmly shipped his oars, and submitted to his fate. A man in a dark night walked off the high bank at the bridge, on the eastern side, and fell seventy-five feet; and a Frenchman, about the same time, drove a wagon and horses over this precipice; it is scarcely necessary to say that they all perished."

Bakers Falls around 1828 by J.G. Milbert

* British Naval Captain Joshua Rowley Watson toured up the Hudson Valley in 1816. His trip diary and many of his sketches and watercolors can be found in Captain Watson's Travels in America

     "Breakfasted at Kingsbury, the Scenery here is very beautiful, and the falls of Baker worthy of notice ... they tumble over dark rock with great force ... "

     "The view looking down from this spot is also pictoresque, the rocks in some places perpendicular, and the woods of Pine, Elm and Oak add much to its beauty. I had ful amusement at Kingsbury ... "

     It's interesting to note that while sketching Watson learned of a child who had fallen in the river above the falls and had been snatched to safety just before being swept over the brink. Obviously a dangerous place. 
     Later in the day he proceeded to Glens Falls with this impression:

     "I was greatly disappointed at this spot, having heard most exagerated descriptions of its scenery, and the height of the cateract."

     I copied Watson's diary exactly so if the spelling seems a little funky blame him, not me. I've never seen any of his paintings online. The best I could do is photograph them from the book. The one of Glens Falls came out better than those of Bakers Falls so that is what you see here. 

Glens Falls 28 July [1816]
Joshua Watson

     Ever since Albert Baker's first mills, industry has clustered near the falls. Union Bag, Sandy Hill Corporation and General Electric are among the notable manufacturers that located here. GE is, of course, notorious for its pollution of the Hudson River with PCB's. Today all of the companies' buildings in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward have been razed. As this is written demolition of the former Allen Mills and Powerhouse is ongoing. Located on the Washington County side of Bakers Falls, it was a textile mill from the mid-1800's with its associated hydroelectric powerhouse built in 1907. You can see them across the river from the Saratoga County side but look quickly because they will soon be gone.

This drawing shows where PCB's seeped into the Hudson
from the GE plant at Bakers Falls.
From Northeastern Friends of the Pleistocene
2008 Field Trip Guidebook

Google Earth Screen Shot

     This Google Earth image shows the Hudson River entering from lower left with Glens Falls at upper left and Bakers Falls on the middle right. The gray circular area just below the river in the top middle of the image is a quarry in limestone. Note the thin line linking to the north bank is a conveyor that carries the rock over the water to a cement plant. As the river bends in the upper right corner another visible line is where the old Fenimore (Upper) Dam used to be. Downstream several dots are just barely visible crossing the river. These are piers that were meant to carry a railroad bridge that was never built. The two lines at the tip of the island above Bakers Falls (they look like a bow) are the old and new road bridges connecting Hudson Falls to Moreau. 

     Nowadays there is good access to the river below Bakers Falls. You can put a canoe in and enjoy a sporting run down to Rogers Island  or a DEC boat launch on the Saratoga County side. Years ago, shortly after they removed a dam at Fort Edward, I remember paddling in something called the Sludge Water Derby here. The river moves right along but I don't recall it being particularly challenging or dangerous.

At the DEC boat launch on West River Road

     That's not the case for the section between Glens Falls and Bakers Falls. Canoe access at Glens Falls is virtually nonexistent with industrial plants occupying both banks. You could try to 'Ninja' your boat into the water from the Coopers Cave viewing platform but that would almost assuredly result in the boys in blue showing up to 'serve and protect'. The run downstream would be tricky with numerous small islands and several drops to negotiate. You would definitely not want to capsize with Bakers Falls waiting for you downstream. Still, the limestone box canyon and sprinkle of islands make this stretch of the Hudson intriguing. Perhaps with the imminent closing of the cement plant and the conversion of the former Ciba-Geigy site to a solar farm there could be a way for the public to enjoy this area in the future.

Looking down the Hudson from the Rt. 9 bridge
Finch Pruyn mill on the left, Coopers Cave viewing platform bottom right 

     Those with a particular interest in this section of river might want to check out Walter F. Burmeister's 1974 paddling guidebook: The Hudson River and Its Tributaries. He used a rope(!) to lower his boat down the old spiral staircase to Coopers Cave from the Rt. 9 bridge between South Glens Falls and Glens Falls. There follows a description of the route from Glens Falls to Bakers Falls where he once again used rope work to get into the gorge below the falls. Here is his impression of Bakers Falls: "Prior to the dam construction craze and the hunger for cheap water power, this was a magnificent cataract at the head of an equally dramatic box canyon. A sheet of water dropped over 60 feet in a wild and truly impressive setting." 


 *    I've mentioned Coopers Cave at Glens Falls several times. It was named after James Fenimore Cooper who visited the area in 1824 and used the locale in his The Last of the Mohicans novel. It's interesting to note that the section of the Town of Moreau near Bakers Falls is known as Fenimore in another apparent homage to the author.

*     Several years ago both the Salem Courthouse and the Georgi Museum hosted a Mills on the Kill exhibit which documented the manufacturing sites on the Battenkill River. Historians Judy Flagg and Sally Brillion have done research on these sites and would be good sources of information on early waterpower in Washington County.  

Foundation and machinery from the Eagleville Woolen Mill on the Battenkill

*     Anyone interested in early water-powered industry may want to visit the Harwood Mill in East Hartford. Originally built by Hezekiah Mann around 1810, it has since been restored by Floyd Harwood. The Log Village Gristmill tells of this labor of love. The mill can be seen at the Andelyn Farm on Co. 30. 

*     Boralex is the Canadien company that operates the hydro facility at Bakers Falls. They currently have three solar farms planned for Washington County that will total well over a thousand acres. One is in Easton along Windy Hill Road near the fairgrounds. Another is nearby in the Bald Mountain area. The third, and largest, is in the grasslands area of Fort Edward/Argyle. That one is particularly controversial because it impacts the birds that use the area. While it may have benefits, the push for solar development also has repercussions. These installations are often targeted for open farmland. Yes we need clean energy but we also need food and it should be considered that agriculture is still Washington County's number one industry. Why not place the panels on GE's recently vacated properties in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward? After all, GE stands for 'general electric'...  

Map of parcels slated for solar development in Fort Edward and Argyle

*     Finishing up on a personal note, my Dad used to tell me about a mill where he worked as a boy. It was on the Snook Kill near Gansevoort in Saratoga County. For old times sake I stopped by to have a look the other day. The mill itself is long gone but you can still see the water intake ditch and remnants of the dam that created a mill pond. Afterwards I visited with Harry Thomas who owns the land where the mill was located. He shared his memories of the place and showed me two mill stones he had recovered from the ruins. It was a moving experience to connect with these artifacts from my families past. Finding traces of history in the landscape is always exciting and there's no better place to look than along the streams that powered the lives of our forebears.

A gate structure and channel that funneled water to the mill

Part of an old mill dam hugs the bank on the right
The Snook Kill drops over Big Falls downstream

The granite stones that ground the grain