Friday, September 29, 2023

Cossayuna...pedaled/ paddled/ paged

      Listening to friends talk about the fun things they did over Labor Day weekend got me thinking, "Maybe it's time to start planning some summer stuff". Not that I'm known to procrastinate or anything like that. So before it's "Going...Going...Gone" I managed to squeeze in a couple of summery outings to Cossayuna Lake. Also found some interesting reading about the place that I'll share as well.

Cossayuna Lake looking south
A drone shot from a recent real estate ad

     Let's start with a little geography and a little history. The lake is located in central Washington County, mostly in the Town of Argyle but with the hamlet at its south end and some of its eastern shore in the Town of Greenwich. It's about three miles long and maybe half a mile wide. I've seen a grab bag of numbers but it appears to be +/- 700 acres in size and seems to be the largest lake wholly within Washington County. It's located within the folds of the low Taconics where most of the ridges tend to run north/south. The local bedrock looks to be a gray/green phyllite. Surrounding hills rise from 400 to 500 feet above the water making for nice scenery. 

Asters, goldenrod and phyllite

Watering the lake
this rivulet flows in on the west side

     Most of its feeder streams are just little trickles with the largest draining Summit Lake which sits 250 feet higher to the west. The outlet is on the south end, sometimes called Cossayuna Creek and sometimes Whittaker Brook. There are a couple of ponds along the outlet, apparently created in the past by small dams to harness the water power. After flowing thru Carter Pond and its associated wetlands the outlet stream empties into the Battenkill River and thence into the Hudson. 

The outlet at the south end

     It is a rather shallow, eutrophic lake only 25' at it deepest and less than 10' deep in many places. This results in areas of thick aquatic vegetation, but also in lots of warm water fish. It is known for its large and smallmouth bass as well as pike, perch and various panfish.

     The fish, fowl and game made the lake attractive to Native Americans. They called it Quabbauna, the lake of three pines, for several towering trees on the west shore. Europeans arrived in 1765 but there was little development until after the revolution. The Allen family massacre of 1777 happened just a few miles west of Cossayuna, gruesome proof of how dangerous the area was in those early times.

     Water powered sawmills were built on the outlet stream before 1800 and various operations continued here into the early 1900's with a small village clustering around. The surrounding area was lightly populated with subsistence farms until the late 1800's when a new crop began to be cultivated: vacationers. A number of boarding houses took in guests with The Oaks on a west side peninsula being the most extravagant. It featured a large hotel, dancing pavilion and excursion steamer.

     After The Oaks burned in 1915 there was a transition to a cottage based summer scene and that's what you find today. The lake is garlanded with private seasonal homes and the only public access is at a state boat launch on the northeast corner. Fishing and boating are popular and while I'm sure people swim from their own docks there aren't any beaches open to the rest of us.

Fun at Cossayuna (as long as you're not a fish)
images from CLIA gallery

     Perhaps the best way to get a feel for the lake is by biking around it. I parked by the Veterans Memorial at the village pond on Co. 49 and did a counterclockwise loop up East Lake Road and back down Co. 48. It's an easy ride of less than ten miles with no hills to speak of. If you want more challenge just take any of several side roads that lead away from the lake where you'll probably want a gravel bike for these steep and dirty climbs. Rather than a lot of description I've put together a little photo album of what you'll see.

The Veterans Memorial with the village pond
just visible beyond a wall of knotweed

Books by the Fire house

Looking across the lake to the former site of The Oaks

At the Cossayuna Lake Improvement Association

Neighborhood watchmen

Fishing just offshore

Big Island looking south

At Little Troy looking north

At the site of The Oaks
It's all private and not very welcoming now

A funky roadside stand

Need directions?

The Lakeville Baptist Church back in the village
Loop completed!

       It's a lake so the obvious way to explore it is by boat. Obvious but perhaps not best if the only boat you have is a canoe. Back in August we put in at the DEC launch site on the northeastern end of Cossayuna. It's the only public access that I'm aware of and mostly used by those looking to fish. Big Island lies straight out from the put-in and we paddled out making a circuit around its attractive, wooded shore. It is privately owned so you can't land but it's pleasant to drift alongside.

The boat launch

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On the lake

     From Big Island we headed back towards the eastern shore with its many waterfront camps. Unfortunately it was a hot Saturday afternoon with lots of jet-skis and motor boats churning the lake. A stiff breeze picked up and pretty soon it was choppy enough to make paddling feel like work. My take is to come here in the off-season, on a week day or early or late in the day. A quiet morning outing when the leaves are changing could be magical and it is definitely doable to tour the whole lake in a few hours time. 


     Cossayuna's not awash in commercial attractions and that's part of its charm. That said here are a few places you might want to check out. At the southern end of the lake on Co. 49 is the Lakeside General Store. Definitely worth a visit but unfortunately only open during the summer season. Get something to eat or drink and soak up the relaxed ambience of the back patio.

     A short distance down Riddle Road off Co 49 will bring you to the Owl Pen book barns. It's a great place to spend a few hours browsing the stacks. The quiet dirt road is also a favorite for walking or running. Check here for when they are open.

At the Owl Pens
(web image)

        Head east up Bunker Hill Road from the bend in Co 49 and you'll find a farm store, an old schoolhouse, The Bunker Hill Inn (a B&B) and, in season, Campbells maple syrup.

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     South of Cossayuna on Co 49 is the Carter Pond Wildlife Management Area. There's a nature trail here and a place to put-in canoes. 

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     The Cossayuna Lake Improvement Association has a clubhouse on East Lake Road. Check them out here. While on their website be sure to browse the gallery of photos to sense the camaraderie the lake engenders.

     As I made my bike loop I noticed that Quack Ups restaurant at the intersection of Co's 48 and 49 appears to be closed. Have heard that the town line between Greenwich and Argyle runs right thru the building. Back when Argyle was a 'dry' town if you wanted a drink with your meal at Quack Ups you had to sit in the Greenwich part of the establishment! Always wanted to check this out in person (definitely want a drink) but now I'll never get a chance. 

What more could you ask for?

       Rose Bain's Lake Cossayuna and Vicinity - History and Portraits of the Past is full of information, old photos and includes several columns by Joseph Cutshall-King who lived here until his recent passing. It's a book I highly recommended. You'll also find sections on Cossayuna in Argyle, My Argyle and I Remember Argyle, both compilations by The Argyle History Group.

     * For the geologically curious you might try to find a copy of L.B. Platt's 1960 Yale University doctural thesis: Structure and Stratigraphy of the Cossayuna area New York. Then there is geologist and Argyle native Michael Huggins interesting take on Charles Wolcott's 1884-85 search for fossils in the hills near Cossayuna with tips on where you can look today. Find Huggins' essay in Argyle, My Argyle.  Also worth looking for some of the NEIGC and NYSGA guidebooks to field trips in the area. Good luck. 

*Finally let's wrap up with a few images taken from recent real estate listings that will give you a feel for around the lake:

According to the write-up this west side structure was once The Cossayuna Hotel
Offered at $309,000

View towards lake from another west side property
Pending at $399,000

This colorful place is on Co 49 in the hamlet
lake access via outlet stream

The old schoolhouse on the Millpond recently sold for $142,500