Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Camp Columbia

Here in Connecticut we are just emerging from the deep freeze of a particularly long winter so when my father mentioned that he was going for a hike at a local spot he had been telling me about, I decided to join in. The place is called Camp Columbia and it's in Morris Ct. There is a trail head with a parking area and it seems that mostly it is used as a dog walking trail by the locals but there is quite a bit of history there as well. This was a wilderness camp for students of Columbia University beginning in the 1880's and lasting through the 1960's. There were several buildings including an old farmhouse, a stone tower (which stands to this day) and various ponds, trails and camping areas were students would sleep in tents.  Although it is now a state park, there really doesn't seem to be any maintenance happening and the tower and old stone dining hall are being left to slowly disintegrate. It's really a shame since it would not take much money or effort to save these wonderful old structures.

Here is the crumbling road leading into the camp. I can imagine this tree lined road in it's heyday must have been spectacular but now it looks like the short cut to the apocalypse.

 Rounding the corning at the top of the hill the tower comes into view.

 This stone tower was built in 1942 by the graduating class of 1906. It replaced an earlier wood tower that stood on the same spot.

 These picnic tables were probably brought in around 1980 when this area was first designated as a state park. Now they sit rotting and neglected.

 This is an old open well that was located next to the remains of the farmhouse. You wouldn't want to accidentally step into that while not paying attention!

 This spring was bubbling up under pretty strong pressure. I bet it's clean but I didn't try it.

 The remnants of an old BBQ pit. This sat on the edge of the overgrown field near the spring pictured above.

 This is old fence once stood in front of the old farmhouse along the edge of the road. I'm amazed that parts of it still stand.

 There's one step broken off the staircase around the outside of the tower. Climbers beware.

 Here is the old stone dining hall built in the 1930's. The roof is beginning to go on it which is a shame. Right now the building could easily be saved but give it a few more years with roof continuing to rot and it'll become a much harder restoration project.

Friday, March 26, 2010

2 cents

The winter months have given me plenty of time to stare bleary eyed at old maps to find the old abandoned home sites that I love to metal detect. After many hours of comparing new maps to old maps I had found exactly what I was looking for, an old road that was not on the newer maps which means that it was now abandoned and any houses that showed on it were now abandoned as well. The road that I found was in a very rural section of northwestern CT (you didn't think I was going to give you the location now, did you?) and showed three homes over a stretch of about 1.5 miles. This was perfect, just the kind of thing that makes me start dreaming of the treasure I would find. In my mind every location is loaded with old copper, silver and gold coins just waiting for me to come along and pluck them out of the dirt. Of course this has never aligned with reality....YET!
The day came where I could get away so I immediately knew where I wanted to go. I brought my father along as I often do on these outings since he loves to metal detect as well. He's been doing it for over 40 years now and is the reason why I got hooked on this hobby when I was just a kid. So anyway, off we go with metal detectors in hand.
Finding the old road was easy since there were distinct landmarks nearby to help us find the right location. The old road was lined on either side by stonewalls which made it easy to stay on path. So much can be told by the stonewalls of New England. We have so much natural rock here that building stone walls was absolutely necessary for the early settlers since they needed cleared land to farm and for animals to graze. Walking through the woods one just has to look at the land and take notice if there is rock still covering the area and once you notice that the land starts looking clear of rocks then you can bet that you are nearing an old house. We found the first house with no trouble. The remains of the foundation were right beside the road and next to it was something that I have rarely seen, an arched stone cold cellar! And it was still standing. This told me that this farm was probably a pretty large and successful one. It takes a lot of work to build these cold cellars to store your food in and judging by the amount of cleared field I could tell that this was quite the farm in it's day. (That's my father mugging it up in the pic.)

We immediately turned on the detectors and went to work. Within minutes I had located the first button which is a common find at these old homes. This was a flat cast button which dates to the early 1800's or 1700's. This was exactly what we wanted to see. More buttons were found but then the targets fizzled out. I was beginning to think that we weren't going to get anything else and then I got a nice strong signal that could have possibly been a button or if I was lucky a coin. Digging down I rechecked the signal and it sounded better now and I knew it had to be a coin. Sure enough I was rewarded with a nice large green copper disc. Curiosity getting the better of me I walked over to a puddle of water and cleaned it off to see if I could identify it. Once I saw the details I knew it was a 1723 Woods Hibernia colonial half penny. I was familiar with this coin since I had found another one a couple years earlier. 1723 was the only date they made them  so even though I couldn't read the date on the coin I knew it was from that year.

This was a nice find but that was it, nothing else was turning up so we decided to head to the next home site.
This one was not as easily identifiable. I probably would have walked right past it if not for my father spotting it. This cellar hole looked very old, probably much older than the last one. It was very small and there were not many clues to house being there other than the actual foundation. This time I was not getting anything too exciting. I got one small button and pile of misc junk metal. My father made the only good find at this spot, a nice colonial buckle which almost certainly dates to the 1700's. (sorry about the lousy pic)
After a short lunch break we moved on again finding the third and last home. This one was huge! A big foundation with a large center chimney. There was another foundation from a large barn nearby. There were apple trees and what looked like a garden area enclosed with stone walls. This really looked good. In the first minutes we could tell that this house had been inhabited later than the past 2 we had already done. I found some relics that indicated late 1800's rather than 1700's like the previous sites. This means that there would be a lot more junk iron in the ground making it more difficult to find the coins that were are after. We stuck with it for a couple hours digging many targets but not finding anything too interesting. We both remarked several times how there had to be coins there but the question was, could we find them with all the iron in the ground? I got lucky again. I got a good signal and upon turning over a shovel full of dirt I could see a small penny sized copper coin. I figured it was an indian head penny which would have been the right time period for what we were already finding. Much to my surprise it wasn't an indian but a flying eagle penny that was only made between the years 1856 and 1858. These are a rare find and was a first for me. Happy that I now had a coin we decided to head out since the day was getting late.
Once back at the car I decided to drive by an area that I had spotted on the way there that looked like it could have possibly been a home site. We found it and got out of the car to take a look. It really was hard to tell. The ground was clear and there was an area that looked like it could have been a cellar hole but it was very small and almost completely filed in by erosion. There weren't even many stones visible that could have been part of the stone foundation. We figured the only way to really tell if this was indeed a home site was to pull out the metal detectors and see if there was metal in the ground. Even this was spotty because there was some metal but not very much. This home must have been abandoned very early on to accumulate so little metal and to be so eroded.
Ten minutes into the search I got a very fuzzy signal that would not give a clear tone but since there were so few signals to chose from here I decided to dig it up anyway. I was shocked when out popped a large green disc. This coin must have been at an angle in the ground making the signal much harder to read. I could immediately see details on the coin telling me that it was another colonial half penny. Upon cleaning it I could see a nice readable date of 1746. Finding one of these with a date can be a bit of a challenge since they stayed in circulation for a very long time and most were worn smooth. This one however did have two holes in it which is not uncommon for coins of this age. It was common practice at the time to sew them onto clothes so that you wouldn't lose them. That didn't work too well for the owner of this particular coin!
This was the end of a great day metal detecting. Sure I only found a total of two cents worth but it's really the history and the thrill of discovery that excites me about metal detecting not the value of the items found.

Beech tree carvings

OK, I need to catch up on a few discoveries as of late. The early spring weather has allowed me to make my treks into the woods a little earlier than expected this year. Still, I always tend to jump the gun and head into the woods only to find that there was more snow on the ground than I expected or I'll find that the ground is still frozen which puts a real damper on my metal detecting since I can't retrieve the targets that I find! This was one of those trips
. At my house in the valley there was not a flake of snow on the ground and my ground test showed that the frost was gone so I headed to a nearby spot that I had been researching which showed an old home site about a mile off the nearest road. The problem was that it was also considerably higher in elevation than where I lived and of course when I got to where I was going to park I found that there was still some snow on the ground. I told myself that it wasn't very much and I could probably still use the metal detector despite the snow. So I climbed up and up the mountain following an old abandoned road and looking for signs of past human activity. Nearing the area of the home site and it seemed with every footstep the depth of the snow increased an inch. By the time I got to the right area there was 5 inches of snow on the ground and metal detecting was out of the question. I had jumped the gun again. Oh well, at least I found it and I could return at a later time to see what might have been lost 150 years ago. Following the road back down the mountain I spotted an old Beech tree beside the road and noticed that it looked a little funny. Beech trees have a very smooth bark and people tend to carve their initials in them. It's just one of those things that people do....I don't know why. Upon closer inspection this tree had attracted some carvers in the years past and since this was a good half mile from the nearest road or house, I was curious what stories the carvings held. Some were still readable like the initials "RH" and a date of "6/39" but this carver also added "Ariz" indicating that he/she was a visitor from the state of Arizona. I wonder why that person was doing in the back hills of CT in 1939? I believe this roadway had already been abandoned by that time so maybe it was a hunter? Or possibly a hiker? Who knows...I can't say that I condone carving up trees but seeing these old carvings out in the middle of nowhere definitely made my trek a little more interesting. Now I just have to get back up there with the metal detector and find all that lost treasure hidden in the hills.

Monday, December 7, 2009

April 2009 - The Legend Of Old Fifty Crooks

April 2009
I had recently gotten a copy of a new book that detailed some aspects of New Milford history that hadn't been written about before and was finding it interesting since I love history and especially when it is local history that I can feel more closely connected to. The book focused on the northern boundrys of New Milford and how there were laid out and surveyed in the mid 1700's. I know, it sounds a bit dry but between all the technical stuff was a lot of information about the people of the time period and how they lived and worked. There was one mention in the book that really struck a chord with me though. The survey team who was sent to make the northern boundry of New Milford were making their way from west to east across very rugged terrain making large piles of stones at predetermined intervals when they had to climb a mountain in what is known as the Merryall section of town. This mountain is known as "Rock Cobble". But the interesting notation that they made was that they came upon a stone house built on the side of the Rock Cobble mountain. Understand that this land was not privately owned at this time so whoever had built this house had done so without purchasing the land it was on! A colonial era squatter if you will. To make matters even more enticing it was said that a Dr Warner lived in this house and was known by a peculiar knickname, "Old Fifty Crooks". Hmmmm, an eccentric person hiding on land he didn't own who had a knickname that suggested he might have been a criminal. This had the making to be a really good treasure hunt!
I immediately started to wonder whether any traces of this old house could still be found. I looked at some maps and the area was still wooded and remarkabley remote. There is a swamp at the base of the mountain which hinders access from the most direct approach. Private land and very steep rocky terrain blocked other entry points. I kept driving around this area wondering just how the heck I was going to get in there. I realized that the only way I could get on that mountain was to approach it from the back side. This meant that I had to climb up very steep terrain and go over the peak and about halfway down the other side to the most likey area that house could have been erected.
There were a few puzzling aspects of this story that just didn't make sense to me. The most glaring of which is why a squatter would go through the trouble to build a house made of stone on land that he didn't own? That would be a huge undertaking only to have the possibility of having to leave if it was discovered he was there. It didn't seem very likely dispite how remote this area actually is and was. My guess was this: I think that the story had gotten changed over the years from people telling their own version of it just like when kids play the telephone game and each one changes the message just enough so that in the end the message is nothing like it started as. I think this house was just a wooden house, probably just a simple log cabin and because it was on Rock Cobble Mountain the story was changed to a rock house by someone who misunderstood or misheard whomever told it to them. That makes sense to me.
So one day I go off in search of the Rock Cobble house by hiking up the backside of the mountain. It's very steep but the terrain isn't too bad.

I notice some flat areas that had been dug out of the side of the mountain a very long time ago and it took me a few seconds to realize what these were. These were the bases of very old charcoal mounds. The hills of CT were thick with forest back in the colonial days but they were immediately harvested for their wood to make charcoal because the iron industry was booming in nearby towns. The wood was stacked and a smoldering fire was started inside that produced the charcoal and this of course had to be done on site where the wood was harvested...on the side of the mountain.
So I headed further up the mountain finally reaching the top with my lungs burning and my legs feeling like jello. There was a big stone wall on the top that immediately caught my eye. The land had been cleared at some point for fields. I started down the other side while asking myself where I would build a house. It wouldn't have been on the peak because it would have been exposed to the wind coming from the west. It would have been sheltered by the mountain down on the east side if possible. There didn't appear to be much level ground to build on but I walked toward the most level area I could find.

I could see water flowing out from the side of the mountain in the form of a small spring and thought to myself that the house would have been close to this. Water is essential and houses are always built near a water source so this spring would have been a prime factor in choosing where to build a house back in the 1700's. As I came upon the mouth of the spring I could see that some small stones had been placed around the spot where it flowed from the hilside. This raised my hopes of finding the house because here was proof that someone had once used this spring as a water source. I looked for a dry area that was level enough for a house and this led me to a spot about 100 feet away that looked promising.

At first I saw what I thought was a pile of dead trees that had fallen on top of each other but as I looked more closely I could see it was more than that. There were a few logs left from a log cabin that were cut and notched together to form the corner of this very old cabin. I could see the faint outline of the rest of the cabin too where all the logs had rotted away but left a slight hump from the debris deposited when the were completely decomposed. This was exciting! Could this be the Rock Cobble House? Could any trace of a log cabin really have survived that long in the elements? It was hard to say, I don't think it is impossible but it was probably very unlikey. There was only one way to find out. I had to use the metal detector in hopes of recovering something that I could attribute a date to. After about a hour of detecting, I was convinced that this wasn't the home of Old Fifty Crooks after all. I was finding late 19th century artifacts and nothing that I could have been made earlier. It was probably a mid to late 1800's hunting cabin and nothing more. The only notable find was a single penny that I found about 200 yards from the old cabin from the 1820's that was at the base of a large domed rock.. Exciting, but not proof of an earlier homestead like I had hoped. It was probably lost by a hunter who had been sitting on the rock when it fell out of his pocket.

So the legend of Old Fifty Crooks lives on. I may make another hike into the area at some point to check a few other places but I don't expect to find anything. If there ever was a rock house on that mountain it must have been completely disassembled with the stones ending up being used for stonewalls.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday December 6th 2009

I had the idea for this blog a few months ago while making one of my frequent treks out into the woods but it wasn't until this morning when I was climbing a mountain in Kent CT that I really decided to do it. I'm not really sure what purpose this serves other than for me to share a little bit about myself but hopefully there are some of you that will read it and find some enjoyment because it may relate to your life as well.
I'm not going to get real deep into my emotions and bare it all here for the world to see. I think the messages will be more subtle than that. This is a blog about things that I find in the woods. There are many great things just out of eyesight from the roads that we all travel, probably more than you realize if your not the type that is inclined to do a little exploring. Sometimes they are well hidden and other times they will glare at you and say "what took you so long to find me?". I'm not going into this looking for specific types of things to share with you all. You are going to notice that I will usually make these explorations with my trusty metal detector in the hopes of finding the long lost treasure of ages past but that is certainly not all that I'm looking for. Sure, I want to find that old Mason jar full of gold coins that someone tucked into a special hiding place many moons ago but I will also have my eyes open for the strange and interesting naturally occurring wonders.
I'm going to just stop this introduction here because I'm not a writer or poet, my words aren't going to be enough. I need to show you what I find with pictures to help me tell the story. I hope you find something here that interests you but if you don't, it's OK too because in the end...I did it for me.

Sunday Dec 6th 2009
I woke today with the urge to go exploring. If you know me at all you also know that I have this underlying need to find stuff. This is my form of adventure. It carries over into my work as an antiques dealer and my chosen recreational activities such as metal detecting. I just like discovering things. So when I see a mountain, I tend to look at it and say "I wonder what's up there?".
That's exactly what prompted me to go explore this particular mountain in Kent CT this morning. I had been looking at it because it looked like a difficult climb. I figure that would be enough to deter 99% of the population from ever going up there so the likelihood that I may find something that most are not aware of is greater....at least in my mind.
Last night it snowed for the first time this year. It was only a dusting but when I was young I had a tradition that I would go hunting on the morning of the first snowfall every year. I never once shot anything on those hunts but it was never really about that anyway. One time I did see a family of Bobcats making their way across a steep rocky slope and I knew that this was something special that not people had ever seen before. It was things like that which kept me going back into the woods.
I drive out to Emory park in Kent which just happens to sit at the base of this mountain I want to climb.

This gave me a good spot to park where I wouldn't have to worry about getting towed or being on private property. I started into the woods carrying my metal detector in one hand and a small shovel in the other knowing full well that both of these are going to make this climb a lot more difficult. I think I was testing myself though. I wanted it to be hard today. So I started up toward what looked like the steepest area. There wasn't a lot of snow but the inch or so accumulation still made for very slippery and dangerous conditions. I almost immediately came upon a very rocky area that looked like it contained a lot of jumbled rock caves and hiding holes.

My first thoughts were that it looked like a great place for a bear to hibernate. Maybe this was because I saw a bear just a week or two ago which was the first time I had seen one in this area.
I made my way along the foot of these high cliffs and steep slopes until I saw a route that I thought I could manage going up. Just as I reached the foot of the area I wanted to ascend I noticed some large tracks in the snow. I'm not expert on animal tracks but given the size and shape of the tracks I figured that they had to be bear. So I felt my earlier concern was now justified. Here I had to make a decision, should I continue on my chosen path in the direction of the bear tracks or pick another route? Keep in mind that these tracks were made after the snow stopped falling which was only a few hours before this. Well, maybe it was due to some frustrations that I have been having in my personal life lately but I decided to ignore the potential dangers and continue on toward the bear. Probably not a smart move but I wanted an adventure today and the sense of danger made me feel alive. I moved cautiously pausing frequently to listen for any bears or angered animals that might give me a warning before I came too close to their home. In the difficult climbing, I lost the tracks but I could see a big overhang area with a flat spot that just looked like a place a bear would call home. I fought with myself for a couple minutes trying to decide if I should go right over there to that spot....and I did. I didn't find any bears but the adrenaline level was high and it felt good.
I pushed further up the mountain climbing the rocks which were covered with moss. Moss gets incredibly slippery when it is wet or frozen, this was a combination of both. I checked my cell phone to see if I had a signal (I did) so I knew that if I fell and was injured that I could make a call and hopefully be rescued, at least that's what i told myself. Finally the slope became more gentle (still like 35 or 40 degrees which is very steep) and I could walk without really climbing anything. There was a lot of underbrush and fallen wood here which made it difficult still but at least the danger of falling was behind me for now.
At the base of this mountain not far from where I started up there is a camp of sorts that caters to wealthy NYC types who want to experience the "country". As I was nearing the summit I could see an area that had been cut and most of the bigger trees were felled. I guessed this was probably a scenic lookout on a hiking trail that most likely originated at that camp. I was right. I got up to the top and there were trail markers and nice place to look out over the village of Kent in the valley below. I spent a while just taking it in.
After I felt I had my fill of the rewards of the climb I thought that I owed something to the mountain for this experience so I took out my wallet and speared a dollar bill on a tree branch near the lookout spot. This probably seems silly and pointless, obviously the mountain didn't need my dollar but I felt that I needed to make a small sacrifice for what the mountain had given me so I left it....right or wrong.
After deciding on a direction to head down I picked a route that looked like it may offer some interesting sights but wasn't too steep because I was pretty tired from the climb up. Well...it was like that for a short distance but then it got very steep and had a lot of underbrush making it super hard to find a path down. I fought my way down cursing the whole time. This wasn't really fun, it was just hard and again very dangerous. Finally I made my way to the base of this area only to find that the slope was gentler but the underbrush was 10 times as thick. I pushed through prickers and a tangle of saplings for about 15 minutes while snow was falling off of them and going down the back of my coat. Finally that misery was over and I was in open woods again and not far from where I had started.

There was some signs of people camping in this area which was the first I had seen on this trip. There was even a primitive shelter which I snapped a picture of. I turned on the detector here as I had done a couple times so far but nothing was to be found. I'm glad, good campers don't leave behind any traces of their stay.
Another couple minutes and I was at the bottom of the mountain and back to my car which is always a welcome sight after these treks. Can't say that I found much up there on the mountain but I had a great time and it helped to clear my mind of things that I wanted leave behind for a little while.

On my way out of the parking area I noticed this sign. I couldn't tell you any good reason for it having a depiction of ET buckled up and holding up his glowing finger....I'm just glad it exists.