Hiking along the Rockland Side of the Hudson River

Okay, so this is definitely NOT within the jurisdiction of OssiningHistoryontheRun because it is across the Hudson River. But I feel I can squeeze it in here because you can SEE Ossining clearly from this side of the river, so . .

There are several trails to choose from here – Google Hook Mountain, Nyack Beach, and or Rockland Lake Park and you will find one that suits you.  I parked at (more or less) the black and green dot below, at the intersection of Landing and Collyer Roads.  

From there you can take your choice of trails – a six-mile loop south down towards the Mario Cuomo Bridge along the river and then back by way of Hook Mountain, or north six miles along the river, up to the steep, switch backed Treason Trail, so-called because it is where the traitorous Benedict Arnold met British Major John Andre to complete the deal that would surrender West Point to the British, in exchange for £20,000. 

Both trails are about 6-mile loops

Check out the link from the NY/NJ Trail Conference here for more details. Go either way and you will pass the ruins of old quarries, beach houses, docks, ice houses, an inclined railroad and even a cemetery, plus see some spectacular views of New York City, the Hudson, Ossining and Croton Point Park.  So follow along for a little forensic hiking . . .

First, I think it’s important to note that all of these trails are within the Palisades Interstate Park Commission that was created by NYS Governor Theodore Roosevelt and NJ Governor Foster Voorhees in 1900 in response to the rampant quarrying activities that were seen to be destroying the Palisades.  We’ll be walking above and by many of these quarries – you decide . . .

Now, let’s start at the top, where the Knickerbocker Ice Company stored its ice and transported it down to the river.  

Note that Rockland Lake was originally called Quaspeck Lake by the Munsee-speaking Lenni Lenape Indians who were here first. Henry Hudson sailed past here in the Half Moon in 1609, and the first Europeans to settle here were the Dutch.  But by the 1660s, the Dutch had handed off the land to the British.

By 1831, the lake was renamed Rockland as the Lenni Lenape had been displaced (or Ramapough Mountain Indians, or Ramapo Lenape Nation or Ramapo Lenape Munsee Delaware Nation – no one seems to be able to agree on exactly who they were, probably because their land was stolen out from under them so long ago.) 

Hook Mountain, in fact, gets its name from the Dutch – they called this area of the Hudson Verdrietige Hoogte, or “Tedious Hook” because I guess it was tricky to navigate a boat past it due to unpredictable winds and currents.

Next, rock quarrying is much of the reason that the Palisades look the way they do, especially north of the Mario Cuomo Bridge.  Hook Mountain, in fact, jutted much farther towards the Hudson in the eighteenth century than it does today, thanks to decades of quarrying in the mid-1900s.

First accomplished through sheer manpower, then through steam-powered stone crushers and dynamite, today’s bucolic surroundings bear little resemblance to the bustling, noisy, dangerous areas they once were.  

In those years, instead of serene trails alongside the Hudson, 

Photo credit: Sharon Edmonds

there were docks and piers all along the riverbank – landings named Sneden’s, Tappan Slote (Piermont), Rockland Landing, Waldberg (or Snedeker’s) that received ferries and barges which took on rocks, ice and later people, conveying them either across the river or down to Manhattan. Check it out (and note that you will be walking right THROUGH where all of this once was):

Thanks to Scott Craven for this photo

This New York Times article from October 1899 gives a sense of the dangerous conditions the quarry workers faced:

The Rockland Lake Trap Company, mentioned in the above article, owned and quarried much of these riverside hills.  Can you imagine what it was like to hear the blasting of the rocks once at noon, and again at the end of the workday? Can you imagine what is was like to work in one of these quarries? Apparently work of this nature was going on all up the Rockland side of the Hudson from Piermont up through Nyack and as far as Haverstraw.  Here’s a postcard of the above stone crusher:

Thanks to Scott Craven

No wonder the locals started complaining.  Over thirty companies were blasting away at the mountains from about the 1870s until about 1920, when the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission bought up the final parcels of this land, under the watchful eye of Commissioner George Perkins and thanks to donations from the likes of the Harriman and the Rockefeller families. 

You can see the scars from these quarries as you walk along the riverside trails:

In addition to the quarries, whose products were used for macadam roads and for foundations for many New York City buildings, the Knickerbocker Ice Company was also a bustling and lucrative business.  

Back before the Revolutionary War, in 1711,  a man named John Slaughter had purchased land at Rockland Landing that extended up Trough Hollow and back to Rockland Lake.  He build a dock and pier there which was for years called Slaughter’s Landing before being renamed Rockland Landing in the early 1800s.  

By 1805, ice harvesting began on Rockland Lake and it proved so popular that by 1831 the Knickerbocker Ice Company formed.  Ice began to be harvested in a systematic and efficient fashion to serve New York City’s ice boxes and restaurants.  Rockland Lake, you see, was said to have the “cleanest and purest ice” in the area.  During the coldest months of winter, ice was sliced up into blocks, and stored in icehouses in the area. Check out this Edison film from about 1905 showing the horse-drawn ice cutters:

 By 1856 an incline railway was built in Trough Hollow, the ruins of which you can see as you start your hike (look for the crumbling stone walls to your right as you head down to the river.  Imagine small rail cars filled with blocks of ice rolling down to the river to be loaded onto barges and steam ships and transported to the most august eating establishments in New York City.)

Here’s the lower part of what’s left of the incline railway. There are still pier footings in the river below.

With the advent of refrigeration, ice harvesting ended here in 1926, but the land around the lake was developed, and bungalows, resorts, hotels and even casinos for New Yorkers took up the slack until the late 1950s when the entire area was purchased and converted into Rockland Lake State Park. Check out these drawings of the Rockland Hotel (also see here for more information.)

Once the quarries were stilled, beach side parks were developed and Hook Mountain Beach Park was quite elaborate.

Overview of Hook Mountain Beach Park, in use from about 1920 – 1941
Steamboats docking

Sadly, this delightful beach park was shut down in 1942 due to WWII (I don’t know what the connection was, but apparently there was one) and a hurricane in the late 1940s destroyed the park, never to be rebuilt again. By the 1950s, no one wanted to let their kids swim in the Hudson anyway because it was so polluted.

As you walk along, you’ll see ruins of old stone buildings – some of which were from the beach park era, some of which are from the quarry period and served as storage sheds for dynamite or offices.

Last but not least is a beauty shot of the spectacular view you will see when you climb to the top of Hook Mountain:

I’m glad Theodore Roosevelt et al had the foresight to protect this land. What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Hiking along the Rockland Side of the Hudson River

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