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Sabbath Day – ReSearching the Past

June 10, 2017

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My Sabbath Day today was spent searching for an old house, one build prior to 1776 but apparently now lost. The home belonged to Gilbert Hatfield and was built on land inherited from his wife’s cousin, Daniel Knapp. (This is a second and older house than the Gilbert Hatfield house I wrote about last week). Daniel Knapp was my 12th great grandfather’s great great grandson (or my eleventh great grandfather’s brother’s great grandson). The land is now part of Westchester County’s Silver Lake Preserve, less than a mile form my present home. The family connection (stretched as it is) was fun to make, but if this home still stands it would be among the oldest in White Plains. 

Mostly, it was an excuse to hike in the woods with permission to leave the blazed trails and really discover the terrain of the land.

I thought the day would go well when I met this lovely deer on my path less than 100 yards up the trail into the woods. I asked her to guide me to the home.

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I walked half a dozen miles in a 100 acre wood, up and down ravines, looking in vain for the ruins of a rural home (which was last seen and photographed in 1975). It should lie somewhere east of Hall Avenue and about 400 yards from a granite outcropping with a four story fall formerly known as Mucklestone Rock. The Rock was a well known landmark and should not lie far from the road. It ought to be obvious enough to serve as a landmark, but I couldn’t find it either. Mucklestone Rock is described as a granite outcropping which, when approached from the West cannot be seen in what appears to be fairly flat land, but which falls off precipitously. The fall was both significant and surprising enough that during the War of Independence a British officer named Tilton  plummeted over it to his death. I found lots of rocks, but nothing fitting this description. 

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I found, and spent an hour simply tracing, Wolf Swamp Brook, which meanders down to what was once known as St. Mary’s Lake.

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Since I was looking for an obvious stone ledge and flat farmland, I was surprised that most of the wood above Silver Lake is rolling ridges  and glens, the Wolf Swamp Brook being the collection of various micro-watersheds. Once result of this uneven terrain is dozens of small shallow ponds that are well off any marked trail and so rarely visited.  

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Despite this, evidence of former use of the land was everywhere – the famous New England stone walls marking farming fields, pasturage or property lines. 

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The smaller stones in the wall above, and the relatively level soil, suggest this area was used for farming. After clearing the ground, the annual working of the soil would continue to reveal new and relatively smaller stone. The consistently larger stone in the wall below suggest pasture land for animals. Only the larger stone were moved when the land was cleared. The barway in the wall is another giveaway, and it allowed for cows and other animals to pass from one side to the other if desired, while a simple wooden bar could close the way for them.

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I found all kinds of creatures as I hiked, from ribbon snakes to woodpeckers, including this lovely painted turtle that I am told looks to be about 12 years old. 

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Several times I crossed the White Plains Heritage Trail, which is currently so poorly marked through the Preserve as to be unfollowable (and one point I tried to follow it). The Heritage Trail itself is nearly 100 years old, and re-blazing it would be a good job for our local Boy Scouts. By chance I found my way into the Stony Hill Cemetery, a National Historical Site which I visited last week. But no old house and no landmark rock. I am, however, undeterred. The city archivist and city clerk have been tremendously helpful, pulling 300 year old maps from the shelves and digging up property records – I now know more about this land than I thought possible. And I have been “cruising” the land on Goole Earth. There are still some sections of woods near the County Park with No Trespassing signs posted which need to be explored. So hope remains.

If any reader of this blog has a clue that might help me in my search for the old Gilbert Hatfield House, I would appreciate it.

 

Happy Sabbath.

 

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