Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Rendezvous at Bash Bish Falls

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  The falls appear as if from heaven or some region so remote that it must always be hidden in mist. I'm sure there's a trail to the top, and if I were to get there to see how the water flows over the lip, I'm certain I would be disappointed. For now I'm content with the illusion and the magnificence of the cataracts' continuing descent as water cuts the deep ravine down to where men once mined and processed iron ore in the hamlet of Copake Falls. This is the western fringe of America's first great iron industry that flourished in the Taconic and Berkshire Mountains of Connecticut and Massachusetts, and into the Green Mountains of Vermont.

For something less than most of its life since colonial times up to today, this region around Copake, New York, has existed as, at best, a remote outpost of the nations fabric. Most outsiders know of it from having driven through it on Route 22. Even after the Revolution, it was run on a kind of medieval manorial system, and farmers were kept in constant poverty delivering service and crops to the descendants of Dutch landowners in order to continue farming the land their parents and grandparents had farmed. It was one of the compromises the founding fathers had made to Livingstons and Van Rensselaers to reward their loyalty during the Revolution. 

Then, for a brief moment, mostly in the last half of the 19th century, lead and iron mining brought three rail lines through the region, and they crossed just south at Boston Corners.  All at once it was a busy center where produce from local farms was loaded onto boxcars so city folk could eat, and trains loaded with iron and lead passed beside stockyards where cattle waited, and trains passed in all directions on their way to the centers of production. Soon railroads and plentiful water to power mills attracted other industries as well. 

Because until 1857 Boston Corner was legally in Massachusetts, the authority of the law was on the other side of the Taconic Mountains, unable to enforce its jurisdiction, and Boston Corner became famous as a lawless area where the illegal practice of boxing contests drew crowds. On October 12, 1853, when John Morrissey defeated Yankee Sullivan after thirty-seven rounds in a bare-knuckles, championship match, it drew a crowd of 10,000, they say, and ended in a brawl of seconds, but the local hotels were packed and people camped and boarded with local residents.

Because the railroads made them accessible, Bash Bish Falls and the remote mountain lakes and streams brought adventurous tourists, fishermen and honeymooners from the city. They came and stayed at one of several inns in the valley below and climbed or rode beyond the local industry and into the mountains to the falls and to mountain lakes and streams. Today it takes a bit of research to figure out where most of the railroad beds were; one is now a bike trail, but the mountains have well-maintained trails and remain largely as they were.

Even today, if you want to go anywhere east, you are met with the same Taconic wall that has always made this region remote.  Driving south you'll barely notice Boston Corners long before you reach Millerton where you can cross east into Connecticut. Going north you'll want to get up to Hillsdale before crossing east into Massachusetts, or you can continue up the dirt road past Bash Bish Falls and sniff your way through winding forest roads that might as well climb over the rainbow, and you may not meet another car until as much as an hour or two later when you descend from mountain mists into the valley on the other side.

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