Lauren R. Stevens: Hoosic, then and now


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Let's take a ride up the Hoosic River from New York State, following in the hoof prints of one completed Oct. 14.

"On the west of the river at no great distance rose the Taconic Range, an eminence of considerable height and, as we advanced southward, [it] became a succession of mountains. . . . At the bottom of this valley ran the Hoosic River, one of the handsomest streams in the world, over a fine bed of pebbles and gravel. Its waters are remarkably limpid. . . "

Indeed, its course is the only water level route (Route 346) to cut through the Taconics. We think it is handsome, if not quite limpid. The pebbles and gravel make a fine bed for trout.

"We forded the Hoosic [after] about five miles. . . . The water was not more than knee-deep, although two days before it was impassible. Its course is between high mountains, and its current rapid. Hence it rises and falls greatly within very short period." Indeed, what's called a flashy river. We see that every time it rains.

Now, in North Pownal, a dam reminds us of an old mill. "Over its dam a sheet of water of great regularity and beauty spread across the river.

Up these precipices, from the water's edge to their summit, rose a most elegant succession of forest trees, chiefly maple, beech and evergreens.

The deciduous foliage had been changed by the frost. "

Soon "three eminences of white limestone rose on the left. Their bold bluffs . . . served to change the smiling scenery into rudeness and grandeur. The same scenery is continued to Williamstown, and is increasingly alternated with beauty and majesty."

Yes, the white limestone rises behind the mill houses in Pownal. The scenery becomes temporarily more rugged. And then we pass the "breccia, or puddingstone, hanging in the side of a precipice," a gravel pit beside Route 7.

"About a mile before we reached Williamstown [center], we turned into a field on the eastern side of the road to visit a medicinal spring in the neighborhood. The [water] temperature was sensibly higher than that of the atmosphere, which was about 60 degrees of Fahrenheit, but much lower than that of the human body."

That would be the site of Sand Springs, now a swimming pool and a water bottling plant.

"About twelve o'clock we arrived at Williamstown."

Yes, we're following a trip taken October 14 -- 1799, that is. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College, spent his summers traveling about New England and New York on horseback, and writing letters describing his trips to an imaginary English friend to correct misinformation current in the old country about this country. His letters were published posthumously.

The landmarks remain true and the river, in spite of some abuses, remains beautiful, more beautiful and healthy than it was 40 years ago, if not quite as beautiful as 213 years ago. Hope springs that all our rivers can be cleaned up to the point that President Dwight would award them Yale degrees.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks, on northeast side of the Hoosic.

A writer and environmentalist,
Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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