Historic Waters of Copake, NY
By Mindy Potts
Webpage and Notes by Cliff Lamere 9 Nov 2003
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This historical article about Copake in Columbia County, NY is part of series written by Mindy Potts for publication in the monthly newspaper "OK Times & The Hudson River Sampler", Northern Columbia County Edition. Published in Stuyvesant, Columbia Co., NY, the newspaper also distributes a Southern Columbia County and Northern Dutchess County edition. The text and title of the original article may have been slightly revised for this webpage so that they would be more meaningful to a geographically diverse audience.
Original publication: about 2001
Original title: The Historic Waters of Copake
(Introduction by Cliff Lamere)
The Historic Waters of Copake
I read the name Copake was derived from an Indian word that described a characteristic of the lake that we now call Copake Lake. Further research
led me to two other sources which gave specific meanings of the word, but they didn't agree on what the meaning was. Copake could possibly mean
"snake pond" or "clear, deep water." Considering Copake has a reputation for being a resort area, I know which meaning gets my vote.
Copake Lake, one of the largest recreational lakes in Columbia County, has a peninsula known as "The Island." Whether it was a natural island and settlers transformed it into a peninsula or whether its current shape was also its natural shape, is not known. The Livingston Family, who owned a great deal of land in the early years of Columbia County, built a large residence on The Island in 1809. Later some farmers, in conjunction with
the Indians, were contesting the validity of the Livingstons' title to the land. An anti-rent dispute ensued and the house built on The Island was destroyed so that it could not be used to harbor those siding with the farmers.
Copake was not just a farming community. The area at the foot of the Taghkanic mountains, in the eastern part of the town, was rich in iron ore. Now known as Copake Falls, this area was historically called Copake Iron-Works or Copake Station. In 1845, Lemuel Pomeroy started the Copake Iron-Works. It manufactured 2,500 tons of hot blast iron yearly. Much of this iron went to the Watervliet Arsenal and the Meneely Company which manufactured bells. The success of the Iron-Works increased the population of the area. This led to Copake Iron works becoming a stop on the New York and Harlem Railroad in 1852. By 1902, Copake Iron-Works could not compete with the mass production of iron coming out of Pittsburgh and shut down. The 40-foot deep iron bed was filled with clear water, perfect for swimming. This area eventually became part of Taconic State Park and according to advertisements for the park, on a clear day, visitors can see to the bottom of Ore Pit Pond.
Taconic State Park also holds Bash Bish Falls, a part of Bashbish Brook (try saying that 3 times fast) which starts in the town of Mount Washington, Massachusetts. The falls had been a popular picnic and camping spot even before the idea for state parks was developed. As early as 1870, taverns and inns were built near the falls. The last and most successful was built around 1900 by Eugene Vacheron and then conveyed to Louis Moquin of New York City who further developed the inn. However the inn was destroyed by fire in 1918. The name of the falls is unique and the origin of the name has differing stories. It could be that the name was just an onomatopoeic sound describing the falling of the water, or possibly the name was from the Swiss "Pisse Vasche." Maybe the name was derived from a story about an Indian squaw named Bess who lived near the falls. A mountain man from the area was reported to have said "Yes, they used to call her Bess the Bitch."
Not all early residents of Copake arrived of their own volition. One Dutch sea captain brought people to the New World while using the idea of indentured servitude to his advantage. Indentured servitude was a way for people to "buy" their passage to the New World. If a person had no money to pay for the voyage up front, upon arrival in the America, the person would work off his or her debt, often becoming little more than a slave for many years. In 1753, a Dutch captain advertised an "excursion" and the men who took him up on this offer were given a grand meal and liberal amounts of spirits and before they knew what was happening, they were on a much longer excursion than they expected. They were bound for New York. Following what was the law at the time, the ship captain sold the men, who could not pay for their passage, to the highest bidder. For 4 ½ years these men worked off their debt, seven pounds passage money, at Livingston Manor. After their debts had been paid, Livingston offered to lease the men land and they became productive community members of the area we know as Copake.
One of these travelers was Peter Rhoda, who settled near two ponds, now known as Upper Rhoda Pond and Lower Rhoda Pond. Another man, Nicholas Robinson, settled at the foot of a pond and became the first miller in the area. The pond he settled near is, of course, now known as Robinson Pond.
The Roeliff Jansen Kill, named for a distinguished historical figure, is a creek that runs through many of the towns in Columbia County. All but one of the ponds in the town of Copake empty into the Roeliff Jansen Kill which eventually makes its way to the Hudson River.
The beautiful waters and landscapes have brought people for centuries to the town of Copake. Whatever the names of the streams, lakes and ponds have meant in the past, the reality is that the town is one of the scenic places in picturesque Columbia County.
Visitors since 9 Nov 2003
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