For many years scientists and naturalists have been studying and observing the flora and fauna of the Shawangunk Ridge. Foremost among them was Daniel Smiley, for whom Mohonk Preserve’s Daniel Smiley Research Center is named. Dan wrote numerous reports summarizing his observations on various topics. This regularly occurring series will feature some of these reports; some hold tremendous scientific value today and just await an interested researcher to follow up, others showcase a quirky sense of humor or highlight an oddity of nature.
Read the Report: Zaidee’s Bower. March 1988. Alice Cross and Daniel Smiley.
A Note from Paul C. Huth, Director of Research Emeritus:
Growing up years ago in Esopus on an old 1790’s Hudson Valley farm, I can clearly remember my Grandfather, Walton S. Persons, a long time Catskill Fire Observer with the New York State Conservation Department (now DEC), and serving as Observer on Mohonk’s Sky Top Tower in 1941, teaching me the names he used for some of the plants, birds, and mammals we saw, and the places we went. I know now that many of these were local vernacular names that he had learned the same way that he was teaching me. I think place names give a great sense of historical continuity, a strong sense of place, and a connection to the land.
I started volunteering with Dan Smiley and The Mohonk Trust in 1974, and conducted natural and cultural history research with the Preserve for over four decades since, I am still interested in the place names we use on the land. Working with Dan full time on natural and cultural history research projects, we were constantly referring to a legacy of hundreds of named locations to document the species observations we were making. Most of these Dan and his brother Keith had learned from when they grew up at Mohonk. Some names, over the decades, Dan had conferred on a special and meaningful location himself. Many place names had their origins linked to early European settlement on the ridge starting some 300 years ago, and over time, the uses made of the resources the ridge had to offer. And, some in common use today, can be linked all the way back to the vibrant Native American culture that existed here previous to European settlement. To standardize the place names, Dan created a map indicating the named locations. In 1988, with historian Alice Cross, Dan documented what he remembered in a documentary report. Today, under the direction of the Preserve’s Conservation Science staff, thousands of species observations and documentary collections with their locations on the land are being brought forward, and are thankfully being digitized.
As Dan and Alice recorded, “we have become aware that the naming of physical features and of particular places is underlaid by several heritages: local Native American, Huguenot, with French and Dutch cultural components, and English. These diverse sources, with subsequent modifications, make for complexity in meaning and pronunciation. Our explorations of place-name origins have uncovered interesting bits of history.” One of them, that was later presented in this 1988 Cultural History Note, is Zaidee’s Bower.
The first mention of the Mohonk place name “Zaidee’s Path” and “Zaidee’s Bower” that I could document was in the 1883 “Guidebook to Mohonk Lake.” In the section describing “Paths,” it reports “Mohonk Lake is especially noted for the large number and great variety of walks within a short distance of the hotel. These deviate in all directions from the house…In most of the paths, the route, in difficult and uncertain places, is indicated by red arrows painted upon the rocks, or sign boards nailed to the trees.” Characteristic of the early Mohonk philosophy of care and stewardship of the land, is the caveat, “care has been used, in the construction of the walks, not to disturb the wildness of nature more than is absolutely necessary.” Farther along, at the end of the description of Laurel Ledge Path, “from near the middle of the path, Zaidee’s Path leads toward the west down the mountain, and soon divides, making a circuit through Zaidee’s Bower. The path to the right is usually taken. This path has recently been opened, and is a wild scramble of three quarters of a mile among huge rocks and trees hitherto but little frequented.”
In the 1870’s and 1880’s, access to the steep lands to the west of Mohonk, below Pine Hill and Copes Lookout, was only able to be reached by paths, such as Maple Path through Rock Pass, Sassafras Path, Plateau Path (an older tanbark road), Laurel Ledge Path, Sunset Path to Sunset Rock, and Cliff Path or Chestnut Path to Copes Lookout. The carriage roads we know so well today-Copes (1885), Humpty Dumpty (1888), Pine Hill (1886), and Laurel Ledge (1900, using part of the old Laurel Ledge Path), weren’t built yet. Guest destinations of the day, and since, “Owing to the enormous size of the rocks….(and the) great fissures,” were rock scrambles in the Labyrinth, the Great Crevice, Eagle Cliff, Giant’s Workshop, and Rock Rift. So it isn’t a surprise that early on, Zaidee’s Bower also became a destination. Walks to Zaidee’s Bower were announced to guests in Lake Mohonk Weekly Bulletins.
As part of the 1990’s Mohonk Preserve Cliff and Talus Survey, Research staff documented the characteristics of Zaidee’s Bower, located “at a change of slope on the northwest side of the mountain,” and formed by a high angle and abundantly creviced moist conglomerate cliff of some 500 feet in length with a moderate talus. Numerous overhangs and fault block crevices are found. Some of the free fault blocks are very large. There is an extensive moss and lichen diversity. The surrounding area was considered thickly treed, the canopy forest dominated by Hemlock, with some trees quite large, and Black Birch, with Chestnut Oak found on the upper cliff tops. Hemlocks were hard hit by the Woolly Adelgid. We still considered that the area demonstrated excellent wildness, with only occasional use of the trail corridor loop and the rock scramble through the bower. A few old rustic ladders remain. As an aside, not far down hill, the separate Undivided Lot Trail passes across the slope, and to the west along the Undivided Lot Trail, one can find the chimney and remains of the old Mohonk School Boy’s Straight 8 Hut, built in 1925, and the Straight 8 Vernal Pool.
A Mohonk guest of note, around the turn of the 20th century, was Emma Smuller Carter. Emma, the “gifted wife of Professor James Carter (DD) of Lincoln University,” Chester County, Pennsylvania, wrote a “book of lyric poems,” entitled, “Lays of the Lake.” It was written at Mohonk during her stays there, and was published in 1910. The book, as presented in the “Lincoln University Herald” (Vol. XV, №3, March 1911), “is illustrated, several of the cuts being from photographs of the scenery at Lake Mohonk….The poems are on many themes, in various meters, and appeal to almost every sentiment of the heart.” And, this then connects Emma Smuller Carter to Mohonk’s Zaidee’s Bower, with her “romantic poetic account of the Zaidee’s Bower site” appearing on pages 20 and 21. On the fly leaf page of the Mohonk copy of “Lays of the Lake,” Emma penned, “To Our Friends Mr. and Mrs. A. K. Smiley, With many happy memories of Lake Mohonk in days gone by, and hopes for days to come,” signed “Emma Smuller Carter, Lincoln University, January the fourteenth 1911” (courtesy Mohonk Archives).
Some 57 years later, Virginia Viney Smiley, “then in charge of the resort’s Activities staff”….gives an account of her efforts to rediscover Zaidee’s Bower,” which she presented to Mohonk guests in an article “Zaidee’s Bower Rediscovered,” in the August 10, 1968 Mohonk Bulletin (Vol. 57, №9). “Zaidee’s Bower is a remote, elusive nook on Mohonk property which has stirred the imaginations of several generations. Recent notes on the bulletin board, indicating that this year’s Activities Staff has at last stumbled on its mystery, lead us to believe that a re-telling of the story is long overdue,” going on to link the romantic story told in “Lays of the Lake.”
The Mohonk slope lands, to the west and north of the Laurel Ledge Carriage Road and Maple Path corridor, including Zaidee’s Bower, became part of Mohonk Preserve in the transfer of the 859 acre Clove Parcel to the Trust on 30 December 1969.
Read the Report: Zaidee’s Bower. March 1988. Alice Cross and Daniel Smiley.