Research Report #62 — Mohonk Poultry Farm
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: Mohonk Poultry Farm. August 1986. Daniel Smiley.
A Note from Paul C. Huth, Director of Research Emeritus: From the first purchase of the 487 acre Trapps Parcel from the Lake Mohonk Corporation on 1 July 1966, by the recently formed Mohonk Trust (on 26 February 1963), to the recent purchase of the 857 acre Foothills Parcel from the Open Space Institute (the Foothills Parcel formed by three major and historic Mohonk east slope farms and it’s historic Testimonial Gateway), the Mohonk Preserve has inherited a unique legacy of land use history and lore directly connected to the history and development of the Mohonk Mountain House.
Mohonk naturalist, historian, and family member, Daniel Smiley (1907–1989), as a Mohonk Trust Founder, Administrator, Board member, and the first Mohonk Preserve Director of Research, who lived almost all of his life at Mohonk, spent decades documenting and telling the story of Mohonk’s history. This 1986 Mohonk Preserve Historical/Cultural Note, the “Mohonk Poultry Farm,” is a result of Dan’s documentary compulsion.
Over time, the Mohonk Mountain House operation was supported by a remarkable assemblage of once smaller subsistence farms on both sides of the ridge, amalgamated into five big centrally-managed farm operations, including Brook Farm, Pine Farm, Kleinekill Farm, Spring Farm, and Chapel Farm, the first four now owned by the Mohonk Preserve. Other smaller Mohonk farm operations, like those at Home Farm, and the lesser known Poultry Farm, also oﬀer a window into Mohonk history, that is part of the Mohonk Preserve on land heritage.
The location of the Mohonk Poultry Farm was high on the east slope of the mountain, some three-quarters of a mile south of the Mountain Rest summit, and a short distance from Old South Road, in the 19th century the major public road going up the mountain from Butterville Road to the summit near Mountain Rest. It’s lower section is what we call Pine Road today. Old South Road provided access to at least eight subsistence farms by the 1850’s, as documented on the 1858 J.H. French Map of Ulster County. Homestead names included Wood, Haight, Barnhart, Relyea, Mullinex, Pine, and Freer. Six of these eight homesteads can now only be found as cellar holes in the woods, with surrounding scattered stone foundation remains of farm outbuildings, and occasionally even their spring or well. Dan noted in his report, that “The upper section (of Old South Road), from Woodside (north of Kleinekill Farm), has not been drivable in my lifetime. A one-time bridge across the Woodside brook has been missing for at least 60 years. A lane ran down to the former (Poultry) farm from Old South Road and is still drivable from (Upper) Lenape Lane.” Lenape Lane was completed to Mountain Rest in 1925. I can remember first visiting the Poultry Farm site with Dan, after straddling the deep ditch along Lenape Lane with the Mohonk Trust Jeep, and driving down the old lane to the farm location.
The original Woodside Trail, which passes through the old Poultry Farm, dates back to the 1930’s, and was designed for use by the Mohonk Trail Riders.
The former subsistence farm lot of 38 acres that the Mohonk Poultry Farm occupied was purchased from Alfred Palmateer and added to Mohonk ownership in 1905. The old farm house that came with the purchase was probably built by earlier owner, William Wood, as shown on the 1858 French Map. It was strategically located on a south-east facing plateau in the shale slope. Like the Haight House and the Relyea (Turner) House, both along Old South Road farther down hill, it was probably built in the Shawangunk board and batten style. As Dan recorded in 1986, “The house foundation remains. It was rather small”. Some unmarked chimney bricks were found. A few bent and now holed enamel homeware pots, a bed frame, and a coal scuttle also remain. Of particular interest to Dan, was the discovery of a “flat slab of red sandstone….with a “U” shaped grove, about a half inch deep… chiseled on the surface,” which Dan felt “might have been the base of a cider press.” The water supply for the old farm was “a spring some 60 feet northeast” of the house at the base of the steep bank. Evidence of a large barn, was located to the south of the house, “the better defined foundation (20 X 50 ft. in two parts) which may have been the barn with a driveway through the middle.” Looking at the site today, there are two gently sloping plateaus that both definitely show surface leveling and farm modification.
The Mohonk Poultry Farm operation appears to have had a relatively short run, from about 1909 to about 1913, as evidenced from records in the Mohonk Archives. “Egg Drinks,” made from “Mohonk Poultry Farm Eggs, Laid To-day,” were advertised at the Mohonk Fountain. Dan didn’t find “any written discussion of this experimental operation,” but did find some “fascinating details of expenses (including equipment purchases) and income,” or lack thereof. Dan found an interesting diversity of poultry documented in diﬀerent years, including “ 174 White Plymouth Rocks,” “150 Barred Plymouth Rocks,” “53 White Leghorns,” “40 Bantams,” “46 Roosters mixed,” “250 Broilers,” and also, “5 Guinea Hens,” “11 Turkeys,” and “49 Ducks.” There was possibly one or more pigs, and in 1909, one “Dog-Collie” was purchased for “$8.00!” Of interest was a 1912 end of year Poultry Farm “Inventory,” and a fall 1913 accounting of “Income,” when the Poultry Farm was discontinued. On 24 October 1913, 536 “Fowls” and “Broilers” were valued at $106.48, and on 31 December, it was noted that “Poultry and Duck Houses (were moved) to K.Kill” (Kleinekill Farm).
As we often did in our field work, Dan and I visited cultural sites along our routes to record remains, both physical and natural, decaying and persisting over the years. Sometimes we would be surprised by the longevity of plants we encountered, like crocuses, lilacs, and periwinkle, near and in cellar holes in the woods. At the Mohonk Poultry Farm, where the house had stood, on 20 May 1986, Dan spotted “five white flowers near the house foundation. They proved to be ‘triple’ Narcissus, with a sweet odor and very narrow leaves. Nearby was a clump of faded single Pheasant’s-eye (Narcissus poeticus).” Since the farm house “was not used as a residence since 1913,” these plants likely had to have “persisted for some seventy years”! A recent visit showed large old lilacs persisting to the south of the house foundation. The land around the homestead farm had been widely cleared for extensive agricultural use, as evidenced by field stone walls running through the woods, plow lines, and the presence of abundant piled field stones, picked and transported from cultivated fields.
In regard to Preserve landscape today, we occasionally encounter tall Red Pine, White Spruce, Japanese Larch, and White Cedar plantations in what were former Mohonk farm fields. Some can be seen along the lower end of Old Minnewaska Trail above the Coxingkill, along Cedar Drive, and along the Woodside Trail near the old Mohonk Poultry Farm. These plantations date to April 1941, when Mohonk purchased and planted some 39,000 evergreen seedlings. In the old fields surrounding the Poultry Farm, 12,700 tree seedlings were planted on 12 acres.
Recent visits to these former fields revealed these old plantations containing Red Pine and White Spruce, persisting for nearly 80 years. While White Cedar was recorded as planted there in 1941, none was found. The Red Pine has obviously done better than the White Spruce, some reaching a foot or more in diameter and reaching canopy height of some 50 feet. Most of the surviving White Spruce are under six inches in diameter and some only at head height, with a few reaching to the canopy. Dan noted that in the “Upper Field,” in the 1960’s and 1970’s, “a few trees were harvested for Christmas trees and poles.” Most of these old plantation trees are now in decline, with reduced live crown ratios and increasing competition from invasive native hardwoods.
As an aside, cultural and natural history field work, carried on by the Mohonk Preserve Conservation Science staﬀ, leads many times to additional interesting and unexpected finds. In April 1989, research staﬀ took the opportunity to observe, measure, and document several large Wood Ant (Formica rufa) mounds in the soft shale along Upper Lenape Lane, just above the old Mohonk Poultry Farm Lane. These ant hills were remarkable for their size, height, and numbers of residents. The largest mound, in a “L” shape, measured 36 inches high, and 9 feet X 12 feet long, and when observed, “the surface of this mound appeared to be covered with F. rufa”! The unused settling mounds can still be found there today.
On 18 December 1993, as part of the 43rd Audubon Christmas Bird Census at Mohonk, one of our stops was along Upper Lenape Lane at the old Mohonk Poultry Farm Lane, with our eyes on the 1941 Red Pine plantation in the “Upper Field.” With determination on the seasonably cold nearly winter afternoon, we made the highlight observation of the day, a Northern Saw- whet Owl perched about 40 feet up on a limb of one of the Red Pine trees, close in to the trunk of the tree. At that time we knew very little about this, our smallest owl. It was finally added to the “avifauna of the Northern Shawangunks (in) 1960,” but Dan then correctly felt that “it has probably always been here in limited numbers.” Important field work starting in March 2006 by Mohonk Preserve Research Associate, Dr. Glenn Proudfoot, Visiting Professor, Vassar College, has revealed the value of the protected forest lands of the Mohonk Preserve to the hundreds of individual Saw-whet Owls that pass through the Shawangunks on their way from northern breeding grounds in Quebec and Nova Scotia to “their winter homes as far south as the Southern Appalachians.”
Read the Report: Mohonk Poultry Farm. August 1986. Daniel Smiley.