Monday, November 14, 2016

The Devil’s Kitchen: Warren County’s Nightmare for Drivers

devilskitchenThe colorful name Devil’s Kitchen has been used in numerous book titles, restaurant names, and for hiking destinations in at least seven states. Close to home in upstate New York, we have a Catskill version, described here as “quite possibly the most hellacious [bicycle] climb in New York State.” The same area, with cliffs, numerous waterfalls, and slippery slopes, has seen many hiker deaths as well.

But there’s another Devil’s Kitchen farther north, located about midway on Route 9 between Chestertown and Warrensburg. Despite lacking the cliffs and stunning landscapes featured at other identically named places, deaths have occurred at the Adirondack site—which today exists in name only.

When horse-drawn stagecoaches plied the area’s roads in the 1800s, the Devil’s Kitchen was a site traveled with caution, having rock walls on one side and a steep ravine on the other. As automobiles came into use, roads required upgrading, and when the state passed a highway bill in 1911, the Warrensburg-Chestertown road was slated to be “fixed” as part of the eventual New York City-to-Montreal highway system. As reported in the Warrensburgh News, “At the Devil’s Kitchen … the roadway will be cut from solid rock in order to get it away from the dangerous bank on the edge of which the present road runs.”

The following year, dynamite was used to reshape the Devil’s Kitchen. Anticipating better travel conditions and the potential for greater profit, the owner of the Warrensburg-Chestertown Stage Line bought a 16-passenger Stanley Steamer to handle two trips daily between the villages via his new Automobile Stage Line.

Upgrading roads led to increased traffic and a natural uptick in accidents. But at dangerous sites like the Devil’s Kitchen, the accident rate rose drastically, earning the place a reputation that spread well beyond the borders of Warren County. The road was treacherous, yes, but there were also very few experienced drivers—cars were, after all, a new technology.

In the 1920s, the notoriety of the Devil’s Kitchen increased due to fatalities that occurred there, first in 1921, when a woman was killed and another was badly hurt, and in 1923, when two died and three others were injured, two of them critically. In the second instance, the car skidded on snow-covered roads and plunged off the highway into a ravine, where it landed bottom-side up, crushing to death a mother and her young son.

During the 1920s, bootleggers frequented the narrow road, speeding as fast as they dared through the dangerous curves. In fact, the driver of the car in that terrible 1923 accident had recently been arrested for transporting alcohol. Just two months after the crash, he appeared in court on Prohibition violations. Northern New York’s famous judge, Frank Cooper, aware that the man faced charges in the deaths of two close relatives, offered mercy in the form of a $250 fine.

One incident at the Devil’s Kitchen involved the operator of the aforementioned Automobile Stage Line, who failed to move his vehicle aside quickly enough to accommodate a pair of bootleg vehicles hotly pursued by agents. One of the smugglers’ cars skidded out of control and struck the stage line car, slamming it against the guardrails, which prevented it from dropping to the rocks below.

Within six months of the mother-son double-fatality, at least two other serious accidents occurred at the Devil’s Kitchen. In mid-1926, the state finally announced plans to fix the problem with a three-step solution: dynamiting the roadside rock wall to eliminate the sharp curves, using the debris to fill in the ravine, and building a new and straighter road across the filled area.

Extensive drilling, blasting, and reshaping of the site lasted more than two years, culminating in the opening of the new unpaved road in late 1928. By fall 1929, guardrails and a macadam surface brought the project to a close.

In July 1930, an Albany physician lost control of his vehicle in the Devil’s Kitchen area and collided with several guardrails, one of which penetrated the car, striking him in the face. He died a week later.

A number of less-tragic accidents happened there during the ensuing decade. In 1939, another construction project was begun, this one creating a 22-foot-wide cement road with ample shoulders on both sides. Heavy equipment and huge quantities of dynamite (1,500 pounds in the largest single blast) once again revised the landscape, and by late 1940, a new road from Warrensburg to Chestertown was completed.

On September 5, it was announced that the 10.21-mile stretch was completed except for the installation of guardrails and cables to help protect the public in case of mishaps.

And on October 1, the first accident to occur on the new Warrensburg-Chestertown Road involved a two-car collision at—where else?—the Devil’s Kitchen.

As the great Yogi Berra once said, or at least is credited with saying, it was “déjà vu all over again.”

Photo: An old postcard of the Devil’s Kitchen

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

9 Responses

  1. Lois Mann says:

    I believe my father was a witness to one of those horrible accidents, because of the carnage he saw, he never wanted to drive and lived 87 years without driving. On another note, I was involved with the Garrow horrific story, the man he killed was a friend of mine & I knew the others that were with Phil. At least in the end Garrow was shot like the animal he was!

  2. Marjory M says:

    Does anyone know where this spot was, relative to today’s roads? Just a guess, perhaps along the Old Rte 9 that runs along the east side of Pack Forest Lake? The section north of the lake is quite steep and narrow.

    • John Warren says:

      I took some time studying the historic maps at (go to Catalog>Historic Scanned Maps) and came up with two places. The first is just north of Warrensburg where the road is the steepest, and the other is nearer where you suggest, but perhaps at the North end of “Old Route 9” on the current highway.

      • Marjory M says:

        The steep section of the present Rte 9 near Spruce Mountain I think does not have a ravine nearby. Going south on “Old Rte 9” about a half mile from its junction with present Rte 9, there’s a substantial dropoff to Cataract Brook which could be the ravine they talked about.

  3. Larry says:

    I don’t know the area well, but through using old maps and newspaper snippets, it appears the location was just a bit south of Tripp Pond. The pieces of evidence: an article about an accident-related lawsuit placed it 4.5 miles south of Chestertown; another article said it was 5 miles south of Chestertown; and the road construction company in 1940 said they had finished as far as the Devil’s Kitchen, “or about half of the new road” between Warrensburg and Chestertown. I found mention that suggested Darrowsville was near Devil’s Kitchen (it was just north of the locale … today’s Darrowsville Road runs north from Tripp Lake). Another article mentioned “Arthur Tennyson, owner of the Devil’s Kitchen on the Chestertown Road”; one said “the Alfred Tennyson property at the Devil’s Kitchen”; and Vernon Tennyson was mentioned in connection with it as well. Just south of Tripp Lake is a stretch of Route 9 between the Art Tennyson Road and the Vern Tennyson Road.
    The mileages above and the road names seem to place it in that locale. I “drove it” on GoogleMaps, and a section of bouldery roadsides sure looks like a good candidate. I hope some of that helps!

    • John Warren says:

      I just drove it this morning and could see the location you’ve detailed and how dangerous it probably was 100 years ago. I’d put it from just above Tripp Lake to Old Route 9. There is extensive rock cutting and it’s along the steep slopes of Chase and Tripp Mountains.

      I made a quick map showing the spot with the snowmobile and utilities routes and you can show the 1916 map as well.

      Devil’s Kitchen

      Great mystery! Thanks for this story Larry.


  4. Marjory M says:

    The original article doesn’t mention actually relocating Rte 9 during that period, but I’d like to add that at one time the road that runs immediately west of Tripp Pond on the above map at one time was the location of part of Rte 9. Today it is named Darrowsville Rd at the north end and Tripp Pond Rd at the south end. You can see it if you slide the opacity button to the right on the map referenced above.
    As an aside, there was a Darrowsville church off the east side of Darrowsville Rd, across from the corner with what is now Dennehy Rd, beyond the lumber mill property. There’s lots of info about it online if you search for Darrowsville church.

    • John Warren says:

      Absolutely. If you look back at the other older maps available at Adirondack Atlas (Catalog>Scanned Historic Maps), you’ll notice that the original route to Chestertown was River Road out of W-burg to the Glen and then over Friends Lake Road to White Schoolhouse Road – which was the center of Chester in the early 19th century. There is a lot of history to learn comparing these old maps to current roads and trails.

      • Marjory M says:

        Thanks – I didn’t know about that old route. And … your is a wonderful resource! I found some maps I had never seen before for our little part of the region.

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