Friday, May 6, 2022

Honoring Seneca Ray Stoddard

seneca ray stoddard trail sign

Not far from the Acropolis in Greece, there’s a famous rock outcropping high above the Mediterranean Sea where the Apostle Paul tried to talk the Athenians out of their idolatry. Or so they say. No one thought to take any Polaroids as proof.

But there is something special about natural features that in some way connect us through the centuries — a vista of Gothics that Old Mountain Phelps insisted was “not the sort of scenery you want to hog up all at once”; a tremendous erratic that abolitionist John Brown certainly would have noticed on the rutted wagon trail out of Keene; a stony summit into which surveyors pounded a medallion under the watchful eye of Verplanck Colvin.

And then there’s Stoddard’s Rock. For all his accomplishments, having a rock named in his honor — and not a large rock, either — might not have made the great Adirondack photographer’s Top 10, even if he’d known about it, which he assuredly didn’t.

Historians bestowed the name when they noticed the stone in the foreground of a Seneca Ray Stoddard photograph of the industrial works at Ironville in the town of Crown Point. That exact stone, not much bigger than an ottoman, is still there. Of course it is. It didn’t move to Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s to protest the war.

Yet this unremarkable feature has been transformed into the star of the show due to the added sense of place and perspective, along with the knowledge that Stoddard’s feet were right there 148 years ago, where yours are today.

There’s a trail that passes by Stoddard’s Rock, and an interpretive plaque showing the image he produced on that October Day so long ago. It follows a glorious Adirondack brook accented by impressive natural and man-made features that have co-existed for so long now that it can be hard to tell one from the other.

stoddard trail

It was good to see water treated with such respect in New York’s 2022 budget and bond proposal just recently passed, and in a sense that hasn’t changed from Ironville’s heyday. In the early 1800s, finding iron ore in the Adirondacks was good; finding iron ore next to a waterfall was better. Water was power then, and, for different reasons, water is power now.

To reach the trailhead, head west out of the hamlet of Crown Point on Creek Road and follow the signs to the Penfield Museum. Just before the historic assemblage of Ironville buildings, make a hard left on Peasley Road and the parking lot will be on the right.

The trail follows Putnam Creek as it plunges through three 19th century dams. Stoddard’s Rock, on a short spur, is scarcely 10 minutes up the hill, but the hike can be expanded by continuing on a loop that for a time hugs the shore of Penfield Pond.

Most of the buildings in the Stoddard image are gone, but not all. Photography is a curious thing. Almost by definition, we take pictures of subjects that are out of the ordinary, but leave undocumented the mundane features that make up most of our daily lives. Yet it’s the mundane that lives on, after the spectacular has disappeared. Sometimes a rock is just a rock. And sometimes it’s much more.

Editor’s note: A special thanks to Tim Rowland for taking over the “Explore More” newsletter over the past six months or so since the departure of our past editor Brandon Loomis.

With the recent hiring of Adirondack Explorer’s first climate reporter, Cayte Bosler, we’ve decided to switch gears and are launching “Climate Matters,” a new weekly newsletter that will replace this one.

We’ve enjoyed reading about Tim’s adventures and will continue to feature them on the Explorer website on a regular basis.

We hope you will sign up to receive Cayte’s newsletter. Follow this link to sign up for Climate Matters and/or others in our line up (including daily dispatches from the Adirondack Almanack).

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.

One Response

  1. louis curth says:

    Thanks to Tim Rowland for this latest of his many interesting stories provided to Adirondack Almanack readers.

    I’ve been a big fan of Seneca Ray Stoddard ever since I learned how his pioneering use of glass plate photographs helped to introduce the public to the best and the worst of the nineteenth century Adirondacks, resulting in the creation of the Adirondack Park in 1892.

    In recognition of his photographic advocacy, the Upper Hudson Environmental Committee selected S.R. Stoddard for its “Champions of Conservation” bookmark series for the year 1983. He was the fourth distinguished conservationist to be honored by the UHEAC in this bookmark series that continued from 1980 to 1995.

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