Winter is such a good time to visit what you can’t see. A time to revisit, remember and explore what’s covered over, beyond and beneath. What you can sense, but likely not photo. Let’s do that to that lake, or “pond,” at the foot of Bear Mountain along Route 6. It’s home to the Bear Mountain Inn, our local 1915-era Great Camp.
Yes, it’s stocked with brown trout, but they comingle with things older and darker. Bear Mountain shares the lore of the Catskills: imps, river spirits, ghost ships, the lingering energies of Native Americans, British, Hessian and American soldiers. That’s the zeitgeist.
Hessian Lake, once known as Highland Lake, started as Lake Sinnipink, named for the nearby village of the Waoranecks, a local band of Lenape. (Speaking of Lenape, “Tuxedo” comes not from the evening attire, but the Lenape P’tuk-sepo. And “Orange” is likely an English mangle of the Lenape Oringkes, “the first original people.”)
In 1777, American Forts Montgomery and Clinton were well placed to guard both the Hudson and the lake. Outposts were formed and fortified along nearby Popolopen Creek. A vigilant hiker can still find remnants of them near clumps of cedar trees. In October, 1777, 2,000 British and mercenary Hessians attacked. (In the Revolutionary War, the British hired 30,000 German soldiers! After the war, 5,000 stayed and settled in the Colonies and Canada. Check your family history.)
For a while, a very small band of 50 American soldiers, at a narrow pass with well-placed canons, were able to hold off 1,200 Hessians, killing 250 and dumping their bodies into that lake. It turned red, bloody red, and was known for a time as Bloody Pond, then Hessian Lake.
Some 200 British were similarly fated, getting trapped and killed nearby in a narrow pass, known as Hell Hole or the “bottomless” Slaughter Hole. There are still drownings, likely accidental, in Hessian Lake, even though swimming is prohibited because of the unpredictable, swirling, ever-draining waters of the springs that feed it.
So whether it’s a casual drive-by, or a visit and a hike, go experience the winter energies and lost souls of Hessian Lake. Next winter, more zeitgeists: those two WWII German POW camps in Orange County.