Scarneck, the Huyck Preserve Snapping Turtle


turtle img188

Scarneck, the infamous snapping turtle at the Huyck Preserve, has been around since the 1940s.

Savage, sinister, vicious. A reptilian terror.

These are just some of the words biologists have used to describe the ferocious snapping turtle. He lives in muddy rivers, streams, ponds, or marshes. He’ll embed himself in the mud and look like a rock—his beady eyes alert for unsuspecting fish swimming by—or prowl along a pond’s edge, hunting frogs and stalking young waterfowl. Then he’ll suddenly thrust out his head to capture and devour his prey. He’ll drag a bird underwater, drown it, and then use his dangerously sharp, hooked beak, strong jaw, and forelimbs to tear it apart. In fact the jaws of a full-grown snapping turtle are so strong that they could sever a human finger.

There are a few of these savage creatures at the Huyck Preserve living in Lincoln Pond, Lake Myosotis, and elsewhere. Note that in the scientific name, Chelydra serpentina, “serpentine” suggests snake. Indeed, the snapping turtle’s biting motion is as quick as a rattlesnake strike. The most famous, and likely the oldest, snapping turtle at the Preserve is Scarneck, so named for the ugly scar on the back of his neck. Weighing 50-60 pounds, and measuring 13 inches wide by 16 inches long, he could be more than 75 years old. We have a photo of him from the 1940s as well as ones taken of him in summer 2016. He lives in Lincoln Pond.


Huyck Preserve staff netted Scarneck last summer so they could measure and weigh him.

Maybe Scarneck got that scar by fighting. Snapping turtles are aggressive and fight often. “It believes most thoroughly in the survival of the fittest, and to it the Fittest is ‘Number One,’” wrote American zoologist and conservationist William T. Hornaday in 1914. “It is a chronic fighter, and inasmuch as its jaws are very strong—and [it] never knows when to let go—it is a reptile to be either mastered or avoided.”

Researchers haven’t studied snapping turtles at the Preserve—they have focused on the more benign wood turtles and painted turtles instead—but they have recorded their observations about them from time to time. Jean Piatt, who specialized in frogs and was the Preserve’s resident biologist in 1941, reported collecting a 35-pound snapping turtle, which he and the other biologists promptly killed and ate for dinner. While it may seem startling for scientists at a field station to kill and devour specimens, they apparently thought catching and eating snapping turtles was no different than catching and eating fish. Snapper soup is still considered a delicacy by some.

One of the scientists who dined on the Huyck snapping turtle was Cornell biologist Ed Raney. He studied frogs at the Preserve (1939-1943), but in 1954, he wrote an article for the journal Copeia about a fight between two large snapping turtles at Cornell’s Ringwood Preserve near Ithaca, New York. The turtles were near a cleared hummock in the middle of a large pond. “In combat they faced each other and each attempted by rapid thrusts of the head to grasp the other by the neck,” Raney wrote. They used their front feet to keep from being grabbed and were making low puffing sounds throughout the struggle. “Occasionally one would make contact by mouth. Then both would either sink slowly under water where much bubbling could be seen and heard, or the one that was bitten would roll on its back, and with this twisting motion seemed to be consistently successful in freeing itself.” They’d be under water for about 30 seconds, and as they resurfaced, they’d start fighting again. Finally, when the fighting subsided, there didn’t seem to be a winner, but neither seemed to be badly injured. Raney was puzzled as to what the fight was all about—it was August, and typically mating season was in May and eggs deposited in June. “Therefore the combat seems not to be associated with territorial fighting in connection with reproduction,” he concluded. “Perhaps it indicates a tendency for a snapping turtle to defend an area at a time other than the spawning season.”

In the 1970s, another Preserve researcher—Edmund Brodie Jr., who was studying amphibians and aquatic insects—described defensive behavior in snapping turtles he’d observed in South Carolina. Most turtles, when threatened, defend themselves by retracting their head and limbs into their shell. But not the snapping turtle. Instead, he assumes the downward dog yoga position: He lowers the front of his shell and extends his back legs while he’s hissing and lunging at the predator. If the threat comes from the side, the snapper dips sideways so his shell faces the predator.

brodie-jr-defensive-postures-Screen shot 2017-03-05 at 10.08.11 PM

Snapping turtles defend themselves from predators by assuming threatening postures.

One can only assume that Scarneck must have been quite successful in defending his territory, and protecting himself from predators, to still be alive after so many years.

And who knows how many offspring Scarneck has produced.

The snapping turtle mating season is in May. In June or July, the female leaves her pond to find a suitable place to lay her eggs. She may travel a mile or more, even crossing roads, in her journey. Once she finds a good nesting spot, she’ll dig a hole with her hind legs, lay 20-40 creamy white eggs the size of small ping-pong balls, and bury them. The nest-building process could take as long as a week. Then she’ll trudge home. Generally it takes 80-90 days for the eggs to hatch. The inch-long, soft-shelled hatchlings burrow up to the surface, and then instinctively find their way to water. Of course, they have to evade all kinds of predators that want to eat them—raccoons, foxes, dogs, skunks, birds, and snakes. Even when they reach the water, they have to watch out for fish and other snapping turtles. But once the young’uns have grown and their shells harden, they are less vulnerable. It takes around five years for males to reach reproductive maturity; it takes females four to seven years.

Old Scarneck reached maturity a long time ago and he’s still going strong. We hope he stays with us for a good long time.


In June 2016, Huyck Preserve Com.En.Art artist Jessica Heide came across a female snapping turtle who had crawled uphill  from Lake Myosotis to the edge of Pond Hill Road to lay her eggs. To see more of Jessica’s work, go to To see her blog post on this snapper, go to



Ditmars, Raymond L., “Reptiles of the World,” New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927

Dodd, C. Kenneth, Jr. and Edmund D. Brodie, Jr., “Notes on the defensive behavior of the snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina.” Herpetologica 31:286-288, 1975.

Hornaday, William T., The American Natural History, Volume 4—Reptiles, Amphibians, and Fishes, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, pages 39-41, 1914.

Raney, Edward C. and Josephson, Ruth A., Record of combat in the snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina. Copeia 1954:228, 1954.

 General info:

Snapping turtle fact sheet (Publication of the Snapping Turtle fact sheet was funded by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Division of Wildlife, Pierre, SD.):

The Mating Season and Reproduction of the Snapping Turtle:

University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology:

Bosch, A. 2003. “Chelydra serpentine” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 05, 2017 at

Conn Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection:

Link to blog post on Raney:

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The Beast from Lake Myosotis


Could the Creature from the Black Lagoon have vacationed in Lake Myosotis?               (CREDIT: Reynold Brown)


You may be familiar with such New York State monsters as Champ (the Lake Champlain monster), Adirondacks Bigfoot, or the Kinderhook Creature, but did you ever hear of the Beast of Lake Myosotis? In the 1960s, people in Rensselaerville were all abuzz about strange-looking footprints that appeared each morning on the muddy shores of the lake. Was there a monster sleeping in the depths of the lake during day and coming ashore at night to hunt unsuspecting night swimmers or hikers? Not even the Huyck Preserve researchers dared to investigate.

Then late one night, some young people from the village were having an unsanctioned party at the boathouse when they thought they heard loud splashing near the spillway. Was it the beast? A couple of the guys bravely volunteered to investigate. They climbed in a car, kept the headlights off because the full moon cast a bright light over everything, and drove slowly down the dirt road toward the spillway. In the moonlight, they could just make out the silhouette of a hulking figure dancing around in the shallow water. It was holding what looked like a harpoon and every so often it would stop, aim the harpoon, and then thrust it down into the water. Eventually the figure waded out of the water and began walking toward the car. Frightened, the guys turned on the headlights to get a better look at the beast. Standing before them was the famous Japanese artist Kenzo Okada who had a home in town. It turned out that he often came up to the lake at night to do a little spearfishing. His traditional Japanese footwear left the strange footprints the townspeople were so worried about. Mystery solved.


The footprints from the so-called Beast of Lake Myosotis could have been made by traditional Japanese footwear similar to this.

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August 25, 2016

When the National Park Service was created on August 25, 1916, there were just 35 national parks and monuments. Today The National Park System comprises more than 400 areas  covering more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. These areas are of such national significance as to justify special recognition and protection in accordance with various acts of Congress.

March 1, 1872: Yellowstone National Park (Territories of Montana and Wyoming) was established. The founding of Yellowstone National Park, administered by the Department of the Interior, began a worldwide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserves.

yellowstone sign mom dad 2012DSCN1367

Geoff and Laura Carter (blog author) visiting Yellowstone in winter.

In the years following the establishment of Yellowstone, the United States authorized additional national parks and monuments, many of them carved from the federal lands of the West. These, also, were administered by the Department of the Interior, while other monuments and natural and historical areas were administered by the War Department and the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture. No single agency provided unified management of the varied federal parklands.




Sunset in Yosemite National Park.

October 1, 1890: Yosemite (California)

September 25, 1890: Sequoia National Park (California)

March 2, 1899: Mt. Rainier (Washington)

January 9, 1903: Wind Cave (South Dakota)

June 29, 1906: Mesa Verde (Colorado)

May 11, 1910: Glacier (Montana)

January 26, 1915: Rocky Mountain (Colorado),

August 1, 1916: Haleakala (Hawaii)

August 25, 1916: President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established.

Executive Order in 1933: transferred 56 national monuments and military sites from the Forest Service and the War Department to the National Park Service. This action was a major step in the development of today’s truly national system of parks—a system that includes areas of historical as well as scenic and scientific importance.



Tetons Dec 2012 DSCN1306

Grand Teton National Park in winter.

1929: Grand Teton (Wyoming)

1930: Carlsbad Caverns; was a National Monument first in 1923 (New Mexico)

1934: Everglades designated as a National Park, but not officially established until 1947 (Florida)

1934: Great Smoky Mountains chartered but not established until 1940 (North Carolina and Tennessee)

1938: Olympic; was Mt Olympus National Monument first in 1909 (Washington)


1970: Congress declared in the General Authorities Act of 1970 “that the National Park System, which began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to include superlative natural, historic, and recreation areas in every region…and that it is the purpose of this Act to include all such areas in the System….”


Websites for various parks

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The Many Lives of Lincoln Pond Cottage

Tired from the day’s dull task I steal away
At evening to a pond where willows grow
Against the taller hemlock’s dark array;
And crowning all, great sun-swept hills aglow.
           (Excerpt from a poem, “Lincoln Pond,” by Edmund Niles Huyck)

“My father didn’t even know we went there,” Grandmother told me. “He would have spilled the beans.” My Grandparents—Katharine Huyck Elmore and Probien Lee Elmore— stole away after their elegant wedding ceremony and reception to spend their honeymoon secluded at Lincoln Pond Cottage. It was September 4, 1926—Labor Day weekend. “Only the chauffeur and the chef knew we where we were—they brought us our meals,” Grandmother said. “The fog was so dense that not even the Greenes at Bullfrog Camp realized we were there.”


Lee and Katharine Elmore spent their honeymoon at Lincoln Pond Cottage in September 1926.

Today, Lincoln Pond Cottage serves as a seasonal residence for scientists, artists, and students working at the Huyck Preserve. Back then it was Edmund (Ted) Niles Huyck’s fishing retreat where he could relax with friends away from the more formal Huyck House, his summer home on the Huyck estate. (Ted Huyck was Katharine’s uncle.) But the cottage’s history goes back much further than the 1920s, providing more than a century’s worth of stories since its first hemlock logs were slated for the foundation.

Early History
The cottage was built in the 1790s just a few years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, but prior to New York State’s abolishment of the “feudal tenure” system (1846); meaning, the settlers could only lease the land from the Dutch patroons—the Van Rensselaers, for whom the town is named. During this time, the Rensselaerville forests, dominated by Eastern hemlock trees, were being logged and cleared for farming. The felled hemlocks made their way to the noisy water-powered sawmill on Lincoln Pond, which sat adjacent to the cottage site. The sawmill busily cut the logs into beams and boards for constructing new homes and businesses. Two huge beams—each measuring 24 inches wide by 12 inches high by several feet long—were dragged to the site of Lincoln Pond Cottage and became part of its foundation. They are still there today.


Lincoln Pond Farm in the 1800s. The sawmill (right) operated from the 1790s to the early 1900s. Lincoln Pond Cottage, just beyond it, was once a farmhouse.

The best I can tell, Lincoln Pond was named for Joseph Lincoln who lived on Lot #267, near Lot #286 where the Lincoln Pond Cottage is situated. Lot #286, was first leased in 1792 by Thomas Watson. Over the next 75 years, members of the Bouton and Lincoln families were the primary lessors or owners of the land, which also included the sawmill: John H. and Harvey Bouton (Harvey’s dad was Harry Bouton and his mom was Elizabeth “Betsy” Lincoln, a daughter of Levi Lincoln); Baldwin Bouton; Levi Lincoln (leased the lot in 1850 and listed as owner in 1866); and others.

On May 20, 1875, the Rensselaerville Press ran this advertisement: “Farm for Sale: The farm known as the Levi Lincoln Farm situated a mile north of the village of Rensselaerville, containing 135 acres of land. Has a good orchard, house, barn, and wagon house in good repair Wood lot of 20 acres, heavy timbered. Also on premises a new sawmill with circular saw in good running order, never failing supply of water. Will sell cheap.”

I don’t know who bought the farm then, but at some point, John Niles owned it; then, in 1888, his daughter, Cornelia Niles Devereux, acting as executor of his estate, sold it to Myron Bryant, who also had butcher shop in town. Bryant was the last person to run the sawmill. Sometime before the start of World War I in 1912, the sawmill ceased operations, rotted, and fell down. Today, the only evidence left of the mill is the spillway it straddled on Lincoln Pond. In 1913, Bryant sold the 130-acre farm to Ted Huyck.

I came across a typed list of Ted Huyck’s land purchases and noted what he wrote about Lot #286: “I purchased of Myron Bryant the farm known as the Lincoln Pond Farm consisting of about 130 [acres]. This farm consisted of one small triangular lot, wedge shaped, along the pond road adjoining on the South the property of the Becker-Aley property, on the North West a part of the Harvey Bouton or Geo. Swart farm and on the North East by the pond road. The rest of the property consisted of land West of the Creek adjoining the Lincoln Pond and the big pond [Lake Myosotis], extending from the Becker property on the South and extending West by the Chas. Bryant farm to the point where it reached and crossed the road running West toward Crystal Lake, thence extending to the line that ran North to the property owned by Fannie Bouton and then along her farm to the road commonly known as the Salem-Smith, thence along this road to the junction of the pond road, thence down to the creek in a straight line. This property contained Lincoln Pond and the old sawmill, as well as a farmhouse and barns. Lincoln Pond lies about half a mile North of the big pond [Lake Myosotis].”

A  Fishing Retreat and Informal Gathering Spot
Even though Ted and his wife Jessie Van Antwerp Huyck had a lovely summer home a half-mile down Pond Hill road from Lincoln Pond, he had always longed for a cozy fishing retreat. Lincoln Pond Cottage was perfect. He had the sawmill torn down, leaving only the spillway that remains today. He removed some of the other buildings leaving the barn, which was later used as a primitive lab and eventually replaced by the Eldridge Research Center (blog post to come). And he renovated the cottage: He added a “high porch” facing Lincoln Pond, dormer windows, and a roofed entryway over the front door.


Lincoln Pond Cottage looks much the same today as when Edmund Niles Huyck turned it into his private fishing retreat in the early 1900s.

Ted loved fishing for pickerel, yellow perch, and bullheads on the pond, but he didn’t seem to really care whether he caught anything. He and his fishing buddies often spent more time chatting than fishing. And, on Sunday summer evenings, the Huycks and their friends and family gathered for picnics on the cottage porch. Afterwards, everyone usually went to Huyck House to sing hymns.

“How lovely I thought it was for the people in Rensselaerville to gather [at Lincoln Pond Cottage] for Sunday supper almost every week and sit for the calm hour of the evening by the water that gleamed among the thick shadows of the woods,” wrote a young Japanese college student who was a guest of the Huycks for several summers. “Only now and then a fish came near the surface and caused circles to ripple over the glassy sheet of water. I know that no fish that sent up circling bubbles from beneath the dusky waters of forest pools or mountain creeks ever escaped Mr. Huyck’s eye.”


All that remains of the old sawmill is the spillway at Lincoln Pond.

Lincoln Pond Becomes Part of the Huyck Preserve
After Ted died in 1930, his wife Jessie Huyck established the Huyck Preserve in his honor. She was fulfilling his wish that 500 acres of his land—the part that included the Rensselaerville Falls, Lake Myosotis, and Lincoln Pond—be set aside for the public to enjoy forever. The Preserve has since grown to encompass more than 2,000 acres.

In 1938, the Preserve’s Board of Directors established the biological field station at Lincoln Pond and agreed to leave the area around the pond untouched so it could be used for ecological research. For a fuller description, see my post on “The Early Years of Biological Field Station.”

Lincoln Pond Cottage became a summer residence for scientists and graduate students who were doing research at the Preserve. Lively discussions took place in the evenings after dinner as the scientists shared stories about their day’s work, talked about their unexpected discoveries, and engaged in lively debates about scientific theories. In fact some of those early discussions laid the groundwork for Eugene Odum’s founding of the field of ecosystems ecology, the study of how the living and nonliving components of ecosystems interact.


Lincoln Pond was where Ted Huyck loved to fish in the early 1900s, but once the Huyck Preserve established its biological field station, recreational fishing was no longer allowed there. The only fishermen these days are researchers who must collect the fish they are studying. (But never fear: Fishing is allowed on Lake Myosotis, which is only a half  mile away.)

Ongoing Improvements
But back to how Lincoln Pond Cottage changed over the years. Some improvements seemed strange—such as the shower that was added in 1952 in the middle of a bedroom (the Preserve didn’t want to give up precious bed space so didn’t want to convert the bedroom to a bathroom). In 1964, Lee Elmore, Preserve caretaker Alan Davis, and local carpenter Stanley Bennett renovated the kitchen—they built cabinets, boarded up a side door, and installed a washing machine, which drew its water from the pond. As the summer progressed, the algae bloom gave the laundered clothes a green tinge. Today, the cottage gets all its water from a well.

In 1982, the central fireplace was removed because the foundation was no longer strong enough to support it and the cracked walls around the chimney posed a fire hazard. And that bedroom shower was eventually removed and various other improvements were made.

Then in 2011, Tropical Storm Irene struck and caused considerable damage to the Preserve: The upper falls bridge was swept away; the foundation of the lower falls bridge was severely compromised; the basement of the Eldridge Research Center Lincoln, where important papers were stored, was flooded; and at Lincoln Pond Cottage, the septic system backed up and the first floor filled with water and sewage. (See my blog post on “Rescuing Historic Papers After a Flood.”)

In 2012, the cottage underwent a major renovation to repair the storm damage, remodel the kitchen, add a bathroom, modernize the bedrooms, add new floors, and be properly winterized.

Throughout these changes, the cottage’s bones have remained and its exterior looks almost as it did when it was built more than 200 years ago. And those two giant hemlock beams are still helping to hold the house up. Eastern hemlock trees have been known to live for more than 500 years. If we took a core sample from the beams, we could determine the age of the mother tree before she was chopped down. Could she be 500 years old if she was still alive today? Someday we may know.


Eastern hemlock trees, like this one, dominated the forests around Rensselaerville in the 1700s, but many were cut down so their lumber could be used for construction. There are still hemlock trees on the Huyck Preserve today,  but not as many as there once was. (Credit: E.S. Shipp, USDA Forest Service)


Note: My husband and I were married on my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary on September 4, 1976—Labor Day weekend—at their home, Stonecrop, which part of the original Huyck estate and where they held their reception in 1926. Although we didn’t spend our honeymoon at Lincoln Pond Cottage like my grandparents did, we have a special affection for the place and always will. — Laura Stephenson Carter —



Brown, Francis (1935). Edmund Niles Huyck: The Story of a Liberal. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 224-225.

Huyck, Edmund Niles (1922). “A rough history of my purchase of land in Rensselaerville.” (typewritten document).

Huyck, Edmund Niles (1947). Lincoln Pond and Other Poems. Albany, N.Y.: private printing.

Riter, Henrietta (1977). People Made It Happen Here: History of the Town of Rensselaerville ca. 1788-1950. Rensselaerville, N.Y.: Rensselaerville Historical Society, pages 16-24.

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Lincoln Pond (poem)

By Edmund Niles Huyck

Tired from the day’s dull task I steal away
At evening to a pond where willows grow
Against the taller hemlock’s dark array;
And crowning all, great sun-swept hills aglow.

A little pond where peaceful breezes blow
Catching the sunlight on its rippled face;
Where fleurs-de-lis in green and purple row
Border its margin with their stately grace.

Oh! little flower of France, can it be true
The same world shelters you in safety here,
While in yon land, afar, hell’s blasting crew
Tear you in shreds, and leave all black and sere?

In the clear shallows little fishes swim,
When suddenly, from deeper darkness glides
An armored monster, wide of jaws and slim,
Designed to kill and live, and nought besides.

Just so, the nation boasting of its might,
Forgetting beauty everywhere unfurled,
Denying all belief in common right
Reverts to brute, and tries to rule the world.

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Pseudoscorpion Named for Huyck Preserve

In 1955, when research fellow William B. Muchmore was searching for snails and salamanders in the deep, damp understory of the Huyck Preserve’s deciduous forests, he discovered several tiny pseudoscorpions hiding under some rocks. Pseudoscorpions look like miniature scorpions—minus the stingers. Though their giant crab-like claws may be scary to the arthropods they feed on, pseudoscorpions are harmless to humans. And the ones Muchmore spied were only about a 10th of an inch long. It’s a wonder, he ever saw them.


The Syarinus enhuycki pseudoscorpion was discovered at and named for the E.N. Huyck Preserve by research fellow William Muchmore, who later became a biology professor at the University of Rochester and a world-renowned expert in pseudoscopions. The above specimen (3.7 millimeters or 0.14 inches in size) was found in Quebec, Canada. Photo credit: Pierre-Marc Brousseau (used with permission)

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Muchmore continued to find specimens of this as yet unnamed species in New York State, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire. Finally, in 1968, after exhaustive research to verify that these tiny critters were indeed a new species (out of the 3,000 already known species), he named them for the Huyck Preserve—Syarinus enhuycki—and published his findings in the Journal of the New York  Entomological Society. Since then the S. enhuycki pseudoscorpions have been found all over North America, including Canada.

Muchmore, who also served on the Huyck Preserve’s Scientific Advisory Committee in the 1950s, went on to have a distinguished career as a biology professor at the University of Rochester (Rochester, N.Y.) and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on pseudoscopions. He retired several years ago and is now a professor emeritus at the university. I contacted the university’s Biology Department in hopes of reaching him and getting him to talk about his early years at the Preserve. I learned, however, that he is ill and no longer comes to the office (often emeriti faculty maintain an office on campus so they can continue their research). I wrote him a letter in September, but so far I have not received a reply.


Papers Based on Muchmore’s Work at the Huyck Preserve:

Muchmore, W.B., Brassy flecking in the salamander Plethodon c. cinereus and the validity of Plethodon huldae.  Copeia 3:170-172, 1955.

Muchmore, W.B., Notes on some salamanders of Warner’s Hollow, Ashtabula County, Ohio. The Ohio Journal of Science 55:267. 1955

Muchmore, W.B., Some exotic terrestrial isopods (Isopoda:  Oniscoidea)  from New York State.  Journal, Washington Academy of Sciences 47:78-83, 1957.

Muchmore, W.B.,  Land snails of the E.N. Huyck Preserve, New York.  Nautilus 72:85-89. 1959

Muchmore, W.B. , A new species of Pseudoscorpion genus Syarinus (Arachnida; Chelonethida:  Syarinidae) from the Northeastern United States.  Journal of the New York  Entomological Society 76:112-116, 1968

Posted in Biological Research, Huyck Preserve, insects, arachnids, Natural History | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

What I Learned on Lake Myosotis

Lake Myosotis has always been one of my favorite places. It’s where I learned to swim, row a boat, and paddle a canoe. I’ve hiked around it countless times. And it even factored into an adventure on the night before my wedding. More on that later.

IMG_0407picnic area at lakeWhen I was a little girl, my family would spend at least part of each summer in Rensselaerville. We kids (there were six of us and I was the oldest) were expected to take the Red Cross swimming lessons that were offered by the Huyck Preserve. I remember learning to kick—you’d lie in a sort of push-up position in the shallow water, your head angled toward the shore, hands on the lake floor, and kick your feet. There’d be maybe 10 of us in the class all kicking our feet harder and harder to see who could created the biggest splashes. We mastered the back float. And at some point, we started blowing bubbles in preparation for the side-to-side breathing that is an essential part of the crawl (now it’s called “freestyle).

One summer, we couldn’t take our lessons in the lake for some reason; a bus took us to nearby Thatcher Park where there was a big outdoor pool. The pool was huge—and boy was the water cold. And it had that horrible chlorine smell. We changed in the locker room and put our clothes in small wire baskets that we took outside and set on the pool deck. One day, my instructor told me to get out of the water and grab my basket of clothes. He hustled me to another part of the pool and left me shivering with another group of kids. Bewildered, I thought I had done something wrong. Turns out that I had passed some kind of test and was “promoted” to a higher-level swim class. I didn’t even realize I had taken a test. I much preferred the slower pace of the swim lessons at Lake Myosotis and was relieved that the lessons resumed there the following year.

Until the early1960s, there were two public beaches on Lake Myosotis: One was a beach with a boathouse—we just called it “The Boathouse”—and the other was a community beach. The boathouse was where Huyck family members and guests would swim. Since my grandmother was a Huyck, my family was invited to swim there. All the parents would sit on the boathouse porch or the sandy beach and keep an eye on the kids. We would change in and out of our swimsuits in the boathouse. It was dark and cool inside and a nice place to retreat to on a hot day. There were also a few canoes and boats stored there.

floating dock

The most fun thing was being able to swim out to the floating dock if you were a good swimmer. And when you were old enough, you had the privilege of being allowed to swim across the lake as long as a grownup followed you in a rowboat. We waited with eager anticipation for that day. When it was my turn—I think I was about 12—I swam all the way across the lake and back without getting tired. I was so proud of myself.

Some time in the 1960s, the Preserve shut down the boathouse beach and everyone had to swim at the community beach where there were lifeguards. The boathouse was used to store boats for a while, but in the 1980s it was removed entirely. Huyck Preserve board member Vincent Schaefer who had a longtime interest in restoring Dutch barns, arranged to have the boathouse removed and reassembled somewhere else in New York State. I’m glad it wasn’t destroyed.

I loved going to the community beach. Not only was it strangely comforting to return to the place where I had learned to swim, but it was nice hanging out with friends on those long, hot, summer afternoons. When we weren’t sunbathing on the beach—or flirting with the lifeguards—we’d swim out to the floating dock (yes the community beach had one, too), where we’d practice diving or linger in the cave-like coolness underneath.

Canoe-AccessoriesBeing allowed to use a rowboat or canoe by yourself was another rite of passage. My earliest memory of being in a rowboat was the summer when my sister who was a year younger than me (she was four) had her hand bandaged from a burn she had sustained that spring. She had her hand in a plastic bag so it wouldn’t get wet. She dragged her unbandaged hand in the water as my dad rowed us across the lake. Years later, I would be canoeing on the lake almost every day.

Thanks to my “training” on Lake Myosotis I would later become a swim instructor, lifeguard, and even a canoeing instructor. But my fondest memory is of what happened the night before my wedding. My then fiancé—Geoff—and I were getting married at my grandparents’ house just up the hill from the lake. After the rehearsal dinner, we took a group of our out-of-town friends for an evening stroll and headed down to the lake. It was pitch dark out, and we couldn’t see one another, but Geoff and I could have done the walk with our eyes closed because we were so familiar with the terrain. We were standing on the lake’s shore with our friends, when we overheard them whispering about how much fun it would be to throw us in. Geoff and I backed quietly away until we were standing, hidden, in a nearby stand of trees. We listened with amusement as our friends stumbled around in the dark trying to find us.

Eventually they gave up and made their way back to house leaving Geoff and me to enjoy the now quiet calm of Lake Myosotis.

Today, nearly 40 years later, the memory of that night still makes me laugh.

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Treasures in the Archives

Have you ever tried to clean out an attic, closet, or storage bin and gotten so sidetracked by all that you found—the old correspondence, photos, and other memorabilia—that you lost track of time? Hours go by as you read those letters, shuffle through the old photos, and gaze fondly at the other reminders of your past. You can’t bear to part with any of it.

Try visiting a university’s archives library sometime. It’s a treasure trove of manuscripts, letters, diaries, photographs, and other historical documents that represent the lives of other people. You can get just as lost in discovering the pasts of other people as you do in rediscovering your own.

Well, I’ve begun losing myself in university archives and other historical collections as I explore the lives of scientists who were affiliated with the Huyck Preserve long ago. Some were students or faculty members at various universities; others were affiliated with prestigious institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Almost all of them went on to have distinguished careers.

So far I’ve visited the archives libraries at two of the universities that our researchers were affiliated with: the Harvard University Archives (“one of the oldest and largest institutional academic archives in the nation,” according to its Web site) and the Carl A. Kroch Library (where Cornell’s rare and manuscripts collections are kept).

Of course, archives libraries aren’t the only places where historical treasures are stored. You may also find such primary sources (letters, diaries, memoirs, and other original materials) in historical societies, government agencies, organizations such as the Huyck Preserve, and even with the families of the people you’re researching. I’ve been perusing the records at the Rensselaerville Historical Society and found a box with dozens of letters that Edmund Niles Huyck wrote to his family when he was a student at Williams College in the 1880s. When I get a chance, I’ll read through them and maybe find hints about how much he loved the Preserve back when the property belonged to his family. Of course, I’m going through the Huyck Preserve’s records, too, but some of the oldest ones are stored in the Mill House’s musty old basement and are heavily contaminated with mold spores. We’ll need an expert’s help to neutralize the mold before those documents can be properly examined. But that’s a story for another time.

I’m far from finished with my research. I’ll need to return to Harvard and Cornell, the Rensselaerville Historical Society, and the Huyck Preserve to continue my work. I’ll be visiting other libraries, too. Here’s a sampling of the treasures I’ve found so far.

Ed Raney (from Cornell’s collection)
I found Ed Raney’s old field notebook from 1939. Raney, who was on the faculty at Cornell, was an ichthyologist (fish biologist) and studied frogs, fish, and other creatures at the Preserve. (I wrote about him in a previous blog:

Ed Raney's field notebook that he used to jot down his observations at the Huyck Preserve in 1939.

Ed Raney’s field notebook that he used to jot down his observations at the Huyck Preserve in 1939.

Excerpts from Ed Raney’s field notebook:

June 15, 1939
Arrived at the Huyck Preserve near Rensselaerville, Albany Co., N.Y., at 8:45 p.m. Lincoln Pond is a delightful small lake with a background of woods, as viewed from the cottage porch. The water appeared brown and was clear, none going over the dam at this time. Several dead Lepomis gibbosus [pumpkinseed sunfish], Ameiurus nebulosus [brown catfish], and Perca flavescens [perch] were noted along shore near the cottage.
Rana catesbeiana [American bullfrog] and R. clamitans [green frog] calling now at 10 p.m. and are apparently fairly common. It rained considerably last night and there was a heavy wind.


June 16, 1939
Neither bullfrog nor green frog eggs were seen (nor any other frog eggs) in a trip about the pond. Occasionally one of the above called during the day and were calling tonight at Myosotis Pond as well as at Lincoln Pond. One Hyla crucifer [spring peeper frog] was also calling tonight at Lincoln Pond.
Jaw tag #49 put on side of lower jaw of a [male] Rana clamitans [frog] It was taken 1/5 of the distance to the Greene dock from our cottage (sitting on a board near shore). No measurements were taken.
One [male] Rana catesbeiana [American bullfrog] of medium size had in its stomach:
Vol. no.
5% 1 Ground beetle Carabidae
95% 3 Tent caterpillars
It was taken in the shallow water near shore—under the alders.

Eugene Odum’s letter to Ed Raney (from Cornell collection)
I also came across a letter from 1939 that Eugene Odum wrote to Raney. Odum, who was the Preserve’s first resident biologist, went on to found the field of ecosystems ecology. In the letter he mentions Donald Griffin, the bat researcher from Harvard who discovered that bats use echolocation to navigate. (For more on his work at the Preserve, read my blog post:

Eugene Odum's letter to Ed Raney (September 17, 1939)

Eugene Odum’s letter to Ed Raney (September 17, 1939)

September 17, [1939]
Dear Ed
I hope you found the “Icks and Herps” [Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists] worthwhile in Chicago. I have been getting a lot done, I think, and am also getting things organized. Griffin left Thursday and my fiancée came Friday so I have not been lonesome. We have settled on a place for the winter. Miss Gathen’s “apartment,” if you recall where that is. It is fixed up quite nice, is compact and can be kept warm, yet is roomy enough for workroom. We will probably be married Thanksgiving or Christmas.

We are leaving tomorrow for Chapel Hill and I will be back the 25th or 26th. If you come here to check on your frogs while I am away, you can get the key to the cottage from Mrs. Huyck. The electricity will be turned off, but you can turn it back on in the basement. I hope I will be back when you come. I have been so busy with other things and getting living quarter[s] straightened out that I have not attempted to look for your frogs.

Please give Charlotte my best regards. I am sure she will be pleased to know that we have made very satisfactory arrangements for the winter. Griffin and I got along well with our cooking; I cooked one week and he the next. I don’t know which was the poorest cook.

Eugene Odum

Ernst Mayr and Bill Hamilton correspondence (from Harvard collection)
Ernst Mayr, a renowned evolutionary biologist based at Harvard, was on the Huyck Preserve’s Scientific Advisory Committee in the 1940s and 1950s. As I was searching through Harvard’s “Ernst Mayr collection,” I found a 1947 letter from Cornell mammalogist William Hamilton inviting Mayr to serve on that committee. Mayr accepted (a carbon copy of that letter was in the file). Hamilton had assessed the Preserve’s scientific value in 1937, recommended that a research station be established, and chaired the Scientific Advisory Committee for many years afterward. Mayr, often referred to as “the Darwin of the 20th century,” is best known for clarifying how a new species forms and adapts to changes in its environment. (You can read more about Hamilton and Mayr in my blog post:

Bill Hamilton invited Harvard evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr to serve on the Huyck Preserve Scientific Advisory Committee. (March 14, 1947)

Bill Hamilton invited Harvard evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr to serve on the Huyck Preserve Scientific Advisory Committee. (March 14, 1947)

Hamilton to Mayr (3/14/47)

Dear Dr. Mayr,
I think you know something of the Huyck Preserve, and what the Board of Directors are attempting. After an initial survey of the flora and fauna in 1937 and 1938, the directors organized a Biological Research Division, offering fellowships of $750 each for a three-month period in the summer. The Fellows chose their own problem in the field of zoology or botany, living on the Preserve during the investigation. Among ornithologists, [Charles] Kendeigh and [Eugene] Odum have studied at the Preserve. More than thirty papers have appeared in various fields since the inception of the Biological Station.

Members of the Advisory Committee pass on applicants for summer fellowships and advise the Board of Directors in any way they are called upon to help. The present members of this committee are Professor Ralph Kind, Director of the Roosevelt Wildlife Station, Syracuse, New York; Dr. John R. Greeley, ichthyologist, New York State Conservation Department; Dr. Lewis A. Eldridge of Great Neck; Dr. Thomas Ordway of Albany; and myself as chairman.

We should like very much to add your name to the Scientific Advisory Committee. The work is not onerous, perhaps one meeting a year in New York or Albany and little correspondence is involved. Any travel expenses are defrayed by the Board of Directors of the Preserve.

W. J. Hamilton.

Mayr to Hamilton (3/17/47)

Dear Dr. Hamilton,
I shall be very glad to serve the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve as [a] member of the Scientific Advisory Committee. Through my friendship with Bill Vogt, I have been interested in the Preserve since its very beginning and have been in contact with a number of the investigators who have worked there. I also once visited the Preserve together with the late Dr. [Kingsley] Noble.

As far as field work and research are concerned, I am particularly interested in studies of individual species, as well as in specific ecological problems. On the other hand, I feel that the description and census taking of habitats have reached a point where the law of diminishing returns is beginning to make itself felt.

Among specific investigators that come to my mind, I am particularly interested in Professor Pontus Palmgren, the outstanding Finnish ecologist. He has expressed an interest to come to the United States, and the University of Wisconsin, as well as the Cranbury Institute of Science, [are] interested in inviting him to the United States. I think it would be a great thing not only for Professor Palmgren, but also for the Preserve if we could bring him here for a study period. No doubt it will be too late to do it this season, but I wish we could consider it for 1948.

Yours sincerely,
Ernst Mayr

mayr-to-hamiton-Pages from Carter copy order 5-23-14-2

• Edward Raney’s field notebook and correspondence: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library: Edward Raney Papers, 1937-1969; Call number 53-2-2391; (Box 14: field notebook; Box 3: folder “O”)
• William Hamilton’s correspondence with Ernst Mayr: Harvard University Archives; Request HUG(FP) 14.7, Box 4, Filed in folder 188

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The Mill That Huyck Built


Of the 10 miles of footpaths that weave through the lands of the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve, perhaps the most traveled and best known is the Falls Trail. The trail begins at the Mill House in the hamlet of Rensselaerville and travels 500 feet along the northern banks of Ten-Mile Creek to just below the 150-foot waterfall that the Preserve and the hamlet have become known for. As the Falls come into view, so does a little red footbridge, a platform from which to admire the majesty of the Falls, and a gateway to the rest of the Preserve’s treasures.

mill buildings

The Huyck Mill (about 1870)


Just over the footbridge, to the left of the narrow path, lies an old stone foundation. The building that once stood here a hundred years ago is no more. Moss and lichens have grown over the stones that remain. The small trees, saplings, and the abundant groundcover sprouting from within the foundation, are a living testimony to the ability of nature to reclaim an altered landscape. And, outside the stonework remains, the interested hiker may notice a large rock into which has been drilled a small bronze plaque with an etching of an old building and the words: “100 years serving the paper industry. Site of the original Huyck Felt Mill 1870-1878.”

By the end of the 19th century, felt making had become an integral part of the papermaking process. Paper was made using big machines–wood pulp was mixed into a slurry, delivered to the continuous paper machines, pressed flat on giant conveyor belts, excess moisture removed, and processed into huge sheets of paper. The early American paper mills typically used rags for the drying process, but these rags were expensive (as many were imported from Europe) and were often in short supply. Some paper mills resorted to petitioning the ladies, asking them to save their rags and donate them to the papermaking cause.

As the papermaking process became more mechanized during the mid-19th century, paper mills began to use drying belts that were made of more durable woolen felts to press out the water from the pulp fibers.

At first, American paper mills imported their felts from Europe, but later American entrepreneurs began to see opportunities for making the papermaking felts themselves. Among these were the Henry Waterbury and Francis Conkling Huyck partnership, which established the fourth ever felt-making mill in the country–in Rensselaerville, N.Y., in the year 1870.

The Waterbury-Huyck partnership seemed like a natural one. Mr. Waterbury possessed the know-how to successfully manufacture the felts and Mr. Huyck had an abundance of business savvy. They began operating in the old woolen mill that had been built at the turn of the 19th century, just below the Falls. The mill’s original function was to card wool and finish cloth and return it to local farmers for their domestic needs. These services were still provided even after Mr. Waterbury and Mr. Huyck began running the mill. From 1870-1878, the mill manufactured papermakers’ felts from wool brought from nearby farms and other areas. Each week the felts would be loaded onto wagons and taken to farmers’ wives who would join the felts into endless, seamless blankets. Later the felts were returned to the mill for washing, fulling, and finishing. Although the company produced a high-quality product, its success was limited by transportation problems–since it was far from the railroad, it encountered difficulty selling and transporting the felts–as well as a lack of workers and raw materials.

In 1879, the partnership was dissolved. Mr. Waterbury decided to try his luck in Oriskany, in central New York, while Mr. Huyck rented an old knitting mill at Kenwood, a suburb of Albany. Soon F.C. Huyck and Sons was successfully manufacturing papermaking felts as well as woolen suits and blankets. Mr. Huyck ran the successful business from Kenwood and later, Rensselaer, N.Y., until his death on July 4, 1907. Shortly afterwards, the company was reorganized with Edmund Niles Huyck as president, John Niles Huyck as vice president and secretary, and Francis Conkling Huyck, Jr., as treasurer. Maintaining the tradition of F.C. Huyck Sr.’s policies and high standards, the company continued to be a leading manufacturer of papermakers’ felts in the United States.

bronze plaques

Today all that is left of the Huyck felt mill is a plaque and the mill foundation.

stone foundation

The stone foundation of the Huyck felt mill.

Today, that foundation on the trail is all that remains of the Waterbury and Huyck felt mill in Rensselaerville. After the mill closed, all the machinery was removed and the building demolished. Even its accompanying outbuilding is gone, having been removed to the Shufelt farm, just outside the hamlet. Natural succession has since reclaimed this once-bustling business property, and around it has grown the beautiful Preserve that we all treasure and enjoy.

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2008 issue of the Huyck Preserve’s newsletter, the Myosotis Messenger.

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Lake Myosotis

How the Lake Got Its Name

The little blue Forget-Me-Not flower (Myosotis sylvatica) is common in the springtime in the Rensselaerville area. The lake, which is part of the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve and is the hamlet’s water supply, is called “Lake Myosotis.” It is a man-made lake that early settlers created by damming a stream that comes from Lincoln Pond, in order to create more reliable waterpower for mills downstream. The newsletter published by the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve is called the Myosotis Messenger and the Preserve’s Web site is

picnic area beside a lake

Lake Myosotis picnic area. (Photo by Janet Haseley)

The lake was originally called “The Big Pond” which is why the hill going from the main street of the hamlet of Rensselaerville up to the lake is called “Pond Hill Road.”

When she was a teenager, Rensselaerville native Deborah Wickes (later Mrs. Charles W. Mulford) named the lake “Lake Myosotis.” There are two theories about why Deborah named the lake “Myosotis.” One is because of the profusion of the little blue Forget-Me-Not flowers that bloom around the lake in springtime. A more likely reason is because “Myosotis” means “forget-me-not” and a 20-year-old classmate of Deborah’s drowned in the lake on June 24, 1844. The name of the young man was Joshua G. Bogue and his gravestone is in the Rensselaerville Cemetery on Methodist Hill Road.

blue flowers

Forget-Me-Not flowers (Myosotis sylvatica)

We found this fact on page 51 of Old Rensselaerville (written by Mary Fisher Torrance in 1939) in a section about Mary Brewerton who was the ward of Rensselaerville’s first minister, Reverend Samuel Fuller: Related to the Josiah Conklings by marriage was Mary Hedges, half-sister of Rev. Josiah Mulford Hedges, whom Mary Brewerton was later to marry. Mary tells us of Joshua Bogue who was drowned in “The Big Pond” — afterwards named “Lake Myosotis” by Mrs. Charles Mulford (Deborah Wickes).


Gravestone of Joshua G. Bogue, who died on June 24, 1844, at the age of 20. Inscription on stone: “Watch for ye know not the hour when the son of man cometh.” (Photo by Janet Haseley)

Genealogical facts about Deborah Wickes and Mary Brewerton: Deborah Wickes’s father was Dr. Platt Wickes and the family lived in the building now called the Catalpa House. Deborah married Rensselaerville native Charles W. Mulford in 1853 and went west with him to be one of the first women to settle in the Gold County of California, in a town called Nevada City. Charles had gone west in the Gold Rush of 1849, corresponded with Deborah and other Rensselaerville people, and four years later came back east to marry her.

Mary Brewerton first came to Rensselaerville when she was six years old and had a lifelong love of the village. After her husband and several children died, she returned to Rensselaerville and became the editor of the Rensselaerville Press, a newspaper published during the 1870s.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Spring 2014 issue of The Rensselaerville Press, the quarterly newsletter of the Rensselaerville Historical Society.

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