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.
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.)
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.