Transforming the Ridge: Carriage Roads

In All, Bonus Content, Marbletown by Gunks Through Time0 Comments

When Arnold Guyot, the Princeton Professor of Geology and Geography visited the Shawangunks in 1877, his remarks highlighted the trails already in place around the Mohonk Mountain House, especially encircling Lake Mohonk.

During the ensuing decades an extensive network of carriage roads and foot paths were laid out that stretched for miles beyond the lake for the benefit of horse-drawn carriages and hikers. These extensions were sometimes lined with rustic cedar rails where there was danger of falling. They were accompanied by the careful placement of gazebos, called summer houses at Mohonk. At distances away from the lake, vistas were cleared to highlight noteworthy and panoramic views.

Viewed not simply as utilitarian routes, each of the carriage roads was seen as having aesthetic qualities that led visitors to tarry and admire the vistas. Rock outcrops were shaved, abutments and walls were shored up, and bridges were constructed where necessary. Carriage roads were a device for bringing guests into nature where they could experience the craggy character of the terrain and come unbelievably close to nature, all the while riding in a horse-drawn buggy. In those early years, when women wore long dresses and shoes not meant for long-distance hiking, a buggy ride immersed them with unforgettable experiences. By 1897 some forty miles of carriage roads extending out from the Mountain House in all directions had been constructed on the ridge by the Smileys.

Local and immigrant stoneworkers and carpenters, wielding simple tools and utilizing horse drawn equipment, were employed to tame the “wilderness of boulders and cliffs.”

Today these look much like they did in the past. While it is not common to see horse-drawn carriages today the carriage roads are still enjoyed by hikers, bikers, as well as cross-country skiers and snowshoers during winter.

For an excellent additional resource, please see Peter Manning’s “Developing the Middle Landscape: The Shawangunk Carriage Roads’ in The Hudson River Valley Review , Vo. 27, No. 1, Autumn 2010, pages 14-40

Then (covered bridge): Mohonk Preserve, Daniel Smiley Research Center

Now: Carol Rietsma

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