Under a sunny June sky, Highlands Preservation recently commemorated Putnam County’s Bicentennial with a “Magical History Tour and Nature Hike” up Mount Nimham in Kent, which for many years was thought to be the highest elevation in Putnam County.
The eager history and nature lovers assembled at the bottom of the mountain, and we soon made our way into ‘Brown’s Quarry’, where high quality blocks of serpentine were once harvested in the early 1800s. Although Mother Nature has mostly reclaimed this landscape, the remaining open pits still speak to its mining past. We wound our way further up the mountain, reaching the Townsend family’s “Fairview Farm,” which, as suggested by its name, offered a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. First occupied by the Townsends beginning in the late 1700s, there we learned about Judge Coleman S. Townsend and his son, Hamilton Fish Townsend, the last member of that family to own the farm, which at one time extended from Smokey Hollow up to the very top of the mountain.
Looking at the mountain today, it’s hard to believe that it almost became a golf course when a group of investors purchased 550 acres from Hamilton Townsend. Townsend reclaimed the land in1935, vowing to never sell it again. After his death in 1948, the property was purchased byNew YorkStateas part of their reforestation program, eventually becoming the multiple use area enjoyed by so many today.
We then continued our trek to the top of the mountain and the fire lookout tower. Built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), it replaced three earlier wooden lookout towers built by the Smalleys, Deans, and Townsends.
When placed into service, the rest of the world was already at war, and the U.S. Army was very interested in using the network of fire towers as part of an air raid warning system in addition to detecting fires.
We were treated to a series of photos provided by the granddaughter of Dick Ketchum, the first fire warden assigned to the tower in 1940. He lived in the nearby cabin with his family, which is now an empty field adjacent to the fire tower, having been destroyed by vandals after fire tower wardens were replaced by aircraft observers.
A roll call of the local patriots from the Revolution and the War of 1812 followed, to honor those who helped form our nation and keep it free asPutnamCountycame into existence 200 years ago.
On our way down the main road, we stopped at the Dean farm, once owned by Civil War veteran William Niles Dean and later by his younger brother, Colonel F. Dean. Their older brother, John Haviland Dean, was the first casualty of the Civil War from this area when he died of measles in January of 1862. William Dean suffered serious injury eight months later at the Battle of Antietem, with a ball tearing through his face and jaw. After many years, he gradually recovered and became a successful fruit farmer on the mountain.
By Thomas Maxson