Thompson Pond: (Pine Plains: Its Unique Natural Heritage)
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Vol. 2: Pine Plains: Its Unique Natural Heritage

Five Essays


§6 Thompson Pond

Lois R. Palmatier

This beautiful little pond lies at the foot of Stissing Mountain and its outlet forms the beginning of Wappingers Creek. Too shallow for swimming, too crowded with white water lilies, pickerel weed and cattails to allow motorboating, just a "worthless" bit of swamp, water, woods and rocks - it offers no allure to developers and promoters. So, while nearby lakes and ponds have been "improved," Thompson Pond has remained unspoiled and unexploited.

According to a paper in the possession of Mrs. Henry Slinger-land of Ancram, the pond was named for Amos Thompson, an ancestor of hers who came to Great Nine Partners about 1746 and settled near the pond known as Thompson's Pond. His grandson, Asa A. Thompson, was the writer of the paper. He died in 1860 after having lived for sixty-five years north of the pond. At this writing, one may discern traces of a foundation a bit south of the mountain trail. Could these mark the site of the house? The Allen Thompson mentioned in "Little Nine Partners was a member of this family and lived near the outlet of the pond.

I have long been intrigued with the story of Muggins Cave, but hesitate to add it here because I have been unable to verify it. However, it is a bit of local color which should not be lost, so here it is. Perhaps some future historian can ferret out the truth.

The Muggins family were Tories, so the story goes, and, since most of the people in this region were ardent Revolutionaries, they were not welcomed by their neighbors. According to legend, they took refuge in a "cave" at Thompson Pond and there they stayed for the duration of the war. They avoided detection by lighting their fires only at night and when the mists over the lake would hide the telltale smoke. Years later, Professor Lyman Henry Hoysradt used to take groups of botany students to pick lady's-slippers on the overhanging rock which formed the cave. The directions given to me were as follows: proceed down the old wood road as far as it goes, ending at the foot of a high rocky ledge. This appears to be a part of the mountain, but it is really an outcrop lying parallel to, but at some distance from it. If you go around the south end of this ridge, you will find a secluded glen with a stream coming from a spring on the mountain. This would make an ideal hideaway. Whether the tumbled rocks represent the remains of the overhanging ledge, I do not know. It is possible that time and the seasons have erased the cave," but it will continue to be a magnet to draw the imagination of the visitor to Thompson Pond.

The area of Thompson Pond has long been known throughout the county as a bird sanctuary and the area has been described as unique, possibly the only one in the east. Early in the twentieth century, Ludlow Griscom drew heavily on his observations here for his book, "The Birds of Dutchess County, New York," a leading publication on the birds of a single county in this country. Thompson Pond is considered to be by far the best location for water birds in the entire central Hudson Valley region, excepting perhaps a few areas along the river itself. Red-tailed hawks, which are often seen soaring over the lake in spring and summer, nest on Stissing Mountain. As a bird sanctuary alone, the Thompson Pond area is noteworthy. It is, for example, one of the most northerly stations for the king rail. Bird watchers come from far and near, especially during the spring and fall migrations.

Marshes as extensive as the Thompson Pond area are scarce in the Hudson Valley, except along the river itself. The marsh at Thompson Pond is basically composed of cattails, interspersed with many other species. One extensive shallow bay in the marsh has an extraordinary growth of white water lilies. The marsh vegetation forms a dense floating mat over much of the area and shows distinct signs of spreading into the open water. On the whole, the pond appears to be changing fairly rapidly into a marsh, although it is to be expected that considerable open water

picture - click to enlarge
Thompson Pond
will remain for some time. Even now the fauna of the area includes a wide variety of marsh animals. The bountiful waters of Thompson Pond have been well known to fishermen of the county, and in the winter the sport of ice-fishing is enjoyed by many.

Teachers from Vassar College have made considerable use of Thompson Pond for field trips with their classes in botany and geology. In May of 1951, dedication of the Warburg Memorial Hall at the Natural History Museum in New York City took place. The exhibit in this hall highlights the plant and animal life of a forty-square-mile area around Stissing Mountain, with a simplified scientific explanation of how and why the landscape appears as it does today.

It was in 1958 that Mr. Elting Arnold of Washington, D. C., visited his boyhood home at Red Hook and came to Thompson Pond to do some birding. He was at that time serving as Executive Secretary of the Nature Conservancy. This is a national organization dedicated to the preservation of outstanding examples of unspoiled America. He was impressed by the possibilities offered by Thompson Pond. On subsequent visits he persuaded Mr. George W. Brown, then owner of Briarcliff Farms, to sell the pond and sufficient land around it to offer protection. The asking price of $20,000 for the 180 acres sounded like a scandalous price to some local residents. It was about $100 an acre!

Since Nature Conservancy receives its funds only through public donations, a local fund-raising committee was formed. The committee put the emphasis on many small contributions rather than a few large amounts, and offered to sell "Shares of Beauty," such as 1 black oak tree, 19 feet in circumference, $500; 1 acre of swamp replete with marsh wrens, $100; 1 acre of woodland with rabbits, grouse and squirrels, $100; 1 acre of blue sky with silhouetted wood ducks, $100; 1 acre of blue sky with diving osprey, $50; 1 acre of sunlit water just right for fishing, $50; 1 hollow tree with wood duck's nest, $25; 1 hollow tree with pileated woodpecker's nest, $10; 1 nesting tree suitable for scarlet tanager or blue jay, $10; 1 cat-tail clump with redwing blackbird's nest, $5; mosses and lichen in great variety, $1 each.

The original Thompson Pond Committee was composed of the following:

Mrs. Charles Adams, Pine Plains, N. Y. Mr. Elting Arnold, Washington, D. C. Mrs. Lester Aroh, Pine Plains, N. Y. Mr. Edward B. Clements, Troy, N. Y. Mr. Newton D. Deuel, Pine Plains, N. Y., Chairman Dr. Paul Duxbury, Pine Plains, N. Y. Mrs. Paul Haight, Stanfordville, N. Y. Mrs. Hobart D. Hunt, Stanfordville, N. Y. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Palmatier, Pine Plains, N. Y. Mr. Paul Rosenthal, Pine Plains, N. Y. Dr. Harry L. Shapiro, The American Museum of Natural History, New York, N. Y. Dr. A. Scott Warthin, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N. Y. Mr. Ralph T. Waterman, Poughkeepsie, N. Y. Mr. Alvin G. Whitney, Delmar, N. Y.

At present, Mrs. Paul Haight is Chairman, Mrs. A. Alden Parkhurst is Secretary-Treasurer, and Mrs. John Klink is in charge of visitors.

In 1960, upon the death of Robert Palmatier, the Thompson Pond Memorial Fund was established. Contributions to the fund are used to keep trails open, and provide trail-markers, signs, etc.

The northern shore of the pond is owned by Stissing Lake Camps, Inc. They have been most co-operative and have declared their property a Nature Preserve also, thereby giving protection to all parts of the area.

Places like Thompson Pond are rare indeed!

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