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Day Tripper: Dover Stone Church
10/29/2009 - By Teja Anderson
A geological wonder that will wow anyone with a yen for adventureIf you enjoy hiking and are looking for a place that is a little different but rich in history, then the Dover Stone Church, just west of quaint Dover Plains Village, New York, is well worth a visit. This is one of those rare places that can be enjoyed alone or with the entire family.
The Dover “Stone Church” is a geological formation of metaphoric rock on the Stone Church Brook, a tributary of the Ten Mile River, and is located on the Taconic Ridge in the northwest corner of the town of Dover. Because the formation is similar in size and shape to a church’s cathedral and stained glass window, tourists and naturalists have been drawn to this site for more than 200 years. The Dover Stone Church is a remarkable rock grotto with a hidden natural cleft in the mountain through which Stone Church Creek flows. There are two 20-foot high waterfalls in the first chamber, and the grotto runs about 30 feet tall by 80 feet deep here.
The Stone Church is also within walking distance from the main village,* and tourists have been visiting this wonder since the early 1800s, evidenced by some of the graffiti carved on the walls. On this east slope of West Mountain a small stream has worn out a remarkable cavern in the rocks, forming an impressive Gothic arch entrance in a bucolic wooded gorge. The archway opens into solid rock, and a stream of water pours in from the entry. Once inside you are confronted by a great boulder reaching halfway up to the ceiling that resembles an oldfashioned New England pulpit; it was given the name “The Pulpit” by Richard Maher, a Dover resident and author of the book “Historic Dover.” The walls are almost perfectly arched, and in the warmer months they are sprinkled with green moss, white lichen, and the occasional wildflower. A crack in the rock extends the entire length of the “chapel,” over which hanging trees drape their green branches, seemingly against the sky, providing a calm whispering sound. As you emerge from the cave you’ll notice that the brook heads down a ravine to a lovely meadow – a perfect spot for a picnic (please keep in mind that no alcoholic beverages, camping, or fires are permitted here).
Although this site was privately owned until 2002, the town of Dover worked with the Dutchess County Open Space and Farmland Protection Fund, the Dutchess Land Conservancy, and Friends of the Dover Stone Church (a local group) to acquire the property and rebuild the hiking trails; they all recognized the tremendous geological and historical significance of the Stone Church. The Dutchess Land Conservancy holds a conservation easement over the land, and the 58-acre location is listed on the New York State Open Space Plan as an important site to protect. The Stone Church is also the first known historical reference to the town of Dover. According to legend, dating back to the 1600s, Mashantucket Sassacus, the sachem or chief of the Pequot Native American tribe, and his warriors sought refuge for more than a week in the Stone Church in order to escape capture and death by the English Army following the killing (by New Englanders) of many of his people on Long Island. This became known as the King Philip War of 1676.
In the 1830s, partly because of an article in “The Family Magazine” that described the Stone Church as “a singular and interesting curiosity,” thousands of visitors from New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere flocked to see the Stone Church for themselves; many people also picked the Stone Church as a perfect setting for getting married. This unique place has been visited, sketched, and written about by famous artists and authors since the 1800s. In 1847, engraver and landscape artist and a central figure of the renowned Hudson River School of Painting, Asher Durand sketched the site. In the late 1800s, Dutchess County historian, distinguished author, and Dover resident, Benson Lossing wrote a book entitled “Dover Stone Church and The History of Dutchess County.” In addition, during the Great Depression Arthur Powell and several other landscape artists painted the site through the Works Program Administration (WPA) enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt. "The Wells," situated near the Stone Church, is a series of pools formed by the flow of Seven Wells Brook; it is depicted in another famous painting by Arthur Powell, who stayed on the grounds to record the rural beauty of Dover.
If you decide against packing a picnic lunch, the small historic village has several culinary choices conveniently located on the Main Street (Route 22). Four Brothers Pizza Inn & Restaurant is a perennial favorite; or if you are in the mood for Mexican food you can’t go wrong with El Paradiso Pizza & Ristorante. Tina’s Place, at the intersection of Route 343 and Route 22, is a great coffee shop and local hangout. If a full-service, sit-down meal is what you’re looking for then try The Buttonwood House; ask for Victoria and she’ll be happy to recommend wines and entrees that will leave you happy and sated.
You also have several options if you choose not to take the 2-hour drive back to New Jersey the same day. The Old Drovers Inn (196 East Duncan Road) is a quaint Bed & Breakfast with seven rooms, each with a private bath and king-size bed; many of the rooms also have a wood burning fireplace. A complimentary old-fashioned country breakfast is served each morning, and the Tap Room, the on-site restaurant, serves delicious local game and fresh seafood. You can relax in the parlor by the open fire, read a book in the library, or sit out on the porch with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset. Another Bed & Breakfast, The Mill Farm (66 Cricket Hill Road) is perfect if you really want to escape and keep things rustic.
While you are visiting the area, check out another historic site – The Tabor-Wing House. It is a frame house (built in 1810 by a prominent family in the area) still relatively intact, with an unusual amount of decoration for a Federal-style building. Because of that and its importance in local history, in 1982 it was included on the National Register of Historic Places; in addition, from 1979 to 2003 it was the home of the Dover Plains Library.
The town of Dover was originally settled by the Dutch and English who came from western Dutchess County, New York, and Connecticut, as well as the Quaker families from Pawling. Dover Plains was named after the white chalk cliffs of the English Channel at Dover, England.
The Stone Church is the perfect trip for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts, so if you’re looking for an autumn “adventure” that’s just a little bit different, but offers a lot of beauty and old world charm, this may be the perfect quick getaway for you!
* Although the distance is relatively short – ¾ of a mile – the hike itself can be difficult. Hike at your own risk warnings are posted as the terrain can be rough, there are water hazards, and the trail and rocks may be uneven and slippery, especially after rain or snow. There are also warnings to watch for ticks and venomous snakes; however, if you stick to the designated paths and marked nature trails the risk is minimal. Of course, children must be supervised, and no swimming or rock climbing is allowed. Most kids will still fully enjoy the adventure and challenge and see this trip as a naturalist’s video game.
Dover Stone Church
126 East Duncan Hill Road
Dover Plains, NY 12522
Dusk til Dawn (weather permitting)
Take the New Jersey Turnpike North, which becomes I-95 North. Take Exit 1C (I-87) toward the Major Deegan Expressway/Albany/Queens to Exit 4 – the Cross County Parkway East. This becomes the Hutchinson River Parkway North (I-684) North. Continue toward Brewster (passing through Connecticut and then into New York), where I-684 North becomes NY 22 North. The Dover Stone Church is located just off Route 22 in Dover Plains, NY.
Parking is available at the Dover Elementary School when school is not in session (after 3 pm, weekends, and holidays), as well as at several local restaurants, all within a short walking distance.
Park Rules and Safety Tips:
•Hike at your own risk. Rough terrain, water hazards, trail, and rocks may be uneven and slippery. Wear sturdy footwear.
•Accessible to hikers only. No motorized vehicles or bicycles allowed.
•Watch for ticks and venomous snakes
•Stay on the designated paths and marked nature trails to respect the privacy of adjacent private property owners.
•No rock climbing allowed.
•No swimming allowed.
•Do not pick flowers, disturb plant life, or wildlife.
•No alcoholic beverages, firearms, camping, or fires allowed in the park.
•No garbage disposal available — carry out what you bring in.
•Children must be supervised.
•Call 911 in case of an emergency.
Dover Stone Church welcomes groups and organizations. Please call to arrange for a guided tour.
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