This article describing summer life at Yankee Lake was written by C. M. Wood and published 25 May 1912.
Middletown Daily Times-Press
Saturday 25 May 1912
by C. M. Wood
It is now over 112 years since the famous Yankee Lake in Sullivan County received its name, which is derived from the following circumstance. Previous to or about the year 1800, a man named Ellsworth made a canoe or dugout, which he put on the pond and used it there while hunting. He was a Yankee [i.e., from New England] and the Dutch hunters (who were the first settlers) consequently called the lake Yankee Pond.
It is situated four miles West of Wurtsboro in the Town of Mamakating, at the top of the West Shawangunk Mountain, 1500 feet above sea level, and is surrounded by forest. In shape, the lake has a slight resemblance to the partially extended wings of a bird, but only one of which can be seen from any given point. It is located in a basin formed by several ridges.
It is 2 miles in length and from 1 to 2 miles in width at various places. It is fed by three small streams from the North and West and by springs beneath its surface. It has a depth of from thirty to forty feet at its deepest parts. It was purchased from William H. Clarkson, Adolph VanDuser and William H. Denning on 1 May 1844, with the adjacent land (in all, about 1,500 acres) by the Delaware and Hudson (D & H) Canal Company, and converted into a reservoir for its canal.
To render it effectual for this purpose, the Company constructed an embankment across its outlet 130 rods [715 yards] in length, 16 feet in width at its base, 12 feet at its top and 20 feet in height. It was a substantial and expensive work. About thirty men were employed nearly two years in building it. It has since been repaired and enlarged. The last time was 1894-1895. The dam at the present time , which has the sluiceway and gate-house midway, is 525 yards in length, 26 feet in width at its top, except at the middle where it has a width of 34 feet, and 52 feet at the base, and is 22 feet in height. At the north end it has a vent, or an overflow, 30 feet wide with a drop of three feet from a level with the top of the dam, constructed as a sluiceway for service during heavy rainfalls. In canal days, the normal height of water was within two feet of the top of the dam. The lake then covered an area of about 1500 acres. This flooded and submerged hundreds of acres of forest land, the excess water killed the trees, which were cut off in the wintertime on a level with the ice. There are three islands in the lake, two of which [known as The Heyney Islands, they had been purchased by the Heyney family from Charles Whitman for one sack of flour and one sack of sugar] are about half acre in size while the other and largest [The Big Island], contains from five to six acres and is densely covered with pine, birch, maple, oak and other varieties of tree life. A number of years ago, there were on the lake several floating islands formed of tree trunks, brush, moss, turf, etc. They are seen no more.
The outlet of the lake is the Pine Kill. It is five miles in length and discharges its waters at Westbrookville, into the stream known as the Basha Kill. They are both famous trout streams. The lake is now  owned by the Yankee Lake Company, Inc. The latter purchased it from The D&H Canal Company, 7 August 1905, together with about 400 acres of land, and have converted it into a vacation and summer home resort. It has been restocked with pickerel and perch. A new road has been cut and graded around on the North side [now known as North Shore Drive]; building sites for bungalow lots, each with one hundred feet lakefront have been sold and cottages have been erected. The new company is expending considerable money each year to the improvement of the lake and its surroundings.
The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company was under a heavy bond for damages that might occur to the people living along the valley below in case of a break in the dam. When the canal was closed in 1898, the company had no further use of the lake for canal purposes, and to obtain a release of the bond, the water was drawn to a safety mark placed on the dam by a State Engineer, who pronounced it substantial and strong and capable of carrying a much higher head of water. It is now maintained at a lower level, which lessens all fears as to its safety.
Some old monarchs of white pine have stood here waving their tops to the breeze in the ages gone by. Stumps that are standing at the present time measure four and five feet in diameter on a level of the water. Around, through and in this sea of stumps, the angler occupying one end of the boat, casts and reels, while the oarsman guides and avoids the numberless snags. As a fishing ground, this part of the lake holds the record, although different localities have their special champions and for those particular parties undoubtedly their chosen spot is the best.
Rockafellow’s Camp – this is one of the old established fishermen’s headquarters – or as it is now known, “Pine Grove House,” located at the southeast end or head of the lake, is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Rockafellow, who have resided at the lake for forty-one years. Mr. Rockafellow, who is now 75 years old, is a Civil War Veteran. He enlisted in July 1862 under Lieutenant Thomas Luckey at Bloomingburg in Company G - 143d Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry and went into camp at Monticello, was put in Captain Benjamin Reynold's Company, was ordered to the front and served in ranks until mustered out in 1864 by order of Major General J. Hooker. Mr. Rockafellow has sold several building sites from his possessions.
The log cabin bungalow, situated near the table rock, with a view of the lake, past Rockafellow’s landing, is owned by James Morrison of Yonkers.
William Wright of Rahway, N. J. has a plot at the East end near Rockafellow’s landing. The trees have been trimmed and thinned out to give a full view of the lake, ground has been broken and the foundation started for his cottage, which will be erected and ready for occupancy for the coming season.
At this end of the lake, on the highway and the corner of the Yankee Lake Company’s new road, leading around the North side, is the home of Captain William P. Maclay, who is now in his 72d year and is enjoying good health, is a veteran of the Civil War. He enlisted in Company C of the 62d Volunteer Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry on 4 July 1861, and served in the ranks until the 17th day of the following September. He was then promoted to Second Lieutenant, same company and regiment. In October of 1862, after the Battle of Antietam, he was promoted to Captain of his company, and on 12 June 1864, was ordered to command the regiment during the Battle of Charles City Court House, Virginia and continued in command until the regiment was mustered out on 25 July 1864. The Captain has traveled extensively since 1872, throughout the West and South, in the mercantile line. In 1893, he came to Wurtsboro and continued his line of business until 1896 when, with failing health, he tried the high attitude of Yankee Lake and vicinity and received great benefit. In the fall of 1898, he purchased his home, where he now resides, which he has since enlarged and added to his possessions forty acres of forest land, from which he has sold several building sites. The view from Captain Maclay’s landing is one of the choicest on the lake.
Those that had camps on the North side from Captain Maclays are: L. Wakeman of Wurtsboro, agent for the New York, Ontario & Western Railway at Mamakating station, who has a very conveniently arranged bungalow, designed by himself. Patriotic Camp No. 41, which adjoins on the North is owned by E. C. Hallock of Middletown. Dr. F. D. Myers of Slate Hill owns a plot with cottage; Mrs. Janet E. Cocharan of New York owns two lots with houses on each. The next cottage is owned by Henry Baillett of New York. Camp Laurel cottage is owned by Charles H. Clark of Middletown. Camp Goshen is owned by George H. Mills of Goshen. This cottage is nicely located on a prominent point overlooking the lake. In fact, all cottage and bungalow sites situated along the shore are superbly located. John Ferguson of Middletown owns the bungalow well around to the North side of the lake and near the Grassy Brook inlet. Others that have purchased sites and intend to build are W. T. Cornelius and the Misses Martin of Middletown; Mrs. M. Fuller of Goshen; W. L. Helm, C. Newkirk, John Pantley of Wurtsboro; John L. McKinney of Pine Bush; the Reverend Robert Gardiner, M. B. Austin, and the Scouts of Ridgebury.
Charles Whitman, the well-known character and pioneer at the camp was born at Yankee Lake 55 years ago. Mr. Whitman was employed by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company for 20 years as caretaker of the dam. He resides with his family at his home on the west side of the lake, where he owns 300 acres, principally all woodland, through which the Pine Kill, the outlet of the lake, flows. About one half mile from the lake on his property, there is a wonderful spring, which has a future for itself some day. It is twelve feet across and is filled with white sand, through which the clearest and purest of water boils forth and flows a goodly stream, never failing in the driest of seasons, and empties into the Pine Kill. By stealthily approaching this spring, the speckled trout can be seen moving around over the white sand in the sun’s rays, as it flickers in through the tops of the trees that surround the pool. Mr. Whitman has sold several tracts of a number of acres each, also building sites, bordering along the West shore. Christopher Hummel is located there; William Heyney of Yonkers, art instructor of Columbia University, New York City, purchased ten acres of forest land from Mr. Whitman in 1910. He came to Yankee Lake in April of last season and remained until September, having erected on his property a summer home, exclusively designed by himself of the Park Lodge type Foresters Home with a studio nearby. Together with his family, he will occupy his new possessions the entire summer at the lake.
Fred H. Seeland of New York owns Corduroy Cottage, which fronts the lake down Whitman Street. Messrs Hager and Graham of Westbrookville, owns the cottage at the foot of Whitman Street and the lake. This cottage accommodated 200 campers last season. Messrs Bailey and Westbrook of Otisville, have a cottage adjoining Andrew Craig of Otisville, is located along this shore. Mr. Craig erected late last fall a pretty concrete and assorted field stone bungalow. George W. Babcock, contractor, had charge of the mason work. Mr. and Mrs. Fred E. Skelton and family of Passaic, New Jersey have camped regularly at Yankee Lake for 18 years. Five years ago, Mr. Skelton together with his father, John R. Skelton of Middletown, purchased from Whitman, a building site centrally located along the West shore, and erected a stone cottage, which is of the bungalow type. The cottage stands about 125 feet from the water’s edge, likewise the new concrete and stone bungalow of Mr. Craig, which adjoins. A fine prospective view of the lake and surrounding slopes of woodland to the north, east, and south, and to Rockafellow’s landing at the far end of the lake, are to be had from this shore. It has a sandy beach and is very popular for bathing.
Every evening thru the summer vacation season, a green light is hoisted to the top of a flagpole at the stone cottage and shines forth all night. Its beacon rays to the belated boatman crossing the lake.
Fred and William Roth of New York, own a cottage on the West shore, near the dam’s north and, John G. Gray and Dr. H. J. Shelley of Middletown own a bungalow site adjoining.
Mr. H. Vernon and family of Florida, Lieutenant and Mrs. Russell M. Vernon and family of Middletown come regularly each season to the take. Their cottage is located on the West side.
The Yankee Pond Hunting and Fishing Club, with a membership of ten, comprised principally of Port Jervis members and known at the lake as the Port Jervis Club, built its club house in 1899 and are located on the South end of the dam, with about 200 feet shore front.
The Pine Kill Club of Middletown, organized with a membership of ten in 1906, purchased from Charles Whitman, a tract of several acres at the South end of the dam and is bordered by the Pine Kill on the west, and the highway on the south and east. It erected within about 150 feet of the water’s edge, a two-story clubhouse, with porch, front and side, with a view of the lake to the north. On the death of the late Julius F. Korn, who was a member of the club, the membership was reduced to nine, who was as follows: Dr. J. L. Hammaer, Daniel Taylor, J. A. Ketcham, A. W. Bemrose, E. C. Allen, John S. Cooper, H. B. Kingeland, C. M. Wood, A. N. Springstead. The regular outing events observed by the members at the lake, as a club, are the holidays: Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. The later is celebrated usually with a clambake. During the months of July, August and September, each member has an exclusive week, as preferred, set apart for his family and guests.
Hunter’s Camp is a well-known resort to New Yorkers, and is centrally located in the midst of a grove of young trees on the south side, with about 600 feet of shorefront. The camp consists of a colony of cottages, several of which are built of the log cabin type, and arranged around the main building, containing office, reception room and dining room, the whole being operated on the same plan as a good-sized hotel, but with additional privacy and independence of action and guests.
A feature of the main cabin is its open fireplace, which, with its cheerful fire, will do wonders in dispelling the gloom of a rainy day, and furnishing that feeling of perfect comfort so necessary after an all day excursion tramping or boating. The camp is owned by E. B. Hunter, who is also the proprietor. Mr. and Mrs. E. B. Hunter and family reside at the camp, and the comfort of the fisherman and tourist is well looked after. This will be the fifth season of the camp.
Among those who own cottages and building sites, several of whom have purchased from E. B. Hunter along the south side, are J. L. Gregory of Middletown; Messrs Beers and Sturdevent; Charles Newkirk; Remsen A. Sickles, New York; J. C. Nugent, Altoona, Pennsylvania; Dr. Fred Emmel, James J. Hunter, of Denton, who was formerly the owner and proprietor, owns a cottage at the camp. From Hunter’s height, a grand panoramic view can be had to the north, east and west. Beyond the lake, it is one great spread of forest as far as the eye can see. Beautiful in October’s afternoon sun, autumn’s colors, golden-yellow and all the rare reds intermingled with the dark green of the pines. To the right can be seen the Mountain View House of Mrs. H. W. Budd, also Mamakating Inn on Masten Lake Hill, while further on to the North, and in the sky line are the mountains of the Catskills.
At the far end of the lake, just above the shoreline, can be seen the home of Chertier Sorine, the old-timer of years ago, who could pilot you to just where the fish were biting best.
Mount Vernon; Miss Bertha Emmel, Elizabeth, New Jersey; Miss Emma Coomb, Salem, New Jersey; W. R. Creedon of Slate Hill, owns a site near Hunter’s landing, and has contracted with M. B. Austin for the building of a cottage to be ready for occupancy at the opening of the coming season. Charles W. Evans of Middletown, will also build a cottage along the shore. Charles Protz, of New York, owns a 20-acre tract along the south side from Hunter’s Camp, extending to Rockafellow’s landing. Abial Bennett of Bloomingburg, has a cottage at the South end; Jerry Rockafellow is located at the south and George and Clarence Rockafellow reside at Pine Grove House.
L. Wakeman owns the pretty concrete and assorted field stone bungalow erected last season by George Babcock, contractor, which is situated on the Westbrookville Road entrance to the lake, south side. Mr. and Mrs. Hasselbrink and family, of New York, come annually and remain the whole season. Mr. Hasselbrink’s sightly house stands on a high elevation in a grove of sturdy pines, overlooking the lake to the west and north. F. Ruhlender, of New York, owns the cottage adjoining, which has the same view of the lake. Just below the road, which passes around the south side, are the pretty summer cottages of J. Seimer, M. Bair and A. Wiegner, of New York and who, with their families and friends, come annually to Yankee Lake.
Yankee Lake House stands in a clearing of about 75 acres facing the south side of the lake. The Yankee Lake House is a hotel, with farm of 190 acres, part of which is timberland and is owned by J. E. Best, who is also the proprietor. Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Best came to Yankee Lake from Pond Eddy in the Fall of 1904. Since Mr. Best resided at the lake, he has labored faithfully for its interests. During his second year, he was instrumental in the opening up of the old turnpike road, travel having been over the Monticello and Wurtsboro macadam road. Mr. Best went among the taxpayers with a petition and secured fifty signers that contributed together with Joseph Love of New York, who donated generously towards the improvement of the turnpike, it having been upwards of 19 years not practically traveled. This road was a portion of highway built by the Newburgh and Cochecton Turnpike Company, which was organized and granted a charter 20 March 1801, with capital limited to $80,000, and authority to construct a turnpike road in the nearest and most convenient and direct route from the Village of Newburgh, on the Hudson River, to Cochecton, on the Delaware River, making a road when finished of 60 miles. The construction was well under way in 1802 and in 1803 and had reached Wurtsboro. Wurtsboro was first known as Mamakating. With the opening of the Delaware and Hudson Canal, in 1828, it was re-named Wurtsboro, in honor to Maurice Wurts, who was the originator of the canal. From Wurtsboro, the turnpike company built their road, following the line of route nearly all the way of the old blazed trail first cut by Annais Sackett in the year of 1792, to a point near where Monticello now stands. This same line of route has been adopted for the three seat wide automobile trunk line from the Hudson River to Buffalo, and will pass within about one mile of the lake.
Mr. Best has been working to secure rural free mail service at Yankee Lake and vicinity to begin in May 1912, and to continue for six months each year. The application with the required number of signers sent to Washington and a reply to same has been received, stating the same has been accepted, and that the route would be taken up in its turn. Also a long distance telephone will be connected in, and the camp will be in active touch with the outside world.
Yankee Lake can be reached overland by way of Wurtsboro or at Westbrookville. Westbrookville was first known as Basha’s Land. Pine Kill – this was the true Basha’s Kill of a century and a half ago – and on it was a tract of land known as Basha’s Land. Tradition says that Basha was a squaw, who was the queen of her tribe or clan, and lived on the banks of the creek. Her name was Basha Bashi-ba, and her bones no doubt repose in the Indian graveyard nearby. It was finally named in honor of Dirck Van Keuren Westbrook, the first white man who lived there. He built a stone house, on his land in 1753, which was used for a fort during the Revolutionary War for protection from the Indians, who were killing and destroying throughout the valley.
Fort Westbrook is still standing, having been remodeled into a modern building, and is now the residence of Eugene Rhodes.
From Westbrookville to Yankee Lake, the drive is through a beautiful valley along the Pine Kill stream, which the road crosses and recrosses as the route continues, with here and there you are in a thickly wooded forest until you come out into full view of the northwest end of the lake, at the south shoreline’s Yankee Lake House Landing.
If from Wurtsboro, after passing through the beautiful village, the ride up the Mountain by auto or stage takes the traveler along the old turn-pike that skirts the edge on the left of a deep ravine, through which Saw Mill Brook, the outlet of Masten Lake, flows, and can be heard rustling far below, perfectly hidden from view by the tangled shrubbery. For over a mile on and upward, shaded by huge tress of pine, with hemlock, oak and chestnut, that fringe each side of the road, with now and then a glimpse of the sky to be had through their branches, touching and interlocked overhead. As the journey continues, the ravine widens into a valley, with cleared fields and buildings at intervals. Higher you ascend, the better air is plainly noticeable, and turning, broader Prospects spread out to your right until arriving at the summit, and just opposite the beautiful residence of Joseph Love, of New York, the route turns to the left, leaving the turnpike, and passes the Mount Lina House of H. L. Davis.
You pause and look back: Upon each side are the oak clad slopes of the mountain, while a grand open view to the east, back over the route just traversed, show the Shawangunk range with Sam’s Point on the left. Beyond and through an opening in this range, in the far away distance, a portion of the Hudson Highlands can be seen.
The road soon enters the woods, and for a mile it winds and turns, until you climb over Table Rock with Captain Maclay’s just ahead. One more turn in the road and the headwaters of Yankee Lake are at hand.
Hundreds of New Yorkers come annually, as well as those from other large cities and nearby towns, to this secluded lake and the Barrens, in the wilds of Sullivan County. Famous throughout Orange and other adjoining counties with the fishermen for the past century, as the greatest of all fishing camps, and now coming into the limelight as a great health resort, owing to its high altitude and beneficial bestowments. The man who has a few hundred dollars to spare and invests in Yankee Lake property, as many are doing, has a health resort of his own, unequalled for its tonic effect. As a hay fever resort, the high altitude at Yankee Lake is unexcelled, and thousands of sufferers are unaware that here is a perfect immunity from the disease. A week’s stay does wonders for the visitor in the matter of health, but a month or longer actually recreates, so marvelous, so health giving is the pureness of the dry atmospheric conditions. Here you have perfect rest from too brain-fog of business, with complete remoteness from the noisy traffic and din of the cities and where the fashionable hotels and silk gowns and swagger blowouts have not asserted control. It is a colony of happy people. You can toss aside collars and cuffs; real comfort is to be had. With shirtwaists and comfortable outing suits, in which sensible people just grow healthy and strong, are the pure mountain conditions. Three thousand people made Yankee Lake their place of outing or haven of rest last season . Many large strings of pickerel, perch, and bass were taken. The largest bass weighing 6 ¼ pounds, was caught by Frank Henmon of Delaware, New Jersey.
In the spring, it is essentially a fishermen’s territory. In the summer, the fisherman, while still present, give the place in a great degree to the vacationist and tourist. Many Automobile parties come for a picnic and to fish. They stroll along the roads that wind through the wildwoods, which are beautiful in June time, when the laurel and the rhododendron are in full bloom, in one great flower garden for miles and miles. Visitors promenade across the dam from which a very extensive view of the lake, dotted with numerous rowboats, is to be had while the dam itself stands today an a monument to the men who constructed it.
Through July and August the camp is filled to its capacity, and tents are brought into commission. Until the late of September, into October, many people remain. Once again, with the approaching season at hand, already the call of the wild, is casting its spell, and many are they that are counting the days and looking forward to their allotted chosen period and the trip to their summer home at the lake in the woods which is proving to be a true and trustworthy friend. All hail to Yankee Lake!
The Yankee Lake web site does not collect or use any personal information.