Here’s a nice little fifty-footer, not too far from Boonville, NY.
People are surprised to learn, that the falls is actually located in Hurlbutville. They often say, “Goodness, can that be so? I’d have thought Hawkinsville, or over by Forestport. Or perhaps, between Alder Creek, and Alder Creek Station? Or possibly, at the foot of Potato Hill?”
It’s hard not to scoff at such speculation, and I’ve no patience with wild conjectures.
It seems to me, that a sprightly name like “Pixley Falls” should be located someplace more legendary-sounding. Rome, NY is just down the road, so they could’ve called this hamlet to their north “Gnome,” for example.
But it’s definitely Hurlbutville. I’m sorry, but it can’t be helped.
Even though, I’ve never been able to see any real trace of that place. I think maybe Hurlbutville, with a name that magical, might be like Brigadoon, only appearing once every century.
But then, I haven’t looked that hard, I don’t wander too far off the winding, sagging little road that runs from Rome up to Boonville, along the remnants of the Black River Canal. It’s one of those wooded, thinly populated areas that surprises people, who think New York is all urbanity.
Just on the other side of the old canal, is a creek called Lansing Kill, and this falls.
That name shouldn’t make you uneasy. If you’re from NY, you already know this, but “kill” is just an archaic Dutch term for a stream, and there are kills all over the Mohawk and Hudson valleys. Like the little mountains called The Catskills (get it? Cat’s Creek, maybe because of mountain lions, or because they used to wash the cats there, before making them into felt hats, when the beavers were all gone).
(OK, no, that’s not true.) (But in the old days, they did use cats for coat collars, my sister just read Gogol’s story “The Overcoat” and told me that.) (Sounds itchy, and not much fun for the cats, either.)
Just north of the waterfall is Boonville. A nice little town, on the Tug Hill Plateau, famous for amazing amounts of snowfall, even by upstate standards. People come there in the winter, to snowshoe and cross-country ski on the canal trail.
The Black River Canal took almost twenty years to complete, and then operated for seventy years. It used to connect to the Erie Canal, until it went bankrupt a hundred years ago. You’ll see some beautifully-constructed old stone locks along the trail – – they built 109 of them, for only 35 miles of canal – – more locks, and a greater rise & fall, than the entire Erie Canal.
I’d seen different lengths quoted for the canal. According to the Black River Canal Museum in Boonville, it was 35 miles long, with another 10 miles for the Erie Canal connector, and they also “canalized” 42 miles of the Black River, to make it navigable.
In the autumn, Boonville is kind of an entrance to the Adirondack region, and hunters head there in droves, chasing after deer with not just shotguns and rifles, but bows, muzzle-loaders, and crossbows. I realize they’re high-tech items, with AR-style stocks and telescopic scopes, but somehow seeing hunters with crossbows, or black powder/percussion cap rifles, just seem to add to the forgotten-by-time flavor of this corner of upstate.
The canal trail, about ten miles long, is a very pleasant walk, down the old towpath, part of it with the Lansing Kill right along the other side.