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.



This is from the Library of Congress, taken sometime during the last fifty years.

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.


a rivulet flowing into the kill


canal trails, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Walks Around Upstate New York. Pixley Falls, late March, late afternoon.


33 thoughts on “Walks Around Upstate New York. Pixley Falls, late March, late afternoon.

  1. melissabluefineart says:

    I immediately noticed the round boulder, too. How cool is that? Looks like something you’d see in a botanic garden. Like you, I imagined it was rounded as it tumbled down a river or was rolled by glaciers.
    You’re absolutely right, a town with such a magical name must disappear into the mists the minute anyone tries to find it. 😀

    • Thanks Melissa, I was thinking that too, maybe that round rock is glacial. It just seemed kind of cool, so I included it in the picture, and resisted the urge to roll it downstream. I’ll probably get some local folks mad, that I was kidding around about that hamlet’s name – – and it’s better than Bovina, NY, which was named that because it seemed like a nice place for cows.

  2. I was also puzzling over the spherical rock at the waterfall. I wonder how they were formed. In order for a rock to roll, it must be round, to begin with. I read about a lot of such rocks somewhere in Croatia. t’s truly a mystery.

    • Yes, you don’t often run across such spherical rocks. I remember seeing one in Boston, imbedded in a brick wall, that they guess was used to grind paint, in colonial days.
      Along Cayuga Lake, there a stretch of shore with pebbles which aren’t spherical, but many have round holes through them, people call them by different names, some say “Odin stones” or “witch stones” And that’s pretty much the only place you see such pebbles.

  3. Wow. There is a lot of very interesting information in this article. Explain the tree with the curved spiral something growing around it. What was the origin for the name of the town? thats a terrible name! Did they really use cats for collars? And did it really take that long to build the canal with that many locks just to go 35 miles?

    • I’m not 100% sure, but I think the vine is Asian bittersweet, which is an aggressive invasive plant, a real pain around NYS, that can actually choke and kill small trees.
      I couldn’t find an article about the hamlet, but assume it was an early settler. Hurlburt is an old British name, based on some sort of Anglo-Saxon game.
      Yes, illegal in this country, but they really did use cat fur for trimming coats, into recent times.
      Not surprised at how long it took to finish the canal, it’s very tough, hilly, rocky terrain. How they funded such a long project, I have no idea.

    • Thank you, Pit. I don’t think the term is used anywhere outside what used to be the New Netherlands colony. There’s many towns in NY with this kind of Dutch name, like Cobleskill, Peekskill, Kaaterskill, etc. etc.

  4. Darts and Letters says:

    Hmmm, Hurlbutville? That’s a pretty good one 🙂 Any this-little-town-ville inevitably brings to mind for me, author Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, that classic children’s story which I must have read 5,389 times and as a result came to feel resentful and bitter toward due in large part owing to her lack of originality (or maybe that was somehow her point?) in the naming of towns in the story which included places such as Bopperville, Copperville, Kipperville, etc. I don’t think I noticed the twirled vine when I read this, last night. That’s neat. The falls are nice, too. Looks really cold and shivery in there, yikes. I always perk up when you get around to the subject of the Erie Canal, it’s rewarding building up all these connections and floating them downstream, thinking of all the influences on Michigan’s history…..

    • Sure, I remember that story, sort of a John Henry vs machine, but the steam engine was the good guy in this one. I liked it as a kid, I don’t think I had the resentfulness about the monotonous names, probably because I was oblivious. Thinking back, ending up trapped in the city hall basement is kind of a strange victory, but if I remember right, people would go down and visit (?)
      The canal through my hometown is still open, it connects Seneca and Cayuga lakes, and then to the Barge (Erie) Canal. But I always am floored by the immense amount of work building canals like the Black River, Chemung, and Genesee Valley canals — that last one, over 100 miles, and they all went bust after a few decades. Those locks always look like some seriously professional stoneworking.

  5. Interesting circular shaped stone in the photo. An alien ship left many moons ago? As for the names in the Cotswold’s in England there is Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter. And I have no knowledge of the history of those names.

    • It could definitely be aliens, you don’t often see a rock that perfectly spherical. Yikes, “Slaughter” seems like a pretty off-putting address. There are towns in the U.S. and Mexico, named “Matamoros,” after a place in Spain, which means “Killer of Moors” — from the time when the Spanish were fighting the Moors. That one seems a bit hostile, also!

  6. I grinned at your description of hunting season. We have a muzzle-loader season, too, as well as a time for bow hunting. I think I’d rather be in the woods during rifle season. I’m not sure those muzzle-and-bow hunters are quite as accurate as the ones with good scopes.

    The information about the locks and canals was fascinating. It’s not often that I’m tempted toward math, but I was with this one, and found that, if the locks were evenly spaced, there would have been one about every 1,695 feet. That’s amazing to contemplate.

    I love the vine-twined tree. It reminds me of a Caduceus: or, more properly, the Rod of Asclepius. The Caduceus has a short staff entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings, while the Rod of Asclepius shows only a single snake. There’s quite an article about the history of both here.

    As for Hurlbut, I looked up the name and found this little tidbit: Hurlbut glacier in Greenland was named by Robert Peary after Geoge Hurlbut (1830 – 1908), secretary and librarian of the American Geographical Society. That’s a fun connection to your round, possibly glacier-moved, stone.

    • That Caduceus idea is perfect, how did I not see that!? I’ll be on the lookout for one with twin serpents now.
      Hurlbut is a neat old Anglo-Saxon name, I hope nobody gets bent out of shape over the teasing. There’s tons of unusual names for hamlets (some pretty much disappeared) in upstate. One favorite is “Mertensia” I just think that’s pretty, and “Ashantee”. But there’s 100’s or 1,000’s, maybe I’ll write about some of them. Swastika, Silvernails, and Tabasco (that obviously belongs in Louisiana, right?)
      During the early hunting season, for bowhunters, I’ve always felt comfortable continuing to walk in the woods – – I haven’t met one yet, that hasn’t been a “model citizen” and followed good practices, etc. Those folks don’t throw away their shots. Don’t have anything like that respect & trust factor with the regular season, there’s always a (very small minority) certain # of the careless and drunks.
      I’m not sure it’s still allowed, but a few years ago, Pennsylvania was allowing deer-hunting with spears! Talk about Old School! I took a history class once, where we tried our hand at using an atlatl (a prehistoric spear-thrower) and I was impressed with the distance you can get with one of those things.
      Well, thunderstorms today, but I’m starting to get cabin fever, I’ve been walking an hour & half every day, but right now I’m waiting for a clear stretch to Get Out of My Apartment!! 🙂
      Linda I hope you’re staying well.

  7. Kills, yes I know ’em! You made me feel like one of the in crowd. Lovely light in these photos, bright and early Springish. The vine winding so symmetrically around that sapling is very cool. 🙂

    • Thanks, Lynn, there seems to be more vines all the time, but usually not so symmetrical. NY definitely does have a lingo all its own, and I even speak a few words of Bronx-ese from my grandfather, like playing stickball with a spaldeen, but I’m still thrown by some of the Wisconsin slang. “Up North” is even more vaguely defined than “upstate” 🙂

  8. I wonder who was the first to hurl their but in Hurlbutville? Is that anything like shaking your booty? The canal seems pretty cool, as is the notion of hunting with muzzle loaders. (Although I can’t imagine muzzle loaders would be too accurate, they don’t even have rifling, do they?)

    • I’d looked it up, it really was hurling something, maybe like wooden bats, back in Merrie Olde Anglo-Saxon days. Not sure if KC & The Sunshine Band were on the scene.
      Some of the black powder hunters use traditional-looking guns, but they aren’t your g-g-g-g-grandaddy’s Brown Bess musket, they’re pretty accurate I guess (I don’t hunt, yet another reason I was considered a little odd in my hometown).

  9. I love the names of small towns. They have a lot more character, and characters, than Amherst or Springfield or Northampton or Schenectady (I was born there). Hurlbutville! Kinda makes you want to…oh, never mind. Locally we have a smaller town, actually part of a small town, called Pudding Hollow. I thought that was pretty quaint and a one off until I Googled it and found that there is one in Upstate NY…really upstate, not just anything north of NYC.
    Is that falls really 50′?

    • Hi Steve, yes, I got the height from the park website, I’m pretty bad at estimating distances, heights, etc.
      The Yankee settlers in NY, after the Revolution, brought a lot of place names with them, and then New Yorkers moving west carried them along, etc. Lots of the original LDS settlers in Utah came from Upstate, so they’ve got a ton of familiar names out there – – Syracuse, Fayette, Aurora, Farmington, Fillmore, Mendon, etc.

  10. Is it weird that I feel bad about the canal? All that time to build for such relatively short usage. I guess it’s three-score-and-ten, but still…
    You got your Hurlbuts and then you got your Hurlburts. Both good character names.

    • Nope, not weird, I have the same reaction – there are abandoned locks all over the state, as they dug & rerouted canals over the years, all that labor & skill, some really impressive stone-working, crumbling away. Also lots of burial sites, up & down the canals, the older folks will sometimes just say, oh, the Irish burying ground, and they’re not official cemeteries, unmarked graves, so sometimes no one tends to the grass.
      Yeah, the assisted living center in my hometown is a Hurlbut Home, so a famliar name. The county next door has a clan of Outhouses, including the sheriff for many years, and the families of Sicilian stock have some great ones, Panebianco (White Bread), and another called VentiCinque, or something like that – if you ask about their name, they just say “It means Twenty Five,” and that’s all the explanation they’ll offer. But maybe my favorite was a local lawyer, named Thistlethwaite.

      • Living on the Quebec/Vermont border, we see a lot of mutations of French names. Gagnon becomes Gonyer, for example. In town here on the Quebec side, there used to be a store called Seguin’s (say-gen with a hard G) but everyone called it “Sayer’s.” Can’t explain that one.

        • Those are some interesting mutations, I’d have probably gone with Sequin’s or Carl Sagan’s.
          There’s a lot of families in the northern part of NY, that came from Quebec in the old days, I always mangle their names. And then in the Mohawk valley, there’s Welsh, and I don’t even try, what’re you supposed to do with Gwalchmai or Llywellyn?? Glad I’m a New Yorker, and just say “Yo dude”

    • Thanks, Otto. As you get closer to the Adirondacks, or Catskills, I’ve noticed there’s more spherical rocks in the streambeds – granites, etc. while in the area where I grew up, with lots of limestone and shale, there’s mostly flat rocks, with the occasional glacial erratic, harder and rounder, rolling downstream.
      That’s something on my bucket list, to learn more about geology. I like the mystical name, too, but haven’t yet found out who named it, or why.

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