Litchfield County Sketches

By Newell Meeker Calhoun

Litchfield County University Club

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The Delectable Mountains

IT must always remain true that he who climbs to the mountain tops sees new beauties in earth and sky. Like Moses of old from the top of Pisgah’s Mount, he will behold the promised land lying below him in all its far-stretching beauty. Thus we get a little farther away from the earth and a little nearer to heaven. Sea and sky, lakes and rivers are transfigured before him who with laborious steps has climbed the Delectable Mountains. Far above the din and strife of men, we are given holy vision of the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness is finally to dwell. Mountain peaks are loved by prophets, poets and seers. We shall go mountain climbing, then, without leaving our own county. Perchance we may find as much quiet beauty as we have found in foreign lands, and at less expense.

We will begin at the southern end, where the elevations, though less, have a restful charm and beauty all their own. Lover’s Leap, on the Housatonic below New Milford, opens up before one the quiet stretches of this largest of rivers within our borders. It resembles more a lake widening out from the dark gorge through which it forced its way in the glacial age. Wooded Goodyear Island lies in the foreground, while the river is lost among the hills of the south, over which the Autumn mists are hanging. The approach from the bluff has been so gradual that you do not imagine what you are coming to until, parting the bushes, it flashes out before you. That lovesick Indian maiden whose name and story are associated with the place ought to have been so enamored with the scenery as to have forgotten her dusky lover, who without doubt was unworthy of such suicidal devotion. The saner thing would have been to have spent a pleasant afternoon here by herself, and at evening time gone back to her father’s wigwam, and, as a chief’s daughter, fastened her affections upon another suitor, and very likely a more worthy one. One characteristic of love is, however, that it does not always do the sane thing.

Across the river, and farther up the valley, is Candlewood Mountain, probably so named because of the pine knots which it used to produce. From its summit you shall see the Housatonic, flowing down through fruitful intervales, with the fair village of New Milford on its farther banks. The wide main street of the village runs parallel with the river, with a grassy park through the centre, overhung with shade trees. WTealth, learning and religion have their abiding places here, and have helped to make this New England village the resting place of the weary and the working place of the industrious. Aspetuck Hill guards the north, and Chestnut Land rises in rounded green hills to the east, covered with fruitful farms, with their ample farm houses and capacious barns. This ridge divides New Milford from Washington, and from its highest point—the Cobble— the towns already named may be seen, together with Roxbury and a part of Kent, while on a clear day the long line of the blue Catskills stands out in bold relief against the sky, together with the spires of Litchfield, the county seat. In Washington, a view worth going after may be had at what is known as Steep Rock. The lands about this rugged cliff are owned by one of the town’s Summer visitors, and are preserved for a sort of public park, under private management. Six miles of roadway have been built, winding over rustic bridges, in and out among the trees, to the very summit of the rock. The Shepaug River here and farther up toward Litchfield is wild and wayward, making crooked courses through the valley over huge boulders and around bluffs crowned with hemlocks and birches.

Another viewpoint in Washington ought not to be overlooked. It is in that part of the town known as New Preston, and is called the Pinnacle. A steep climb will bring you to a rocky eminence, from which you have the surrounding country mapped out before you. Lake Wararnaug, to the west and under the very shadow of the mountain, is as beautiful a lake as one can find, even though he cross oceans and continents in his search. The words of Sir Waiter Scott, written of Loch Katrine, flash to one’s mind and lips:

“And thus an airy point he won,
Whare gleaming in the setting sun,
One burning sheet of living gold
Loch Katrine lay beneath him rolled;
In all her length far winding lay,
With promontory, creek and bay,
And mountains that like giants stand,
To sentinel enchanted land.”

These mountains around Wararnaug could hardly be called giants, and indeed Scott drew on his imagination somewhat when he called those about Loch Katrine by that name; still, they are larger than those which you look upon here. There is Mount Torn to the north and eastward, with its rounded top, reminding one of Mount Tabor, in Palestine, although it has such a prosaic name. Centrally located in the county, it overlooks a fair part of it. Nestled at its side as if for protection is its namesake lake, while Bantam, the largest sheet of inland water in the State, stretches away to the eastward. If Wararnaug suggests one of the Scotch lakes, then Bantam may be likened to the Lake of Zug, in Switzerland, surrounded as it is by wide acres of fertile farm lands and apple orchards. Mount Tom was the Delectable Mountain of our boyhood days, for it was not far from the old red school house. An afternoon was given up occasionally to climbing its steep sides, golden milestones in the pathway of youth. From its top the world seemed transfigured. You travelled in a moment’s time down the winding length of the river at its base, and back again to the silver lake which marked its head waters. From white church spire to white church spire you went more rapidly than any twentieth century flying machine could carry you. You became then and there a traveller, an explorer, a lover of the beautiful. Geography and history and all learning meant more to you. An hour here was worth a hundred in yonder schoolroom. The soul expanded with its first real sight of the world.

Turning your steps to the northward, you came to Ivy Mountain Tower, in the town of Goshen, where you are afforded a wide, sweeping view in all directions. The Catskills are on the western horizon, and Talcott Mountain, in Hartford County, is on the eastern. From this point almost all the high elevations in the county may be seen. All these are the last of the Green Nountain range, which have wandered down into Connecticut through Massachusetts, where they are called the Berkshire Hills. The towns of Winchester and Norfolk have a number of these breezy viewpoints which are well worth climbing. Platt Hill, a mile east of Winchester Center, and four miles from Winsted, commands a view of a dozen or more church spires on a pleasant day, together with Highland and Crystal Lakes.

The highest point in the State is Bear Mountain, in the town of Salisbury. The top of this, which may be seen by all the dwellers in the region round about, is crowned by a pyramid of stone, surmounted by a bronze ball, erected by the late Robbins Battell, of Norfolk. On this monument is a tablet indicating that the top of Bear Mountain is 2,354 feet above the sea level. Salisbury is decidedly the lake town of Litchfield County, as it is dotted all over with most delightful sheets of water. Following out the comparisons which have been used in this article, this view from Bear Mountain would remind one of that which is obtained of Windemere and Grassmere from an elevation just back of the home of the poet Wassworth. Our Connecticut view, however, is larger and more open, the hills and valleys have a wider sweep, while no lake is as large as WTindemere. Looking down upon these lakes, they sparkle and dimple in the sunlight, as the soft breezes sweep over them. Opal gems in their emerald settings, they ever change with the changing sky and clouds. Beneath and about you are such lakes as the twins Washining and WTashinee, Wononoscopomuc, with Lakeville and the Hotchkiss School upon its shores, the Mount Riga lakes lost in the forests of the north, with here and there little lakes which seemingly have escaped from their mothers, although they may be tied to them by those winding brooks, veritable apron strings. Eastward opens up the broad valley of the upper Housatonic, with Norfolk on the distant hilltops. Along the line of railway and river are the villages of Canaan, Falls Village, Ashley Falls and Sheffield, while farther north and seen only with the eye of faith, even from this high point, are Great Barrington, Lee and Lenox, together with old Stockbridge. This is the valley of content and restfulness, bearing by good rights that ancient name for the promised land.

“Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood

Stand dressed in living green;
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.”

It would be hard to find a view anywhere excelling this one from the top of Bear Mountain. Hither the original inhabitants of this region must often have come in the old days to sweep the horizon for signs of their enemies. Here they built their signal fires, rude telegraphic signals as wireless as any of to-day. And here on this Delectable Mountain shall come lovers of the beautiful in the days that shall be. Our best wish for them is, that here, in elevation of soul, they may “behold the King in His beauty, and the land which is far off.”

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