By Clifford Hart
Photo: © Timothy Borkowski/www.kickingdesigns.com
Hard by Route 22 in the village of Dover Plains, a familiar-looking blue-and-gold New York State Historic Marker is planted in the shadows beside an old clapboard house. “Dover Stone Church”—the sign’s title reads simply; remarkably, the words do not refer to a historic place of worship in the village as one might expect, but instead to a sliver of extraordinary natural beauty tucked into the low mountains just to the west.
There’s little doubt that this spot, like so many others in the Hudson Valley, was a lot more famous two hundred years ago than it is today. Back when Route 22 was little more than a quiet dirt road and the Catskills and other focal points in the area were just being discovered by artists and vacationers, Dover Stone Church was already well known. Not only was it a famous hideout for a Pequot Indian chief named Sassacus when he was fleeing the English in the 1630s, but over time its striking beauty caught the notice of many travelers, including the painter Asher B. Durand, who did an intricate pencil drawing of the site in 1847.
Walking up the gravelly road from the signpost (be sure to park your car at one of the designated spots in the village of Dover Plains rather than at the trailhead), a series of stone steps lead you down to an open field, across from which a deeply wooded hillside beckons.
Not long after entering those woods, the trail crosses a picturesque wooden bridge over Stone Church Creek, then begins to rise very gradually, at one spot sidling up closely to a rock wall beside the stream. What is perhaps most remarkable is that, in a walk of a little more than half a mile, you feel as if you’ve been plunged into a deep wilderness. A few steps further, and a rock face begins to emerge through the dense foliage, and a cleft within that face—a pitch-black triangle— presents itself as the trail’s obvious destination.
At this moment the origin of the name “Stone Church” becomes clear, for not only does the split-rock cavern tilt skyward like a cathedral, but a shaft of sunlight streams down through the rocks onto a 30-foot waterfall, making for a stunning, and understandably for some, religious experience.
After spending some time taking in the beauty of that singular spot—you can actually “rock hop” right into the middle of the cavern if you want—you’ll find the Dover Stone Church site incorporates roughly five miles of walking trails amid the forested slopes nearby, including a not-too-challenging hike to a scenic rock outcrop overlooking the valley to the east and the Connecticut border ridge beyond. All trails are very clearly marked and relatively easy to navigate, so they make for a perfect family outing.
Editor-in-Chief Laurie Szostak’s daughter, Ashley, and grandson, Ayden, hike every weekend to beautiful spots throughout the Hudson Valley. Old Stone Church is one of them—it’s close to home and easy enough for a three-year-old to hike.