The Big Rock
By Peg Ross, Town of Greene Historian
In last week’s article, Christine Buck mentioned Smith’s Cove as a popular picnic area years ago on the Chenango River. I asked her where it was and she said she thought it was near the farm that is about a mile and a half north of Greene on the East River Road, County Road 32, and sits down a distance from the road. That property was first owned by Nathan Smith and was in the Smith family until the 1930s when it was sold to Harry Rogers. So Smith’s Cove is very near the Big Rock in the Chenango which is on the other side of the river and about a mile and a half north of Greene. The Big Rock was a very popular destination many years ago. There are many photos of people boating near it or sitting on it. One photo shows nine young men in their bathing suits on it. The Town Supervisor, Jack Cook, told me that he always heard that when the Chenango Valley Mill dam was maintained, the high level of water was backed up to the Big Rock. In the winter when the water froze, you could ice skate from the dam to the Big Rock on smooth ice.
Unless you’re in a boat, it’s very difficult to get to the rock nowadays. When the Chenango Canal was built, the canal bed had to be built up near the Big Rock with stone taken out of the quarry nearby. When Route 12 was widened in this spot in the 1960s, the canal bed disappeared, more fill was brought in and now the bank to the river is very steep, almost straight down. When you do get down, the rock is now so close to the bank due to the fill for the road that you can step onto it. It's an anticipated destination for our grandchildren. Every time they come to visit, they go sit on the Rock and look at the carvings in it from centuries past. There is still a fascination with this huge boulder and how it got there.
In 1897, La Verne Austin Walker wrote a poem about the Big Rock for a Society at Colgate Academy in Hamilton, NY. This was a three-year preparatory school before you entered Colgate University. (Did you know that Colgate was almost named Chenango University at one time? But it was ruled out because Hamilton is not in Chenango County.) A booklet with the poem was presented to the Moore Memorial Library in 1936 by Joseph R. Page. If anyone knows who La Verne Austin Walker was, please contact me. He evidently lived in Greene in 1897 and was quite young when he wrote the poem. He said there was so much wonderment and speculation about how the big rock got in the river, he decided to write an imaginative account of it. In his poem a furious Indian causes the rock to tumble down the hill. In today’s world the account is dated and even offensive to some because of its use of language and attitude towards the confrontation between the white settler and the American Indian. You must read it for yourself and draw your own conclusion.
The preface is a poem by Benjamin F. Taylor, a very popular poet in the 19th century who is forgotten now. He wrote about many of the battles in the Civil War for a newspaper in Chicago. After the war he concentrated on poems of nature and bucolic themes. This one is about the Chenango River:
In the last years there have been ideas and talk of more recreational use of the river: a river walk that might include part of the canal bed and a boat launch. Smith’s Cove could be investigated as a picnic spot and the Big Rock is still an attraction. As you can see in the present photo, it still is fun to be there. Make up your own story on how it got there.
‘All Hail, old Chenango! Grand fallow of God!
For He ploughed this one bout- turned grandly this sod,
And some spring, like a lamb, broke away from its tether,
And they went---
The Lord and His river down the furrow together!
Blue sky to green hills so lovingly bent
That azure and emerald melted and blent,
And so to this Valley is graciously given
A little of Earth and a great deal of Heaven.’