Places

 
 

The Oblong

Disagreements between the English settlers of Connecticut and the Dutch settlers of New York led to a constant dispute over the stretch of land between the Hudson and Connecticut rivers. Both the charter of the Connecticut colony, and the title of the territory granted to the Duke of York, encroached on each other, so throughout the seventeenth century negotiators made several attempts to establish firm boundaries. Finally, in 1683, the Treaty of Dover established that in exchange for Connecticut retaining a parcel of land on Long Island Sound (known as “the Horse's Neck”), Connecticut would give up a strip of land along its western border, which became known as the Oblong. The treaty was not formally until 1731—though the final legal status of the land would not be fully settled until 1881—but within a few years Quakers had begun settling the lands of the Oblong, in an area that would in short time become known as Quaker Hill.

 

Quaker Cemeteries

A number of cemeteries throughout Quaker Hill carry with them the history of the Quaker community and its evolution over the years. In the various remaining Quaker cemeteries throughout the Oblong one can find the names of important founding families, including Akin, Irish, and Dutcher.

One can also find in them traces of the great schism that broke the Quaker community in half in the 1820s. In 1805 Elias Hicks began preaching rationalist ideas amongst Quakers, attempting to bring Quaker thought in line with the progressive intellectual tendencies of the nineteenth century. Those opposed to Hicks’ philosophy, and against “worldly tendencies” of modern thought, aligned themselves more and more with the prevailing Evangelical movements of the time. In 1827 this came to a head at an annual meeting in Philadelphia, when the two parties split, separating into an Orthodox sect and a “Hicksite” sect. While in Philadelphia and elsewhere the Orthodox remained in control, the Pawling community rejected this more traditional stance, and in the cemeteries that dot Quaker Hill one finds markers indicating that these are Hicksite grounds.

Quaker custom is to not use the name of months, but rather the designation “first month,” “second month,” etc. Prior to 1753, though, the Quaker calendar began in March (the “first month”) and ended in February, the twelfth.

 

Mizzen Top Hotel/Dutcher House

With the establishment of the railroad through Pawling, Albert Akin and John Dutcher both saw the new potential to entice vacationers from New York City, and each man became associated with one of the two great hotels that were built in the early 1880s, and which came to dominate the landscape of the town. 1880 Akin founded a corporation to fund and build the Mizzen Top Hotel on Quaker Hill—designed by renowned architect John A. Wood, the Mizzen Top was a lavish resort that offered golf, tennis, bowling, croquet, billiards, and fishing and boating in nearby Hammersley Lake. “The Mizzen-Top Hotel is the nearest high class country and mountain resort to New York City,” advertisements proclaimed. “It is located in a park of thirty acres and is surrounded by luxuriant trees and well-kept grounds, laid out in the most artistic manner. Eight hundred feet of broad verandahs surround the hotel and the views in all directions are exceedingly fine.” Named by Akin’s friend John Lorimer Worden (after the top-most part of the ship’s mast), for decades it offered New Yorkers a natural respite, one that was only an hour and half by train.

Dutcher House, completed in 1884, also offered top-notch luxury accommodations to visitors from New York City. Unlike the Mizzen Top, however, which had to be reached by carriage from the train station, the Dutcher House was built directly across from the train station in the center of the Village of Pawling, so that disembarking guests had mere steps to walk before arriving at their destination. As a result, the Dutcher House fared far better than the Mizzen Top economically, and its building still stands today (though it has long been converted into apartments). The Mizzen Top, on the other hand, was demolished in 1934.

 

 Akin Hall

Built 1880-1881, Akin Hall was designed by Albert J. Akin to serve not only as a house of worship, but as a community and cultural gathering place as well. As a result, it was never formally consecrated, and the religious services were non-denominational. Akin further stipulated that at no point could collections be taken up during services; instead, a small discrete box by the door served to gather any donations.

Originally built just north of where the Akin Free Library currently stands, it was moved to the site of the Mizzen Top Hotel after the latter was demolished in 1936. It was subsequently remodeled, and is currently known as Christ Church. For more information on the Akin Hall and its history, see the Akin Hall Association page.

 

Quaker Hill Country Club

One who lets his day pass without practicing generosity or enjoying life’s pleasure is like a blacksmith’s bellows—he breathes but does not live.

            —Sanskrit proverb etched above the hearth on the Quaker Hill Country Club’s “History of Civilization” fireplace

Established in a large old barn that had once belonged to the early Quaker, Paul Osborn, the Quaker Hill Country Club opened on May 30, 1941. Lowell Thomas had bought the barn in the 1930s, originally intending to transform it into a community center, but instead transformed the land into a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones. Often referred to simply as “the barn,” the Country Club is perhaps most famous for its elaborate “History of Civilization” fireplace, a 20-foot high wall embedded with various artifacts from architectural wonders: a piece of the Taj Mahal, a chunk of the Pyramid at Giza, a stone from the Great Wall of China, pieces from the Golden Gate Bridge and Empire State Building, and so forth. After its completion, Thomas would broadcast his radio show from the Country Club.

 

Whaley Lake/Quaker Lake

In 1958 the United Nuclear Corporation acquired 1,100 acres of land north of the village of Pawling for an experimental research lab. Fourteen years later, a chemical explosion released plutonium into the environment, and while no one was killed, the plant was closed down and its buildings razed. The surrounding area was decontaminated, and in 1979 sold to the National Park Service, who used the land around the lake to reroute the Appalachian Trail. The lake itself was initially off-limits to hikers, but it too was eventually cleared for recreation use, and since the 1990s has been open to the public.

 

Starlight Theatre 

From 1934 until 1961, the Starlight Theatre was home to a “summer stock” company of Broadway actors who put on shows for the local population. Founded by Maryverne Jones and her five children—Starr, Tupper, Paul, Theodore, and Isobel—the theater had begun its life as a four-story barn on Route 22, but quickly became a local hub for arts and culture. People from all over Dutchess County drove to the Starlight Theatre to see “Little Women,” “Inherit the Wind,” and other Broadway classics. In addition, the Starlight Theatre troupe staged original productions, including a murder mystery entitled “Ghost Owl” that made use of a live cow milked on stage. Despite the origins of the Starlight as a barn, set designer Starr West Jones (who also played the leading man) later claimed that the hardest set he ever constructed was for this production, turning the theatre back into a barn. In 1962, the Starlight Theatre closed; the barn was subsequently used by the Stage Door Furniture Company as a showroom.

 

 Nuclear Lake/Appalachian Trail

In 1958 the United Nuclear Corporation acquired 1,100 acres of land north of the village of Pawling for an experimental research lab. Fourteen years later, a chemical explosion released plutonium into the environment, and while no one was killed, the plant was closed down and its buildings razed. The surrounding area was decontaminated, and in 1979 sold to the National Park Service, who used the land around the lake to reroute the Appalachian Trail. The lake itself was initially off-limits to hikers, but it too was eventually cleared for recreation use, and since the 1990s has been open to the public.

 

Oblong Meeting House

The Quaker community had established itself in the Oblong by the 1740s, and quickly grew. By 1764, the community had outgrown its original meeting house, and a new structure was erected on what is now Meeting House Road. For decades it served the Quaker community in the Oblong, almost without interruption.

During the Revolutionary War, however, it was commandeered by Washington's army and used as a field hospital. The surgeon in charge, Dr. Fallon, stated that only 3 out of his 100 patients died under his care, probably because there were no battles nearby, and most of the wounded brought to the Oblong Meeting House were not in cirtical condition. The few that did perish here are buried in unmarked graves south of the Meeting House; some of the earliest residents of Quaker Hill are buried on the opposite side. Its use was discontinued in 1885 with the construction of the Akin Hall; it is now preserved by the Quaker Hill Historical Society.