The Story of the Yawgoog Trails

Connecticut Countryside - Part II

By David R. Brierley


Back: Connecticut Countryside - Part I


Near the top of the climb, and to the right (southeast) is a fracture known as "Bear Cave," "Bear Den Cave" or "Bears Den Cave" (Hughes and Allen p. 408; Heermance p. 247). The Mohegans may have named this cave "Sneeksuck," meaning "a stone house on a ledge, or lodge of hollow rocks" (J.H. Trumbull p. 68). Smaller people may be able to crawl through the lower opening while others may lower themselves through a larger triangular opening, just above the lower one. A flashlight is needed to explore the cave.

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Lower entrance to Bear Cave
Coordinates: N 41° 30.572', W 71° 51.705' (Datum: WGS84)

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Upper entrance to Bear Cave, looking down
Coordinates: N 41° 30.572', W 71° 51.705' (Datum: WGS84)

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Inside Bear Cave
Coordinates: N 41° 30.572', W 71° 51.705' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

In 1882, the legend of how the cave got its name was published in the History of New London County, Connecticut:

Not far from 1750, Maj. Israel Hewitt, who lived on Win-che-choog Hill [now called Wintechog Hill], in North Stonington, became a noted hunter, kept a kennel of bloodhounds, and for pastime and pleasure devoted much of his time in hunting these dangerous animals [wolves and bears]. One old bruin, who rendezvoused in an undiscovered cavern in the upper part of the town, became so destructive among the farmers' herds in that vicinity that Maj. Hewitt was invited to hunt the rascal down and relieve them from so formidable a pest. So the old hunter, on horseback, in regal style, with servants, munitions of war, and a full corps of bloodhounds, started out in pursuit of the dreaded monster. The hounds soon came upon his foraging tracks, and with that heavenly, or at least unearthly, music that nothing but bloodhounds can chant, they followed with unerring certainty the old mugwump to his den. The practiced ear of the major assured him that the game was bagged. So riding up to the place he saw from the tremulous murmur of his dogs that they had a dangerous animal in hand. After examining the mouth of the cavern and in vain trying to induce the hounds to enter (which they could easily have done), he resolved to enter himself and force the old bruin to a fight in his own den.

The major closely examined his rifle to see if it was well loaded, then picking the flint and throwing off his hunter's rig, he entered the cavern and cautiously crept along upon his hands and knees until he reached its lower chamber. By this time the darkness was all-pervading, except two headlights glaring at him from the farther end of the cavern, accompanied by a terrific growl, that told the hunter that his or old bruin's time had come. But the major was equal to the occasion. He, raising his rifle and taking deliberate aim, add another glare to the infernal darkness which shook the cavern from its foundation to its summit. Slowly moving backwards, he reached the surface almost stifled with the sulphurous air of the den. Reloading his rifle and lighting a torch, he again descended into the cavern, and at the farther end he found old bruin with his headlights dim, beyond his growling and his howling, -- he was dead. He removed the bear, and with the aid of an Indian servant took him on horseback and carried him home and dressed him, but none of the hounds would touch his meat. The site of this cavern, familiarly known as the "Bear's Hole," is situated some three miles north of the village of Milltown [now known as the village of North Stonington], and in former years was a famous resort for sight-seers and parties of young people. But a few invading red snakes having been seen guarding its portals, have sent it back to the silence and solitude that it enjoyed in the olden time. (Hurd p. 742)

Apparently, the snakes were no longer a problem by August 17, 1886, when a Stonington town picnic was held at the site (Wheeler p. 51; Haynes and Boylan p. 83). Hikers should be aware that black bears have returned to Connecticut and Rhode Island, so there is a possibility that the cave could be inhabited.

Note: The 1937 RISPB map refers to the ledge near Bear Cave as "Bears Ridge." A different ledge, near High Ledge, is named "Bullet Ledge" by the map.

The trail descends the ledge to meet the road again at a three-way intersection of dirt roads. The trail follows the road straight ahead (east) and then quickly veers left (north) from the dirt road onto a footpath. The footpath parallels a very long rock formation, seen to the left (northwest). The trail continues among stone walls. Stone walls were usually built to mark property lines; some walls continue to mark current boundaries. After crossing into Voluntown, the footpath reaches another intersection of dirt roads. The trail markings run straight ahead (east) on a dirt road, but two foundation holes exist a few yards away on both sides of the road that leads left (north).

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Foundation hole on west side of road
Coordinates: N 41° 30.929', W 71° 51.372' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

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Deeper foundation on east side of road
Coordinates: N 41° 30.935', W 71° 51.362' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

According to the History of New London County, Connecticut, Voluntown got its name because volunteers who fought in the King Philip's War were given plots of land in the area in 1706 (Hurd p. 745). It is likely that Stonington got its name from the rocky soil, just like the village of Rockville in the town of Hopkinton, Rhode Island; North Stonington was incorporated as a separate town in 1807. There is, however, a legend regarding Stonington's name, as told in Connecticut: A Guide to Its Roads, Lore, and People in 1938:

Three brothers named Palmerstone, according to the story, fled to this country after the marriage of one brother to a member of the British royal family had provoked royal disapproval. Beset by the ill will that followed them, they decided to change their family name. With solemn ceremony, each of the three, in the presence of the other two, buried a stone on his home property, thus symbolizing the decision to drop the suffix 'stone' from their family name and thereafter be known as Palmer. (p. 371)

The same legend was also mentioned in Connecticut: Past and Present by Odell Shepard in the following year (pp. 142-143).

From the intersection the trail/road goes east and quickly bends left (north). After a few yards, the trail leaves the road by turning sharply to the right (southeast). The trail meanders through the forest, turning north, then east, then south, and following the pleasant Myron Kinney Brook upstream (CFPA pp. 202, 207; named "Myron Kenney Brook" in Hughes and Allen p. 615). The trail reenters North Stonington and climbs Pendleton Hill to an intersection with a dirt road near a private cabin, turning right (south) onto the road. The blue blazes follow on or near the dirt road until a three-way intersection of dirt roads is reached. The trail follows Legendwood Road left (east) into a residential area at the intersection with Johnson Road. The trail, on the now paved road, veers right (east) to meet Route 49 (Pendleton Hill Road); limited roadside parking is available here. The trail turns right (southeast) onto Route 49. Please walk carefully in single-file on the left side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. An old farm can be seen to the left (east).

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Old house on Pendleton Hill Road
Approximate coordinates: N 41° 30.479', W 71° 50.368' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map
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The trail soon leaves the road by turning left (east), opposite the picturesque First Baptist Church. The summit of Pendleton Hill, at an elevation of 502 feet (153 meters), is just to the southwest of the church cemetery on private property. One of the hill's Native American names was spelled as "Pauchunganuck" (Crandall p. 107; Hughes and Allen pp. 410, 749).

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First Baptist Church
Coordinates: N 41° 30.331', W 71° 50.390' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

The next stretch of the Narragansett Trail is on land owned by the Groton Sportsmen's Club; hiking is prohibited from October through March. Please be sure to stay on the marked trail; other activities, such as geocaching, are prohibited. Be aware that the club uses life-size replicas of various animals as practice targets.

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Moose target at the Groton Sportsmen's Club

Leaving Route 49, the trail descends on an overgrown road to cross a stream on a large, flat stone slab.

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Slab bridge
Coordinates: N 41° 30.328', W 71° 50.297' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

The trail then rises and continues along the edge of the adjacent farm. Shortly after leaving the farm behind, a stone-lined foundation hole can be seen just off the trail to the left (northeast).

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Stone-lined foundation hole
Coordinates: N 41° 30.304', W 71° 50.017' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

The trail runs through the forest to emerge at the Club's fishing pond; public fishing is prohibited. The remains of an old sawmill used to exist at the pond (CFPA p. 203).

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Private fishing pond
Coordinates: N 41° 30.521', W 71° 49.595' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

The marked trail crosses the earthen dam and climbs a dirt road to meet an intersection of grassy roads, then turns left (north) to reach the Babcock Cemetery, seen to the right (east), just inside the Voluntown town line; the Babcock family owned and farmed the land here for generations.

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Babcock Cemetery
Coordinates: N 41° 30.604', W 71° 49.531' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

The cemetery contains the solitary, broken headstone of Joshua P. Babcock. It seems, though, that Joshua is not alone in the burial ground -- the remains of his parents, Dolly and Henry, are likely there, as well. The cemetery's listing in a 1932 survey states, "Stones removed to Riverbend [sic] Cemetery May 1931, bodies still remain." (Hale, North Stonington p. 93) A letter from the River Bend Cemetery Company in Westerly, Rhode Island, indicates the only recorded burial in the Babcock plot is for another son, Charles Henry Babcock. The inscriptions at River Bend read:

Charles Henry Babcock
April 28, 1813 - April 4, 1903

Henry Babcock
Feb 14, 1790 - July 4, 1858

His Wife
Dolly Babcock
Died Nov 16, 1865 Aged 79. years

Joshua P.
Son of
H. & D. Babcock
Died Sept. 10, 1816
Aged 6 months

It may be possible for ground-penetrating radar to determine the locations of the graves in the Babcock Cemetery.

Just after the cemetery, the trail leaves the road by turning right (north), reaches another grassy road, turns left (north) and then turns right (east) to leave Club property on the paved Tom Wheeler Road. Turn left (north) on the road and follow the blue markings on utility poles. The footpath soon veers right (east) from the road, returning to the forest; limited roadside parking is available here.

The trail crosses a stream, descends a rock formation and then crosses an intermittent stream 3 times. The trail crosses one more stream before reaching Green Fall Road. The trail turns right (northeast) onto the road, which descends to Green Fall River. At this point, the blue blazes of the Narragansett Trail leave the road by turning left (north) and following the river upstream to Green Fall Pond. This hike, however, continues east on the road to camp; please walk single-file on the left side of the road.

Green Fall Road crosses Peg Mill Brook, near a gated road that leads back to a dam/levee at Green Fall Pond. Two overgrown foundations exist northeast of the crossing of the two roads; one is a small stone-lined cellar hole while the other is a more complex arrangement of cut stones.

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Stone-lined cellar hole
Coordinates: N 41° 31.489', W 71° 48.302' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

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Foundation of cut stones
Coordinates: N 41° 31.507', W 71° 48.324' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map


Video of Peg Mill Brook at Green Fall Road

Green Fall Road rises to meet Denison Hill Road (also known as Laurel Glen Road and Laurel Hill Road), which enters from the right (south). The Palmer-Newton Cemetery (Hale, Voluntown pp. 33, 58) is located on the hillside behind the fork -- to the southwest, which is why the hill is called Cemetery Ridge. It complements Seminary Ridge on the Freeman Trail (Williams and Tracy). The cemetery used to serve as the appropriate destination for what "Gus" Anthony called "Ghost story hikes" (Anthony, letter, 13 Mar. 1991); the stories were fictional, of course. The cemetery's inscriptions date back to 1812; during the nineteenth century, the area had several farms and a school (Map of Windham County, Connecticut; Blakeslee p. Schools 2).

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Palmer-Newton Cemetery
Coordinates: N 41° 31.290', W 71° 48.210' (Datum: WGS84)
Google Map

Denison Hill Road ultimately leads to the villages of Laurel Glen and Clarks Falls in North Stonington, Connecticut. While this area seems remote from modern life, consider that an area at the western edge of the Yawgoog Pond watershed, between Denison Hill Road and the state border, was briefly considered as a potential disposal site for low-level radioactive waste in the 1990s! (Carbone, "N. Stonington Dropped"; Carbone, "Nuclear Dump Sites Proposed"; Villarreal)

Continuing northeast on Green Fall Road from the intersection with Denison Hill Road, the hike finally returns to Yawgoog at the Rhode Island-Connecticut border -- the start of the Blue Trail, which overlaps the Narragansett Trail. Metcalf Lodge is farther east down Camp Yawgoog Road.

Driving Directions to Wyassup Lake from Gladys Foster Preserve: Proceed southeast on Ryder Road (away from the intersection with Route 2) until it ends at Wyassup Road (1.5 miles/2.4 kilometers); turn left (northwest) onto Wyassup Road. At 2.1 miles (3.4 kilometers) turn left (northwest) onto Wyassup Lake Road. The Wyassup Lake boat launch and parking area will be to the right (east) in 0.7 mile (1.1 kilometers).

Driving Directions to Pendleton Hill Area from Gladys Foster Preserve: Proceed southeast on Ryder Road (away from the intersection with Route 2) until it ends at Wyassup Road (1.5 miles/2.4 kilometers); turn left (northwest) onto Wyassup Road until it ends at Route 49 (Pendleton Hill Road) -- 4.8 miles (7.8 kilometers). Turn left (north) onto Route 49. The First Baptist Church is immediately to the left (west); the Narragansett Trail enters the property of the Groton Sportsmen's Club on the opposite side of the road. In under 0.3 mile (0.4 kilometer), Legend Wood Road and the Narragansett Trail split to the left (northwest); limited roadside parking is available at this intersection on Legend Wood Road. After continuing north on Route 49 for 0.8 mile (1.3 kilometers), turn right (east) onto Sand Hill Road; Studio Farm is located at this intersection. At 0.9 mile (1.4 kilometers) turn right (south) onto Tom Wheeler Road. In 0.4 mile (0.6 kilometer) the Narragansett Trail enters the Pachaug State Forest on the left (east); limited roadside parking is available here. The Narragansett Trail follows the road south for about 0.1 mile (0.2 kilometer) and turns right (west) to enter land owned by the Club. Returning to the intersection of Sand Hill and Tom Wheeler roads, proceed east on Sand Hill Road, which becomes Green Fall Road; it turns into an unimproved dirt road along the way. After 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) from the intersection, a small parking area can be found to the right (southeast); the Narragansett Trail meets the road here. Green Fall River is about 0.1 mile (0.2 kilometer) further downhill on the road. The Narragansett Trail leaves the road by turning left (north) and following the river to Green Fall Pond.
 

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