Stark's Knob - 1916 to 1999

Stark's Knob: 1916 to 1999

"We in Upstate New York are very much disturbed over the fact that in the very near future our historically famous Stark's Knob, now State property, is very apt to be sold by New York State to individuals, which would mean but one thing; it would be torn down and ground up for road materials..."

           From a letter to President Dwight Eisenhower by Grace VanDerwerker Leddick, Saratoga County Historian, December 14, 1953.

Stark's Knob mine Although it was not acquired by the State of New York until 1916, interest in protecting Stark's Knob as a scientific reservation, with both geologic and historic values, was evident at the State Museum as early as 1913, when the Director reported on its significance, and wrote: "...there is a hope, perhaps not too remote, that the place may eventually become the property of the State under the custodianship of the State Museum." This was viewed as a realization of the vision of another Museum Director years earlier, who wanted the State to work toward "...the preservation of objects of unique or noteworthy natural interest."

This concern was made all the more urgent here, at Stark's Knob. The site had recently been actively mined for rock to be used in paving of local roads, and a significant portion of the original hill had already disappeared by the year the above picture was taken, circa 1912.


The annual report of the State Museum again described the feature in geological terms, but then added a description of its perceived historical significance, as an essential adjunct to the final phase of the Battles of Saratoga in 1777.


The State Museum's program of scientific reservations was officially begun with the acquisition of Lester Park (Saratoga County) and the Clark Reservation (Onondaga County), and the report predicts that Stark's Knob would soon follow.

The property was delimited in a deed that transferred it to the "University of the State of New York", (often cited simply as the Board of Regents and not to be confused with the State University of New York). The State Museum, being part of the State Education Department, became the manager of the site. The acquisition of Stark's Knob was now complete, but the Director's report bemoans the fact that no boundary fences have been put up and that the site remains in its original donated condition.

The Director reports that the condition of "...the Northumberland volcano at Schuylerville." remains unchanged.

Progress is reported, in that the site "...has been provided with a proper series of guide and explanation tablets...", and one can assume that some trail and access work accompanied their installation.

With the initiation of the State Historic Marker Program, in the State Education Department, and the commemoration of the Sequicentennial of the American Revolution, new attention was focused on identifying local heritage sites statewide with roadside signs.

But also, in this year, the historic and scientific sites under the University of the State of New York were transferred to the oversight of the State Department of Conservation.

One of the earliest State Historic Markers is the one still standing a few hundred feet north of Stark's Knob on Route 32, identifying Stark's Camp. This was the position that blocked the narrow passage between the Knob and the marshes along the Hudson River, thus preventing the British retreat in 1777.

In this year the oversight powers of the Conservation Department were expanded to include the direct "...custody, management, jurisdiction and control..." of the scientific and historical sites previously under State Museum management, including Stark's Knob.

Public access to Stark's Knob was promoted by being described in James Stoller's Geological Excursions: A Guide to Localities in the Region of Schenectady and the Mohawk Valley and the Vicinity of Saratoga Springs. This guide describes a sign, presumably along the east side of Route 32 at Stark's Knob Road, which read:

According to this guide, another sign greeted visitors as they turned in at Stark's Knob Road:

Stark's Knob is a dead volcano and the only one in the State. The igneous plug, or rock core, alone remains, projecting above the sedimentary strata.

Apparently there was growing interest on the part of the public in this feature, and its historical associations, for in this year a large plaque was erected by the Saratoga Historical Society, attached to a concrete mount and flagpole at the very summit of the hill. This cast metal plaque replaced an earlier wooden sign which bore exactly the same text:

On this volcanic knoll, Oct. 13, 1777, General John Stark mounted his battery and effectively obstructed the effort of Burgoyne to withdraw his defeated army northward through the narrow valley of the Hudson. Opposite this knob on the east side of the Hudson were Fellows' batteries while in the woods to the left were Morgan's sharp shooters.

Starks' Knob is a dead volcano and the only one in the State. The igneous plug or rock core alone remains, projecting above the sedimentry strata.

This sign was stolen from its mount at some point in the past and thrown down the hill. Recently the broken halves were recovered and are now in storage at the State Museum, pending either restoration or replacement as part of the rehablitation of the site.

Stark's Knob, with other sites, was transferred to the State Education Department, again placing the site under direct State Museum management.

Legislation was proposed that would eliminate Stark's Knob and other sites from State Education Department jurisdiction. In response to this, the State Geologist and State Paleontologist (both staff of the State Museum), made a strong appeal for the geological significance of the site and its wide use as a study site by scientists. The concern was that if not kept in state hands, the site would again be quarried for rock and totally destroyed.

The legislation was passed, and the site was no longer under Education Department control. An attempt was made to to abandon the site as surplus through the State Land Office. But because the land was originally given to the University of the State of New York, a corporation, and not to a state agency directly, it was determined not to be "state land" in the narrow sense. It therefore would revert to the entity to which it was originlly given by deed - the University of the State of New York.

This placed it in the same status it had in 1916, and again it was under the management of the State Museum.

The state highway (Route 32) was straightened at the intersection of Stark's Knob Road, producing a wedge of unoccupied state land about 100 feet wide and over 600 feet long at the intersection. It is possible one or more of the original directional signs erected at the intersection were removed or relocated at this time.

Rumors spread that the site was about to be sold, which sparked a letter writing campaign by local historians and others interested in keeping the site in public hands, whether state or federal. For most of these persons, the historical association of the site with the Battles of Saratoga in 1777 was the primary motivation.

For the first time the Town of Northumberland expressed some interest in perhaps taking over management, if not ownership, of the site. This was in part prompted by increasing difficulty in the public gaining access to the site and increasing ambiguity about what the site actually consisted of.

This renewed and expanded local public interest in the site prompted the State Historian and State Museum staff to make a field inspection and to begin to consult closely with Town and local officials about the future of the site. The Town offered to have a fence installed to define the limits of the public areas and to keep cattle from wanderng into the site.

The lands adjacent to the state reservation were sold to the present owners.

The Town again contacted the Education Department asking about the status of the property, and received a summary of the title as it had evolved through the years.

Due to the approach of the 1976 Bicentennial and renewed interest in the community for using this site as part of the pending celebration, the State Historian proposed to the State Museum that the property be turned over to the Town, where the motivation and resources to improve the site might be found.

By this time, the site was the center of controversy about its maintenance and public access. Since the site was not officilly the responsibility of the Education Department, no resources had been appropriated to provide support. It was a public site on a ad hoc basis only.

The County Historian drew up a plan to "...assume the responsibility for the State owned lot in that township known as Stark's Knob.", with the intent of making it a headquarters for a Boy Scout project, a picnic area and a point of archeological interest.

It was noted that it would be necssary to:

  • establish definitive boundaries
  • establish rights of way
  • firmly differentiate the area from surrounding land
  • remove brush and noxious weeds
  • install directional signs
  • install a permanent description of the past

The State Museum was enthusiastic about the plan and proposed to " take whatever steps are necessary... to effect either or both the transfer of title and management responsibilities..." and offered " the good offices of this department to advise you with resepct to the geological and historic information relative to Stark's Knob."

With some debate among Museum scientists and historians about whether transfer of the site would be the best in the long run, not much movement was made toward a solution. The Town again approached the Education Department about transfer, proposing this time a lease arrangement that would allow the site to be cleaned up for the Bicentennial.

As the State Museum and the Education Department Office of Counsel considered the request, it became clear that two issues needed to be resolved.

First, was the site owned by the Board of Regents (The University of the State of New York), the State Education Department, or the State Museum?
The answer was the The University of the State of New York.
Second, was there an exact description or map of the property to be leased or transfered?
The answer was no, since all that could be found was the typescript text of the 1916 deed, and that was not easily matched to the ground.

Since no original deed and no clear map of the boundaries of the property could be produced, the Town withdrew its offer.

The State Museum provided a summary of the case to the Office of Counsel, for both Stark's Knob and Lester Park, the only scientific reservations still under its management. There was now a question as to whether any agency or department of the state was responsible for the maintenance of Stark's Knob, and without the ability to produce clear boundaries, the property could not be transferred to others who might have undertaken such maintenance and preservation.

Responding to a proposal by the Governor to sell the properties to help close the budget deficit, State Museum staff and Education Department managers asserted their management of these properties under the mandate in the original deed, which stated that they be preserved for public use. There was no appropriation, however, to undertake improvements to the sites.

In order to provide context for any decision that might be considered to dispose of the Stark's Knob site, intensive documentary research was begun by State Museum staff to ascertain whether the property had any archeological significance deriving from its supposed role in the Battles of Saratoga. A report was prepared which also established tentative boundaries for the original State Reservation based on the 1916 deed and extensive analysis of field evidence.

It was recognized that no action could be taken on this property, either to improve it or to dispose of it, until a valid survey had been completed and registered. That survey was undertaken, based on the 1997 report and other field indicators, and negotiations began with adjacent landowners to confirm and agree on the boundaries identified in that survey.

It was decided, based on the evidence presented, that the best course of stewardship for this site would be for the State Museum to continue to manage it as a public resource area, and to undertake, in partnership with local government, civic organizations and volunteers, the improvements first spelled out on the proposal of 1973.

Coordinated by the Geological Survey of the State Museum, a project was initiated to accomplish the rehabilitation of the site during the coming years, once the deed and survey were filed and the boundaries were marked and fenced.

For more information...

If you have questions, or wish to obtain more detailed information about this subject, please contact:

Ed Landing
New York State Museum
Room 3107 Cultural Education Center
Albany, New York 12230


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