Located just about as far east as you can go in upstate New York without falling into Connecticut is the small hamlet of Dover Plains. Located in Dutchess county, Dover Plains is part of the town of Dover and sounds like something straight out of an Orson Welles radio broadcast. Just like many small upstate towns, there is nothing special to see at first glance. But sometimes, the deeper you look, the more you see. And if you look deep enough in Dover Plains, you will uncover the Dover Stone Church.
According to local legend, the Stone Church was refuge for Pequot Indian chief Sachem Sassacus and his warriors. Apparently they hid in the cave, fleeing from the English Army in the 1600’s. Later, in the 1800s and early 1900s the spot was a popular haunt for New York City residents to visit, claiming recuperative benefits from the fresh air and beauty drawn from upstate New York. Up until 2002 the privately owned land was up for sale. The Town of Dover and the Dutchess Land Conservancy in coordination with the friends of the Dover Stone Church, all collaborated to raise private and public funds to purchase the property. By 2004, the deal was done and this once secret spot is now preserved and open to the public to enjoy. In 2009 neighbors to the property donated 50 acres next to the historic right-of-way and in 2010 the donated another 63 acres. This would further expand the open space and serve to protect the ecology. Also in 2010 improvements to the historic right-of-way entrance and restoration of 2 footbridges were made. Clearly, the town and it’s people care very much for this wonderful location.
Even though this was just an overnight trip for us, it ended up being a fulfilling one. A beautiful autumn day was on tap as we woke early and drove from our hotel in Poughkeepsie to Dover. The plan was to document the hike in film and video rather than stills on this trip. You can watch the 19 minute hike to Dover Stone Church video here:
What held up in the 1800’s, still holds up today. What an amazing day it was! The hike out is an easy one with a wonderful creek walk to the cave at the end. Imagine our surprise being greeted at the beginning of the creek trail by a Great Blue Heron. Each couple of hundred feet we hiked toward the cave, the Great Blue would continue to lead us forward. It was like he was leading us to the sacred spot at the end of the trail. Once we arrived, he stood watch for a few minutes, then flew off. For the rest of the day we didn’t see hide nor hair of him. This was a truly magical moment for us. But that wouldn’t be all. Along with the Great Blue, a couple of local boys, David and Ricky also showed up to the shoot.
These guys were awesome! Just out for a Saturday morning stroll (and a beer), these good ol’ boys were a wealth of stories and information. I always love the local perspective when I am visiting a place. It really helps in getting a feel for the area and to better experience it. In addition to all this, the light inside the cave itself was amazing. Due to the drought that Upstate has experienced, I was able to get access to the cave quite easily. Under normal water conditions the falls would certainly be prettier, but I would not be able to get inside so easily to get these shots.
If you have followed me lately, you know that I am having a lot of fun shooting in high-contrast black and white. This mode works particularly well with waterfalls and rock formations. The color was gorgeous in and around the cave. But, the black and white held a mystery all its own. I have one last photo from the shoot to share with you. Let your mind see whatever it wants to see. Let me know what you think it is in the comments below.
Whether or not you believe in local legend, I can guarantee you will have a magical and spiritual experience if you visit the Dover Stone Church. Just go there with a free spirit and let your mind wander in this magical place. Finally, if you do visit, please respect this area and help to preserve its pristine condition and cleanliness. Take only photos. Leave only footprints.
To see all the shots from the cave, visit the Dover Stone Church Gallery