By Phil Brown
The other day my friend Tim Peartree and I skied the six-mile Cooper Kiln Trail from Gillespie Road near Whiteface Mountain to Bonnieview Road in Wilmington, passing a lovely pond on the way.
We had a blast, descending 2,000 feet after climbing only 900 feet—a golden ratio as far as I’m concerned. The woods were full of snow, so we were not surprised to see a few other skiers, among them Nancy Bernstein, who draws maps for the Explorer.
If you follow in our tracks, be aware that the descent can be steep and swift in places, especially after passing Cooper Kiln Pond.
I’ve provided a photo, but this is not really about our ski trip.
It’s about the name of the trail and the pond.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s trailhead sign describes our route as the “Cooper Kill Trail.” The U.S. Board on Geographic Names agrees with this nomenclature, relegating “Cooper Kiln” to the status of variant.
This is a bloody outrage.
Kill is a Dutch word meaning stream or creek. It’s common in toponyms in regions settled by the Dutch in the 1600s, such as the New York City environs and the Hudson and Mohawk valleys. In Albany County, for example, you will find the Bozen Kill, Hunger Kill, Krum Kill, Normans Kill, Vloman Kill and many similar names.
The Dutch did not settle the northern Adirondacks. When I searched the online database of the U.S Board of Geographic Names, Cooper Kill Pond was the only name of its ilk in Essex County. Likewise, searches for kills in Clinton, Warren, Franklin, and Hamilton counties came up empty. Kill toponyms begin to show up in counties farther south and closer to Albany, such as the Batten Kill east of Schuylerville and the Mourning Kill near Ballston Spa. Moreover, the name Cooper Kill Pond evidently is of somewhat recent vintage. Topographic maps from 1900 and 1930 use the name Morgan Pond (there is a Morgan Mountain near the pond).
If there were a Cooper Kill Pond, though, you’d expect to find a Cooper Kill flowing into or out of it. But that is not the case. On contemporary maps, the pond’s outlet is Pettigrew Brook. On the earlier topo maps, it is called New Bridge Brook. So what “kill” is the pond supposedly named for?
The pond sits at 3,000 feet in the Wilmington Range. Maps of the region show an East Kilns, Middle Kilns and West Kilns at the base of the range—all within five miles of the pond. These likely were the sites of charcoal kilns, of which there used to be many in the Adirondacks. It’s reasonable to suppose that a charcoal kiln once existed near our lovely little pond.
For all of these reasons, I insist on calling it Cooper Kiln Pond.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Rip Van Winkle fell back asleep, woke up in the 20th century, moved to the Adirondacks and renamed Morgan Pond.
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