Tom Stock

Poet, Essayist, Photographer, Naturalist

Hawley Lake – Walk

Both Babylon and Islip Towns have cut brush along the eastern and western edges of Hawley’s Lake making it possible to take a half-mile walk. Three problems arise:

1. The noise of traffic on north and southbound Route 231
2. There is no nearby parking. Road crossings are busy.
3. Poison ivy grows in profusion along the chain-link fence on the Islip side.

Starting from the concrete pool below the falls, we will proceed to walk counter-clockwise to the right. The double concrete tunnel carries Sampawams Creek three hundred feet under Montauk Highway.There, sweetwater becomes brackish.

The Islip side has several clearings right to the edge of the Lake for public viewing. One clearing is above the tunnel which feeds water to the lake from upstream. The creek once flowed into the lake from the north end. Now, it enters in the middle of the eastern Islip side. The creek bed was moved to make room for the highway. The Babylon side has only one such clearing because to the closeness of the lake to the southbound lane of Rt. 231.

Islip has provided brush piles for wildlife. I spotted a cottontail rabbit standing of the trail. It quickly darted into the brush as I approached.

Along the Islip side, a cascade of white flowers from the non- native,thorny multiflora rose. These small flowers provide a sweet rose smell. The shrub is a relative of domestic rose bushes. It has the most wicket barbed thorns of any shrub I know.

There is an earth bridge at the turnaround point about 1000 feet from the start. This is the only place where one can cross from one town to another on a natural crossing.

White water lily is the dominant aquatic plant on the lake surface. In June, hundreds of attractive white blossoms can be seen from the shore. White water lily pads provide a habitat for many smaller aquatic insects. They are a good place for dragon flies to rest.

The trail is the longest path on Sampawams Creek which is mostly hidden from view. If this is a town Park, it certainly doesn’t look like one.

The lake was drastically changed when Rt. 231 was built. It was filled on the south end. Before the highway was built, the lake was only 50 feet from Montauk Highway. Now it is 300 feet. The west side of the lake was filled to build the southbound lanes. Huge truckloads of fill were added to elevate the road bed. At the edge of the creek on Village Line Road, one can look across the creek at the embankment. The entire construction of Rt. 231 has had a profound impact of the creek.The creek flow itself has been changed. It now flows into the lake from the eastern Islip side. Earlier, it flowed into the lake from the north.

The “H”initial for Hawley can still be seen on a small concrete bridge off Parkwood Rd. The lake had a wooden bridge across it connecting the estate to the Village using George Street. There is an old photograph of Edwin Hawley standing on his bridge.
Hawley bought his estate in 1910. He demolished the Old Mill that was on his property. This mill was called the Montford/Oakley Mill circa 1750, the first permanent structure in the Village Hawley bought his estate from Effingham B Sutton. An 1882 map shows the lake named Sutton Lake. Out in Calverton, Wentworth Donohue, son of the Wellworth family fortune, had a 600 acre estate with a lake named Donohue’s Lake.The owners of lakes usually named their lakes with their last names.

The Hawley name of the lake is bothersome. For over the century, the Lake has had the name of the land owner on the eastern side. The first name on maps is Suttons Lake after Effingham B. Sutton. On Long Island, There are ponds and lakes named afterpeople. Southard’s Pond in Babylon is named after a farmer who lived and worked there. Belmont Lake after August Belmont, The fact of the matter is that Hawley’s Lake is not alake. It is a pond. A pond by definition has emergent vegetation. This means lily pads the have roots in the bottom grow long stems through the water column and pads that reach the surface. Lakes are deep enough that lily pads cannot reach the surface. More correctly, Hawley’s Lake should be called Hawley Pond. However, over time, the lake has become shallower filling with mud and sediments from up stream. A photograph appeared in the South Side Signal of David Southard standing aside a sand bar in the creek near his boatyard. It has to be dredged. This is because of new house construction near the creek upstream. I suggest that the Lake be renamed.

Sampawams Creek was dammed to make the lake. An earthen dam had to be constructed to hold back water to create a reservoir for a mill . Horse teams dragged scoops of soil and brought it up to make a large mound. They piled it ten feet high to create a 6 ft. head of eater to move the mill machinery. A sluiceway was created to funnel the impounded water to the water wheel. An overshot wheel which means dammed wter flows over the top of the wheel causing it to turn clockwise and operate the gears and millstone. The berm had to be maintained. Muskrats often weakened the dam. Theyhad to be trapped and/or shot. The dam had to be maintained, muskrat holes filled or else the dam might break.

The same thing happened just north of Southern State Parkway. Guggenheim Lake was created by damming an extensive wetland. Guggenheim deepened the wetland by excavating sand so water would collect behind his dam. This is more correctly labeled UPPER SAMPAWAMS LAKE.At one time, there was no lake. Neither was there a bridge over it where Montauk Highway is now. The creek was forded. Horse and wagon and wading were the principal methods of crossing. I suggest the Pond be called Lower Sampawams Pond, honoring the native people who first settled near it and used it. Hawley didn’t own the Lake. His presence and high presence in the social and economic world and the fact that he lived right on the eastern shore helped to give its present name.

One wonders that if the lake had been named Sampawams creek in the first place, more attention would have payed to preserving more of the land around it. Any body of water needs a buffer zone between its edge and dry land to insure the ecology of that water body. Much of the wetland habitat along the stream has been destroyed. Many homeowners have their lawns right up to the edge of the creek. I’d like to see changes here. One wetland shrub that has economic value if planted along the edges of the stream would encourage more wildlife and beautify it. It is elderberry. The bush has beautiful big round flower clusters in the spring, and produces elderberries.

Hawley Lake is now little more than a pond with very little access. When Moses changed the lake, he should have changed the name. As a town park, the land around the lake is practically useless. On a recent walk around the lake, the incessant noise of traffic takes away from the experience. Here is an example of a walk that stresses the walker rather than brings peace. Rt. 231 is progress for drivers who zoom up and down, progress too is degradation for a body of water that is slowly turning back into a creek as it slowly fills with sand and mud.

Instead of creating trying to create a twin park, Moses created an invisible lake. IT cannot be seen by passing traffic, and very few people actually come to it for a visit. Moses turned Hawley’s lake into a sump.

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1 Comment

  1. Jeanne Mrowka

    It is very sad when we have such a beautiful place to visit and we cannot. What a terrible waste to have this beautiful place and make it impossible to park and visit it.

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