Grandma's Cabin, Genealogy by Nancy Machuga

COBBLE HILL LEGENDS

          For more than 150 years tales have been told and retold about a mysterious place called “Cobble Hill” which is located in the Town of Orange in Schuyler County, New York.

          In 1901 a letter, written by Mrs. Eunice Dowling Engle, gave a tantalizing account of the various mysteries of Cobble Hill which is also known as the “Roaring Hill”.   Although Mrs. Engle did not reveal its exact location she did provide some pertinent clues and left it to the reader to solve the puzzle as to the location of the site.

          In 1931 the late Mrs. Dell Warden of the Town of Orange wrote about several legends of Cobble Hill as told to her by an elderly gentleman and, again, the exact location of this unusual hill was not revealed.  Her article, printed in the Evening Leader, Corning, N.Y., did provide more clues about the site.

          Before I discuss my theory as to the exact location of Cobble Hill, I must relate all the various stories associated with this area including the strange events that once took place there over a century or more ago.

          According to the Warden version, the events on Cobble Hill occurred prior to the American Civil War when a young man from the Town of Orange ran away from home and lived among the Indians in what is now Illinois.  He later returned to his Orange Township home where he met some Iroquois Indians.  They were in possession of some golden nuggets and, according to the legend, he traded a pony for information on the whereabouts of the gold.  It was in the Town of Orange and this young man searched for the gold only to have an accident end his enthusiasm for the quest.

          A separate version of this same legend, as told by Eunice Dowling Engle, stated that a descendant of the town’s earliest white settlers told an old story about the Indians finding a vein of gold and how they had taken “their fill” of the gold before covering up the site so no white man could find it.

          Among the many legends of Cobble Hill there was told the story of some men, exact number unknown, and a wagonload of trade goods that contained silk cloth, beaver hats and other merchandise.  Supposedly, these men stayed overnight in the home of a widow and her 4 sons on Cobble Hill.  The tale went on to say that this woman and her sons murdered all the men and took possession of the wagon and its goods.  The bodies were supposed to have been buried on the hill in a place where the grass remains forever green and no snow will stay.  (This family was later seen to be in possession of tall beaver hats and silk garments.)

          According to a second version of this same tale, the snow always melts in a small circular area on Cobble Hill and this area remains free of snow although other places may have accumulated several inches of the white stuff.

          Cobble Hill legends, as told by Dell Warden, had a pond situated on it that was of a reddish-black color and this pond bubbled.  When lightning struck a tree at a nearby spring, the water burned for several days.

          Eunice Dowling Engle gave a different twist to this similar tale by stating there was a well-opening on Cobble Hill that was about the size of the diameter of a large dinner plate and the water contained therein was of a black color.

          Both women’s accounts told of the roaring in the hill and the fact it was often called the “Roaring Hill”.  It seems after a rainstorm the hill would roar inside, the ground would shake quite some distance around the hill, and the area people would complain their wells and springs would run black as ink.

          Mrs. Engle wrote of having picked blueberries on Cobble Hill while Mrs. Warden related a similar story of picking blueberries on a spot known as “Huckleberry Hill”, a local name that eventually replaced the Cobble Hill name.  One peculiarity noticed by Mrs. Warden, while picking berries, was the fact her compass would not point north but chose instead to whirl around and around.

          While gathering blueberries as a young girl, Mrs. Engle spoke of the time she went farther over the hill than usual and found herself in a strange place whose terrain was steep yet small and utterly treeless. In this eerie area were several mounds situated in rows with strange shaped stones lying among them.  She gave no explanation except to say she wondered if Indians had been buried there.  One must wonder if the murdered men were buried there.

          In her letter, Mrs. Engle revealed a curious clue when she related another Cobble Hill legend about the “Azuba House” near the crest of the hill.  A young girl whose given or surname was “Azuba” resided in this modest house.  She inherited the property and came from afar to live in it or she was already a family member residing in the home depending on the tale’s version.  While getting dressed for her marriage ceremony she learned of her fiancé’s untimely death.  Distraught, she ran from the house only to disappear.   (Off the nearby Randall and Switzer Hill Roads, hunters as late as the 1970s spoke of the dangerous quicksand bogs in the woods.  Did Azuba become a victim to one on Cobble Hill?)  By 1901 Mrs. Engle wrote that the “Azuba House” was in complete disrepair but a ghostly legend had arisen about a young girl in wedding attire being seen in the yard of the old house every year on the anniversary of what was supposed to have been her wedding day.

          Both ladies, in their writings about Cobble Hill, told of the coal, gas and oil explorations being conducted in the vicinity of the hill.  Mrs. Engle’s husband, J.D. Engle, formed the Cobble Hill Oil and Gas Company which was headquartered in nearby Bradford, N.Y. in 1931.  A vein of coal was discovered while gold and silver were also taken from a shaft.  These samples were sent to Chicago for assaying and the chips contained over $97.70 in silver and $2.00 in gold per ton.  Mrs. Warden pointed out that huge oak trees were cut down when the explorations began.

         Thus, the tales of mysterious Cobble Hill were told and retold but, in time, interest in the mysteries faded as did the roaring noises which were last heard about 1914.

         It is now the year 2007 and curiosity about Cobble Hill has reared its head.  A new acquaintance posed the question as to the location of Cobble Hill so I began pouring over what I had read and heard about the “Roaring Hill”.  Having lived for 16 years within 4 miles of the supposed Cobble Hill site, I was more than willing to try my hand at putting all the clues together and finding a solution.  Down memory’s lane I walked remembering a time in late September 1963 when I had ridden down an old abandoned road on that hill.  As I thought over the lay of the land, I became more convinced than ever I knew the correct location.  I may be in error and everyone is free to prove me wrong.

         To sort out the various clues, one needs a copy of the 1857 map for the Town of Orange and a copy of the 1874 map for Orange.   Each provides different clues in solving the puzzle.   One must read Eunice’s account of Cobble Hill and that can be found by Googling <Eunice Dowling Cobble Hill>.  The account of Dell Warden can be found in the Evening Leader or, more easily, by obtaining a copy of the April 1994 edition of the Journal, Volume 30, No. 2, written by the Schuyler County Historical Society, Watkins Glen, N.Y.

         Now, let’s begin!!!!!!

         Notice the 1857 Orange map where it shows “Oak Hill”.  Remember Mrs. Warden’s mentioning the fact that large oaks were cut down in 1931 while gas exploration was being done on Cobble Hill?  The words “Oak Hill” do not appear on the 1874 Orange map thus, possibly, indicating most of the trees were gone by then due to the immergence of several farms and pasture lands.  It could also indicate the hill had a new name known by people living near it.
Present-day, there are gas wells on this hill.

         Eunice Dowling’s family home is listed on the 1874 map and, according to Eunice herself, she “resided on the edge of Cobble Hill” and that “possible minerals were underneath her old farm”.  She also described how her house would shake when Cobble Hill had a “roaring in the knob” and that dishes would rattle from the shelves”.

         In her story Eunice also mentioned she would go to pick blueberries and “went up the hill where there was the “Azuba House” situated near the top of the hill where the road winds around its summit”.  The Azuba girl, it is supposed, inherited the property and the 1874 map shows the property listed as the J. Goundry Estate.  Is this the property she inherited?  Is the old (1857) J. Dykes’ property the same as the 1874 J. Goundry property, therefore the Azuba house?  Or does a nearby, nameless old house of 1857 belong to Azuba?  Either the family was missed when the map was made or the house was vacant in 1857.  By 1874 this particular house was owned by Sylvenus Gearing/Guerin.  It also sits atop a small rise as the road winds to the summit.  A title search on each property may reveal an owner by the name of Azuba.

         Both Mrs. Engle and Mrs. Warden spoke of picking blueberries.  These berries are often mistaken as such when, in reality, they are huckleberries.  Remember Huckleberry Hill?  It was Dell Warden who connected Cobble Hill and Huckleberry Hill as the same hill. 

         While a resident of the Town of Orange, I spoke with a Mrs. Horton who told me in 1970 that she had often picked blueberries on Huckleberry Hill and her daughter recently confirmed the area where these blueberry patches were located.   It was the very same area where I believe Cobble Hill was situated!

         Remembering back to a bright, sunny day in late September of 1963, I pictured in my mind a group of teenagers in a silver-blue 1958 Chevy Impala SS riding down an abandoned road off the Goundry Hill Road in the Town of Orange.   Being a city girl at that time, I was quite aware of the strange landscape of the hill. The road started on a knob, circled sharply northward for a short distance and then descended in a south-westerly direction into an old pasture that was now being overgrown with newer trees, berry bushes and pines.

         The narrow road with the grass growing up in its middle continued on down to a very narrow valley and shortly began an uphill climb toward a forest.  The road’s condition was deteriorating so we deemed it best to back the car down the hill and turn around in the narrow valley before ascending the steep hill back to the Goundry Hill Road.   (There had been tales of a cemetery and/or graves in this valley but I never saw anything to suggest the stories were true.)
 As we returned uphill to our starting point, I distinctly remembered to check out the lay of the land, the road’s course and the strangeness of the fields on both sides of the road.

         In 1983, with the JoHos Genealogical Group, I returned to this site looking for the cemetery that was supposed to be in the valley.  Loggers were in the valley; the road and nearby fields were rutted and filled with felled trees so it was impossible to do any cemetery research there at that time. However, the old abandoned road was quite open from the hilltop down into the valley thanks to the heavy traffic of the logging trucks.

        In June of 2007, a party of 4 adults went up to what I believe is Cobble Hill.  We found the old road which is now so badly overgrown that one would miss it when driving by on the Goundry Hill Road.  It still curved sharply as I remembered it from those long ago years and it descended from the knob of land at top.  It went down into a very narrow valley which was clearly muddy and damp.  The pastures were now forest, thick and very dark.

        About a quarter mile down the old road had been the berry bushes but I could find no trace of them.  I did not go into the deep woods so there may have been a clearing with blueberries in it.   It was at this spot one of our group heard a low growl and then all of us heard a heavy, pounding sound.  It is believed the sounds were those of a bear that decided not to attack a group of 4 people.  Thank the good Lord!

         We continued to follow the road downhill into the valley rather than to go back uphill through the dark forest and, possibly, encounter a bear.  We then began a short, gentle uphill climb and reached a new road that was built especially for the nearby gas wells.  We stood underneath a huge power line.  We followed the road to the northeast and it took us back to the Goundry Hill Road.  If we had followed the road in a southerly or westerly direction, we would have ended up either on the Corbett Hollow Road or down on the Mead’s Creek Road between the Sexton Hollow and Switzer Hill Roads outside of Monterey, N.Y.

          I firmly believe Cobble Hill/Huckleberry Hill was the original Oak Hill of 1857.  I found acorns near the gas wells.  The road leading from the Goundry Hill Road down into the blueberry patches and the old pastures is named the Guerin Road.    On the 1857 map you will find the land was owned by J. Dykes and, on the 1874 map, the same property is the J. Goundry Estate.  It appears the land and outbuildings were on this hill and may have been the “Azuba House” of long ago.  The Gearing/Guerin house which was once located nearby may, also, have been the “Azuba House”.  The well mentioned in the Cobble Hill stories may have been an artesian well that “fed” the old houses and barns in days gone by on Cobble Hill.

        Most of present-day Cobble Hill appears to be owned by New York State.  If you go there, please be advised the area is quite wild and remote.

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