Thom Smith recalls Wahconah Falls

Berkshire Naturalist Thom Smith takes a summer walk in Dalton.

A sign you may have noticed as you entered this peaceable place we call The Berkshires announces you are in America’s Premier Cultural Result. While this is true, it is also a place of tranquility and natural beauty. Take for instance its waterfalls, some forty of them ranging from gentle tumbles to 40- and 50-foot heights.

Even the gentlest of our cascades is pouring spectacularly following the intense rainfall we have had this July and August.

One central to Berkshire happenings is Wahconah Falls in Dalton and Hinsdale for its historic interest, legend and charm.

Across the brook not far above the crest of the falls, is a pit, the remains of a talc mine now filled at a depth of about 12 feet with water, leaves and decaying vegetation and my unwilling donation of a fine Kodak digital camera when I lost balance and without the quick response of my co-explorer, Tony Costello, might have joined the camera.

In the brook itself are well worn pieces of the soft mineral, visible during times of low water. Possibly from this very mine, ground talc was sold for “talcura powder.” The soapstone variety found was used as “boot driers, bed warmers, and foot warmers for sleighs.” (from The Talc, Soapstone and Asbestos Deposits of Massachusetts by Newton E, Chute)

In the 1970s I would gather samples for Issac Jachobson, a retired clerk of the courts in New York City who taught nature studies at a local camp — and could do so in seven languages. He also had his campers try their hand at carving this soft stone into figurines.

A local story tells a legend of the falls, with names especially familiar to Daltonians, Wahconah and Nessacus (now also the names of local schools):

Nessacus, a young warrior of the Wampanoag-Algonquin, met a woman, Wahconah, where the water falls. It was 1676, and they fell in love.

She came from southeast Connecticut; following a war with the English, her people followed what is the Housatonic River today and found a small stream near a waterfall in what is today Berkshire County. And competition came from a leader of the Kanien’keháka (Mohawk), Yonnongah, who admired her.

 

To Get There: From the junction of Routes 8 and 9 in Dalton bear left onto Route 9 for 2.3 miles to North Road. Turn right and drive 0.1 mile to Wahconah Rd. Bear right).3 mile to parking lot.

From the parking lot walk to the southeast corner of the lot, to the left corner nearest to sound of falling water, take the left path down. It is a bit safer than the right one.

There are paths following the brook up the falls on the left. Stay clear of the boulders overhanging the falls and the brook. Swimming is no longer allowed and there are no sanitary facilities nor charge.  Most waterfalls are dangerous to climb; this is no exception, and beware of ticks as you would elsewhere.

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