Split Rock is a geographical monument steeped in history and heritage, and of course natural beauty, located in Lake Champlain’s Whallons Bay in Essex, NY. The place we call Split Rock is just a small protrusion from Split Rock Mountain that is in the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest, which is part of the larger Adirondack Park. All of this is land protected by the DEC.
“a huge rock can be found which is split from the neighboring cliff at a distance of 12 feet and rises about 30 feet from the water. Today it is known as Split Rock and was earlier used as a dividing line between the American tribes of Mohawks and Algonquin. The Split Rock lighthouse also stands near the rock…” (adirondack.net)
There is a myth of a lake monster in Lake Champlain that dates back prior to European involvement; the myth still continues today with sightings of Champy. A possible theory regarding the beliefs of the local Native Americans about a “horned serpent” living in Lake Champlain center “around Split Rock, in Essex, New York, which features natural rock structures that resemble petrified snakes” (lakechamplainregion.com.) The site had spiritual and cultural importance to those local tribes. For centuries Split Rock Mountain had been used as an unofficial division line between the Algonquin tribes to the north and the Iroquois (Mohawk) to the south. Later, Europeans used the Native American model, and Split Rock served as the boundary between the French and English prior to the American Revolution.
Following the Revolution, the Split Rock area was settled and farmed, and the forests became a favorite site for loggers. Some rock quarries were established on the mountain to mine granite for local building use, but it never became a strong commercial trade. Many archaeological discoveries have been identified on the property, most apparently associated with mining in the 19th century. (dec.ny.gov.)
In 1838, Split Rock Lighthouse became the second lighthouse to be built on Lake Champlain, but in 1928 the lighthouse was decommissioned and replaced by a nearby steel tower, and the lighthouse was sold to into private hands during the Great Depression. The replacement tower deteriorated over the years, and a plan was set in motion between the Coast Guard and the current owner to transfer the light from the replacement tower back to the limestone tower [lighthousefriends.com]. This dream was realized on March 19, 2003, and finally after 75 years the Split Rock Lighthouse is fulfilling its intended use and is again an official aid to those on the lake. It is possible to rent Split Rock Lighthouse as a vacation rental or to just visit, but both need appointments.
Split Rock Farmhouse is another nearby attraction that is also a vacation rental. Travelers wanting to stay nearby and see more of the area can stay at the farmhouse or the lighthouse or even the nearby Essex Inn as they take their time enjoying all that the Champlain Valley has to offer. There are many activities here in both summer and winter. You can find a list of many of those activities here. Champlain Area Trails have multiple hiking and walking trails throughout the area, even a series of trails aptly titled the Split Rock Trails.
In 1875 the Champlain ran aground only a few miles south of Split Rock, where divers can still visit the shipwreck. That was one ship that Split Rock Lighthouse didn’t help, though local lore best chronicles the bizarre tale.
To further the preservation of the natural world the Split Rock Wildway is also part of the Adirondack Park. The wildway is an effort to create and protect a wildlife movement corridor linking the Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest along the shores of Lake Champlain to areas in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. There are roughly 6,000 acres in the wildway so far, and more work is being done to expand this project, possibly even into Vermont.
“This is a promising start toward restoring and protecting the rich biological diversity and wildlife habitat of this area, while also supporting local communities.” (newildernesstrust.org)
Split Rock is a must visit for those who love spectacular experiences with nature or the more scholarly inclined who want to see a place that has historical importance attached to it. Or even better, one who wants to experience both!
“At least a dozen sailboats speckled Whallons Bay as we wound south along the edge of Lake Champlain. Small white caps, light wind, bluebird skies above. Two fishing boats trawled between the beach and Split Rock where a glimpse of Vermont was visible within the cleft. We veered away from the lake and up Couchey Hill toward one of the most picturesque views in the Champlain Valley.” (Rosslyn Redux)