Hitchcock estate home to rare scientific finds


By: Janine Stankus, Staff Reporter

The 1,950-acre Hitchcock Estate located off of Route 44 in Millbrook 
has long been the center of local lore, according to Carmine Di 
Arpino, author of "A History of the Town of Washington and Millbrook."

"There seems to be no end to the number of myths and legends mingled 
with scraps of facts that have been spun about the estate and its 
creator," he writes.

The property was purchased in 1889 by Charles F. Dieterich who dubbed 
the estate "Daheim," which in German means "the home place." 
According to Di Arpino, Dietrich tried to create a "castle-world" on 
the property, reminiscent of his German homeland. The gatehouse 
entrance at exemplifies this concept. He also began constructing an 
actual castle on the estate, but later turned the uncompleted project 
into a cow barn.

Upon Dieterich's death, the estate was sold off to various parties 
and ended up in the hands of the Hitchcock family, who are the owners 
to this day.

The estate became famously connected with Timothy Leary, who lived in 
the main house on the property for several years in the 1960s. The 
ex-Harvard professor had befriended some of the Hitchcock sons and is 
alleged to have conducted some of his infamous experiments with 
psychedelic drugs there.

The history of this estate is fascinating and its structures are 
unique and impressive. The site is probably most widely known for its 
Leary connection. However, when Hudsonia scientists were permitted 
access to the property, they found something else to be excited about: a pond.

In February 2003, the nonprofit environmental research organization 
began a habitat mapping project which focused on the Town of 
Washington. The endeavor received the enthusiastic support of the 
Town of Washington Town Board, Planning Board, and Conservation 
Advisory Commission. It was funded by contributions from the Dyson 
Foundation, Millbrook Tribute Garden, and many local landowners.

Hudsonia representatives Jenny Tollefson and Gretchen Stevens led 
field studies for this project. The scientific team was granted rare 
access to the Hitchcock estate, which encompasses a large portion of 
undeveloped land.

According to local resident and grant writer Mike Haggerty, Stevens 
was "very excited" about discovery of Round Pond on the site. In the 
Hudsonia report, entitled "Significant Habitats of the Town of 
Washington," Round Pond is designated as an ecologically significant 
wetland habitat. The pond is identified as the only example of a 
"circumneutral bog lake" in the Town of Washington.

A circumneutral bog lake is defined in the report as a "spring fed 
calcareous body of water that commonly supports the vegetation of 
both acidic bogs and calcareous marshes." These unique bodies of 
water are rare in the Hudson Valley and support many species of 
uncommon plants and animals.

Right now, the lake lies placid and partially frozen and surrounding 
woods are covered in snow. In October of 2003, however, Stevens had 
discovered a wealth of interesting plant and animal life on the site.

According to the Hudsonia report, approximately 75% of the lake was 
covered with floating-leaved vegetation including white and yellow 
pond lilies, as well as several species of pond weed, both floating 
and submerged. Along its banks, meadowsweet, cattail, purple 
loosestrife, lakeside sedge, tussock sedge, sensitive fern, cinnamon 
fern, skunk cabbage, marsh fern, and marsh St. Johnswort formed an 
eclectic fringe of brush.

Stevens also spotted over 15 great blue herons, at least 16 wood 
ducks, and had previously observed the presence of green frogs and wood frogs.

Though not sighted during the study, circumneutral bog lakes are also 
the known to be the habitats several other species, including the 
blue-spotted salamander, the four-toed salamander, the Blanding's 
Turtle, the bog turtle, the marsh wren, and the river otter, among others.

Round Pond is safely sequestered for now, its closest developed 
neighbors being Bangall Road, about 650 feet to the east, Valley Farm 
Road about 3,000 feet to the west, and the Shunpike, about 1300 feet 
to the north. However, Hudsonia warns that this significant habitat 
is extremely sensitive to change in surface and groundwater chemistry 
as well as flow, and could be adversely affected by changes in the 
watershed, application of pesticides, altered drainage, dredging, or 
mechanical disturbance of the lake.

Special attention, state the scientists, should be paid to 
contamination of surface or groundwater entering the pond. Haggerty 
noted that the presence of hunters or ATV riders near the pond could 
compromise this natural habitat.

"Overall," states the Hudsonia report, "the town has a rural 
character with extensive open space." According to Haggerty, the Town 
of Washington has the most land easements in Dutchess County. Though 
the Hitchcock Estate has remained private property for over a century 
and development does not seem imminent, Haggerty suggested the 
benefits of the owners seeking an easement on Round Pond.

"This whole place could be a subdivision," he said. An easement, he 
noted, is considered a land donation and often results in tax 
reductions for the owner.

The mysterious Hitchcock Estate houses many hidden treasures. 
Visitors granted access would be privileged to spot the massive 
Victorian style gate house, the elegant guest house known as "The 
Bungalow," the small-scale bowling alley, or the burned down cattle 
barns that are the only remnants of Dieterich's castle-topia.

Less obvious are the natural gems that are scattered throughout the 
site, Round Pond being prominent among them. In its valiant quest to 
support biodiversity in the Hudson Valley, Hudsonia promotes the 
protection of this unique habitat. "This excellent landscape context 
presents a tremendous opportunity for conservation," the report states.

Hudsonia has provided owners of this and other properties in the Town 
of Washington with a new context for looking at their land. It has 
developed a basis for better land use planning and decision making in 
the future that promotes minimal disruption of the ever-sensitive ecosystem.


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