May 9, 2020 – West Harrison, NY
Difficulty: Easy – moderate
Trailhead parking: Silver Lake Preserve 1-59 Old Lake St, West Harrison, NY 10604
Silver Lake Preserve, which is a predominantly unimproved passive open space, features trails through woodlands and fields, some small streams and old stone foundations throughout its 236 acres. The topography is rugged, rising in steep rock outcrops from the scenic 43-acre lake. Fishing is not permitted. The preserve stretches across the borders of Harrison, North Castle, and White Plains. It is managed by the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.
According to Michael R. Casarella, the Harrison Town Historian: “Some people say the trees around the lake once had silver leaves and that’s how Silver Lake got it’s name.”
During the colonial era, Silver Lake was known at Horton’s Pond, then later St. Mary’s, before the name was finally changed to Silver Lake. The Horton’s Pond title was designated as such because the Horton family used to operate a grain mill powered by pond water here, which was formed through the damming of the Mamaroneck River. That mill is still there today, but it’s used as a private residence separate from the park.
It was during October 1776 that one of the final engagements of the Battle of White Plains took place on Merritt Hill, bordering Lake Street in West Harrison.
This historic site is Merritt Hill which marks one of the actions in the Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776. Lt. Fenno fired a cannonball directly into 20 British horsemen approaching Hatfield Hill. This single shot caused the British to retreat back towards White Plains.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the Stony Hill community extended at least 26 homes and outbuildings along Stony Hill Road. At its steepest point, the road was paved with cobblestones, ending with a footpath that joined Buckhout Road. Although the park was created in 1925, the last family did not leave until 1941. Several prehistoric and archeological resources have been identified within Silver Lake Preserve.
Stony Hill Cemetery on Buckhout Road dates back to Revolutionary times. Buried here are many former slaves, freed by the Quakers of Purchase, who settled them on land near the cemetery during the 18th century. Many Civil War veterans are buried here. Foundations of the church are still visible. There are many unmarked graves scattered about in Stony Hill Cemetery, decorated with flags to honor their memory.
One of the few marked graves belongs to Harvey Seymour, April 1, 1805 – March 10, 1904 (98 years old at the time of his death).
In 1924 and 1925, Westchester County acquired the site in two parcels. In the northern section, you can find the ruins of the old Stony Hill Settlement, which was founded by the Purchase meeting of the Quakers.
The preserve’s trails, including stone steps that lead up steep inclines, were constructed by members of the Depression-era Work Projects Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps programs. There was a C.C.C. camp in the northwest portion of the preserve during the 1930’s.
There are three marked trails in Silver Lake Preserve, blazed Blue, Yellow and White, and all three are loops. They are sparsely blazed in some areas and well marked in others. There are also unmarked trails that connect to the blazed trails. Part of the Heritage Trail, which opened in 1969 and passes by significant Revolutionary War era landmarks in Harrison, White Plains and North Castle, runs through the preserve as well. The Heritage Trail is difficult to follow in the area of Stony Hill Cemetery. There is no official trail map available.
There are several access points to the preserve, but the best place to park is on Old Lake Street. The gravel parking lot is easy to miss as the sign is partially obscured.
- Blue Trail – 0.6 mile ~ Beginning at the north end of the parking lot, the Blue Trail heads downhill into the woods. At a T-intersection, the Blue Trail turns left and joins the left leg of the Yellow Trail. The co-aligned trails descend and reach a trail junction at a double Tulip tree. The Blue Trail turns left and the Yellow Trail goes straight.
Heading gradually uphill, the Blue Trail enters a field and turns left. It follows the edge of the field as it ascends Merritt Hill. To the right is a cannon marking where a British flank attack was thwarted during the Revolutionary War. The trail reenters the woods on a narrow path at 0.5 mile. It parallels the road and closes the loop near the parking lot entrance.
- Yellow Trail – 1 mile ~ Beginning on the Blue Trail that heads north from the parking lot, the Yellow Trail is a loop with sections co-aligned with the White and Blue Trails. To go counterclockwise around the loop, turn right and leave the Blue Trail. The Yellow Trail skirts the base of a hill and turns left when an unmarked trail heads north towards private property. After descending several stone steps, the Yellow Trail turns right at an intersection where an unmarked trail descends 250 feet downhill to the lake. As the Yellow Trail ascends on uneven stone steps, it passes, to the right, rock outcroppings with surfaces marked by flowing water.
The trail continues uphill and reaches an unmarked woods road leading 0.2 mile through a valley. Heading downhill, the Yellow Trail enters a network of old ATV trails. The Heritage Trail, on the right, leads 0.2 mile to the Stony Hill Cemetery. At 0.5 mile, the White Trail joins from the left and large flat rocks pave the treadway of the co-aligned trails. The two trails pass a fireplace surrounded by a stone wall and then cross a stream on large flat stones. At a T-intersection at 0.6 mile, the Yellow Trail turns left as the White Trail continues straight.
After descending stone steps at 0.7 mile, the Yellow Trail reaches lake level and turns left, joining the White Trail, which comes in from the right. Now at lake level, the co-aligned trails cross two inlet streams on rocks and the White Trail leaves to the left. At 0.8 mile, the Yellow Trail reaches a T-intesection with the Blue Trail. The Yellow Trail joins the left leg of the Blue Trail and climbs the hill. At 1.0 mile, the Yellow Trail closes the Loop as the Blue Trail continues uphill to the north end of the parking lot.
- White Trail – 1.6 miles ~ Beginning at the top of the hill, where the White Trail joins the Yellow Trail from the left and large flat rocks pave the treadway of the co-aligned trails. The two trails pass a fireplace surrounded by a stone wall and then cross a stream on large flat stones. At a T-intersection at 0.1 mile, the Yellow Trail turns left as the White Trail continues straight.
The White Trail continues southwest on a woods road and passes an unmarked trail on the left that descends to the lake. The trail soon ascends uneven stone steps then levels off. At 0.3 mile, the trail turns left, descends stone steps, levels off then descends more stone steps.
After leveling off briefly, the White Trail passes some large rock formations as it ascends stone steps. At about 0.5 mile, the trail levels off again and passes a vernal pool.
At about 0.6 mile, the trail begins to descend steeply on uneven stone steps, with Silver Lake visible through the trees below. At 0.75 mile, the trail reaches the shore of Silver Lake and turns left. The unmarked trail that continues south along the lake, leads to Liberty Park. The Trail now travels in a northerly direction along the lake, with occasional open views of Silver Lake. This lower section of the White Trail is vastly different than the more rugged topography of the upper section.
At 1.4 miles, the Trail reaches a junction with the Yellow trail that joins in from the left. The co-aligned trails cross two inlet streams on rocks and at 1.5 miles, the White Trail leaves to the left, climbs stone steps and closes the loop at a junction with the Yellow Trail at 1.6 miles.
- Heritage Trail – red-white-blue ~ The Heritage Trail blazes appear sporadically throughout the preserve and the section that leads to Stony Hill Cemetery is especially difficult to follow.
It is more of a bushwack than following a trail. It is recommended that if you plan on visiting Stony Hill Cemetery, that you carry a compass or GPS device to help with navigation. The cemetery can easily be reached from Buckhout Road.
Stony Hill Cemetery is a 6.5-acre parcel and is the last remaining identifiable element of “The Hills.” The property on which the cemetery sits was part of a land grant given by the Purchase Friends (Quakers) to slaves they voluntarily freed in the 18th century. The remains (approximately 200) of “The Hills’” residents and those of several African American Civil War veterans are buried in the cemetery, mostly in unmarked graves.
In 1983 the Stony Hill Cemetery was listed as a Westchester County Tricentennial Historic Site. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
We followed the Blue Trail from the north end of the parking area to the Yellow Trail. We then took the Yellow Trail and turned right on the Heritage Trail. After crossing several small streams and passing through stone walls, the Heritage Trail became hard to follow. Having a GPS device and knowledge of the general vicinity of the Stony Hill Cemetery, we bushwacked down and up several steep slopes until we ran into a dirt road that leads right to the cemetery.
We retraced our steps back to the Yellow Trail, turned right and began following the Yellow Trail and continued straight on the White Trail as it traverses the upper slopes. Descending on White to Silver Lake, turning left and heading north around the lake, connecting with the right leg of the Blue Trail and ascending Merritt Hill, past the cannon and returning to the parking area.
The hike we did was about 4.5 miles, with approximately 600 feet of elevation gain, including off trail exploration, bushwacking and one missed turn. This hike was done clockwise from the parking area on Old Lake Street.
Depending on your navigational abilities and/or desire, you can bypass the Stony Hill Cemetery altogether. You can also choose to explore some of the unmarked trails that bisect the property. It is possible to create any number of loop hikes within the preserve of desired length and level of difficulty.
This is a great place to hike if you’re not expecting dramatic cliff top views. With many of the popular parks and trails being overwhelmed by people getting outdoors these days, Silver Lake Preserve gives hikers a respite from the madness. We saw several people down by the lake, but nowhere else during our visit. Definitely a good place to explore off trail and test out your navigational skills, using a map and compass.
Rugged slopes, historical features, Silver Lake, Stony Hill Cemetery, not heavily trafficked, shaded trails.
No official trail map.
Take a hike!
- Walkable Westchester: A Walking Guide to Westchester County, NY – by Jane and Walt Daniels
- Silver Lake Preserve
- Silver Lake History
- The Hills
- History of Stony Hill