SYNOPSIS: At approximately five acres, Red Mills Historic Park is an old mill site that was converted to a passive recreation park with a series of interpretive history storyboards. It’s like an outdoor museum. This quiet, picturesque park packs a lot of local history into a small area, and is just a short distance from busy downtown Mahopac.
APPROXIMATE TIME: 45 minutes.
DIRECTIONS: To get there if you are coming from downtown Carmel, take Route 6 into Mahopac. Make a slight right onto Route 6N/South Lake Blvd. and go 1.7 miles. Make a right onto Hill Street/CR-32. The park will be on the right as you make the turn. There is a small parking area on Hill Street.
THE PARK: As you pull into the parking area, the entire park will be within view. Three historic markers line the parking area – one for Sybil Ludingtons’s ride (see below), one for the location of a 1760 Log Mansion, and one for Red Mills. There is a large gazebo toward the far side of the park with a belfry top. Outlet streams from Kirk Lake and Lake Mahopac run through the park and are neatly contained by impressive stone waterways that converge and flow under Route 6N. A flagpole erected as an Eagle Scout project sits at the junction of the two streams. Two footbridges, one of which is dedicated to those who lost their lives on September 11th, provide passage over the streams. There are a number of benches to sit on and take in the scenery.
A series of four double-sided information boards scattered around the park provide the history lessons. They cover the basics of waterwheel and millstone technology, the history of two local churches, the importance of mills in our county’s and country’s economic development, and the international smuggling that occurred to get “carding” technology to the U.S. (Carding is the process of combing and cleaning sheered wool.)
You can follow the history of the growth of the hamlet of Red Mills – how it got its name, its days as a once-a-week mail delivery stop, its first school, its role during its heyday as a central part of the local economy and community – and the eventual disappearance of the mill.
But don’t forget to take in the scenery while you are getting the history lesson. The park is laid out nicely and has a natural serenity to it, even though cars are speeding by a short distance away.
The stone waterways are distinctive. The stones are from a quarry about a half-mile from the park, and many still have the markings from where they were drilled with steam. Surprisingly, these waterways had nothing to do with the mills, as they were not built until the 1890s. There used to be a mill pond on the site but it was removed and the stone waterways were built.
Just over the footbridge that takes you to the Mahopac National Bank building, there is a set of stairs that lead down to the water for an interesting perspective on the stone sluices. Along the side of the parking lot for the bank are a series of unique statues. I think these are actually on bank property, but they add to the ambience of the park.
When we visited there was snow on the ground and it was freezing, but the kids didn’t seem to mind. They spent some time “tap-dancing” in the gazebo because the acoustics worked well, and were intrigued by the deer tracks in the snow and a bird’s nest in the rafters of the gazebo. We plan to go back in the warmer weather to look around.
HISTORY: Sybil Ludington’s famous 1777 ride took her past this site, which was once a hub of local agriculture and economic activity. A simple gristmill was built on the site in the 1740s, and a more complex mill was built in the late 1750s. The property became an economic center, and was later part of the drama in the late 1800’s when New York City quietly bought up mills and farmland to feed its thirst for more water. The property, now owned by the town of Carmel, was converted to a park and officially opened on July 4th, 2002.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Our last visit was in December 2009. There is info on Red Mill Historic Park and other Carmel parks at www.carmelny.org. Pets are allowed at Red Mills if they are leashed and cleaned up after.