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THE CATSKILL GEOLOGISTS: Why’s Lindenwald’s lawn so flat?

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NOT MANY COUNTIES can claim to be the home of one of our nation’s former presidents, but folks in Columbia County can do just that. Kinderhook is the location of Lindenwald, the home of Martin Van Buren. It is, in many ways, still his home today. It’s a National Historic site, maintained by the National Park Service. It’s been closed for the winter and remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic but the grounds are open to the public with certain restrictions. (See below.)

We have visited Lindenwald any number of times and taken the tour; we can recommend it highly. But we are different from most. Sure, we find the history here fascinating but, for us, there is always more. Take a look at our photo of the grounds. Lindenwald is almost hidden by trees but we were far more interested in the landscape that surrounds it. Notice how flat it is. You wouldn’t think that geologists would find flat to be very interesting, but we rather thought there was a story here. There was, but we had some research to do.

Using a very good map of the site, we quickly found that the mansion was built atop a low and very flat plateau, lying just a bit above Kinderhook Creek. That, in turn, led us to a New York State Museum map of the local ice age geology. Soon we cracked the problem; we understood the grounds at Lindenwald!

The grounds at Lindenwald were left flattened as the last ice age receded. Photo by Robert Titus

We were now able to travel back in time to late in the Ice Age. Our ice age selves were able to look west from in front of the mansion site and see a vast lake spread out before us. That was something called Glacial Lake Albany and it once filled the Hudson Valley all the way to just north of New York City. Then we turned around and looked east toward Kinderhook itself. We were still in the Ice Age and now we saw a Kinderhook Creek swollen with the waters of melting glaciers. Its waters were dirty with the sediment that it had been eroding. When it got to Lake Albany its currents slowed down and it stopped being erosive. It became depositional and was depositing a delta. We had discovered that the Lindenwald plateau was made up of old delta deposits. Delta tops are always flat and usually deposited in just a few feet of water. Our ice age selves were wading in the shallow nearshore waters of Lake Albany

If you care to, you can walk north until you drop off of the delta deposits and get down to the far younger river floodplain of Kinderhook Creek. That’s “OK” but it’s just not as exciting as a trip into the Ice Age.

The National Park Service website for Lindenwald currently carries the following advisory:

“Outdoor spaces at Martin Van Buren National Historic Site remain accessible to the public in accordance with the latest federal, state, and local health guidance.

If contemplating a visit to a national park during this pandemic, the NPS asks visitors to adhere to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local public health authorities to protect visitors and employees…. [T]he NPS urges visitors to continue to practice Leave No Trace principles, including pack-in and pack-out, to keep outdoor spaces safer and healthier.

The NPS encourages people to take advantage of the many digital tools already available to explore Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, including:

• a virtual tour of historic Lindenwald

• videos on various topics

• self-guided learning activities”

To contact the authors email randjtitus@prodigy.net , join their Facebook page “The Catskill Geologist” and read their blogs at thecatskillgeologist.com.

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