Saw Kill may refer to three different bodies of water in New York. Two are tributaries and make up watersheds on the eastern bank of the Hudson River. The northernmost of these is in the Town of Stuyvesant, New York in Columbia County and the southernmost of these is in the Town of Red Hook, New York in Dutchess County. The northern Saw Kill is more commonly known as Mill Creek today. The third tributary drains into Esopus Creek on the Hudson’s west bank. This article refers to the southern body of water on the east bank as Saw Kill (east) and the body of water on the west bank as Saw Kill (west).
Saw Kill (east)
The Saw Kill watershed is 22 square miles in Dutchess County. It lies underneath Tivoli, Red Hook, and Milan and between the Hudson River to the west and the Taconic Mountains to the east. It is one of the nine biggest drainage basins in Dutchess County by size; “Approximately 67 percent of the county’s 807 square miles drain to the Hudson River through the Wappinger Creek, Fishkill Creek, and several smaller streams including the Casperkill, Fall Kill, Crum Elbow, Landsmankill, Saw Kill, and Stony Creek.”
The southerly of the eastern two Saw Kills is 14.3 miles (23.0 km) long and empties into South Bay of the Tivoli Bays part of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve. It is located in the town of Red Hook and partly along Bard College and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation protected lands.
The other one, not identified on topographic maps, empties into the Hudson about 30 miles (48 km) to the north at Stuyvesant Landing.
Tivoli Bays is two miles off the eastern shoreline of the Hudson River. It is located between the villages of Tivoli and Barrytown (in the town of Red Hook, Dutchess County). The Saw Kill is one of two tributary streams which empty into Tivoli Bays. The other is the Stony Creek. The mouth of the Saw Kill opens into Tivoli South Bay. Tivoli South Bay is one of two coves in the bay. It is large, shallow, and has exposed mudflats at low tide. It has a variety of habitats including freshwater intertidal marsh, riparian areas, subtidal shallows, open waters, tidal swamp, and mixed forest uplands. It supports many organisms including bald eagles and other marsh birds. People are attracted to Tivoli Bays for birdwatching as well as other recreational opportunities such as canoeing and hiking.
Colonial settlement in New York began in the 1620s by the Dutch. There was initial interest in the eastern Saw Kill tributary for food supply, land ownership, and saw mill construction. This river and the majority of the land above the Saw Kill watershed was sold to Colonel Peter Schuyler in 1688. The Schuyler patents for Rhinebeck lasted until 1840, which slowed agricultural development rates of the Saw Kill, despite rapid agricultural expansion in Dutchess County starting in 1750.
Saw mill and grist mill construction were commonplace along the Saw Kill River by the end of the 18th century. Milling died down by the end of the 19th due to decreased profitability.
Preserving Natural Beauty
The Saw Kill river is known for its natural beauty. Its aesthetic was treasured by residents and the international European community alike.
Pressure for industrial expansion on the river increased in the mid 1800s. Some residents, like Louis Livingston of Montgomery Place, saw this as a threat to the peacefulness and natural beauty of the river. Livingston, along with Robert Donaldson, purchased land on the Saw Kill river in 1841 to prevent extraction and factory development. They feared losing the pristine quality of the river to noise, loss of natural landscape, and factory worker intrusion.
Hunting was also considered a disruption of peace and safety to the quality of living by wealthy landowners. Nevertheless, the practice remained commonplace into the 20th century.
Water Quality and Eco-systems
Saw Kill (east) has had some water quality problems. The Natural Resource Inventory shows it to have high phosphate and nitrate concentrations. The concentrations increase and the problem becomes clearer during times of lower water flow. The high concentrations are likely due to wastewater treatment plants upstream.
Saw Kill (west)
The western Saw Kill tributary is in Ulster County. 19.7 miles (31.7 km) long, it rises in Forest Preserve lands on the lower slopes of Indian Head Mountain and, after flowing through the town of Woodstock, empties into the Esopus just above Saugerties; just north of Route 209 and just downstream of Ulster Town Hall. The Saw Kill is one of the major tributaries to the Esopus. There is a sedimentary delta halfway across the Esopus Creek channel in this area, which indicates high sediment loads in the Saw Kill.
The Saw Kill (west) drains are mostly forested watershed. The watershed also contains some wetland areas.
On January 1, 1765, William Legg bought around 100 acres of land lying on both sides of the Saw Kill for 50 schipples of wheat. This was one of the first purchases to be made in the present town of Kingston. Legg built a sawmill and a house. The contract also required him to pay half a bushel of wheat every year to the trustees who he bought the land from. The Legg family lived there for 88 years. It was reported that they ground wheat in the mill for the Continental Army.
The next owner was James Gaddis. He continued the milling operations and denied requests of people to use the land for quarrying. However, in the 1880s a fire destroyed both the house and the mill. Gaddis, needing money to rebuild, gave permission for quarrying bluestone on the Saw Mill creek ledge. The extensive quarrying moved the falls that were located by the mill back 300 feet.
Howe’s Mill was another mill located on the Saw Kill. It powered by a dam at Little Falls. The mill was used to make gunpowder and there were frequently explosions. The mill stayed mostly intact, however, and continued operating until the 1860s when it was hit by lightning.
Bluestone quarrying in the area increased in 1828 when the Delaware and Hudson Canals were being built. Quarry owners hired unskilled immigrant laborers and built houses for them in the area. This led to the creation of small, distinct, immigrant communities. Many of the houses built during this time are still standing.
In the 1900s railroads helped spur tourism in the region. During the summers, many farmers would take in boarders from the city. The scenic beauty and good trout fishing in the Saw Kill and other similar creeks is part of what attracted people to the area.
With the growth of suburban life in America, suburban communities developed in Sweat Meadows along the Saw Kill creek. Flooding in the creek then became an issue for these communities. Residents organized a clean-out of the creek in 1981. However, this didn’t solve the problem and flooding continues to happen during heavy rains.
The Saw Kill provides an important habitat for various species. Opposite the place where the Saw Kill joins the Esopus are alluvial flats with flood-plain pools, which used to be sand or gravel pits. They now provide an important habitat for frogs, including the Northern Leopard Frog (which is rare in the region). Other organisms such as dragonflies and small fish provide the basis for a thriving ecosystem in the area.
There have been some water quality issues in the Saw Kill (west). High bacteria counts have been found in tests taken near Lake Katrine. The bacteria levels are worse during times of heavy rainfall.
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- Reichheld, Elizabeth; Paul, Barten (1991). "Characterization of Streamflow and Sediment Source Areas for the Saw Kill Watershed" (PDF). A report of the 1991 Polgar Fellowship Program.
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