Dover Stone Church

Useful Information

Location: Dover Plains, NY 12522.
(41.738075, -73.588971)
Open: All year daily dawn to dusk.
Fee: free.
Classification: GorgeGorge
Light: n/a
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Richard Francis Maher (1908): Historic Dover, Richard Francis Maher, the Town Clerk of Dover, has recently privately published a pamphlet entitled “Historic Dover.”
Address: Dover Stone Church Cave, Dover Plains, NY 12522, Tel: +1-518-386-8607.
Town of Dover, 126 East Duncan Hill Road, Dover Plains, New York 12522, Tel: +1-845-832-6111.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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2003 site purchased by the town of Dover.
2004 first trail opened to the public.
2009 right of way through private property secured.
2014 52 more acres added to the preserve.
DEC-2014 placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Dover Stone Church is also known as Dover Stone Church Cave or simply Stone Church, but actually it is neither a cave nor a church, it is a narrow limestone gorge. The church-like atmosphere is a result of the triangular profile of the gorge, and there are numerous spots where it is not possible to see the sky, so it sometimes gives the impression it was a cave. The gorge is named after Stone Church Brook, which springs at Butts Hollow in Wshington, NY, a few kilometers to the northwest. It crosses a limestone hill cutting into the limestone and creating the narrow gorge. There is a rock dam in the gorge, which creates a 1 m high cascade, but only during times of high flow, during lower flow the water just flows around. Actually the gorge is best visited during times of low flow, when it is possible to walk through the gorge. Actually it is not recommended to enter the gorge, as there are frequent rockfalls.

The short hike starts at the NY-22, the Stone Church Lane is a private driveway, but it is allowed to walk to the gorge. There is a trail which is very well maintained, and there is a bridge, through the gorge there is only a very rough trail with some sections where are just step stones in the river bed. From the road its about 800 m or 15 minutes walk to the gorge, the tour takes about 45 minutes to one hour.

The site, despite being an impressive geotope, was actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to legend it was the hideout of a native American chief. This sounds ridiculous, as it is a gorge with a river, and definitely not a place to stay, even for a short time. The story is nevertheless quite old, it was written down by the local historian Richard Francis Maher in 1908.

In the 1630s, Pequot tribes led by Sassacus, raided several British Connecticut towns. The settlers raised a militia, and led by John Mason they set out to attack a Pequot settlement near Mystic, CT. But they were held in a stand-off. Sassacus had faulty intelligence and assumed Mason’s forces had left, so he moved his Pequot tribes to Hartford for another raid. Mason, who had not left, proceeded to attack the settlement, killing about 700 women, children and elderly residents of Mystic in what became known as the “Mystic Massacre”.
Sassacus and his forces fled west into New York territory, seeking assistance from the Mohawk. But they only received hostility from them. Sassacus final camp, and last stand was in this “stone church.” He was caught, scalped, and his head offered to the British as a friendship offering.

It is situated in the midst of charming scenery and has in its immediate vicinity natural curiosities which have attracted thousands of visitors. One of these, a rocky ravine, worn deep in the mountain west of the village, whose arched opening resembles the entrance to some cathedral of mediaeval times, is known as the "Dover Stone Qhurch." Within this entrance is a somewhat spacious cavern, roofed and walled by massive rocks, while beyond, pierced deep in the mountain, stretches a mile or two of picturesque ravine. The vicinity looks as though there had been at some time a great convulsion of nature which had lifted the rocks and hurled them into their present fantastic and suggestive shapes. It is claimed, however, that the conformation is due wholly to the action of water, which, even now, in a goodly stream courses down the gully. History tells us that Sassacus, sachem of the Pequod tribe, with many of his followers, found refuge in this watery cavern when he encountered a band of Mohegan hunters upon the site of the village of Dover Plains. He had fled from Connecticut, following the defeat of his army by English troops under command of Captain Mason.
Richard Francis Maher in The History of Dutchess County New York (1909)