Chodikee Lake area has storied, colorful history

Today Chodikee Lake is still a haven for kayakers and fishermen. (photo by Will Dendis)

Today Chodikee Lake is still a haven for kayakers and fishermen. (photo by Will Dendis)

Tucked away, north of Route 299 in Highland, is a quiet, 100-acre lake with a long and colorful history. Shaped like a spade on a playing card, Chodikee Lake has been home to religious cultists, wild men, farmers, bootleggers, an all-boys school, a fancy hotel, a summer camp, a lovable tramp, orthodox Jews and juvenile offenders.

But to most who drive through Lloyd to get to New Paltz — other than fishermen, kayakers or those who live in the sleepy neighborhoods nearby — the lake remains elusive.


Chodikee from the start has been known for its good fishing. Hillbillies living off the land, and the native Esopus tribesmen before them, enjoyed the bounty of the bass, panfish and pickerel that live in the lake itself or the eels in Black Creek, which feeds the lake.

Lloyd, New Paltz and Esopus’s town lines all touch in the region around Chodikee Lake, which has had fertile farmland for generations.

Vivian Yess Wadlin grew up in the area on her family’s farm. During her lifetime, she saw huge changes. Once the Chodikee Lake area had an economy based around farming and orchards, people doing odd jobs like cutting barrel staves. People used to take in boarders up until about the 1950s.

Those farms are mostly gone — turned into developments. The grist, wool and knitting mills are gone. And what had once been farmland near Plutarch and Elting Corners roads has reverted to wetlands because of the work of beavers building a dam.

To Wadlin, the area’s population has morphed. “The biggest change, I think, is that I can go into New Paltz and hardly run into anyone I know,” she said.

Wadlin is the daughter-in-law of one of Lloyd’s former historians, Beatrice Wadlin. She publishes the free “About Town” guide available in racks at local grocery stores. Vivian’s love of Highland and New Paltz history leaks into her articles, many of which recount local history. She remembers growing up that for most people in Highland, religion came only in three flavors: Methodist, Catholic and Jewish.

Over the years, as the industry and landscape has changed, she’s noticed Highland become more secular. Fewer young people are going to church. Wadlin said she feels for students living in Highland and New Paltz today.

“Certainly, the opportunities we had growing up were in some ways brighter. The kids nowadays have it less bright.”


Behind the name

According to one of Lloyd’s earliest historians, Warren G. Sherwood, Chodikee is an Anglicized spelling of an Algonkian phrase “shadakee,” meaning the place of the signal fire. It’s speculated that light-colored rock cliff visible from Camp Stuts Road was used by the Esopus to build fires visible from Mohonk.

There had been a misconception among locals at one time that the name came from a chief or tribe’s name. But local historians ruled that out years ago.

Chodikee Lake also went by a slew of names. At various times, it has been called Black Pond and the Old Grote Binnewater. The spelling “Chodikee” itself wasn’t standardized until the 1860s.

After the Huguenots bought 39,000 acres from the Esopus in the 1610s, Chodikee Lake became a part of the original land patent for New Paltz. It stayed that way until 1845, when Lloyd split off to become its own town.

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