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Skidmore College

About Skidmore's North Woods

ecology | history

A red eft, posingThe North Woods are property of Skidmore College and are designated primarily for the college's educational, development and research purposes. The college invites guests to use this resource for limited recreational purposes.

In general, guests should be respectful of this valued and vulnerable woodland property. Be sure to carry out all trash and litter, leaving the woods as clean as or cleaner than when you entered them. Please do not disturb students or faculty engaged in educational and related activities, and be careful not to disrupt laboratory experiments.

Dogs are allowed only in designated areas and are to be leashed at all times. Owners are expected to clean up after their dogs.



  • 1.5 billion years ago: Metamorphic rocks (gneiss and schist) formed under pressure (Grenville Supercontinent)
  • 700 million years ago (mya): fault formed Iapetus (pre-Atlantic) ocean
  • 550 mya: Sedimentary rocks (sandstone, limestone and dolostone). Limestone and dolostone are carbonates that form in tropical waters (so this area used to be near the equator!) They contain high levels of calcite, which is soluble. This causes sinkholes and disappearing/reappearing streams.
  • 500 mya: continents collided, creating Pangaea
  • 220 mya: Atlantic Ocean opened
  • 22 mya: Earth’s climate cooled
  • 6 mya: ice ages
  • 22,000 years ago: Furthest extent of Laurentide ice sheets (covering North America). Glacial ice carved, scoured, eroded and shaped the landscape
  • 12,000 years ago: Earth warmed, glaciers receded, leaving glacial till, a mixture of clay, sand, gravel and boulders
  • 12,000–10,000 years ago: glacial Lake Albany formed by meltwaters of glaciers

Forest Types

  • Northern hardwood
  • Oak-hickory forest (includes sugar maple, beech and basswood)


  • More than 660 species of plants (several dozen protected by New York State law)
  • Five species are only found in Saratoga County
  • Six species are very uncommon
  • 33 species of ferns


  • Red eft (juvenile red-spotted newt)
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Painted and snapping turtles
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Snakes, toads, frogs and many others!


Skidmore’s North Woods has a rich and varied history. Before settlers came to the area, Native Americans en route from present-day Albany to Montreal traveled through the forest. In 1708 the Kayderoseross Patent, created under Queen Anne, gave Rip Van Dam a large portion of upstate New York, including what is now the North Woods and Skidmore’s campus. Rip Van Dam subsequently sold a portion of his holdings to Jacob Walton, who left the future Skidmore portion to Henry Walton, his son.

Henry Walton then owned half of Saratoga, while Gideon Putnam owned the other half. Walton chose to build his Greek revival home on Skidmore’s present campus, spending time in our North Woods. He named his property Woodlawn. Walton eventually sold his estate and land to Judge Henry Hilton, who created a gated community of mansions, carriage trails, a toboggan slide, 50 to 60 horses and rare tropical birds.

Hilton, well known for his corrupt manner, cheated the widow of dried good’s millionaire A.T Stewart out of her share of the Stewart fortune. In his life, A.T. Stewart had treated Hilton as a son and left him a million dollars after his death, but this was not enough to please Hilton, and he squeezed every last dollar out of Stewart’s widow. Following Hilton’s death in 1899, his heirs had little interest in the expansive estate. The luxury, 15 mansion, statue-bedecked property functioned largely as a money sink.

The estate was put up for auction in 1916, and Lucy Scribner expressed interest in buying it. Had she been able to do so, Skidmore students would probably be studying in giant Queen Anne–style mansions like those on North Broadway. Instead Congressman George Loft and Charles Morse purchased the estate on a whim. Shortly thereafter Loft died suddenly, and Morse clear-cut all of Woodlawn. The bald, deserted land was thrown open to the public after Morse went to jail for embezzlement. After that, the estate the fell to ruin: the mansions were looted and statues stolen. The estate’s buildings all burned in the 1930s and '40s. In the 1960s Erik Jonsson purchased the estate and Skidmore moved from its downtown location to Woodlawn.