James Eldridge Quinlan’s History of Sullivan County is generally regarded as one of the most thorough and entertainingly written local histories. Published in 1873, Quinlan’s history is the undisputed bible of Sullivan County’s past, and yet it is not without its shortcomings. Some have criticized what they view as his selective exclusion of material – he does not, for instance, write much about the Civil War, and it has been said that this was because he was a Copperhead, or a southern sympathizer. And each year in March, Women’s History Month, we are reminded that he afforded minimal space in his writings to the women of the era.
That makes the few women he does write about stand out even more than they might otherwise, and no woman receives greater praise from Quinlan than Phebe Reynolds Drake. Continue reading
When Harvey Griffin became a member of the Monticello Fire Department in 1875, he was the only African-American living in the village, and one of just a handful in all of Sullivan County.
In 1930, when the population of the county was just over 35,000, and the area stood poised on the brink of its Golden Age, census figures reveal there were 91 African-Americans living here. That’s just over one-quarter of one percent of the population. Continue reading
During the night of April 26, 1874, fire broke out in the livery stables of LeGrand Morris’ Exchange Hotel in Monticello, NY. Village residents were roused from their beds to form a bucket brigade to battle the blaze, but were unable to keep it from spreading to, and destroying, the hotel itself. A number of other businesses, including George Hindley’s saloon, Kent’s Barber Shop, Billing’s Flour and Feed Store, and the printing plant of the George M. Beebe’s Republican Watchman newspaper, were also consumed.
Largely because of that fire, the third major blaze in three years to rock the small village of about 900 residents, Monticello organized its first fire department less than a year later. Continue reading
Nearly 400 years ago, in 1626, a ship carrying eleven slaves was unloaded in New Amsterdam by the Dutch West Indies Company. Those eleven men are believed to be among the first African-Americans brought to what is today New York State.
Attempting to pinpoint when the first African-Americans arrived in Sullivan County, NY is considerably more difficult. There are a number of plausible scenarios, and the evidence supporting any one of them is sketchy at best. A stronger case can be made for the first man of African-American descent to own property there. It was almost certainly Phineas Booth of the town of Neversink. Continue reading
It was Saturday, January 26, 1895, and throngs of mourners were gathered at the Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan for the funeral of one of America’s most prominent doctors.
Dr. Alfred Lebbeus Loomis, who had revolutionized the way tuberculosis was treated in this country, had died on January 23rd, just two days after his own personal physician had ordered him confined to bed because of a spiking fever. Dr. Loomis, diagnosed with tuberculosis some thirty years earlier, had contracted pneumonia, and would never recover. Continue reading
On March 25, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the keynote address at the annual Rabbinical Assembly Convention at the renowned Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake in the Sullivan County Catskills. Ten days later he was dead.
King had come to the Concord to address the gathering of conservative rabbis to honor his long-time friend, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who had accompanied King and others in the historic 1961 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and who was being feted that might by his colleagues as a belated 60th birthday celebration. As he took the podium following his introduction, King was greeted warmly by those in attendance, who sang the civil rights song, “We Shall Overcome” in Hebrew. Continue reading
There have long been stories – most of them unsubstantiated – about the activities of the German American Bund in Sullivan County in the years leading up to World War II.
While the activities of that particular pro-Nazi organization in the region may be debatable, there is no question that a small group of men charged with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government and replacing it with a Nazi style dictatorship spent much of the summer of 1939 in Sullivan County. Continue reading
During the summer of 1939, a small group of men from out of the area rented a camp just outside Narrowsburg, a small community on the Delaware River in Sullivan County, where they spent most of their time shooting rifles. Their need for such extensive practice was understandable; locals who observed the target practice described the men’s aim as “plumb awful.” Continue reading
The hamlet of Long Eddy has a rich and colorful history, including a few years in the 19th century when it was known as Douglas City, the only incorporated city ever in Sullivan County. It also has a captivating link to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt White House – a connection made even more fascinating in that it was kept secret for more than forty years. Continue reading
Time was that the Sullivan County Catskills were as popular as any summer tourist destination in the country. And as far back as the 19th century, some enterprising hotel owners attempted to translate that popularity into year around success.
Boosted by the patronage of those seeking a cure from tuberculosis, in the 1880s the Ontario and Western Railway began advertising the area as a winter health resort, publishing its annual “Winter Homes” brochure in addition to the popular “Summer Homes” booklet. Continue reading
Of all the fascinating races in Sullivan County’s colorful political history, none has had a greater statewide impact than the 1931 contest for the New York State Assembly.
And the significance of the election had only a little to do with its outcome.
William Whittaker, a South Fallsburg (Sullivan County) Democrat, was the Assembly incumbent in 1931, having won the seat the year before in a contest decided by fewer than 200 votes. His opponent in both races was John T. Curtis of Monticello, owner and editor of the Sullivan County Republican newspaper. As Election Day approached, Republican party officials in the county became suspicious of an unusually large number of absentee ballots, and asked for an investigation. Continue reading
It was once without question the best known ghost story set in Sullivan County, written by one of America’s most respected writers, and yet it is largely unknown today.
It combines detailed descriptions of the rich and bountiful beauty of this area in the 19th century with cleverly conceived ghouls as hideous as any in American literature.
It is Washington Irving’s 1838 short story “Hans Swartz: A Marvelous Tale of Mamakating Hollow” and it is still appropriate reading this Halloween season, more than 170 years after it was penned. Continue reading
Edward H. Rulloff was one of the most famous American criminals of the 19th century, believed responsible for multiple murders and sundry other crimes, and eventually being publicly hanged in Binghamton, New York. He was also a brilliant savant, obsessively seeking respectability and the approval of what he deemed “good society.”
And if not for this obsession, his crime spree would have without a doubt included the National Union Bank in Monticello, the County Seat of Sullivan County. Continue reading
The now long defunct Flagler Hotel in Sullivan County’s Fallsburg had a rich tradition as one of the region’s premier resorts, and for decades was a trend setter in the industry.
In 1920, the Flagler introduced the distinctive stucco covered, parapet and Palladian window dominated architectural style now known as Sullivan County Mission. Soon, virtually every other Sullivan County hotel was following suit. Continue reading
Even those who are not particularly astute observers of the current battle for casino licenses have recognized that the struggle has devolved into one in which some of those in the running have resorted to pointing out how desperate they are.
Sullivan and Ulster Counties seem to be in the lead in this dubious category, and although it will likely be worth it if it lands a casino for one or both, it remains to be seen what the long term impact of such reverse promotion will be, especially if no casinos are forthcoming. Continue reading
In the middle of September of 1959, more than160 of the world’s most prominent scientists– eight of whom would go on to earn a Nobel prize– gathered at a remote mountain lodge for three days of discussions that have become known as “the conference that changed the world.”
The remote mountain lodge that played host to this groundbreaking get together was not in the Swiss Alps or the Himalayas of Tibet, but in Sullivan County, New York. Continue reading
Many of the 75 or so people at the recent 13th Annual Catskills History and Preservation Conference at the Liberty Museum & Arts Center were shocked to hear that the Sullivan County’s heralded resort industry has been in decline since 1965.
That’s not unusual. Most newcomers– and even some old timers who should know better– find it hard to believe that the county’s heyday was over by the mid-1960s. Many cite the existence of dozens of hotels in the 1970s as proof that it couldn’t possibly be so.
And yet these days most historians who have done any research at all agree that the Golden Age of Sullivan County’s tourism industry, which began around 1940, came to an end around 1965, and they cite a number of reasons for choosing that particular year. Continue reading
There may be no more despicable person in Sullivan County’s history than Lizzie Brown Halliday. She was known to have murdered at least five persons, and was suspected of killing many more. When she died in 1918, the New York Times described her as “the worst woman on earth.”
And much of the country believed, at least for a short time, that she was the notorious murderer known as Jack the Ripper, responsible for the grisly Whitechapel murders in London. Continue reading
He was the Supervisor of the Town of Thompson in Sullivan County, a member of the New York State Assembly, a State Senator, member of Congress, and New York’s first Superintendent of Banking, as well as one of Monticello’s most successful merchants. And in 1851 he joined with seven others in founding what would become one of America’s most respected newspapers.
He was Daniel Bennett St. John, and he was one of the original owners of the New York Times. Continue reading
Saturday, July 31, 1937 dawned sunny and warm in Sullivan County, a nearly perfect summer day. A light breeze stirred the cooling waters of Swan Lake as dozens of vacationers rowed about in the bright morning sunshine. Two of those vacationers, convinced that it was their lucky day, rowed enthusiastically over to a strange shape they saw bobbing on the surface of the lake. What they discovered instead was grisly and gruesome. It was the body of a man, all trussed up and tied to a rock and a slot machine frame. Continue reading