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
With its delicious food and warm hospitality, the Red Apple Rest was a legendary pit stop on the trek from New York City to the Catskills starting in the 1930s. Reuben Freed’s restaurant, staffed primarily by family and friends – or strangers who eventually became family – was in operation for more than fifty years.
Reuben’s daughter Elaine grew up in the Red Apple, and she brings the restaurant back to life in Stop At The Red Apple: The Restaurant on Route 17 (SUNY Press, 2014) of vignettes, interviews, photos, and memorabilia. It’s a memoir, yes, but also an immigrant success story, love story, and memorial to a slice of bygone New York history and popular culture. 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
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
Chappaqua doesn’t exist. So says Ken Jackson of Columbia University, a longtime advocate calling for New York State to promote New York history. This might seem strange to the many people who have heard of Chappaqua, and those who know someone who lives there. It might also seem strange because Jackson himself lives in Chappaqua.
Well, not exactly. Chappaqua is not a municipality. There are no Chappaqua mayor, police, court or any of the other government services we normally associate with a municipality in New York State. Chappaqua doesn’t have a municipal historian because it is not a municipality; it’s a hamlet, located in the Town of New Castle. Continue reading
The Liberty Museum & Arts Center has announced the schedule for their 13th annual Catskills Preservation and History Conference, to be held at the Museum in Liberty, Sullivan County, NY, on Sunday, August 24.
The theme of this year’s conference is “500 Hotels! Tourism in the Sullivan County Catskills: Past, Present and Future.” The full day event includes a driving and walking tour in the morning, and programs and panel discussions throughout the day, culminating in the presentation of the Second Annual Catskills Preservation Award and the opening reception for the “Pollack’s Hotel Exhibit” at 7 PM. Continue reading
While Sullivan County was not officially formed until 1809, the region’s history as a popular healing environment dates back considerably before that.
From the earliest visits of the Lenape, who constructed their sweat lodges among the willow trees on the banks of the Delaware to the tuberculosis sufferers who searched for a cure in the cool mountain climate, hundreds of thousands of people have visited the area because of its clean air and pure water.
From about 1890 to 1915, the county enjoyed a prosperous period of tourism—today called the Silver Age— based almost entirely on those concepts of fresh air and pure water. In fact, for decades the Ontario & Western Railway’s promotional campaign for the area was based on the slogan, “Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’” This was often followed by the trident reminder ‘pure air, pure water, pure milk.” Continue reading
In the wake of the recent decision by Foxwoods Catskills Resort not to submit an application for a destination casino in Liberty — some in Sullivan County are wringing their hands. There are many comments being circulated along the lines of, “the last one out turn off the lights…”
Notwithstanding the fact that there are still two viable casino projects in the works for Sullivan County, perhaps it is a good time for a history lesson for all of those who are beginning to feel a bit desperate about the area’s future prospects. And since the Foxwoods proposal that will not be submitted to the State Gaming Commission involved the Grossinger’s property, once home to what was arguably the most famous resort in the world, perhaps it is appropriate that the history lesson begins there. Continue reading
The new exhibition of landscape masterpieces by Frederic Church and Thomas Cole is now open at the Thomas Cole Historic Site, featuring twenty artworks from 1844-1850, focusing on the early work of Church when he began studying with Cole in Catskill, New York.
The exhibition, on view through November 2, 2014, includes plein air studies by Church when he was an 18-year-old apprentice as well as large, highly finished and stunningly skillful paintings that were completed just a few years later. Compare Church’s work to Cole’s from the same time period as they covered the same territory together. Continue reading
A new book, Cutters to Motor Coaches: Pioneering Commercial Transportation in the Catskills (Fast Pencil, 2014) by Michael W. Duttweiler explores the evolution of commercial motorized transportation in rural Western Sullivan County, New York through the story of a family business.
Along the way, it outlines major phases in the history of Sullivan County tourism, influences of the Ontario and Western Rail Road, and changes brought about by increased regulation of commercial transportation, the Great Depression, and World War II. Continue reading
Supplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his history of the nation’s largest municipal water system, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of The New York City Water Supply (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013), the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds.
Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city. Empire of Water explores the history of New York City’s water system from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water. Continue reading
The Hudson River School artists worked at a time when great revolutions were sweeping through science. This Sunday January 12, at 2 pm at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, The husband and wife science team Johanna (biologist) and Robert (geologist) Titus will offer an in-depth look into the interactions of Thomas Cole and Frederic Church with the scientists of their time.
Highlights include the Titus’ discovery of the local mountain that Cole used as a model for the famous centerpiece of his series “The Course of Empire.” The Titus’ will sign copies of their new book, The Hudson Valley in the Ice Age, after the talk. Continue reading
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) , English immigrant, is regarded as a father of the Hudson River School, the first national art expression of the American identity in the post-War of 1812 period. It was a time when we no longer had to look over our shoulder at what England was doing and could begin to think of ourselves as having a manifest destiny. Cole also was very much part of the birth of tourism which occurred in the Hudson Valley and points north and west. Continue reading
On January 25, I attended the Mid-Hudson regional meeting of the Path through History project. What follows is my report on the meeting which may, or may not, be the experience and take-away of others who attended (or what is happening in other regions). The Mid-Hudson Valley region includes the Hudson River counties of Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, and Rockland, along with Sullivan County in the Catskills. Continue reading
When I was a boy I worked on a farm in Little Neck, Queens in New York City. It was the only working farm left in Queens. The land was originally settled by a Dutch family. Every morning I would awake and bike from one side of Queens to the other. There I would feed ducks, cows, till, gather eggs, and eat my lunch under a huge tree or when it rained in the barn. Continue reading
David Stradling, Professor and Graduate Studies Director at the University of Cincinnati, is author of The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State. This recent (Fall 2010) survey of over four hundred years of New York’s environmental history has received praise from historians and environmental policy experts.
From the arrival of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon in the estuarial waters of what would come to be called New York Harbor to the 2006 agreement that laid out plans for General Electric to clean up the PCBs it pumped into the river named after Hudson, this work offers a sweeping environmental history of New York State. David Stradling shows how New York’s varied landscape and abundant natural resources have played a fundamental role in shaping the state’s culture and economy. Simultaneously, he underscores the extent to which New Yorkers have, through such projects as the excavation of the Erie Canal and the construction of highways and reservoir systems, changed the landscape of their state.
Surveying all of New York State since first contact between Europeans and the region’s indigenous inhabitants, Stradling finds within its borders an amazing array of environmental features, such as Niagara Falls; human intervention through agriculture, urbanization, and industrialization; and symbols, such as Storm King Mountain, that effectively define the New York identity.
Stradling demonstrates that the history of the state can be charted by means of epochs that represent stages in the development and redefinition of our relationship to our natural surroundings and the built environment; New York State has gone through cycles of deforestation and reforestation, habitat destruction and restoration that track shifts in population distribution, public policy, and the economy. Understanding these patterns, their history, and their future prospects is essential to comprehending the Empire State in all its complexity.
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There are two new websites for those with an interest in Delaware County history. Websites for The Historical Society of Middletown and The Hobart Historical Society include links to local projects, news, events and more from the central Catskills communities.
The Hobart Historical Society is headquartered in its restored building on Cornell Avenue, Hobart, NY. The building, formerly the home of the St. Andrews Masonic Lodge, is now used to operate and manage the Hobart Historical Society’s community projects, keep records of village history, and provide the community with a Historical Society Center.
The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown was Formed in 2004, and has grown from 40 founding members to an organization of more than 100. The Margaretville Covered Bridge (above), which spanned the East Branch of the Delaware River on Bridge Street from the 1860s until 1933, serves as the society’s logo, considered symbolic of the ‘bridge’ they hope to make between the past and present.