Tag Archives: Catskills

Chappaqua Doesn’t Exist! Peter Feinman On Place


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ChappaquaFD4Chappaqua 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

13th Catskills Preservation And History Conference


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Conferencephoto2013The 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

Sullivan County: Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’


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adWhile 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

Grossinger’s: A History Lesson In Economic Development


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grosslongbrookIn 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

Master, Mentor, Master:
Thomas Cole and Frederic Church


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church-catskillcreek-1847-washingtonctymusThe 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

New Sullivan County Book: Cutters to Motor Coaches


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Cutters to Motor Coaches coverA 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

NYC’s Water Supply:
An Environmental and Political History


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Empire of Water  - History of NYC Water SupplySupplying 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

Lecture: Thomas Cole, Frederic Church And Science


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unnamed(2)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

The Immigrant Thomas Cole and NY State Tourism


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View of Fort Putnam (Thomas Cole)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

Peter Feinman: A Fork In The Path Through History


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PathThroughHistoryOn 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

New Environmental History: The Nature of New York


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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.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Two New History Sites For Delaware County


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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.

Catskill Resident Named Baseball Historian


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Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig has announced that author and Catskill, NY resident John Thorn has been named the Official Baseball Historian for Major League Baseball.

Thorn is the author and editor of numerous baseball books, including the forthcoming Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, which will be published on March 15th by Simon & Schuster. His other books include Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Total Baseball encyclopedia series. Thorn, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR), was the senior creative consultant for Ken Burns’ Baseball series.

As Official Historian, Thorn will lead various research endeavors and special projects on behalf of Major League Baseball.

Thorn succeeds the late Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times baseball writer Jerome Holtzman, who served as Official Baseball Historian from 1999 until his passing in 2008.

The Woodstock Times has a profile of Thorn online.

Thomas Cole’s ‘New Studio’ Plans Revealed


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There will be a party at Thomas Cole’s home in Catskill with cocktails on the lawn followed by dinner at one of several magnificent river-front homes nearby on Saturday September 11, 6pm. The event is a fundraiser, and the newly completed architectural drawings for Thomas Cole’s “New Studio” will be unveiled. The building was designed by Cole and built in 1846, but was demolished in 1973. The original stone foundation has been unearthed, and the fascinating archaeological site will be on view. The evening includes a viewing of the current exhibition in the Main House, “Remember the Ladies: Women of the Hudson River School.” Tickets are $225 for the cocktail and dinner, or $70 for the cocktail party only.

Thomas Cole National Historic Site Seeks Volunteers


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Folks at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY are busy preparing for the 2010 season and are looking for volunteers. They’re currently seeking volunteer docents to conduct tours of the site from May through October. They are also recruiting guides for their hiking program on the Hudson River School Art Trail.

Everyone is invited to an Open House on March 14th, 12 noon, with behind-the-scenes tours and an opportunity to meet other volunteers and ask questions about becoming a docent. The Open House will be followed by a lecture about American landscape painting by Dr. Linda S. Ferber, offered as part of the Cole House’s ongoing Sunday Salon series. Participants in the 12pm Open House will also receive refreshments and complimentary admission to the 2pm lecture.

Reservations are required for participation in the Open House. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Joanna Frang, Education Coordinator, at 518-943-7465 ext. 2, or education@thomascole.org.

William F. Fox, Father of NY Forest Rangers


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Last week the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held a ceremony to honor William F. Fox, the “father” of the state’s modern-day forest rangers, on the 100th anniversary of his death. Fox was born in 1840 in Ballston Spa, Saratoga County, and graduated from Union College in Schenectady in 1860. He served in the Civil War as Captain, Major and then Lieutenant Colonel in the 107th New York Volunteers and later wrote a number of books on both the Civil War and forestry. Fox’s 1902 History of the Lumber Industry in the State of New York, written under the auspicious of Gifford Pinchot, is considered the first authoritative work on the logging industry in New York.

Fox became New York’s “Superintendent of Forests” in 1891. He quickly came to the conclusion that the then-current fire patrol system — which used “fire wardens” (firefighters who only worked when there were fire emergencies) and local ad hoc firefighters — couldn’t handle the job of forest protection. He wanted a paid staff – a new “forest guard” service — to cover the Adirondacks and Catskills.

Fox wrote a report to state leaders outlining how he’d organize the patrols: each ranger assigned to a township seven-miles square, residing in a log cabin built near the center of the township — but in the woods, not a village. This forest guard “would keep a sharp watch on any skulker who might be a possible incendiary.” In sum, Fox said he wanted to shift the emphasis from reacting after fires started to patrolling the woods before.

Despite Fox’s advocacy, the state Legislature did not act immediately. Meanwhile, towns became reluctant to enlist local firefighters because of costs. Then came massive fires in 1903 (500,000 acres burned in the Adirondacks) and 1908 (605 fires over 368,000 acres across the state), finally prompting elected officials to take action. In 1909, Gov. Charles E. Hughes signed legislation that brought sweeping changes to the Forest, Fish and Game law that included the creation of a fire patrol service in Adirondacks and Catskills. Fox died shortly thereafter at age 69.

Further legislation followed, replacing the “Forest, Fish and Game Commission” with a “Conservation Commission” and creating the title “forest ranger” in 1912. Though he didn’t live to see his vision fully carried out, Fox is still credited with being the father of the forest rangers. One hundred years later, the DEC, which evolved from the Conservation Commission, today employs a statewide force of 134 uniformed Forest Rangers. Their mission of protecting the state’s natural resources remains consistent with Colonel Fox’s vision.

The ceremony was held at Fox’s graveside at the Village Cemetery in Ballston Spa, Saratoga County.

This story was cross posted at Adirondack Almanack, the leading online journal of Adirondack culture, history, politics, and the environment.

Guided Hikes of Hudson River School Locations


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Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site has announced a series of guided hikes to the nearby places that inspired Thomas Cole and fellow artists of the Hudson River School. On the hikes you will see the views that appear in some of the most beloved landcape paintings of the 19th-century and hear stories that bring their history to life. The hikes range from easy walks to moderately vigorous climbs. All hikers will receive a copy of the Hudson River School Art Trail Guide, a new 48-page book with full-color illustrations of the paintings that were inspired by the sites along the trail. The book includes an introduction by Kevin Avery, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it is published by the Thomas Cole Historic Site. The book will be available for sale in our visitor center starting in mid-June.

Each hike is limited to twelve people and they depart from the Thomas Cole Historic Site at 9am. Hikes designated as “Easy” are approximately two hours in length. Those designated as “Moderate” are closer to four hours. Each of the guided hikes also includes a guided tour of the Thomas Cole Historic Site at the end of the hike. The total price per person: $15, or $10 for members.

Here is a schedule of the hikes:

June 6: Sunset Rock and the Catskill Mountain House (Moderate)

July 18: Kaaterskill Falls and the Catskill Mountain House (Moderate)

August 1: The Catskill Mountain House and North-South Lake (Easy)

September 5: Kaaterskill Falls and the Catskill Mountain House (Moderate)

October 3: Sunset Rock and the Catskill Mountain House (Moderate)