Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men
J.B. Beers and Co.
The Catskill Mountains
Transcribed by Dianne Schnettler
“What man would read and read the self-same faces,
And, like the marbles which the wind-mill grinds,
Rub smooth forever with the same smooth mind,
This year retracing last year’s, every year’s, dull traces,
When there are woods and un-man-stifled places.
“The wild, free woods make no man halt or blind;
Cities rob men of hands and eyes and feet,
Patching one whole of many incomplete;
The general preys upon the individual mind,
And each alone is helpless as the wind.
“Here, life the undiminished
New faculties stretch out to meet new wants;
What Nature asks that Nature also grants;
Here, man is lord, not drudge, of eyes and feet and hands,
And to his life is knit with hourly bonds.”
Of all the “un-man-stifled” places of which Lowell wrote, none offers greater or more varied attractions to the weary toilers of the city than the Catskill Mountains; those lofty aspirations of earth toward heaven which rise in solemn grandeur from the western valley of the Hudson one hundred miles from its mouth. Inasmuch as the Catskill region is yearly over-run with the inquisitive summer visitor, a sketch of its attractive features, and physical structure is very appropriate.
In the summer of 1819, Erastus Beach, then engaged in the livery business, finding that business rather dull, took a coach with four horses and went to Saratoga for employment. There his services were engaged by a party of four ladies and four gentlemen, who retained him thirty days. At the end of that time they had seen all the points of interest and driven over all the attractive roads of that vicinity, and longed for some new field of pleasure. Mr. Beach, remembering the beautiful view he had obtained from the flat rock on South Mountain, to which he had once in his ramblings climbed, ventured to describe it to his party. They were interested and engaged him at once to take them thither. Approach to the mountain was not then the easy thing it is now. Going as far as the open road would allow, with the carriage, they placed the ladies on the horses and continued the ascent of the mountain. It was a laborious undertaking, but before nightfall they found themselves with wearied limbs and ruffled and tattered garments upon the commanding table rock from which so many thousands have since looked off upon the glorious landscape of “Creation.” Gathering boughs and hedging themselves in from the cool night wind, they made their beds upon the rock, and spent the night under the stars amid the grandeur of that virgin scene of solitude. That was probably the first night ever passed by a pleasure party of ladies and gentlemen from abroad, upon the mountains. It is claimed that the idea of establishing a house for the accommodation of visitors to the mountain originated with this episode, but for that we cannot vouch, though it does not seem improbable. The party were so well pleased with what they saw on the mountain, that they made it known to their friends, and in the following years others came to behold its beauty.
But the rude shanty that was built as a temporary protection from the weather would not answer the demands, and men who saw in the future a glimpse of the possibilities that have since then proven themselves, considered the matter of making more ample provision for the comfort of visitors. An association was accordingly formed, and a charter obtained from the State Legislature. This was the Catskill Mountain Association, and it was incorporated March 24th 1823. The men named in the charter were James Powers, Caleb Benton, John Adams, Edwin Croswell, James Pierce, Apollos Cook, John A. Thompson, Jacob Haight and Henry McKinstry. They were authorized to buy land on Pine Orchard, erect “a large and commodious hotel” and other buildings, and to build a road from a point near the house of Colonel Merchant Lawrence (now occupied by the daughter of the late Joseph Sax), in the town of Catskill, to the Pine Orchard, and thence over to the clove road near the house of Mrs. Scovels, in the town of Hunter. The capital stock of the company was $6,000, in shares of $25 each, with power to increase the amount to $10,000, at the discretion of the five directors allowed by the act. The land decided upon for the house was included in the grant to Elisha Williams from the State, in 1813. The initial purchase was a piece of 7 1-10 acres, which, from a number of pine trees growing upon it, had received the name Pine Orchard. This was sold by James Powers and Nancy his wife to the association, July 29th 1823 for one dollar. A temporary house of hemlock boards was constructed that summer. Its height was the length of a board, and its interior was partitioned off so as to contain two dormitories, a kitchen, ball-room and parlor. The dormitories, one for ladies and the other for gentlemen, were provided with berths along the sides, and the bedding was of the plainest kind – simply loose straw for the gentlemen, while the ladies were allowed the luxury of a coarse tick filled with straw. In the latter part of that year a more substantial frame building was begun, which was completed in the following year, and in 1825 enlarged. The possessions of the association were enlarged by the purchase, August 13th 1824, of Hiram Comfort, and subsequently of Silas Scribner, of lands which they had bought from Williams, the patentee. February 25th 1826 the Legislature increased the capital stock to $15,000, and granted other privileges. Still other purchases were afterward made, and about 1845 the institution with its grounds was sold to Charles L. Beach, who has since enlarged the house. It has been known as the Mountain House, and though now eclipsed in magnitude, it may claim the honor of being the pioneer of the boarding houses in the Catskill Mountains.
In 1824 Erastus Beach established a stage line, running from Catskill to Pine Orchard twice a day, for the summer season. Mr. Van Bergen was then manager of the house, and Willard Cowan had built a stand at the falls of the Kaaterskill, where he was prepared to furnish refreshments to those visiting that point of interest. Peter Schutt afterward occupied this place with a refreshment stand. On that ground now stands the Laurel House of J.L. Schutt.
From these small beginnings the number of summer visitors has increased, and the facilities for their accommodation have multiplied, till in sections almost every farm house has become a boarding house on a small scale, and in the more inviting and accessible parts mammoth hotels have been built and supplied with the modern conveniences. The business has become one of the principal sources of income in some parts of the county. The number of persons annually visiting these mountains is enormous.
The boundaries of the Catskill region are not well defined. But confining it between the Hudson River and the sources of the Delaware, from east to west, and the Katskill Creek and the sources of the Navesink and Rondout Creeks, from north to south, we enclose the mountain district. It must be said, however, that the inhabitants of the plateau region north of the Katskill Creek, to the Helderberg Mountains and west to the sources of the Susquehanna, also claim to be in the Catskills.
The Catskill Mountains, variously spelled Kats Kills, Katz Kills, Kaaterskills, Kauterskills, Katzbergs or Kautersbergs; the Ontioras, “mountains of the sky,” as the red men called them, but correctly Katzbergs, kill meaning creek and berg mountain, in Dutch, are a spur of the great Appalachian range of the eastern coast extending from Georgia to Canada, situated at a distance of only one hundred miles from New York. They contain within their bounds probably more varied and beautiful scenery than can be found outside of Switzerland, though, perhaps, not as sublime. The praises of their beauty have been sung by poet and lauded by author and correspondent. Irving, in his Sketch Book, immortalized them with his Rip Van Winkle legend; Bryant and Willis have imperishably sung of their more charmed spots; Bayard Taylor, Harriet Martaneau, Benson J. Lossing, Mrs. Ellett, Mr. Richards, H.P. Brace, and Mrs. Lucy Lillie in Harpers; and hundreds of lesser lights have beautifully painted their graphic pen- pictures, and confess the utter impossibility of re-producing the scenes on the living page. Some have written of the grandeur of the passes; others of the numerous falls and cascades and the sublimity of the gorges through which they so tumblingly rush, while others have tried to re-produce the grandly picturesque scenes looking eastward from the various mountain tops, and their atmospheric effects. One well known author, after speaking of the majesty and grandeur of these old mountains as seen from the valley, says of that panorama from the shelf fronting the Mountain House; “The grand rock platform on which the Mountain House stands is reached at last, and then comes the full recompense for all weariness. Bathed, immersed, in pure mountain air, almost 3,000 feet above the river, full, positive and enduring rest is given to every muscle, after half an hour’s respiration of that invigorating atmosphere, and soul and limb are ready for a longer, loftier, and more rugged ascent. The view has been described a thousand times. Much rhetoric and rhyme, with sentimental platitudes have been employed in its description.” Cooper, in his Leather Stocking tales sums up the impressions which all must feel standing on the front ledges of these mountains, and seeing the whole world as it were nestled at one’s feet, in these few words: “’What see you when you get there?’ asked Edwards; ‘Creation!’ said Natty, ‘all creation, lad’” And his description of the Kaaterskill Falls in the same dialogue is replete as it is terse, graphic and beautiful. Thomas Cole, in his world renowned allegorical paintings, has used these sublime scenes with, perhaps, unequaled effects; and Church, Gifford, McEntee and many other artists have made many fine paintings of this region that have borne a record to its wonderful beauties; and although there are spots more sublime and imposing than these cliffs and gorges, yet the earth holds but a few more varied.
While the view from Pine Orchard, and vicinity is beautiful and delightful, it is grand and sublime.
he rose, the heavens rose,
And the far-gazing mountain could disclose
Naught but a wider earth;
Peak upon peak, range upon range.”
If one but look from these upper heights, upon the old but ever new, the same but ever-changing wonder of creation of a day, he will descend to the world from which he came a better and nobler man; if he be skeptical, he will wonder, and will at least feel thankful that the mountains were, are, and shall be, and that he has been permitted to witness, with them, the glories with which they are surrounded.
The whole topography of this region is diversified, and in some respects peculiar. The range is in no sense a chain of mountains, having no regular trend, conforming to no definite axis; and having no back bone at all, but on the contrary, consisting of more or less irregular groups, isolated peaks, short ranges, and “hog-backs,” scattered over their entire area – the highest in and about this territory. They slope in all possible directions, according to the position and course of the valleys and riverbeds adjacent. Like the grand old Lawrenthian Hills of Canada and other Archian mountains, they are bold and rugged, with some well defined peaks and extensive plateaus. Arnold Guyot, in one of his highly scientific papers, says:
“Still, several features of the Catskills are well calculated to excite in a high degree the curiosity of the scientific investigator, and to call for a thorough study of its plastic forms. Though situated in the midst of the Appalachian system, and evidently a part of it, it appears in it as an anomaly. While the Appalachian ranges, throughout the system, invariably trend from the southwest to the northeast, all of the chains of the Catskills run in an opposite direction, from the southeast to the northwest and west.”
To the tired traveler, oppressed with the heat and burden of the summer’s day, the very approach to this grand asylum, provided by mother Nature for her fainting children, is an inspiration of new life. From the first glimpse, when in the dim distance they are but vague outlines on the horizon, until he has left the plain and passed into their cool deep valleys, the massive portals of which close behind him, shutting out the world and its cares, the mountains promise rest. On the lofty heights, rising hundreds of feet above, perpetual coolness reigns and breezes blow. His fancy paints the innumerable treasures of dashing waterfall, placid lake, fragrant forest, cool nooks and mossy springs, hidden in the mountains fastnesses, and he longs, with the ardor or an explorer, to penetrate and unlock their secret hiding-places. Nor will he be disappointed. They are all in mountains, for, to quote from a recent writer on these delectable mountains:
“Everywhere, unguessed by the thousands who crowd the show places, to be found by patient climbing were, and must be still, sylvan nooks, deep, cool recesses far cleft in the green hills; with exquisite spray-brightened ferns and mosses, hid from direct sunshine, yet glowing with rich reflected light. Looking upwards there were narrow gleams of pure azure sky, seen between tossing sprays of the translucent golden green foliage of birch and beach and maple, over-arching far above. A tiny silver ribbon of a waterfall makes music and coolness as it leaps over mossy ledges, seeming a frail force indeed to have hollowed out of the everlasting hills these abysses walled with crags, and guarded with knotted and ancient trees. Sometimes one of these bower-like recesses will give you an outward vista, a glimpse of the soft blue plain far below, which, framed in arching twisted trees, offering strong contrasted effects of light and shade, harmonized by perfect color and enchanting form, makes a picture never to be forgotten.”
The Catskills have always been invested with mystery. To the Indians they were the dwelling place of a great and powerful spirit, who controlled the elements and created the sun, moon and stars, making them anew each day. In the eyes of the early Dutch settlers they were the glorified “overlook” from which the great Hudson watched the whole river which he discovered, and which bears his name; and this superstition, crystallized and invested with form by the magic pen of Irving, has made them most famous. Of all American fairy tales, none is sweeter or prettier than those of “The Catskill Fairies.” Many romances by the most celebrated of novelists have been more or less descriptive of their beautiful scenery.
THE NATURAL HIGHWAYS
“This is the
forest primeval. The murmuring
pines and the hemlock,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, in-
distinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic.
“This is the forest primeval; but where are the
hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland
The voice of the huntsman?”
The mountain cloves in their primeval state were the natural highways for the roving savages from earliest times, and well defined trails were to be seen leading up through the several cloves westward when the white man first explored this region. The savages who made these gorges a means of communication prior to the terrible conflict on Roger’s Island belonged to tribes in central New York, and the scattering clans of the river or Mohican Indians who had their wigwams pitched in the various river valleys. Among them were the Mengua clans of the Minnisinks, Nauticokes, Mincees and Delawares. Other Indians in later years, such as those renegades from the various tribes belonging to the confederation known as the Six Nations, who so barbarously affiliated with Sir William Johnson and his tory band, probably often passed through the Kaaterskill and Plaaterkill Cloves by the trails leading by the lakes, and by the latter along the banks of the Schoharie Kill among whose hills it is cradled. These renegades, remnants from the tribes of the Mohawks, Mohicans, Tuscaroras, Delawares and Oneidas, it seems, gathered around an old French Indian who had been taken prisoner by the Mohawks and married a wife of that tribe, and who is accredited as settling Schoharie, and who certainly sold and gave deeds therein. As above stated they were not at peace with the whites, and were enemies of the Mohawks. It was this band who acted in unison with Brant’s party and abetted his movements; though dwelling in Albany county, some three hundred warriors strong, they were often in communication by trade and otherwise with the Dutch, and were thus fitted for their treacherous work. Their encampments prior to the Revolution were frequently made on the shores of the lakes, and near where the Laurel House now stands, where the deer runs were located. But after the battle of the island and its treaty resulting in neutrality for upward of sixty years, this territory above the cloves was comparatively uninhabited save by the wild beasts and birds of the forest, and these few roving Indians. And it so existed upon the advent of the white settler as the statement of Lieutenant-Colonel Bradstreet verifies. It is undisputed that this region was the rendezvous of many of those unscrupulous men termed tories, who acted as leaders and guides to the Indians in their expeditions to the more southern settlements for plundering, burning, taking captives and murdering, and who had supplies of provisions concealed in different parts of the forest. These men instead of being termed tories should have received a more heinous title. They were not men but rather fiends. This offensive name, it is true, applied to all persons who took sides with Great Britain in that war and to all persons who even leaned that way, but there should have been a stronger appellation than even tory cow-boys, or skinners, to men who would steal, kill, and deliver to torture a neighbor, and even their kith and kin. Well founded traditions in well known and reputable families below the Plaaterkill detailing accounts of the tortures and sufferings of their patriotic ancestors go to establish the truth of these periods. They were not the settlers from Putnam county, but men who had even lived for years within the bounds of Albany and Ulster counties. One of their most infamous rendezvous was situated high up on the side of the mountains northwest of the Plaaterkill, from which a view of a wide extent of country below could be had. At this spot they had built a small stone fort, partially against the steep grade of the mountain, around which was a log stockade, fronting what is now called Tory Swamp. The remains of this notorious structure are yet to be seen. Here at frequent intervals were quartered the braggart-fiend, and half-breed Brant, and his savage followers; and from here he could watch and decide where to descend to prey upon the inhabitants of the lower regions; and here met in council the Indian chiefs and the merciless tories; here were the captives brought, some to meet death by torture, others to be brained by the tomahawk, and others spared only for the ransom awaiting their delivery to Sir William Johnson, from whose hands they were sent to different Canadian prisons. Among these were Captain Jeremiah Snyder and his son Elias, *Frederick Schermerhorn [*More fully related in History of Cairo.], David Abeel and his son Anthony; zealous Whigs, intelligent and worthy men, whose stories of their captivity as read in the work of the unfortunate and lamented Charles Rockwell are exceedingly touching.
The atrocities of that unequal struggle are now but history; the Indian raider is no more; his trail has disappeared; his fort is but ruins; the disguised Britisher will no more assist at massacres, and glory in the success of his military strategy. “Times effacing fingers” have softened down the asperities of that period. But let us, in visiting the site of this historic rendezvous, forget not the lesson its history teaches, and thank God for being a few steps removed from that period; and thank him not the less fervently for the glorious advance in our civilization.
THREE REMARKABLE CLOVES
In Hunter are three of the few famous cloves. They extend quite through the mountains, and join each other at nearly right angles. The first of these is along the Schoharie Creek, and its southerly continuation, that of the Plaaterkill; the second that of the Kaaterskill (Katerskill or Cauterskill); the third being Stony Clove, with its remarkable wildness.
Of the Plaaterkill region and the upper valley of the Schoharie, T. Addison Richards thinks it is scarcely less fruitful in the picturesque than the Kaaterskill, while it retains more of its native luxuriance and wildness, and many have given it the precedence of all mountain scenery, in its rugged grandeur and widely varied magnificence and beauty. Its banks rise in colossal mountain walls, towering high in air, and groaning, with all their mighty strength, beneath the weight of their dense forests. The stream which makes its rugged way in this gorge, in the course of its short mountain career of two miles, falls over 2,500 feet. Plaaterkill Clove is some six miles south of the Kaaterskill, and may be entered from the lowlands at the eastern base of the mountains, or from the upper heights to the west, where South Peak rises a monarch among these hills, with its crown lifted 4,000 feet above these valleys so filled with remarkable localities, and whose shadow hovers over ravines, each wrapped in their legendary lore. The old road through this clove overhangs a fearful chasm, and with its raging stream on the right as one descends, is a very rude and rough one. On the other side, however, a turnpike company has laid a road from the base of the mountain upward which is much easier of ascent. In a recent number of Harpers’ Monthly, this notch is thus described:
“Eighteen waterfalls may be counted in a walk up this clove, and the wild grandeur of the scene has defied almost every pen and pencil. The Kaaterskill and Stony Cloves are more frequented and less hazardous than the grand old Plaaterkill, and almost as beautiful, yet with the latter we must feel the sympathy that one gives a defiant conqueror. It rests – captive if you like – by the present day, in one sense, but boldly suggestive of the days when its first inhabitants lived in it without touching one stone or curve, one stream or angle, that nature had set there, and the steady stream of progress, or perhaps better, tourists may go on another fifty years before Plaaterkill Clove will succumb to the imperious claims of man.”
The Kaaterskill Clove, with its imposing grandeur, magnificence and beauty, winding in and out and up and down with every variety of mountain and forest scenery, breaking off where the roads somewhat sternly divide, going up to the various points and peaks on which are the palatial mountain hotels, has from the time of the earliest settlement been better known than either of the others. Dark forests, rugged, barren and towering walls and cliffs, and fanning mountains form the framework of this defile in its eight miles course, terminating on the plateau which commences at Haines’ Falls, and upon which the whole of Tannersville rests. The waters of this region flow toward the Hudson; those of the table-like lands having their source near Tannersville proper, and those of the lakes in a gentle outlet, which in numerous cascades finds its way over the rocks to the valley below, where their waters are mingled with the main stream that comes tumbling down, down over a chaotic bed of water-worn rocks from its meadow-like source. No more charming stretch of mountain brook, no grander succession of rock-forms can easily be imagined than is found along the tortuous course of this stream from Haines’ Falls to the mouth of this cadaverous gorge, unless it be that of its neighbor, the Plaaterkill. These falls for the first few hundred feet pass through a long, deep, narrow notch of a peculiarly varied wildness, and rude and imposing impressiveness and grandeur. The stream here in summer is quite small, but, by a dam, is saved with miserly care for the visitor, so that at intervals a full stream of water can be let on, sufficient to reproduce the freshet-fall of the spring. The fall has two leaps, the first 150 feet, where it strikes on a broad, flat rock platform, and soon makes another in a scattering cascade fountain-like fall of 80 feet, with a third one below of 60 feet, and others still, so that in less than one-fourth of a mile the stream falls 470 feet. The water in the two upper falls breaks up into snow masses, like ghosts of naiads, plunging to the pool below in a wreathed procession, their shadowy arms upheld, and twining with each other their misty fingers. The third and fourth of them, from a narrow flood at their brink, spread in their descent over the sloping surface of the rocks to a broad and minutely broken sheet at the base, like a web of pearl and silver gathered together at one end in the hand, and suffered to flow over the surface of a terraced cone, in exquisite folds and fringes. At the foot of the fourth fall there is a covert of mossy and lichened coolness, all silver-starred with dew, roofed in by huge projecting tablets of rock, and at noon beautiful with an arched portal of rainbow. The fifth fall is higher, and from it you can look backward and upward and see the whole succession of cataracts you have descended. Winding a little to the left, the snowy surface of the headlong brook seems one continuous tissue of foaming silver, now narrowing to a ribbon, now spreading to a rainbowed sheet, curving down a bowery vista of forest foliage, through which it reveals its beauty in coy glimpses, without a single pool where it stops to dally or to rest. In this gorge, Gifford, Cole, McEntee, Kensett and Whittridge have drawn their happiest inspirations. And so runs on this wonderful stream, giving the Fawn’s Leap, where the waters plunge into a seething gulf between the cleft rocks and then flow gently to make still greater plunges into darker depths a short distance below. This has been called Fawn’s Leap from the story of a young deer having here escaped a hunter and his dog that pursued it to the verge of the chasm; the fawn leaped it, but the dog, attempting to follow, fell into the gulf and was drowned. By some less poetical than others the place is called “Dogs Hole.” It is near here that its branch, the Little Kaaterskill, has its confluence, made so famous by Cooper’s genius:
“But there’s a place, a short two miles back of that very hill, that in late times I relished better than the mountains; for it was more kivered by the trees, and more nateral [sic].’
‘And where was that?’ inquired Edwards, whose curiosity was strongly excited by the simple description of the hunter.
‘Why there’s a fall in the hills, where the water of two little ponds that lie near each other breaks out of their bounds, and runs over the rocks into the valley. The stream is, may be, such a one as would turn a mill, if so useless a thing was wanted in the wilderness. But the hand that made that ‘Leap’ never made a mill! There the water comes crooking and winding among the rocks, first so slow that a trout could swim in it, and starting and running just like any creater [sic] that wanted to make a far spring, till it gets to where the mountains divides [sic] like the cleft hoof of a deer, leaving a deep hollow for the brook to tumble into. The first pitch is nigh two hundred feet, and the water looks like flakes of driven snow afore it touches the bottom; and there the stream gathers itself together again for a new start, and maybe flutters over fifty feet of flat rock, before it falls for another hundred, when it jumps about from shelf to shelf, first turning this-a-way and then turning that-a-way, striving to get out of the hollow, till it finally comes to the plain.’
‘I have never heard of this spot before!’ exclaimed Edwards; ‘it is not mentioned in the books.’
‘I never read a book in my life,’ said Leather-Stocking; ‘and how should man who has lived in towns and schools know anything about the wonders of the woods! No, no, lad; there has that little stream of water been playing among them hills since He made the world, and not a dozen white men have ever laid eyes upon it. The rock sweeps like mason-work, in a half-round, on both sides of the fall, and shelves over the bottom for fifty feet; so that when I’ve been sitting at the foot of the first pitch, and my hounds have run into the caverns behind the sheet of water, they’ve looked no bigger than so many rabbits. To my judgment, lad, it’s the best piece of work that I’ve met with in the woods; and none know how often the hand of God is een in a wilderness, but them that rove in it for a man’s life’
‘What becomes of the water? In which direction does it run? Is it a tributary of the Delaware?’
‘Anan!’ said Natty.
‘Does the water run into the Delaware?’
‘No, no it’s a drop for the old Hudson; and a merry time it has till it gets down off the mountain. I’ve sat on the shelving rock many a long hour, boy, and watch the bubbles as they shot by me, and thought how long it would be before that very water which seemed made for the wilderness, would be under the bottom of a vessel, and tossing in the salt sea. It is a spot to make a man solemnize. You can see right down into the valley that lies to the east of the High-peak, where, in the fall of the year, thousands of acres of woods are before your eyes in the deep hollow, and along the side of the mountain, painted like ten thousand rainbows, by no hand of man, though not without the ordering o of God’s providence.’
‘Why you are eloquent, Leather-Stocking,’ exclaimed the youth.”
A few rods below the confluence this mountain road crosses the stream over a rustic bridge at the foot of a sheer precipice, whose outlines, from a proper position above the bridge, resemble the profile of a human face, and which is called Profile Rock. The brook runs on and down, skirted by the road which struggles at times for a hold with only a narrow space between the base of a high mountain on one side, and steep precipices on the other, and for a half a mile further traverses a shelf cut from the mountain side 200 feet above the stream that has found its bed in depths so dark as to be hardly visible. And so brook and road enter within the bounds of Catskill town. The road was built in a rude way early in the present century, and as it was the only highway to the uplands was soon ceded to a turnpike company, who have since kept it in good repair. The frosts and the spring freshets have often caused heavy land slides, and the toll has barely kept it from indebtedness since the discontinuance of the extensive tanning establishment of Kiersted, which was located about one-half way up the clove, the region of its site being marked by the numerous foundations of a vanished village, which at one time represented a school district of over 200 individuals. It was built by a Mr. Quackenboss.
Besides the accidents incident to the tanning business and its dangerous component, the gathering of bark from the forest monarchs even from the highest and most ragged points, other accidental deaths and suicides have given this clove a sad notoriety. Mr. Norman Gray, for many years a prominent citizen of Hunter, and often one of its town officers, and long the host of the hospitable tavern at Tannersville Four Corners, was thrown from his carriage into one of the deep ravines. His horses, becoming unmanageable, backed off the steep bank, when he fell, his head striking a stone, leaving him senseless and causing his death soon after. He is said to have been an earnest democrat and a bitter opponent of Abraham Lincoln’s administration, and this occurring after ostentatious demonstrations immediately following the news of the assassination, was looked upon by his opponents as a sort of retribution.
Stony Clove is the natural highway to the southern Katzberg region and to Rondout. It is a deep, narrow pass through the chain of Mink and Hunter Mountains, whose trend tends southwesterly. It is shut in on either side by lofty precipices, wild and steep, and yet where well nigh perpendicular, the sides are covered with a deep, green mantle of plants and shrubs. In its caves and recesses can be found large quantities of ice and snow in mid-summer. It has its weird legends and Indian traditions, and many of the romantic spots are yet pointed out to the inquiring visitor; the Indian Maiden’s Cliff, from which she threw herself when fleeing with her lover from the wigwam of her native village and her tribe’s wrath; the devil’s pulpit and tombstone, etc. There is a wild mountain stream with a small, marshy lake for its source; a brook at first it soon finds a wider bed, and has its peculiar cascades that run on and down in many silvery forms, purling, in a brooklet sort of a song in their seclusiveness deep down in the evergreen covered retreats. There are no falls with any worked individuality, but the scene as a whole forms a picture of interesting wildness, and before the encroachment of the Hunter and Stony Clove Railroad, a striking one, embodying solitude. The stream abounds in trout. Lower down than the narrowest portion of this defile is situated the small settlement of Edgewood, due mostly to the enterprise and energy of Hon. H.S. Lockwood & Co., whose extensive manufactory of chair stock furnishes work for a large force of men.
Further down the stream is Nealville, named from the present esteemed proprietor, J.V. Neal, who established there a chair manufactory and saw-mill. It was afterwards the property of others, and was eventually bought by Mr. Neal, who re-built the manufactory and dam, which is now operated by J.V. Neal & Sons, who are doing their share of the business. Mr. Neal is also the merchant of that vicinity, and at Nealville is located a Western Union telegraph office. Still lower down is Lanesville, named from its early pioneer, Peter R. Lane, who came within the bounds of Greene county about 1830. It is a small settlement and its few citizens are mostly farmers, among them are Edward Lane, Orrin B. Crosby and the genial post-master Mr. Barber, who keeps a small general store. The other early settlers were the Martins, Connolly, William Barber, Jacob D. Lane, Robert Kerr, H.D. Devall, Mr. Fairchild and a few others. Their chief business from earliest dates has been lumbering, and the stream abounds in old mill and dam sites, many owned and run by the above men. At present there are but a few in operation, but to locate the sites by other methods than a map would be impossible.
Amos Connolly was the first settler near Stony Clove proper. This was prior to 1849. He was the first man to run a wagon over the road built by Colonel Edwards. John Martin came into the clove in 1849, where he has since resided.
There are but a few indeed who were born prior to the great Rebellion and civil strife of 1861-65 who have not attended and old-fashioned singing-school. This form of evening entertainment antedates the spelling-school many decades. It was an occasion of much jollity, wherein it was difficult for the average singing-master to preserve order, as many went more for fun than music. It was a grand place for courting. The swain, with an Odeon, Mason, or Billings’ Harmony under his arm as a passport, could ride up to the log fence, tie his horse with some assurance, and ask the young lady to “go to the singing-school.” The invitation was generally accepted with the query, “will your horse carry double,” which was answered in the affirmative of course, though not always strictly true, for, unless the young lady would hold on mightily, (which she usually did) she was liable to fall off. But few however would meet with this mishap, and they would get to the log school-house safe enough and back all right, if some fellow didn’t cut the first one out. This made a rough experience and sometimes a fight. In those early days the singing-schools were held during the fall months, but after the advent of the high-back box sleigh the sport of the sleigh-ride was part of the entertainment and good sleighing was a necessity for the success of the school – but how many of them were prevented by mud and rain! Perhaps a greater part of the time from November to April, the schools were held, and the roads during the earlier and latter part of the term would be muddy and often half frozen, which would have a very dampening and freezing effect upon the souls, as well as the bodies of the young people who longed for a good time on such occasions.
The old-time method of conducting a singing-school was somewhat different from that of the later ones. It was more plodding and heavy, the attention being kept upon the simplest rudiments, as the names of the notes on the staff, and their pitch and beating time, while comparatively little attention was given to expression and light, gleeful music. The alto was written above the soprano. The tunes were slow. The notes, at first square, were superseded by the “patent” or “buckwheat” notes from their peculiar shape. In these earlier days they were designated semi-brevi, minims, crotchets, quavers, semi-quavers and demi-semi-quavers, etc., answering to our whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth and thirty-second notes. In the days of the “buckwheat” note there were four in which the round one was called sol, the square one la, the triangular one fa, and the diamond shaped one mi, pronounced me; and the diatonic scale, or “gamut,” as it was called then, ran thus: fa, sol, la, fa, sol, la, mi, fa. The part of the tune nowadays called soprano was then called “treble,” and what is now called alto or contralto was then “counter,” and when sung according to those rules, was sung by a female an octave higher than marked, and still on the “chest register.” The old Mission Harmony and Mason’s Sacred Harp were books with this style of musical notation, which are yet to be found stored away in the attics of the older residents.
At a later period the “round note” system was introduced. The scale is our present standard. The Carmina Sacra was the pioneer round note book, in which the tunes partook of the German or Puritan character, and were generally regarded by the old folks as being more spiritless than the old Pisgah, Fiducia, Tender Thought, New Durham, Windsor, Mount Zion, Devotion, etc., of the old Mission Harmony tradition.
Such were the schools and the books used when Deacon Buel and Ichabod Andrews fa-soled, and explained the gamut to the fathers and mothers of the present generation. The former, a leading citizen, was also many years the leader of the choir in the Presbyterian church. He annually kept the singing-school at the Heights, at which, no doubt, the “question was popped” that resulted in the marriage of many of the young couples living in this county in the years 1800 to 1835. There were in those days an absence of private rooms, top-buggies, and long quiet somber lanes, and all modern appliances for a private and mysterious courtship, but, notwithstanding all of this, there wee very few old bachelors. The boys and girls who courted at these schools got married and remained married. Divorces were rarely heard of. They considered it better to fight it out on the old plan than be disgraced by a divorce, and this they would recommend to people of today, if they could, who enjoy the benefits of refinement and social culture, and the teaching of polite literature.
The la-fa-ing, Deacon Buel, his tuning fork, the buckwheat notes, the gamut and the books – the old-time happy customs – have passed away, nor would it be in a progressive spirit to lament their departure, but they surely should be credited with the influence they gave to the development of our advanced civilization of to-day.
The chief public evening entertainment forty or fifty years ago was the celebrated spelling-school, and at times the lyceum. Both young and old looked forward to the next spelling-school with as much anticipation and anxiety as we nowadays look forward to a general fair celebration, and when the time arrived, the whole neighborhood, and sometimes several neighborhoods, would flock together to the scene of orthographical combat, where the excitement was often more intense than had been expected. It was far better, of course, when there was good sleighing, and for this reason most of these entertainments were given by the scholars of the “winter terms,” when the school had the back seats filled with big boys and big girls, and a master for teacher. The scholars would hurry home after school, bustle through their chores, and hitching either oxen or horses to a sled or sleigh, would turn out in high glee, fairly beside themselves. The jollity is scarcely equaled at the present day by anything in vogue.
When the appointed hour arrived, the usual plan of commencing battle was for two of the young people who might agree to play against each other, or who might be selected to do so by the school-master of the district, to “choose sides;” that is, each contestant, or “captain,” as she or she was generally called, would choose the best speller from the assembled crowd, beginning with the best and so chosing [sic] down to the poorest. As each captain would choose alternately, the ultimate strength of the respective parties would be about equal. When all were chosen who could be made to serve, each side would “number,” so as to ascertain whether amid the confusion one captain had more spellers than the other. In case he had, some compromise would be made by the aid of the teacher, the master of ceremonies, and then the plan of conducting the campaign, or counting the misspelled words, would be canvassed a moment by the captains, sometimes by the aid of the master and others. There were many ways of conducting the contest and keeping tally. Every district had several favorite methods, and all or most of them were different from what other communities had. At one time they would commence spelling at the head; at another time at the foot; at one time they would “spell across,” that is the first one on one side would spell the first word, and the next would be spelled by the first one on the other side; next the second in line on each side alternately, down to the other end of each line. The question who should spell the first word was determined by the captains guessing what page the teacher would have before him in a partially open book at a distance; the captain guessing the nearest would spell the first word pronounced. When a word was missed it would be re-pronounced, or passed along without re-pronouncing (as some teachers followed the rule never to re-pronounce a word) until it was finally spelled correctly. If a speller on the opposite side finally spelled the missed word correctly, it was a gain of one for that side; if the word was finally corrected by some speller on the same side on which it originated as a missed word, it was “saved,” and no tally mark was made.
Another popular method was to commence at one end of the line of spellers and go directly around, and the missed words were caught up quickly and corrected by “word-catchers,” appointed by the captains from among their best spellers. These word-catchers would attempt to correct all of the words missed on their opponents’ side, and failing to do this, the catcher on the other side catch him up with a peculiar jest and then there was fun!
Still another very interesting, though somewhat disorderly method, was this: each word-catcher would go to the foot of his adversary’s line, and every time “catched” a word he would go up one, thus “turning them down,” in regular spelling-class style. When one catcher in this way turned all down on the opposing side, his own party was victorious, by as many as the opposing catcher was behind. This method required no slate or blackboard tally to be kept.
One turn by either of the foregoing or other methods, would occupy forty minutes to an hour, and by this time an intermission of recess was had, when the buzzing, cackling, and hurrahing that ensued for ten or fifteen minutes were beyond description.
Coming to order again, the next style of battle was to “spell down,” by which process it was ascertained who was the best speller, and could continue standing as a soldier the longest. But very often a good speller would inadvertently miss a word in an early stage of the contest and would have to sit down humiliated, while a comparatively poor speller would stand till nearly or quite to the last, amid the cheers of the assemblage. Sometimes the two parties first “chosen up” in the evening would re-take their places after recess, so that by the “spelling down” process there would virtually be another rally in another form; sometimes there would be a new “choosing up” for the “spelling down” contest; and sometimes the spelling down would be conducted without any party lines being made. It would occasionally happen that two or three very good spellers would retain the floor so long that the exercise would become monotonous, when a few outlandish words like “chevaux-de-frise,” “omphalopsychite,” “syzygy,” or “baugh-naugh-claughber,” as they used to spell it sometimes, would create a little ripple of excitement to close with. Sometimes these words would decide the contest, but generally when two or three good spellers kept the floor until the exercises became wearisome, the master would declare the race closed, and the standing spellers acquitted with a “drawn game.”
The audience dismissed, the next thing was to go home, very often by a round about way, “a sleighing with the girls,” – the prevailing idea being that “the furtherest way round was the nearest way home” and this, of course, was with many the most interesting part of the evening’s performance. The later custom of combining the “speaking of pieces” by the more talented, and the debating of a previously announced question by wiser heads of the neighborhood and the reading of a paper “edited” by a few of the young ladies made the exercises more interesting and varied.
This wild recreation was and is a peculiar one, and many a study mountaineer in this vicinity glories in excelling in this art. With a box in which is a piece of honey he starts out on a sunny June day for some point remote from a settlement, which is profuse with some honeyed flower. Upon a stand, a stump, a log or a rock, he sets this box in which is a sliding glass cover, and awaits the coming of a bee. Bees are attracted from considerable distances by the odor of burnt honey, and it is by burning honey on flat stones that he is enabled to first attract their attention. Having induced one to enter the box he closes it and watches him through the glass as he fills himself with honey or the product of some sweet leaf or bud. He then draws the glass and carefully notes the particular direction taken by it as it strikes a “bee line” for its home. If this “bee line” runs in the direction of a settlement, or where domesticated bees are known to be hived, he moves to another point and again sets the trap. When a bee takes a flight toward the mountains in a direction known to be uninhabited, he follows the line by compass until he finds the home, which is generally high up in the hollow of some tree. The tree is then marked, and in the winter it is cut down and the honey secured as quickly as possible before it is wasted through the broken walls in which it had been so carefully stored by its busy little owners. Several gallons are generally secured, but as high as 1,200 pounds are said to have been taken from a single tree and by a very little work, and pleasant at that. By the time the honey is a year old it turns white and granulates, yet in this state it is as good and healthful as when fresh. This is called by some “candied honey.” There are many hives of domesticated bees in the county, and this product is quite a source of income to the farmers, some of whom have forty to fifty hives.