Return to the Catskills

by Carl Ratsch
Veteran of World War II


Published by Big Acorn Press, Oak Hill, NY
Copyright 1946, by Carl Ratsch

Courtesy of Linda Larsen
Transcribed by Scott Wichmann


RETURN TO THE CATSKILLS

Chapter I:  The Catskills

Chapter II:  History and Legends

Chapter III:  Nature Notes

Chapter IV:  Twenty-five Places of Interest

Chapter V:  Our Six Seasons

Chapter VI:  Living in the Catskills

 

Original Cover Design
by
George C. Mulhauser, Jr.

IN APPRECIATION

            My person thanks to the following, whose friendly, willing and helpful cooperation is sincerely appreciated: Carl Ratsch  March 1946

United States Dept. of the Interior
Geological Survey
State of New York—Dept. of Commerce
Division of State Publicity
Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation
Ed Huben
Naturalist Vernon Haskins  

Chapter I.

THE CATSKILLS

(Photo:  “View from Oak Hill”   Photo by DeLaMater

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A View of the Mountains

Less than a hundred miles north of New York City on the west bank of the majestic Hudson River rise the Catskill Mountains—beautiful green-clad ranges with picturesque streams, gorges and waterfalls.  Through scenic valleys wind modern highways that connect the many thriving small towns.  These modern towns, nestled among the Catskills, still retain the charm and quaintness characteristic of the section when Washington Irving’s legendary character Rip Van Winkle roamed the hills.

Here, since early Colonial times, have come visitors and vacationists in ever increasing numbers, for the Catskills have long been famed as a “friendly vacation land.”  Today it is the second largest recreational area on the eastern seaboard and in 1945 accommodated 500,000 visitors.

The Catskill Mountain region is bounded on the north by the northern boundary of Greene County; on the east by the Hudson River; on the southeast by the Rondout Valley; and a part of the Delaware watershed in Delaware County.  The Catskill Mountain range occupies 1400 square miles and is a part of the Allegany plateau.  The Catskills are mainly in Greene and Ulster Counties, but also spread into many beautiful and pleasant country towns in Sullivan and Delaware Counties.

The central part of this region is known as the Catskill Park and includes 576,120 acres, 200,000 of which are owned by the state.  An escarpment of precipitous mountains rims the northeast part of the park in Greene County.  An elevating railroad used to raise visitors up this escarpment to the old Catskill Mountain House, where an inspiring view can be had of the vast valley and low-lands to the southeast.  Visitors in the North Lake camp site sector can see this impressive view of river, mountains and valley.  Deep ravines cut into this rugged terrain and there is scenery as wild and rough as parts of the Rockies.  Many mountain streams run along the deep ravines and gullies, still known by the old Dutch term of “clove.”

Most of the rich green of these mountain sides is from the forest of hardwood trees, mingled with pine and hemlock.  As one nears the higher summits the trees become shorter, blending into spruce growths.

This countryside, then, was that which many young men and I left behind when we entered the Army.  We had lived most of our lives in the Catskills.  We enjoyed their natural beauty, their picturesque scenery and the background of pleasant country living.

I esteemed these mountains as fully as anyone, probably more than many.  They meant HOME.  Then, along with thousands of others, I went from state to state with the Army—to the sandy pine-lands of South Carolina, the hills and swamps of Louisiana, the deserts of Arizona and the mountains of West Virginia.

Naturally, all along the way I compared their scenery with that of my native mountains and found that the Catskills possessed a combination of many of their best points in climate, grandeur and comfortable living.

Hawaii is attractive.  Steep, winding Pali Pass on the Island of Oahu is breath-taking, but you’ll find a similar thrill only four hours from New York along the Mohican Trail as it winds up East Windham Mountain.  The many islands in the south and western Pacific offer palm trees in their scenery, but there are swamps and tangled wildernesses in the Catskills that are as exotic as jungles and you won’t have to fear cobras, jungle fever, dengue and many other ills of the tropics!  The stately, blue Hudson is more grand than any river I have ever seen either in the United States or abroad.

Here in the Catskills you get a bit of “seashore” along the river or larger creeks.  They say the rolling hills are much like parts of Scotland and Normandy.  The taller peaks offer climbing that in some places equals that of the Alps.

 There are many types of crops and occupations, a number of natural resources—plus a colorful history and wealth of legend, all set among scenery fit for any painter’s brush.

Folks who go away from these mountain sides, men and women of the Armed Services—remember that these lovely mountains hold most of life’s worth-while things, and are mighty glad to return to the Catskills.

[photo]  

[photo:  Woodland Stream near Palenville]

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CHAPTER II

HISTORY AND LEGENDS

The Indians of the old Catskills were sub-tribes of the great Algonquin Nation, one learns from old burial grounds and the type of stone arrow-points found.

In the early 17th Century the banks of the Hudson were occupied by the Lenni Lanapes (Delawares) and the Mohicans.  The head tribe of the Lenni Lanapes was the Minsis, who lived in the foothills of our Catskills, in parts that are now the dividing line of Greene and Ulster Counties.  The Warranawonkongs were a subdivision of this tribe.  These Indians lived in circular wigwams, ten to twelve feet in diameter.  They raised corn, squash, tobacco, beans and sunflowers, cultivating their little plots of ground with the shoulder blades of moose or deer, or clam shells fastened to a stick of wood.

An old Indian trail followed the Catskill Creek from the Hudson River to the Schoharie Valley.  Some traces of it may still be found.

The first “summer visitor” to the Catskills was Hendrick Hudson when he anchored north of Catskill on the evening of September 15, 1609, while sailing up the river that now bears his name.  His ship was the “Half Moon,” an eighty-ton capacity ship of the Dutch East India Company.  Hudson, like most of the sailors of that time, was seeking a shorter route to the Indies, and little realized he had found a fertile countryside that would one day become one of the first centers of agriculture and manufacturing in Eastern New York.  History tells us that the Catskill Indians came out to visit the ship on the 16th, bringing corn, tobacco, squash and pumpkins.  The sailors traded with them with sundry trinkets.  By Hudson’s exploration of this territory, possession was taken by the Dutch, and in 1614 a fort and trading post was built on the Rondout Creek at the present site of Kingston.

On April 19, 1649, Brandt Van Schlechtenhorst purchased a tract on the Catskill Creek from the squaw chief Pewasck and her son Supahoof.  Most of the lands in the Catskill lowlands were purchased by individuals in small parcels from the Indian proprietors.

The Old Dutch Church at Kingston was organized in 1659.  Its cemetery contains the grave of George Clinton, first governor of New York State.  The Bronck House at Coxsackie was built about 1663.  A colony of Palatinates at West Camp (1710-1711) were among the first attempts at settlement in this region.

The western portion of Greene County was mainly part of the 2,000,000 acre Hardenburgh Patent granted under Queen Anne in 1708.

A line running west from the mouth of Sawyer’s Creek (Saugerties) formed the first definite political boundry between Greene and Ulster Counties in 1733.  The Leeds bridge was in use in 1760 and many immigrants from Connecticut came to northern Greene County after that date.  The settlement near Greenville was made by Major Provost and others in 1768.  Outlaws sought refuge in the higher, more rugged peaks of the mountains prior to the Revolution.

A few Dutch families settled on the Batavia Kill during the Revolution, but Tories and Indians harassed them so much that they had to abandon their homes.  The Dutch also made a settlement at Prattsville.  Among them were the families of John Laraway, the Schoonmakers and Vroomans.

Most early highways, called Turnpikes, were built by companies organized to build them.  Toll gates were located at strategic points to collect tolls or fees, used to reimburse the builders and to maintain the road.  The Susquehanna Turnpike from Catskill to the Susquehanna River (1801) is one of the better known, and the quaint rugged milestones are still to be seen along portions of this road covered by Routes 23 and 145.

In 1852 a company was organized to establish a plank road between Coxsackie and Oak Hill, using wooden planks for road surface.

Old King Highway, from New York to Albany, followed the river through Ulster and Greene Counties.  A well-travelled stage route extended from Cairo through Windham, Roxbury, Stamford to Unadilla.

The Canajoharie and Catskill Railroad was started in 1838, but only reached Cooksburg.  It was made of wooden rails capped with iron straps.  It was not a success.  It is possible to follow miles of the old road-bed along the Catskill Creek.

The Catskill Mt. Railroad ran from Catskill to Palenville and connected to the old Otis Elevating Railroad that climbed the Escarpment to the old Mountain House.  It recently ceased operation after running since 1881.  A railroad was established in the late 19th Century connecting Kingston Point and the central portion of the Catskills, passing through Phoenicia and along Stony Clove Creek.

Early Catskill Mt. industries were producing dairy products, fruit, vegetables, tobacco, hops, grain, maple syrup, wool, honey and livestock.  Ice was harvested along the river and streams.  As early as 1850 the hemlock forests invited the tanneries which used the bark, although in 1830 Greene County produced more leather than the rest of New York State!  Ship building was an early industry and brick making is still being carried on in some localities.

Local wool went to the section’s own carding, fulling and dyeing mills; local trees supplied the coopers.  Grist mills and sawmills were plentiful.  Dean’s mill at Oak Hill, known for their prepared buckwheat flour, is one of the few remaining.

Foundries were well distributed and Oak Hill, having several, was an early manufacturing center in the Catskills.  Prior to 1844 a foundry was established there for making plows.

Some of the old residents remember the stories about Barney Butts—the Daniel Boone of the Catskills!  He was born near Hensonville in 1799.  A man of powerful physique, he established a reputation as a mighty hunter and trapper.  He captured over 100 black bears, even keeping some for pets!  He killed countless wildcats and many wolves.  It is said he found and cut over 500 bee trees.  Barney died in 1882.

Among the famous who found inspiration in the Catskills were Cooper, Bryant, Burroughs, Longfellow, Cole and, more recently, George Stebbins, well-known and beloved hymn writer.  Especially outstanding is Washington Irving, whose legend of “Rip Van Winkle” is entirely Catskill Mountain background and the two have become closely associated.  Irving’s lovable character, Rip, started one day with his dog and gun to go hunting.  He was climbing an unfamiliar part of the hills when a storm arose.  He sought shelter and came upon a group of elves playing Nine-pins.  He had a few drinks with them and fell asleep.  Twenty years later he awoke, an old man; his gun rusty and the people in the village strangers.  Today you can see the place where old Rip went to sleep and on stormy nights you’ll hear the elves rolling the ball to hit the nine-pins.

Another legend, not so well known, is that of Chief Shandaken, whose daughter was wooed by Norsereddin, a paleface.  The daughter, Lotowana, turned down the proposal and planned to marry a Mohawk chief instead.  Norsereddin was angered.  He sent a tiny casket to her on her wedding day saying it contained a peace offering of jewels.  Instead, it contained an infernal machine that drove a poisoned dart into Lotowana’s hand when she opened it.  She died, and twenty braves were sent to apprehend Norsereddin, captured him and burned him on a pile of faggots.

At Stamford you will hear the legend of the pretty Indian maid Utsayantha and her sad romance with a tragic ending.  You can see Princess Utsayantha’s grave on the side of the mountain as you climb to the top to enjoy the fine view.

[photo:  Carvings in Rock at Prattsville]  

[photo:  High Rocks near Durham Center]

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CHAPTER III

NATURE NOTES

By Naturalist Vernon Haskins

To the lover of nature, the Catskill Mountain area will prove a never failing source of study.  Situated on the Atlantic migratory route, thousands of birds annually pass through.

To the robin, bluebird, wren, blue jay, crow, oriole, kingbird, swallows and the hawks and owls, loved by every American boy and girl, one may add those untold legions of the sparrow and warbler families.

Mighty V-formations of geese and great flocks of ducks migrate through this territory.  Starlings, hummingbirds, flickers, the woodpecker family, lovable chickadees, nuthatches, red-winged blackbirds, and the not-too-well-loved grackles are plentiful.

Ring-necked pheasants, grouse and wood-cock lure the hunter.  The mournful notes of the mourning-dove and the never-to-be-forgotten calls of the whip-poor-will and the cuckoo may often be heard.  When the vesper sparrow speeds the departing day, and the stars bedeck the sky, quiet and contentment fill the land.  But until one has wandered through the fields of new mown hay and heard the glorious song of the lark, much has been missed—for no words of man, no matter how lucid, can describe the melody of a meadow-lark song.

It is my firm belief that the student of birds will find in the Catskills a paradise of birddom and a variety beyond comparison.

When the song writer wrote of “Thy woods and templed hills” he must have had his eyes on the Catskills?  Here we have fertile valleys and steep hills with the stately trees bedecking their brows. The beloved elm, God’s masterpiece of form, shades our pastures and the lawns of many homes.  The maples, whether in the leafless time of winter, the green dress of spring and summer or all the glory of autumn, are simply “tops” with us.  Then the mighty oaks of our templed hills and our pastoral valleys are equal favorites.  Timbers from their massive bodies strengthen the mighty ships that sail the seven seas.

The hickory, beech, ash, poplar, locust, willow, birch and untold numbers of others make of the Catskills thousands of acres of natural forest land.  The pine, spruce and hemlocks in their evergreen beauty, march like stately soldiers up the mountainsides and fill the valleys with their beauty.  Their spreading arms shelter many denizens of the forest during the heat of summer and the storms of winter.

The lumber from the Catskills contributed in no small measure to the winning of the war and the building of the peace to come.  An aggressive reforestation program will preserve the future of our forest land and such a project is of vital importance.  The very ruggedness of our mountains and ravines are the only salvation of our woodland from the hungry axe and saw as they bite deeper and deeper into the forest fastness.

This area is well traversed with modern highways and is readily accessible to the motoring public, yet in spite of this fact some species of animal life are on the increase!  Notably, I would mention the Virgina or white-tailed deer.  Almost unknown in my boyhood, the deer population appears to be on a continual increase.  More than two hundred dandy bucks are shot annually in Greene County alone.  Still the deer are holding their own or increasing.

Several black bear are taken each year in the mountain region.  On the crisp fall nights, ‘coon hunting is still a favorite sport.  Foxes, both reds and grays, are plentiful.  Opossums, once almost unknown are increasing fast.  Mink, muskrat, weasels, while not too numerous, appear to be safe from extinction.  Gray, red and flying squirrels still hold sway in the tree tops.

The flower life of the Catskills is varied and well distributed.  From the first dandelion of spring until the last gentian and goldenrod of autumn, a continual parade occurs.  Notably, there is the lady slipper, hepatica, violets of purple, yellow and white, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Dutchman’s breeches, adder tongue and wild phlox.  Then of the flowering shrubs, the always loved pussy-willows, mountain laurel, rhododendron and pinkster are among the leaders.

To those of you who love to delve in the past, the Catskills offer a rich ground for the student of geology and palaeontology.  Fossilized remains of the oldest known forests were found in the Catskills and form a unique exhibit at the State Museum at Albany.  In my own collection are some excellent specimens of a club moss tree estimated to be more than 200,000,000 years old.  Indisputable proof of the glacial and ice age, and the fact that this land was once all under water, is written in the tell-tale shell imprints found on our highest mountains.  To one who earnestly studies and searches, rich finds await the follies hunter in the Devonian rocks and the so-called red-beds of the Catskills.

To the prospective archaeologist the past Indian history will prove attractive.  The Hudson and Schoharie Valleys, on either side of the region are rich in Indian history.  The Catskill Valley, connecting the two, was once well trod by moccasined feet of the red men as they waged war or traded in peace.

The pioneer history of the Catskills will go down in annals as a monument to those who wrested from a wilderness, a home and a livelihood.  Hardy settlers from all over the world, fleeing from oppression, found in the Catskills a peace and contentment that must have well repaid them for any sacrifice they made.

To those of you who may chance to read these words, I would like to extend this message:  It is my righteous conviction that until you have stood in one of our fast-water trout streams and cast a fly into that dark secluded nook, or followed a dog afield in the crisp morn of fall, you have not really lived.

Until you have stood on a hill top and seen the sun in all its glory, arriving to herald a new day, or marveled in its beauty at the day’s departing, you have truly missed much of the richness of life.  With all due respect to a beautiful, beautiful America, I honestly believe that no greater variety of all the beauties of life are to be found than here in the Land of Rip Van Winkle.

[Drawing:  birds]  

[Photo:  Scene at Catskill Game Farm]

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CHAPTER IV

1.  THE RIP VAN WINKLE TRAIL is a fine, scenic highway leading from the foothills at the base of the Catskills into the unfolding grandeur of the mountains themselves.  Kiskatom is noted for its interesting geologic formations.  Palenville is the “Falling Waters” of Irving’s legend and site of a cross section of mountain side dating back to the first stage of the formation of the Earth.  The Kaaterskill Cove extends from Palenville to Haines Falls.  Here Rip Van Winkle bowled with the elfin Dutchmen and had his twenty-year sleep!

2.  HORSESHOE CURVE is a wide U-curve in the Rip Van Winkle Trail between Palenville and Haines Falls.  A feat of engineering, the Horseshoe clings to the precipitous sides of the Clove, offering breath-taking views.

[Drawing:  Horseshoe Curve]

A bridge is at the curve of the horseshoe; underneath dashes a mountain brook.  Rip Van Winkle had his twenty-years sleep in these surroundings!  Visit Rip’s Lookout Point above the curve.

3.  NORTH LAKE is reached by turning north at Haines Falls on a good road.  It is one of the two Kaaterskill Lakes, a public campsite and part of the Catskill Park maintained by the State of New York.  North Lake is an attractive body of water and several varieties of pan fish may be caught here.  One may stroll through woodland glades, hike along marked trails, stop to look into bear caves, or rest atop Artist’s Rock to take in the unforgettable view from the escarpment.

[Drawing:  North Lake]

4.  PRATTS ROCKS are carvings in the side of steep rocks just outside the village of Prattsville, the center of admiration and interest.  It is said that an early settler carved them in memory of his wife.  The attractive Schoharie Creek runs along the edge of Prattsville village.  Lexington is south of Prattsville and offers dancing to real mountain music.

5.  GILBOA RESERVOIR was formed by a dam across the Schoharie Creek north of Prattsville in 1914 to augment the increasing needs of New York City for a water supply.  This artificial lake mirrors ridges and rocky glens.

[Drawing:  Petrified Stumps]

Part of the oldest know petrified forest was found here when the Gilboa dam was built.  Prattsville and Grand Gorge are nearby.

6.  COLONEL’S CHAIR.  A natural formation on one side of a 3200-foot mountain.  The Chair and Hunter Mountain (4052 feet, second highest in the Catskills) are at Hunter.  Jewett, Jewett Center, East Jewett, Onteora Park, Lanesville and Tannersville are in this rugged section of the Catskills.

7.  GREEN LAKE.  Located a few miles from Leeds, this fine, deep lake covers twenty-two acres.  It is spring-fed.  There is boating, swimming and fishing.  Two public beaches, readily accessible.

8.  POINT LOOKOUT is located at a turn in the Mohican Trail, above Cairo and Acra and before reaching East Windham.  The highway winds along a promontory jutting out high above the valley and affords a panoramic view of the Catskill Valley and five states.  There is a pavilion and tower.  Cornwallville, East Durham, South Durham and Sunside are nearby.  Impressive High Peak (3809 feet) stands behind Point Lookout.

[Drawing:  Point Lookout]

9.  TOWN OF DURHAM.  On the western boundry of this enterprising township are the peaks of mountains that make up one of the most delightful panoramas in the Catskills.  High Peak, 3505 feet; Mount Zoar, 2690 feet; Ginseng Mountain, 2790 feet; Mount Hayden, 2930 feet; Mount Nebo, 2650 feet; and Mount Pisgah, 2885 feet.  Picturesque country roads, trails and babbling brooks offer pleasant relaxation to the hiker, hunter, bicyclist and horse-back rider.  However a network of fine highways, including parts of Routes 145, 81, and 23, connect the pleasant villages of this town:  Oak Hill, Durham, East Durham, South Durham, West Durham, Durham Center, Hervey Street, East Windham, Wright Street, Cornwallville, Sunside.  The entrancing Catskill Creek flows along the eastern portion of the township and offers bathing, beautiful scenery and fishing.  There are many home-like hotels and boarding houses that specialize in palatable home cooked meals and whose tables are well supplied from the products of the nearby fruit, dairy and vegetable farms.

10.  GREENVILLE is a progressive section with an interesting historical background.  It offers tennis, bathing, dancing, movies, sports and entertainment.  Norton Hill, Freehold, Surprise, Grapeville and Lambs Corners are in this vicinity.  An early Greenville settlement was begun by Augustine Provost in 1794.

11.  DURHAM CENTER is a hamlet three miles north of East Durham.  A little red school house of long ago houses the Durham Center Museum with its collection of colonial items, antiques and rock fossils.  It may be opened to the public on special days.  Owned by Naturalist Vernon Haskins.  High Rocks are one-half mile off Route 145 at the Museum.

12.  TOWN OF CAIRO.  The western border of this township is made up of mountains that challenge even the expert climbers:  Burnt Knob, 3160 feet; Acra Point, 3085 feet; Black-head, 3934 feet, and Stoppel Point, 3425 feet.  The scenic Catskill Creek runs along the eastern portion of the town, providing fishing, swimming and sunning.  Located in the Town of Cairo are these pleasant villages:  Acra, with pure air spiced with cedar and pine; Purling, attractive in its peaceful and quiet setting—the magnificent elms along Main Street, Cairo with its activity and the many stores, churches, resorts and amusements.  The trotting races held at the Cairo Fairgrounds; South Cairo with its swimming and fishing in the Catskill Creek; Round Top is really rural as it nestles close to the lone 1440-foot mountain, from which it derives its name.

13.  GAME FARM.  A collection of many rare species of wild animals from various parts of the world.  Located at Lawrenceville off Route 32, south of Cairo.  Near the Cairo group of villages, and Kiskatom and Leeds.

[Drawing:  Catskill Game Farm]

Visitors are permitted to walk among the deer and llamas and to feed and pet them.  Enjoyment for the whole family.  Don’t miss this attraction!

14.  LEEDS BRIDGE.  Standing north of Catskill, it is the state’s oldest bridge in continual use.  It is a four-arch stone structure on Route 23 over which stage coaches rumbled in 1760.  Green Lake and South Cairo are nearby.

15.  RIP VAN WINKLE BRIDGE at Catskill.  This modern steel span carries Route 23 across the Hudson.  Located just out of Catskill, it forms the logical entrance into the Catskills from the east; connects Route 9 and 9-W.  Catskill forms an apex for the scenic highways—the Rip Van Winkle Trail and the Mohican Trail.  It is an important terminal for bus lines, West Shore Railroad and Hudson River Day Line.  A nine-hole golf course is at the Catskill Country Club.

16.  COXSACKIE is along the banks of the majestic Hudson; the second largest village in Greene County.  The Bronck House, built about 1663 by the family for whom the Bronx is named, is the headquarters of the Greene County Historical Society.  Earlton, on Route 81 is located between Coxsackie and Greenville.

17.  SAUGERTIES in Ulster County offers a peaceful country-side; modern, het natural and unspoiled.  A hub, from which roads radiate like spokes to all parts of the Catskills.  It is a recreation field, playground, bathing sports and golf.  Lake Katrine is south of Saugerties.

18.  WOODSTOCK in Ulster County.  A well-known arts center on Route 375, for those interested in painting, writing, sculpture, ceramics, vocal and instrumental music, ballet and summer theatres.  Mount Marion is nearby.

19.  DEVIL’S TOMBSTONE.  This is an odd-shaped boulder located in the scenic Stony Clove, south of Hunter.  It is a public campsite.  North of it is the New York State’s Conservation Department’s Sky Line Trail over Indian Head, Twin, Sugarloaf, Plateau and Hunter Mountains.

20.  ASHOKAN RESERVOIR.  A modern engineering feat formed this artificial lake, twelve miles long and two miles wide, and storage of 128 billion gallons of water for New York City.  The aeration plant is especially attractive on a warm day.  Ashokan is amidst marvelous scenic beauty.  A fine highway, Route 28, winds around the reservoir.  The Esopus Creek, a fine trout stream, follows this route.

21.  OLD SENATE HOUSE.            This is the oldest public building in the United States.  Located at Kingston, the city that actually antedates Plymouth and which was New York State’s first capitol.  Stone houses and churches built by Dutch, English and Huguenot settlers are still standing along the shady streets.  Kingston is a principal junction for several bus lines, railroads and highways.  It is the southern gateway to the Catskills.

22.  COVERED BRIDGE.    Situated south of Rosendale, near Tillson, in Ulster County this wooden covered bridge is the oldest in the state preserved as a historical monument.  This vicinity is in the Lake region where the Catskill and Shawangunk Mountains meet.

23.  SLIDE MOUNTAIN.     The highest eminence in the Catskills is Slide Mountain, situated in the town of Shandaken, Ulster County.  It is 4204 feet above sea level.  From it one has a panoramic view of six states.  This is one of the winter sports areas of the Catskills and includes Pine Hill, Big Indian, Oliverea, Shandaken, Mount Tremper and Chichester.  Near Phoenicia is located the Simpson Memorial Ski Slope, maintained by the Conservation  Department.

24.  MOUNT UTSAYANTHA.         Located near Stamford, Mount Utsayantha offers a wide vista of thousands of miles of scenic splendor from its 3365-foot height.  A trail—and a legend of a beautiful Indian maid—lead one up the mountain’s side to the observation tower.

25.  BURROUGH’S GRAVE.          The birthplace and shrine of John Burroughs, famous Catskill Mountain naturalist.  Located at Roxbury, Delaware County.  

[Picture:  Peaceful Pastures]

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OUR SIX SEASONS

CHAPTER V  

Come to the Catskills any time of the year.  There is always something to do, something to see or something to experience.  Of course if you are interested in some particular sport or recreation, there’ll be a season for that.  Our seasons range from Alaskan cold to the warmth of tropical isles.  I’ve split our year into six seasons:

January and February:  There’ll be snow, probably lots of it, and every body of water will be a miniature skating rink.  There are many hills for the ski enthusiast and the folks with sleds or toboggans.  There are a number of ski trails and jumps maintained for the ski sportsman, but every farm has a hill or two suitable for the amateur.

The days will be cold and brisk, so bring along warm woolen sweaters, gloves and lots of warm socks.  You’ll have anti-freeze in your car and a set of chains for icy back roads.

After a day in the cold, clear bracing air you’ll have a grand appetite that can only be satisfied by a good hot Catskill Mountain supper!  The first few days you’ll probably doze off early and want to head for a cozy bed, piled with quilts.  After that you’ll look forward to the beauty of a winter’s evening:  the blue light of the moon on sparkling snow, a sleigh ride on an old farm sled, padded with sweet smelling hay—or the jolly informality of an old fashioned square dance.  Maybe you’ll like a game of cards by the fireside, with refreshments of cool apples and freshly popped corn with melted golden butter.  Of course you’ll sample some cider—the champagne of the Catskills!

March and April:  Early March can offer some ice skating and skiing, but don’t plan too much on it, as March is apt to be an inbetween period.  Better take along some books to read on dull, rainy days when it’s so comfortable to be in by the fire.  Roads probably will be open so that you can drive to the movies, go bowling or roller-skating in the evening.  Books, radio and a hand of pinochle—with a choice refreshment—may prove best.  There’ll be days, too, when the sun is warm.  Snow will melt and brooks start bubbling, and distant crows will caw and there’ll be a breath of coming spring.  It will become time to “tap” maple trees and you’ll enjoy the “sapping” and “sugaring” on the many Catskill Mountain farms that tap their own trees.  Don’t let these balmy days fool you or catch you unawares.  Have that jacket or sweater close at hand!

Spring will be more definite in April and you’ll feel the age-old gladness of its approaching.  You’ll drink in the balmy air and thrill at the songs of returning birds, green buds and grass—or finding a wild-flower in some sheltered, mossy nook.  You’ll spend hours in one of our many rapid-running streams, fishing or just lazing on the sunny bank.  You’ll see the new additions to farm-animal families:  calves, lambs, kittens and fluffy baby chicks.  Your farmer friend is getting busy and you’ll marvel at the clean furrow turned by the plow and smell the richness of newly-turned earth.  “Gee, it’s great to be alive!”

May and June:  Spring now it as its fullest bloom.  May brings the apple blossoms—pink, white and fragrant; lilacs around most of the older homes; violets in moist gullies.  Robins, bluebirds, swallows and song sparrows fill the day with cheery notes and gay colors.  Gardens seem to grow over night and you’ll get a kick our of planting some vegetables and seeing them lift green sprouts in a few short days.

You’ll be able to go for a swim or two early in June.  Warm days, while lying in a hammock you’ll hear the soothing click-click of a lawnmower, that is, if you’re not out there pushing it yourself.  Fields will be spotted with daisies and buttercups and every dooryard will have its quota of roses.  It’s great to take a spin in your car.  Maybe we’ll go rowing or play a few rounds of golf.  Or perhaps get some marshmallows and not dogs and we’ll go on a picnic.  Evenings are long and glorious and as the man said, “What is so rare as a day in June?”

July and August:  This is the real vacation period and for years resort owners have spent the rest of the year getting ready for this season.  There are so many things to do:  First we’ve got to get in a swim every day—the water is great!  One can go hiking in the cooler mornings or play some golf.  Then go horse-back riding in the afternoon, stopping off for ice cream and soda or play a set of tennis.  Rent a boat or canoe.  Maybe you weren’t in the Army and feel adventurous.  Get a blanket, some grub and a frying pan and head for the open spaces.  Camp under the stars and breath the lung-filling fragrance of pine and spruce forests.  You are sure to leave the hustle and bustle of the world far behind you.

Slacks, sport shirts and bathing suits are the fashion of the day, but in case you intend to cast off your dirty white-duck trousers and tennis shoes at the end of the day, take a sparkling shower and “go” formal to the club or the dance at the pavilion, you’d better pack a few “glad rags.”

In case you get bored (how could it be possible!) you might drop down to Farmer Jones’, loan his pitch-fork and bunch some of the sweet-smelling hay and enjoy the beauty of real farm landscape.  Provided you’re not more bother than you’re worth, Mrs. Jones may have a cold glass of milk and some home-made cookies for you.  Anyway you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation for the American farmer’s work and attach a deeper significance to his way of living.

Some will find their best vacation pleasure by stretching out on the rich carpet of grass under a shady tree, closing their eyes and letting Nature take her course!

September and October:  You get a few more swims, but don’t feel too badly if you left your suit at home.  A pair of breeches, high shoes and flannel shirt will be more appropriate to go riding or hiking.  Sunny September days are tops for hiking or maybe a few rounds of post-season golf.  Perhaps some of the kids will ask you to fill in on their baseball team and you’ll feel like high school days all over again.  Early apples, pears and plums are being picked and are pleasing to the palate while so fresh.

One of my favorite months is October.  All Nature seems dressed in her gayest robes.  The first frosts turn the woodlands and mountain sides into a kaleidoscope of color:  orange, red, yellow and subtle shades of brown.  The air is risk and bracing and the sky very blue.  There is a true autumn feeling in the air.  Grapes are hanging in purple clusters, nuts are mature, choice winter apples are picked and corn is put into shocks.  I quote from a letter written by a Catskill mountain farm woman:

“Fall is here.  I like the fall days with the spicy odors inside, of pickles and relishes in the making.  It brings back memories of school days, when Mother used to make them.  The canning is just about finished and the cellar shelves are crowded with jars of fruit and vegetables—pride of every housewife, especially in these days of rationing and points.”

The hunter puts on his red cap and wanders over hill and dale in search of pheasants, squirrels or rabbits or he shoulders a gun just to get out into the fall woods, take in the autumn foliage and shuffle through dry leaves.  The artist with his brush will find a scene to paint at every turn in the road.  The landscape is splashed with color.  Auto trips are a must.  We start off with a hearty breakfast:  a stack of buckwheat cakes topped with real Catskill Mountain maple syrup, sausage and golden yellow country butter.  Fresh eggs and hot coffee with thick cream finishes it off.

The picnic basket comes out again and we start off on a tour of the countryside.  All about us busy people are laying up their stores for the winter.  They are gathering the last vegetables and fruit.  Fields are busy with men feeding threshing machines and bringing in loads of corn.  Neat rows of buckwheat and corn shocks dot the hill-sides.  Toward evening we scent burning leaves that make a bluish haze in distant valleys.  Smoke curls from chimneys and boys and girls return from school.  It’s been a comfortable day and a huge, yellow harvest moon writes a soothing finish to it.

November and December:  These months are particularly enjoyable if you have an Aunt Mary and Uncle Henry in the country, or if the grandparents live there, or perhaps some good friends who have a comfortable boarding house in a pleasant hamlet.

Country folks have more time for visiting now.  Crops are in and people are getting comfortably settled for the winter.  There’ll be meat in the storage, hams in the smoke house, barrels of apples and row upon row of gleaming jars of fruits and vegetables in the cellar.  Graineries will be filled with grain and thick-furred stock will munch sweet hay.  The dinner table will groan with good things to eat and nothing could match the homey feeling of a large family set down to a real turkey dinner at Thanksgiving.  They’ll say Grace, not always without awkwardness, for not every man feels at ease with so many about him.  But inside the feeling will be sincere, for he knows that the farmer must work with his hand in God’s.  Every quirk of weather and every season change effects him greatly.  Now his bin and barns are full—and his heart, too, is full of gladness and thankfulness for a good harvest.  There’ll be turkey, stuffing, corn, potatoes, peas, cranberries, mince pumpkin and apple pie and probably rich home-made ice cream, too.  Then they’ll sit around and talk.  The men will smoke and the women visit sociably while doing dishes.

These last two months of the year will be filled with festive and holiday cheer.  The young people will offer home-talent shows, the Church societies will sponsor their suppers, the Granges their dances, and High Schools will have their basketball games.  There’ll be sociables, husking bees, parties and lots of good fun and real living.

Later there will be moonlight skating, sleigh-riding and early winter sports.  You can try your hand at cutting wood too, reveling in the invigorating exercise and hearing the keen axe ring on the crisp air.

People are pleasantly busy with shopping and gathering greenery to decorate their homes for the holidays.  It’s a delightful privilege to go out to get your own Christmas tree.  Probably it’ll be a brisk day and you’ll have a lot of fun crunching over the new snow to find one just the right shape and height.

It’s particularly nice to have an open fireplace and a wide chimney for Santa Claus, but just having the family all together and the joy of “Peace on Earth” and hearing the old carols on the still winter air is enough to complete anyone’s happiness—the filling of “Returning to the Catskills.”

[Drawing:  fishing]

[Photo: Living in the Catskills]

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Chapter VI.  LIVING IN THE CATSKILLS

 

As the stranger drives through our mountains he sees many comfortable farms, neat barns and livable homes.  Villages have modern stores, amusements and attractive churches.  Most of the houses are painted, kept up and there is a good standard of living.  People are healthy, friendly and prosperous.  We have our farmers, storekeepers, bricklayers, electricians, lumbermen, printers, small manufacturers and sundry other trades.

In the Catskills modern canneries are located along the river; brick, clothing, soap, cigars, paper, and cement are manufactured; lumber, furs, fruits, farm and dairy products are shipped to large nearby cities.  Much of the land is fertile and lends itself to ready cultivation—grain, apples, pears, peaches, berries and small fruits.  There are hilly lands for foresting and pasture lands for dairy and beef cattle.  There are low, moist valleys along the river and creeks for truck gardens.  Communications are tops with modern telephone and telegraph systems.  The area is served by dependable electrical service and high power lines.  Roads are excellent; most of them concrete, macadam or other hard surfaces.  Bus lines connect to all large centers and school children ride to modern schools—schools that are staffed by competent faculties, have auditoriums, gyms and other up-to-date facilities.

The Catskills are the second largest recreational area on the eastern seaboard and contains 20% of the resort houses in all New York State.  Often this area entertains 500,000 visitors in a season.

Many former vacationists have “Returned to the Catskills” to buy homes.  Taxes and cost of living are moderate.  The Catskills are near enough to New York City and large cities near it to make a summer home within the reach of many families.  A few acres of ground and a little house will be a source of health, comfort and security to such people.  A small vegetable garden, some hens, a few fruit trees and a couple rows of berries will provide much fresh food for the table.  Besides it will prove a source of exercise for Dad or help teach Junior about Nature, forming excellent habits with regular duties.  A lawn is not much trouble when once established and makes a swell croquet field or a cushion for a refreshing snooze.

Far be it from me to say that everything will be perfect!  You’ll have rainy days, the bugs may get on your cucumbers and weeds will grow over night if you don’t keep after ‘em.  But you’ll overcome them and you’ll be proud of that aching back when you survey that which you have accomplished with your own hands.  You may not make a lot of money, but you will find a wealth of happiness, health and satisfaction that money alone can not buy.           

To the man with a trade who has imagination and ingenuity, many fields are open—hardly scratched.  I will not say that wealth is here for easy picking.  You’ve got to be industrious, saving, willing to take a chance against changing seasons and trends.  You’ve got to be patient.  You should cultivate friendships and make yourself a part of the community in which you intend to settle, helping to do your chare to keep it alive and growing.  Support its causes, its churches, schools and establishments.  Only in that way can you really become a part of its life and a useful citizen in it.

There is a lot of nice country on God’s earth.  These United States offer the best in scenery, productiveness and standards of living.  It’s been good to see strange, different and exotic scenes—different peoples—different ways of living.  The better to appreciate this beauty that has always been right here “in my own back yard.”

I sit here on a pine crowned hill overlooking the farm where I spent my boyhood.  A red sun paints the sky over Mt. Pisgah.  As an old farmer would say:  “It’s a durn good sign for a fine day tomorrow.”  And I’d agree with him, for it’s always a fine day when you RETURN TO THE CATSKILLS!

[Photo:  View of Ashokan Reservoir, N.Y. City Water Supply]

[Map:  Map of the Catskills]


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