The  Catskill Mountains
and the
Region Around
Chapter 16

By Rev. Charles Rockwell


Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


The Forest in Autumn—The Sun and Frost—Effects of Light—Verses on Autumnal and other Mountain Scenery—Winter Scenery Of the Mountains.—Gifford’s Painting—The Mountain House—Summer Life in the Mountains—Hotels and Boarding-Houses—Rip Van Winkle’s Ravine—Roads to the Mountains—The Telegraph—The Laurel House—Palensville—The Haines House—Gray’s Hotel—Death of Mr. Gray and others—Stony Clove—Trout-Fishing—Plattekill Clove—Fatal Accident there—Accident in Cauterskill Clove—A Dog went over the Upper Falls and a Man over the Lower one—Both survived.

 

Allusion has already been made in this work to the richly-varied splendor and peculiar attractiveness and beauty of the wide-spread mountain forest in autumn, when their leaves, ripened by the sunshine and rain, or by early frost, or both, array themselves for death, for ruin, and decay, in hues of surpassing splendor and beauty. I have from childhood been familiar with this autumnal glory in various and widely-remote regions, and yet have never seen elsewhere hues so delicate, so varied, and of such richly-glowing and surpassing beauty as are presented in the valleys at the base of the Catskill Mountains, and all along their sides and lofty summits, when the leaves of autumn have fully ripened under the loving smiles of the sun, and the balmy rain and dew of heaven alone, with no rude withering frost-chill on them, though often, or rather commonly, the early frost begin and hasten on this work of death. Color is, we know, the child of light; and hence, where the sun shines clearest and brightest, we find, both in the animal and vegetable creation, the richest and most splendid hues. To the pure, clear air of the mountain region we may therefore probably ascribe the peculiarly rich, delicate, and brilliant coloring of the autumnal scenery there.

In allusion to the common agency of the frosts of autumn in coloring the forest leaves, the author, many years since, wrote as follows:

View now our forest, spreading far and wide,
With richest hues by frost and of autumn dyed;
No other lands such scenes as these behold,
These brilliant shades of crimson, scarlet, gold !

The hectic flush of Nature’s wide decay,
Which brightly shines beneath the blaze of day;
Like the fair glow upon the cheek of death,
Which there survives the fleeting mortal breath.

While residing for years among the mountains, the impressions there made were thus expressed:--

O’er the earth I’ve widely wandered,
Many a lovely scene beheld;
Where the hand of God has squandered
Grandeur, beauty, that excelled;
Yet more beauteous, oh, how few,
Than these mountains robed in glory;
Such as greets my rapturous view
When the hoary frost of autumn,
Give the leaves their richest dye—
Golden, crimson, scarlet, purple,
With brilliant splendor meet the eye.

Scenes like these ne’er greet the vision
Of those who dwell beyond the sea,
And these leaf-crowned hills and mountains
Have enrapturing charms for me.
Here they stand, as if the iris,
Shining robe of heavenly light,
By angelic hands extended,
Fell all glorious on the sight;
Like the rainbow which the prophet
Saw around the throne of God,
Where no eye of man may see it,
Where no human foot has trod.

Closely connected with these autumnal glories are the brilliant and ever-changing splendor, magnificence, and beauty of the skies and clouds of mountain regions (so well described by Irving), as seen in light and darkness, in sunshine and in shade, morning, evening and at noon-day.

View now the glories of the rising sun,
Like man of might, arrayed his course to run;
Decked like a bridegroom, soon to meet his bride,
In all the splendor of his richest pride.
While mists of morning wave before the eye,
Where mountain summits meet the lofty sky;
Now soars the mist, like bridal vestments while,
A flowing robe of waving, silver light;
Now hangs suspended in the upper air,
Like the bold eagle, poised a moment there;
Then graceful sinks, to peaks from which it rose,
Till every summit with new splendor glows.

Go stand awhile where walls of granite rise,
On either side, upheaving to the skies;
Reared by the hand of Him who made the world,
Nor by the Deluge from their basements hurled;
They proudly dare the tempest’s blighting wrath,
And check the lightning in its burning path;
Now the dark clouds their course majestic run,
And veil the glory of the noon-day sun;
Then quickly pausing in their onward march,
They form on high a noble lofty arch;
It seems a temple, vast and rudely wild,
Whose towering columns God himself has piled;
To show his greatness, and the pride abase,
And vain presumption of our erring race.

Pause now and muse, beneath this broad expanse,
Far, far around thee cast they searching glance;
Behold you mountains stretching far away,
Fresh robed with glories of departing day;
Her sable clouds with richest blessings stored,
O’er the glad earth have showers of plenty poured;
And now unrolling from the shinning west,
With radiant glory all the scene is dressed.

The brilliant sun lights up the evening sky,
And casts o’er nature hues of richest dye;
The glittering rain-drops on the waving trees,
Seem liquid rubies in the gentle breeze;
While the bright bow, uniting earth and heaven,
Tells erring man of sin’s dark guilt forgiven.

The rising mist, a robe of living light,
The hill and plain have clothed in purest white;
The fair horizon, stretching far and wide,
With richest purple now is deeply dyed;
The gorgeous clouds above the King of Day,
In brilliant masses proudly float away;
Here shining amber o’er the sky is spread,
There the bright scarlet, or the deeper red;
All nature glows with fairest glory crowned,
With joyous music earth and air resound;
Then comes the twilight with its sweet repose,
And fading splendor o’er the landscape throws;
Then starry eve in silent beauty reigns,
And spreads her mantle o’er the hills and plains;
Eternal God ! how great thy wonders are,
The winds thy coursers and the clouds thy car;
Thy word which spake all being into life,
Now guides the storm and calms the tempest’s strife;
The wild tornado in thine angry breath,
Which whelms whole navies in the gulf of death;
The lofty mountains in thy balance cast,
Light as the dust which flees before the blast;
Old ocean’s isles, deep rooted where they stand,
Are things of nought, suspended by thy hand.

The Winter Scenery of the Mountains

Multitudes, to the number of thousands, flock to the mountains each summer, and farm-houses, boarding-houses, and large hotels, for miles around, are crowded with visitors and boarders, for two or three months. And yet the wide-spread glories and beauties of the richly varied and ever varying panoramas of the summer landscape, embracing, as viewed from the mountain summits, portions of numerous counties and several States, with towering mountains, lofty forests, silvery streams, and a thousand hill-sides and valleys, clothed with richest verdure, or with waving fields of golden grain, and numerous towns and villages every where beneath and around you; this fair and lovely summer landscape has to me, so far as the mountains themselves are concerned, far less richly varied and imposing grandeur, magnificence and beauty, then they present when winter has clothed them with her mantle of snow; the lofty evergreens, with undiminished verdure, gracefully bowing beneath the even covering, or the massive tufts of lightest snow, which fine an airy resting-place on the slender and delicate foliage which sustains them, while ever and anon, as the wintry breezes move among them, a cloud of snowy mist or mist-like snow for the moment envelops them, passing quickly away; or these evergreens, with other trees of the forest, are richly crowned or heavily laden, for days or weeks at a time, and for miles and miles in extent, for a thousand feet or more down from there cooler upper heights, with a dense rich covering of ice, waving, sparkling, dancing, tossing, in the bright clear rays of winter sunshine, like vast fields of glittering diamond of purest lustre, richly radiant with the brightest hues of ever-changing rainbow glories, as gently waved or briskly tossed by wintry winds, the rays of the sun at varying angles fall upon them.

When the trees are leafless, too, the grand, abrupt, and massive mountain heights, the uniform and long-drawn ribs which mark the outlines of the successive plateaux, and ranges of distinct and well-defined cliffs, which rise one above another from the base to the summit of the mountains, with the lofty upper peaks—all these in winter stand forth to the eye in all their rude, bare, imposing magnificence and glory; or are covered in part with high, broad sheets of glittering ice; or long ravines show an icy, silvery gleam, from the mountain’s summit to their base, while from projecting points and cliffs hang vast icicles, massive and long, like huge trunks of forest trees; or from beneath, columns and pillars of ice, high and large, arise beneath overhanging cliffs, in deep gorges, fed and slowly reared by water trickling from above until you see them with vast proportions, and when the sun falls upon them glittering with a prismatic beauty, which far

"Outshines the wealth of Ormus or of Ind."

But the most striking scenes of winter magnificence and beauty are met within those deep mountain gorges, or passes, known here by the name of cloves, because the mountains are thus cloven, or cleft asunder, by Nature, or rather by the God of Nature. These Cloves have abrupt mountain walls on either side, with rapid streams running through them—these walls, from one to two thousand feet in height—while down the steep ravines rush numerous torrents and cascades, which, in winter, by their frozen spray, make for themselves an icy bed or channel, while at their base there are at times magnificent caves or hollow pyramids of ice, like those at the Cauterskill Falls. I have seen nothing like the Plattekill, Stony, and Cauterskill cloves, at the White Mountains, in Europe, or South America, where so near at hand, so steeply abrupt, and so directly above you, there was, within the same space, so much of forest-crowned, imposing, and varied magnificence and grandeur. He who has not seen these cloves has been but little of the Catskill mountains; yet but few of those who here visit them.

Gifford has a fine painting of the gorge at the Cauterskill Falls, in which rudeness and grandeur have cast over them the calm and quiet beauty which mark his works. The following notice of this painting is from the New York "Evening Post," a highly authority in such matters:

"We have heretofore recorded our satisfaction with the audacity shown by Gifford in selecting Kaaterskill gorge for a subject. We see no reason to revise last winter’s verdict, now that the picture, plus a few more finishing touches, hangs in the Academy. The precipitation of one’s whole artistic ability and reputation into a chasm several hundred times larger than that which Quintus Curtius stopped for the good of Rome, is a piece of boldness only justified by its success. Gifford has so bathed this vast unrelieved depression in the face of nature with broad yellow sunshine, and interpreted its giant distances by such curiously skillful gradations of distinctness in its forest lining from ridge to base, that one begins to admire a gorge as he does a mountain—in fact, as the largest kind of mountain turned inside out."

The Mountain House

This palace-like structure, large and long, with its imposing colonnade in front, all of purest white, is to me always a most interesting and attractive object of sight at the distance of some three miles from it in a direct line, as seen from the cliff above our house, or from numerous points of the roads near us. In the morning, when the sun shines clear and strong upon its front, its full and striking outline and columns can all be plainly seen; while near the close of the day, or when it rests as a light, airy, unsubstantial castle or palace in the air, on a dark, wild background of clouds, as if itself a shadowy part of the moving panorama, its has seemed to me more as if it had floated down from above, or was soaring upwards from below, or like the chapel of Loretto, was making a journey through the air, then a solid, massive fabric, reared by human hands.

When I first came to this region to reside, my home was for some time in the ancient Dutch stone house of my friend and neighbor, Mr. B_____, at the four corners, on the Hunter and Saugerties roads, half a mile south of the parsonage. This ancient dwelling has since given place to a larger and more tasteful mansion, in modern style. The Cauterskill Creek crosses the road a few rods from the house. The lines which follow were written there, in full view of what is described by them:

The Catskill Mountain House

As I sit within my study,
With its shaded windows low,
In the ancient stone-built dwelling,
Listening to the river’s flow;

Thence I see a stately mansion,
Resting on the mountain’s brow,
With its wings afar extended,
Thus I look upon them now.

Like a palace built for angels
Pausing in its heavenward flight,
With its walls of snowy whiteness,
Shining in the sun’s fair light.

There it stands, to bless the pilgrim
From the city’s heated homes,
Worn and weary with life’s contest,
To this mountain height he comes.

Here he rest, from care unbending,
Here he cools his heated brain,
With his thanks on high ascending,
That he may a while remain.

Here the sufferer, wan and wasted,
Bowed with sickness long and sore,
Breathes the bracing air of heaven,
And his pains and griefs are o’er.

Her the child whose anxious parents,
Feared its early hopeless blight,
See its health and strength returning,
Like the joyous morning’s light.

Here the maiden, fair and lovely,
Sinking to an early grave,
Finds the healthful mountain breezes
Have a power to cheer and save.

Here the matron, worn and weary,
Wasted by life’s toil and care,
Feels her health and strength reviving,
Fanned by bracing mountain air.

Here the aged man of sorrow,
Burdened with the weight of years,
Finds new strength, nor dreads the morrow,
Nor life’s closing anguish fears.

Rest then ever, noble mansion,
On the lofty mountain’s height,
Shedding round thee joy and gladness,
Like the morning’s cheering light;

Till in mansions, higher, brighter,
Where no setting sun shall shine,
All earth’s pure and sin-washed pilgrims,
Shall in peace and joy recline.

Summer Life Among the Catskills

Having lived for years on one of the lower cliffs of the Catskill Mountains, in vigorous health, after years of city dust, debility, toil, and at times severe disease, a brief sketch of what is here done, as I have seen it during successive summers, might be of interest and value to readers at a distance, wishing to know how, where, and on what terms they can secure for themselves or others the pleasure and benefit of mountain scenery and mountain air, with a view to recreation and health, or to enjoy or employ themselves as sportsmen, or as artists. Numerous letters of inquiry as to these matters from the pleasure-seeking, the care-worn and infirm, led me, some years since to publish facts like those which follow, both to save myself the trouble of answering letters from abroad, and to benefit those who has not other means of accurate information as to the subjects before us. The result of this was that many came here from remote western states, and from all the region nearer to us, who had not before known that they could have board and quiet, comfortable homes here, in private families, without subjecting themselves to the expense of living in large hotels, with the noise and bustle often met with in such places, though the hotels in this region are very quiet, and in the main well conducted.

The mountains, during the summer, are peculiarly accessible by way of the village of Catskill, where the splendid boats on the Hudson River land, while a steam ferry connects it with the Hudson River Railroad, omnibuses from the village, and lines of stages and other carriages from the Mountain House, the Laurel House, from Bloom’s, and other hotels and boarding-houses, meet the various trains and boats at the landing, half a mile from the village.

In May and early in June the large hotels and numerous boarding and farm-houses in and about Catskill, and on and near the eastern slope of the mountains, and among and beyond the upper heights, are opened for the season of four or five months. The region thus occupied extends from Durham, on the north, to Woodstock, on the south, and from Catskill, on the east, to Hunter and Windham, on the west, and many thousand persons, from all parts of the world, visit this region each summer, many of them remaining here for weeks and months. The region thus described is from twenty to thirty miles or more in length and breadth. The main points of interest and attraction, however, are the upper heights, in the region of the Mountain House, from the Cauterskill Clove, on the south, and from those heights eastward, down the slope and along the base of the mountains, for several miles on either side of the broad meadows, fertile fields, and rapid mountain streams, of the valley of Kiskatom, This name, which is give to a stream, valley, and parish, is said to be of Indian origin, meaning a hickory-tree, or nut, or a group or grove of such trees, and in some parts of New Jersey and of Long Island hickory-nuts are still called "kiskatoms." As the tree in question abounds in this region, this tradition with regard to the word is probably a correct one.

Leaving Catskill, for the mountains, the road passes through a hilly region of singularly varied fertility and beauty, with frequent and inspiring views, at first of the river and the rich hill-sides and valleys on either side of it, and then the mountain range, with its upper peaks from three to four thousand feet high, and from twelve to twenty miles distant. Five miles from Catskill is the "Half-way House," or "Catskill Mountain Retreat," of Mr. Bloom, and enterprising, energetic young man, in full view of the mountains, new, spacious, airy, and well patronized, and accommodating some fifty of sixty boarders or more. Passing directly on from Bloom’s, two miles west, you cross the fertile and well watered plain of the valley of Kiskatom to the humble Dutch church, with its lowly spire, at the foot of the mountains. From this point the road, which is smooth and in fine repair, is mainly ascending for the first two miles, with farm lands on either side of it. Then at the toll-gate commences the steep, wooded mountain road, of three miles, to the Mountain House. Just south of the toll-gate, in the rear of the large farm-house, there is a saw-mill, on a small mountain stream, which comes rapidly down through a wild, deep, rocky ravine. On the right of this stream, the road up the mountain runs at some distance above and parallel to it for nearly a mile, when, coming to abrupt cliffs, it turns to the left, over a bridge, and passes in a south-western direction on to the upper heights.

This ravine is the one through which Rip Van Winkle is said to have passed when he met the strange old man with a keg of liquid fire on his back, and at the head of which he saw the solemn, antique group playing nine-pins, the rolling of whose balls sounded like thunder among the mountains. On one of the airy heights above Rip is said to have taken his long sleep of years. Where the road crosses the ravine there has, for many years, been a small, white building, called "The Shanty," which was open during the summer for refreshments, mainly liquid, and where travelers and their horses drank of the cool, pure water, coming down from the rocky heights above. At this point a worthy friend and parishioner of the author has built a temperance boarding-house and hotel, cool and shady, with rooms for from thirty to fifty guests. Travelers must highly prize such a resting-place, while sportsmen, artists, and lovers of seclusion and repose will find there a quiet, well-ordered home.

From the woody road of the last two miles up the mountains there are occasional glimpses of the splendid panorama of forest and fields, of mountains and valley, near and far away, which is seen in all its grandeur of magnificent and widely-varied extent and beauty from the Mountain House, and the heights around it.

Going west and south from the Mountain House, between the two lakes near it, a ride of two miles and a half brings one to the Laurel House, at the head of the Cauterskill Falls, in a cool, deep, densely-wooded ravine, where from fifty to one hundred boarders find a retired, pleasant summer home, commonly remaining much longer that do the guests at the Mountain House, where the expenses are much greater. At the Mountain House four or five hundred can be accommodated, with all the comforts and luxuries of the best hotels in our large cities, at about the same price charged there; while a line of telegraph from thence connects with other lines throughout the land—a recent effort of the well-directed enterprise and wealth of Mr. Beech, the proprietor of the Mountain House, and of the turnpike leading to it. At the Laurel House, Mr. Schutt receives and provides for his guest with kind, attentive care; and there I sometimes preach Sabbath evenings in the summer, meeting among the boarders with those of the highest social and Christian character, culture, and position of life, and I always find there a hearty welcome and good cheer for my friends and myself. At the Mountain House, too, they have preaching on the Sabbath, by able divines of different denominations from all parts of our own, and from other lands, often with fine vocal and instrumental music—the large parlor there conveniently accommodating several hundred persons. A few miles beyond the Mountain House, the road connects with the turnpike through the Clove, leading to Hunter, Prattsville, and further west. At a distance from the Mountain House to the east, it is seen to be in a basin, with the lakes in its rear, and other peaks, some of them nearly four thousand feet high, around; while water from a spring, a mile distant, is carried by iron pipes to the upper stories of the house.

If now we start again from Bloom’s, and turn towards the mountains, taking the second road on the left, we cross the valley of Kiskatom and the road to Saugerties, which runs along the eastern base of the mountains at a point a mile south of the Dutch church, and thence pass on to Palensville, and through the Cauterskill Clove, with its grandly-varied and magnificent scenery, on to Hunter, Jewett, Lexington, and Prattsville. It is some five miles for Bloom’s to the foot or eastern entrance of the Clove, and three miles through it to the top of the mountain. From Bloom’s to the Clove, most of the farm-houses for two miles north and south of the road have boarders in the summer, with pleasant, airy rooms, kind attendance, and fresh, wholesome, country food. Along the road through Palensville are large, well-kept, and well-filled boarding-houses; and there is one among the wild, deep, lonely gorges of the Clove, where sportsmen, artists, and fashionable boarders from the city may be seen, and where the apartments, as is true of many fashionable places of summer resort, strongly suggest to one the idea of close packing, and of that peculiar expansiveness and elasticity which belong to city cars and omnibuses, in which there was no room for them on the mountains. The telegraph wires from the Mountain House, however, communicating with distant places, now enable guests to learn beforehand what accommodations they can have, and to secure rooms in advance when they wish to do so.

Near the upper end of the Clove is the Haines House, accommodating thirty or forty boarders, with the falls of the same name near them. The stream there is small, except after heavy rains, but the volume of water is much increased, as it is at the Laurel House, by opening a mill-dam above them, when visitors are present. These falls are several hundred feet high, in all, with a succession of rapids and cascades connected with them, in a long, deep, narrow mountain gorge, of peculiarly varied wildness and rude and imposing impressiveness and grandeur. A few miles west of the Haines House is the large and popular boarding-house and hotel of Mr. Gray, formerly kept for many years by Mr. Norman Gray, who was killed some time since near the foot of the Clove, by being thrown from a carriage, his horses having backed off a high, steep bank, when he fell, his head striking a stone, leaving him senseless, and causing his death soon after. Other accidental deaths and suicides near the same spot, within a few years past, have given a sad notoriety to the place. From the Haines House, west, to the village of Hunter, and in and around the village, and beyond it, summer board may be found.

Before reaching Hunter, on the left, is a road leading to and through Stone Clove, a deep, narrow pass, through the mountains, shut in on either side by lofty precipices, wild and steep, and yet where well nigh perpendicular, thickly covered with a deep green mantle of plants and shrubs. Through this Clove there is a wild mountain stream, abounding in trout, where sportsmen sojourn of encamp, for days, or a week or more at a time, single parties taking sometimes many hundreds of these delicious fish, leaving behind them but a poor chance for unskilled fishermen, who know nothing of the mysteries of fly-fishing, and choice kinds of bait, and of strongly attractive aromatic oils, by which the shy and cunning fish are, with much tact and art, lured from their dark retreats. True, indeed, is it there, as the poet says, that

"The angler, with unbaited hook,
Will draw no fishes for the hook,"

While a stick and a string with a worm at one end and a fool at the other, are altogether out of place where trout are concerned.

About five miles south of the Cauterskill Clove, and running parallel to it though the mountains, is Plattekill Clove, a wild, rude mountain pass, with a deep, rocky gorge, through which a rapid stream rushes down to the plains below. The precipices on either side of this Clove are not so high, imposing, and abrupt as are those of the Cauterskill and Stoney Cloves, and yet there is in the scenery there much that is striking and grand, though the old road through it is anything but well made and smooth. These wild mountains roads, when covered with ice, in the winter, are in some places very dangerous. A few years since, a farmer, with a loaded sleigh, was passing down the Plattekill Clove, when coming to a place where the water from the upper side of the road had flowed over it, forming an unbroken surface of ice, inclining towards the lower side, his sleigh there suddenly slid sideways, over a precipice, causing the death of himself and his horses. In the Cauterskill Clove, too, a Mr. H., who lives near its upper end, while coming down the steep descent of the first mile, chanced to get the hind-wheel of his loaded wagon out of the iron shoe, by means of which such friction was caused as prevented the load from pressing too hard upon his team. The result was, that the horses were crushed to the earth; one of them was killed, the other so injured that it was necessary to take his life, to free him from suffering, and Mr. H. himself was made a cripple for life, by the breaking and dislocation of his bones.

At the Laurel House, a dog, of medium size, belonging to Mr. Peter Schutt, father of the proprietor of the house, some years since, went over the Upper Falls, a distance of one hundred and eighty feet, into the basin below, and yet was able to climb up the steep bank to the house.

In the forenoon of July 20, 1850, Mr. C. B. F., a young man from Utica, aged nineteen, and weighing nearly two hundred pounds, was standing on the inclined surface of a rock, at the head of the Lower Falls, at the Laurel House, with two young friends near him, when he slipped and went over the falls, eighty feet, into the rocky basin below, there was at the time a high freshet, to which fact Mr. F. was probably indebted for the saving of his life, as the force of his fall was thus greatly lessened. One leg was broken above the knee, as was also the shoulder-blade. By deep wading through the lake, and much effort, Mr. Peter Schutt obtained help from the Mountain House, Mr. Beech, the proprietor, coming from a sick bed, and the old attache of the house, Mr. Thorp, known as "the bear-hunter," aided in the difficult task of carrying the injured man up the steep banks, and recently described to me what then occurred. It was ten o’clock P. M., when, with much effort and exposure, two physicians arrived. By skilful medical attendance, aided by a vigorous, youthful constitution, and the kind and devoted care and nursing of Mrs. Schutt, wife of the proprietor of the Laurel House, Mr. F. was in six weeks able to leave for home. One year later his name is on the register of the house, as "alive and kicking," he being then a visitor there; and he is, I understand, still living.


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