Walks and Talks 1 & 2

as found in Reminiscences of Catskill


Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


Walks and Talks
No. 1

"The Cedars," July 2d, 1868.

Editors Recorder—I notice that you are operating a little "outside of the Constitution." And as I have been wayfaring some time "on that line," perhaps it may be pleasant for us to journey on together for a space, and gather new life, and fresh thoughts, from the delightful walks and rural beauties which do so encircle your ancient Village.

Let us now lay aside Books that make us grey, and Care that bows our shoulders down

"And leave the vain, low strife
That makes men mad—the tug for wealth and power,
The passions and the cares that wither life,
And waste its little hour—

and lift up our eyes to the hills, the green trees, the mossy rocks, the babbling brooks, the shaded paths—from whence cometh our strength.

Passing the famous Catskill Bridge, whose architectural beauties have been so often alluded to in prose and verse, and which, it is reverently believed by many, owes its remarkable preservation from winds, and floods, and icebergs, to the benediction pronounced on that spot by Dr. PORTER, some sixty years ago—

I say, passing this memorable structure, which no great man from abroad ever passes without pausing several times, and taking off his hat; and which no resident of the country, hereabouts, ever passes without stopping, and, putting his hand in his pocket, in a solemn, meditative mood, so characteristic of the ancestral burghers who subdued this part of our wilderness world, and who have been embalmed in perpetual remembrance by my old friend DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER—

I say, passing this wonderful work—which, if it had been a tree, would have been that trysting-tree for several generations of lovers—but, being a bridge, it has been, a "bridge of sighs" from "a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary." Unlike Lord BYRON’S bridge, there is not

"A palace and a prison on each hand,"

but at this date good Mr. SAX takes toll at one end of it, and CHARLIE ABEEL is waiting for what there is left of you at the other.

I say, passing this primeval edifice, which, with all its faults, has a beautiful picture for the eye: the look-out to the North, and expanse of water, verdant banks and pastures green; and the view toward the South—a lake bathing the promontory of "Hopp’s-nose," a point which your townsman, Mr. FREDERICK COOKE, has chosen for his "family-seat," and where he is doing noble duty in beautifying the landscape, and in introducing to the people rare and delicious fruits and products of the soil. I may tell you a story, some time, about HOPP, the Indian, from whom Mr. COOKE’S plantation derives its name; how he lived, loved, and finally passed away to the happy hunting grounds; but, let us now, if possible, get across the bridge.

I say, passing this ancient water-span, you take what was called, when I was a boy, "The Little Delaware Turnpike road," and walk industriously until you reach the first important range of hills West of the Village; these are the Calderberghs—or, as some insists, and perhaps properly "the Callabarrachs"—ascending the hill by the road, you have a fine view of the Village and the River; and as you pass on, and just at the point where you lose sight of the Village, you take a wood-road at the left, and in a few minutes are at the summit, where a beautiful prospect is spread out before you.

Standing at this point, with grounded arms, (FRED. COMFORT’S laminated steel) "many a time, and oft," it has thrilled me with an exquisite joy to see Aurora decking the purpled clouds with gold, and to welcome the great and benignant source of light and heat, as he came with glittering vesture, "rejoicing in the East." Here are the pure airs of morning, and sounds—the songs of birds—sweeter than fabled MEMNON ever gave.

Looking East, the prospect includes a large extent; you notice the well tilled fields of the thrifty farmers of Great Embought, waving their wealth of grass and grain, the hill directly before you is called "the Kykeout," or Beacon Hill, where fires were lighted, in early times, to give notice to the early burghers of the approach of the Indians. The level wooded plot of land near which the "Embought House" stands is called "the Hanverplaut." The eye wanders on, and reaches the River, which it traces many miles—the mirror of the morning sun. Across the River are seen the abundant fields of Columbia, and beyond all the eye rests upon, the green hills of Connecticut.

By the way, speaking of Kykeout, this is the ancient family-seat of the OVERBAGHS. An unpretending stone dwelling, standing near the Easterly side of the hill, is the "old roof tree." It is now occupied, I believe, by Mr. LEWIS OVERBAGHS, a worthy descendant of a worthy ancestry.

JOHN PETER OVERBAGH emigrated from Holland, and settled at this point in the year 1722. He purchased, and owned at the time of his death (which occurred in the year 1734) quite a large tract of land, including the farms now owned by LEWIS OVERBAGH, JONAS HAM, JAMES P. OVERBAGH, FRANCIS STORY, and other lands. Tradition has but little to say of JOHN PETER, except that he died young, leaving three boys; JOHN, JOHN JERE, and CHRISTIAN; and from these three the OVERBAGH family of this section of the country claim their descent.

John, son of JOHN PETER, cultivated his ancestral acres, and died, leaving sons PETER and ABRAHAM.

ABRAHAM, grand-son of JOHN PETER, died, leaving sons JOHN A., ABRAHAM, and PETER,

JOHN A., great-grand-son of JOHN PETER, married SALLY DEDERICK, of the Bockover, and, after a life of usefulness and virtue, and at a good old age, died, leaving sons JOHN A., WILLIAM, PETER, LYMAN and ADDISON.

John A. is now beyond sixty, but this is such a genial temper that I only wish he could live to see sixty years more. My old friend, Mr. JUDSON WILCOX, says of him, that he is the most inexorable fox-hunter on record; that he will fairly "hole the fox," and then set down and smoke him out!

The sons of JOHN A. are CHARLES, recently a hardware merchant of Poughkeepsie, and GEORGE B., now of the Hudson River Railroad—both active, honorable men.

The descendants of JOHN JERE, son of JOHN PETER, are numerous, embracing in the list PETER, his sister, the wife of JAMES JOHNSTON of Kiskatom, FREDERICK, father of Mrs. FRANCIS STORY, and RACHEL, the mother of the FRIAR family, of your Village.

The descendants of CHRISTIAN, son of JOHN PETER, are also numerous. CHRISTIAN was killed while getting out wood on the Hanverplaut, and left sons PETER, ISAAC and BENJAMIN. PETER, son of CHRISTIAN, left sons JAMES and CHRISITAN; and JAMES, son of PETER, left PETER, the father of JAMES P., the present popular host of the "Embought House."

ISAAC, son of CHRISTIAN, was a great hunter. He died some thirty years ago, in his palmy days, the red deer were abundant hereabouts—but the story of his adventures would be to long to tell. Suffice it to say that he educated our good friend JOHN A. to the chase, and taught him how to "bring the stag to bay."

The ancestry of the OVERBAGHS rest in the orchard, East of the Kykeout—"dust to dust, ashes to ashes." I cannot look, from this lofty seat, upon their narrow house, without thinking that all the ambitions of life are vain and useless—

The boast of heraldry—the pomp of power—
And all the beauty, all that wealth e’er gave—
Await alike the inevitable hour;
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

And yet, is within me a thought—a conviction—that from out the wreck of that mortal embodiment by which we are known in this world, there will arise an individuality—or, as Doctor BUTLER has termed, it, "a conscious being"—which, having passed through all the vicissitudes of life and death unscathed, undimmed and undefiled, will enter the Presence of the Just and Perfect of all centuries, and put on the garments of immortal youth.

Alas ! for him who never sees
The stars shine through his cypress trees;
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Not looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marble play!
Who hath not learned in house of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death,
And Love can never lose its own."

But we have perhaps, been looking toward the East to long; the sun has passed far down the West, and now

"To yonder mountain turns the musing eye,
Whose sun-bright summit mingles with the sky."

Stepping from the spot where we welcomed the morning, across a comparatively level plot, covered in part by great hemlocks—which, to our venerable friend Col. PRATT, are far more beautiful than the cedars of Lebanon—in a few moments we reach a precipice, from which, looking over a wilderness of leaves, we have an uninterrupted view of the grand old mountain—

"As some tall cliff that lifts, its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."

Calm, and bright, and beautiful—this is a picture to be ever graven on the memory, and treasured always. Heart-pictures (so to speak) with me are realities; more fixed, certain and enduring than the objects from which they are taken.

The coming days will change the outward vesture of the mountain; the Summer will develop its wealth of green; the Autumn will clothe it with russet and red, and the Winter will strip it of its loveliness, and cause it to stand clothed with ices and snows. Change is written on every rock, and every tree. The mountain is a monument to all that is variable; it is the habitation of all extremes. Here is the abode of all loveliness, and all deformity, in Nature; here the zephyr breathes at even-tide, and here the tempest wrings the pines at midnight; here the Summer suns look lovingly, and here the Winter-blasts and storm-clouds gather.

These are not mountains of the heart; they are always sure and steadfast; their rocks crumble not, neither do their trees fall from age; pure waters sparkle in all their gorges; sweet winds gather in all their glens; they stand in beauty along the horizon of Memory, in the midst of perpetual Summer, whose lights of the morning and of the evening gather upon them, and wreathe them in robes of white, and gold, and amethyst.

Faithfully Yours,

GEORGE VANDERHAVEN.


Walks and Talks
No. II

Editor Recorder—How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of Him that bringeth good tidings:--that publisheth Peace! The morning sun is again gilding to lofty mountain tops, and I am musing among the trees.

"The groves were God’s first temples, ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
* * * *
 in the darkling wood,
Amidst the cool and silence he knelt down."

Leaving the crest of the Callabarrach, our path leads in a circuitous course towards "the Straka" *(From the Dutch word Streek—a course.)—passing South through the "Straka Clove," you notice on either hand precipitous banks, while overhead, umbrageous elms, and stately pines and hemlocks interlace, and form an arch of refreshing shade and coolness. You notice, also, the rock twisted in a thousand quaint and curious shapes, and grey with the mists of the ages. Idling along, we presently see before us a beautiful valley, skirted with ancient trees, and a stream of pure water running through the midst.

This is the Straka. In Summer it is dry—affording pasturage for numerous cattle; but in Winter, or in seasons of unusual rains, it is often filled with water, forming a lake among the hills, which, if it is not so extensive as Loch Katrine, it is not less picturesque and romantic. Few people who water their horses at the fountain near the house of Mr. JONAS PERSON, on the Saugerties road, know that the sparkling waters which there leap from the rock, have passed from the Straka down through the caverns of the hill. I have often wished that I had the strength of a HERCULES, that I might roll away the great stones that intercept the waters at the outlet, and trace this ancient water-course in its windings among the rocks; for I am persuaded that within the hidden recesses of the hill there are lakes and waterfalls—and caves, surpassing in extent and beauty the cavern wherein Highland DONALD banqueted with the famous Captain WAVERLY, lang syne.

Associated with the Straka are many pleasant memories. It has been the attraction of many a Summer and Winter ramble, with chosen friends—lovers of Nature in all her visible forms—some of whom are

"Now bathed within the fadeless green
And holy peace of Paradise."

I recollect visiting this spot, many years ago, in company with a cherished friend, the late JOHN ADAMS, of your Village. We intended to bring home with us grey squirrels, and all manner of things of a wild nature. We separated, wandered far, and both got lost. Chance finally led my weary feet to the Straka, where I found Mr. ADAMS stretched upon a shaded bank, fast asleep. He said that he had walked these woods for more than thirty years, and had never been lost before; but Vandal hands had so encroached upon the forests that he did not recognize the old familiar places.

Your wood-chopper is essentially a first class Vandal. For paltry present gain, he spoils his inheritance; and, in place of the grand old forests which in the near future will be of immense value, he leaves a rugged desolation.

But, let us not tarry too long at the Straka; our horse is waiting for us at the brow of the hill, near the brick school-house, whither we will direct our steps, and look once more toward the East.

Arrived at the summit, we have before us a charming picture—productive farms, and peaceful cottages nestling among the trees; a garden receding to the Hudson, and bathed in its sparkling waters. Here are the homesteads of the POSTS, the TRUMPBOURS, the BURGETS, the VAN ORDENS, the WYNKOOPS, the DUMONDS of old, and others, to all of whom my space will not at present, allow me to refer more at length.

Standing at this point, traditions of a race who camped upon these lands long before title deeds were known, come crowding thick upon me. This was their favorite "look-out," and it is within the memory of many residing in this vicinity, that considerable bands, remnants of the Oneidas, and other Indian tribes, periodically visited this spot, bringing their wives and their little ones with them, to look upon the land where their fathers triumphed in the chase, and which now contains their sacred ashes. In fact, the practice was continued until a recent date, but it is now believed that the Savage has taken his last view of these old hunting-grounds, and that they exist in his traditions merely as a Arcadian dreamland, wherein his ancestors, like goodly knights, did noble battle for beauty, truth and fatherland.

Some of your readers will recollect, "BEN.," one of the Oneida tribe. He pitched his tent on this spot for the last time some forty years since. Wrinkled, and grey, and bent with the weight of a hundred years, he had traveled far to look once more from this eminence upon the noble River—upon the land in which his youth delighted, and to pass in review memories of "long ago." His last appearance near this spot was of a Summer evening, with a Bible in his hand, whose sacred promises had filled his mind with rapturous visions of a life beyond the rolling clouds.

Passing Westward our good steed brings us to the "Old King’s Road," so termed, because it dates back to Colonial times, and was the only highway on the West shore, between the sea-board and the settlements in the interior. Over this road, in Revolutionary days, were drawn the "implements of war and subjugation" with which our gracious King GEORGE sought to coerce his rebellious children.

Continuing on, we reach, in a short time, a place called "the Bockover," deriving its name from a knoll shaped like an oven, situated on the old homestead of the ABEEL family, near the Cauterskill. As we approach the stream, we notice on the left the dwelling of ZACHARIAH DEDERICK. It stands upon the site of an ancient stone house, which had been the homestead of DEDERICK family for nearly two hundred years, and was demolished some twenty years ago.

Around this spot cluster many interesting traditions, concerning both the white and the red men. A short distance from the road is a natural stone tent, in which still exist the coals and ashes of ancient council fires; while in the hill are depressions and mounds, wherein tradition says the Indian "housed his corn."

During "the times that tried men’s souls," the Bockover was often sought as a place of refuge from the rapacity of the British, who spread terror among the inhabitants along the banks of the River. Here they deposited their goods, and valuables, and rested in comparative quiet and safety.

Across the stream is the old family-seat of the ABEELS. A stone dwelling, built nearly a hundred years before the Revolutions, still braves the winds and storms of Time. At this place, DAVID and ANTHONY ABEEL were seized by the Indians, in the War of the Revolution, and marched off to Canada; but the story of their adventures—is it not already written in the books of Dr. MURDOCK, and Mr. ROCKWELL?

Our course is toward the Mountains, to-day, and as the sun is already waning, we must not loiter too long by the way. A brisk drive brings us to "the Clove," and we ascend leisurely, discovering new beauties at every step. As we approach the summit, we stop occasionally, and look back upon the glittering hills below. Radiant clouds are moving slowly away from the summit, and taking position upon a weird and fantastic cloud-bank in the South. A film of dreamy haze surrounds the Easterly exposure of the mountain; while toward the West the sun is shimmering through the trees, and lacing the pines with gold. Far below our feet the cool and sparkling mountain stream is still murmuring onward toward the sea—the same as when the painted savage slaked his thirst, or the red deer’s fawn mirrored his diamond eyes in its waters.

Along the route are great rocks and mysterious lurking-laces, from which, we are assured, that in the "good old days" grim and warlike sentinels issued, to the terror of the unprotected horseman whose duties called him through this ancient pass. Alas, how changed! For in all this wild and solitary place no war-like sound is heard, save an occasional love-spat between high-born "lads and Lassies," who are "doing" the Mountains, preparatory to appearing, with their wedding garments on, in the gas and glory of the drawing-rooms of the metropolis.

Onward and upward leads the way; the summit is reached, and, without stopping on our way, at this time, to partake of the generous hospitalities of the "Laurel House," or the liberal cheer of the "Mountain House," we press on, by devious paths, to the South Mountain, where, before the day is spent, we must look once more toward the East. The prospect is at once beautiful and grand—it is something to be felt and appreciated, but language is too poor for any adequate description of it. Let us, therefore, enjoy the beauties and sentiments of the scene, and I will briefly trace upon this vast panorama some of the lines "where the pleasant places be."

Away to the North of your Village is the High Hill, with the "Long Lockie," a lake of purest water, nestling in its bosom. Your jaded man of care may there find a taste of bonny Scotland’s air, or England’s Windermere.

To the East, across the River, the walk leads you to the Green Hill, ascending which, you look down upon the ancient Manor of the LIVINGSTONS, and upon a thousand fruitful fields, and peaceful homes.

To the West, with rod and line, you drop your fly in the cool streams that come down from the mountain near the base of the Round Top, if such be your happy case that you have a passion to "go a angling."

To the South, amidst those venerable woods, are pleasant walks innumerable, where, in Winter, is heard the deep-mouthed voice of the hound, as he pursues the fox in her devious course among the hills; and where, in Summer, the woodcock’s whistling wings, or the whirring partridge, startle you from you medifations.

But we are tarrying late. Night has fallen upon the fields and forest,

"And all the air a solemn stillness holds."

The planets are blazing in the firmament, and the great watch-stars are looking down upon us from their heavenly heights. It is the peaceful hour of rest, and now, in the language of our old friend, Sir WALTER:

"To all, to each, a fair good night.
And pleasing dreams, and slumbers light."

Faithfully yours,
GEORGE VANDERHAVEN.


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