A brief history of the Catskills

Living room sofa; cloudy, 44.6 F, 0545

This is a link heavy brief summary of the history around these parts.

For anyone in the NYC metro area, the Catskills will likely be familiar. The area was, for many years, a summertime vacation destination for city folk looking to escape the city rigors and enjoy some fresh air.

Technically, this house is not in the Catskill Mountains, but just to the east of them. Still, they are close enough that I can go out on my front porch and see their low, rounded peaks to the north and west of here. The mountains themselves are not mountains, but rather an eroded plateau.

The general area has been used by humans for at least 6000 years, perhaps longer. A discovery of a native American site along the Momboccus creek dates back that far.

European settlers began to arrive not too long after Henry Hudson sailed up the river which now bears his name in 1609. Sometime around 1620, the dutch established a trading post in the area of Kingston where the Rondout creek meets the Hudson river. From there, settlement pushed out along the Rondout valley. A military expedition entered the area in 1663 and by 1680, there were permanent settlers. The present town was founded in 1703.

For the next hundred years or so, the area was mostly agrarian. During the war of independence, it was called the “Breadbasket of the Revolution.” Thus it received some special attention; in 1777 the city of Kingston was burned by a British force from New York. In 1779, the Fantinekill Massacre took place just south of here. Nine members (some accounts say eleven) of the same family were killed by loyalist militia and their native American counterparts.

By the early 19th century, the soils in the area had become depleted and much of the forest began to be cleared away for making lumber and charcoal. Mid 19th century saw the beginnings of the resort era.

Large hotels were built in prime locations, offering a respite for those seeking it. Very few of those survive today, but one is the Mohonk Mountain House.

The Delaware and Hudson canal was established in 1828, to bring Pennsylvania coal to NYC and fuel the rapidly growing industrial era. Shortly after, Rosendale Cement was discovered and transported along with bricks manufactured from large clay deposits along the Rondout creek and Hudson River. Later, the canal was replaced with the Ontario and Western railroad, which ran until 1955.

An entire industry sprung up to service the resorts and their guests. Transport, food production and hospitality were the main work sectors. That era peaked in the 1950’s with the Borscht Belt or Jewish Alps. The Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has a very good depiction of the Catskill Resorts during the late 1950s to early 1960s.

By the 1970’s the resorts began to decline, as airfare got cheaper, attitudes changed and more exotic destinations began economically available. A long economic slump ensued, most resorts closed down and stood abandoned for years. Many are in the process of being torn down even now.

At present, the area has many weekend homes from NYC residents. Small farms and CSA type operations dot the area. New York state has several correctional facilities around which are major sources of employment. New York City has a gigantic water reservoir system to supply the metro area with fresh water. The Catskill Park is a great destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.