It’s truly extraordinary that one of the most majestic creeks in the Catskills – and possibly about a quarter of the drinking water supplied to nine million New Yorkers – begins with a tiny spring originating on Slide Mountain in Oliverea just over the apex of the Catskills Divide. This spring was dammed at its source by the Winnisook Club in 1886 to create the now 8-acre Winnisook Lake, so that members of this private club would have somewhere to fish. (This is a private club with no public access).
Spilling from this pristine lake, is the start of the Esopus Creek, which travels about 65 miles through the northern Catskill Mountains and is revered as the source of some of the America’s best fly fishing. It is dammed for the second time to create the Ashokan Reservoir and then continues on from there to empty into the Hudson River at Saugerties. We have so much water here in the Catskills, and so much rain, that it really feels like a rain forest in humid periods. The precipitation occurs because we’re high up in the path of clouds moving east from the comparatively flatlands of Ohio. Continue reading →
In the hushed, revered halls of the New York Public Library on 42nd and 5th Avenue you’ll find The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, in which sit several collectible works of John Burroughs. The historical, literary treasures of the substantial Berg Collection sit in their own private reading room. Visits must be booked in advance to view any works in this room, in which coats are prohibited and other books are not allowed near whatever you are viewing. I’m imagining being presented with white gloves and whispering, so I don’t accidentally spit on the ancient goods. Visitors must obtain a NYPL Library card which is about as thrilling as it gets for a bookish, foreign writer like myself. I might frame it. Continue reading →
Since I became a trustee of Woodchuck Lodge, John Burroughs’ last home and site of his final resting place in Roxbury, NY, I’ve become fascinated with his bookshelves. He left behind a vast collection of Atlantic Monthly magazines and (pictured above) a sturdy collection of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Atlantic Monthly is still published to this day and is a progressive periodical devoted to covering “news and analysis on politics, business, culture, technology, national, international and life”, but what was it like back then? Last month, at one of Woodchuck Lodge’s Wild Saturday events, I had just about enough time to flick through most of an Atlantic Monthly magazine from April 1923 and took photographs of what I considered the most interesting bits (below). I cannot help but wonder what John Burroughs himself thought when he read about Mrs A trying desperately to avoid “social suicide”. Continue reading →
What an honor to be on the Board of Trustees at Woodchuck Lodge and what a privilege to be able to peruse his 100-year-old collection of Atlantic Monthly magazines, a magazine that is still in existence today. For the writer, this is a rare treat; though the copies are tattered and fading, they still adequately convey the times. Burroughs was published by The Atlantic his nature essays appeared regularly in his life and career. It’s a co-incidence that on Earth Day, April 22nd, I had access to his entire collection of magazines when on The Atlantic website there are details of today’s climate march for science in New York City.
Writer John Burroughs is a local legend. After a long and accomplished life, Burroughs moved back to the small cabin called Woodchuck Lodge on his ancestral home and is buried there. On Saturday, we commemorate his birthday with a Community Day Lecture at the Catskills Center.
John Jay Wadlin, a retired local attorney, will speak on the relationship between Burroughs and Alton B. Parker, the 1904 US Presidential Candidate (who lost to Teddy Roosevelt). Parker and his contemporary, John Burroughs, lived not far from each other in the Town of Esopus, NY. John explores the times and lives of these two important Americans.
Saturday, April 8th 2017 1pm at the Erpf Center, 43355 Route 28, Arkville, NY 12406. (Directions in link.)
All over the Catskills you can find ancient shells, clam-like fossils and other marine life partially buried in the sandstone because, during the Devonian period, the Catskills were at the bottom of the sea, somewhere around the Bahamas. The Devonian Period was 400 million years ago and since then the Americas have moved farther north to the position they are in today. On hikes to places like Slide, Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain, the rocks look like they had pebbles thrown at them while they were molten. According to Catskill Mountaineer, Panther Mountain sits on top of a meteorite hit that happened 375 million years ago. In the middle of the picture above, taken on Slide Mountain, you will see what looks like the remnants of a curling shell.
Johanna and Robert Titus, local Ice Age experts, have written a book on the subject and you can also find a podcast of an interview with them that is available at the Catskill Center.
John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge runs a “Wild Saturday” program at the lodge in Roxbury. The next event will bring visitors “Face to Face with Raptors” at 1 p.m. Saturday, September 3rd. Meet wildlife rehabilitator Annie Mardiney and some of her feathered friends at this free program, sponsored by Vly Mountain Spring Water. The program will be held under cover if it rains. Woodchuck Lodge is located at 1633 Burroughs Memorial Road, Roxbury 12474.
Catskills evenings are magical on a clear night with a few planets in alignment and an inky sky bursting with stars. They’re even more magical when viewed from a fire tower of which there are five in the Catskills. Fire towers are equipped with cabins at their apex and these cabins were manned (can we say personned now?) to watch for fires in the Catskills that are common around May when the grass, having been covered and deadened during winter, hasn’t yet sprung to life. The foliage is also still very dry and wildfires are common.
On Friday September 2nd, witness the 3rd Annual Lighting of the Fire Towers when from 9 to 9.30pm, we are invited to find a place with a view of a fire tower (or towers) on the horizon and watch their cabin light up the night sky.
The cluster of old A.H. Todd & Son barn buildngs between the school on Wagner and Bebert’s Cafe on Main Street in Fleischmanns were demolished last week. The picture above might be the last image of the buildings standing. Update on this to come.
“[Paul] Revere was a renowned silversmith and a courier for the Massachusetts Assembly carrying messages to the Continental Congress, a man in his forties riding 12 miles of well-traveled country roads near Boston. Sybil was 16 years old, and her path led 40 miles through dense woods that harbored ‘cowboys’ and ‘skinners’. The Cowboys were pro-British marauders who roamed in and around Westchester County plundering farmhouses and stealing cattle they later sold to the British…”
Purple Mountain Press in Fleischmanns, New York publishes hugely popular books of local New York State literature and history including John Burroughs’ book of essays In The Catskills. The office is a smaller structure adjacent to the building that houses the press on Main Street in Fleischmanns. I sat down with publisher Wray Rominger, who is now semi-retired, about the storied publishing house’s achievements and the life of a printer.
JN: How long have you lived in the Catskills?
WR: Since 1973.
What brought you here?
We lived in a school bus and came to Woodstock.
Where did you live in a school bus?
We came from Austin Texas, where I was a graduate student from Austin University. We were on the road for two months and I knew a fella in Woodstock that offered us a cabin. He didn’t tell me that the former tenant had had a fire and that there was a hole in the roof. So we had to live in the school bus for another four months until the roof was repaired.
For Veterans’ Day in the US and Remembrance Day in England: a shelf full of history in the Skene Memorial Library in Fleischmanns, New York. When I’m trudging through the rain in New York City today, I will remember those who trudged much longer and in far worse conditions.
Tonight, July 4th and on August 1st and 30th, the Delaware and Ulster Railroad will be hosting Twilight train rides between Arkville and Roxbury with live music. Starting at 6.30pm tonight’s ride will follow the exquisitely picturesque East Branch of the Delaware River in the light of the waning sun and attendees are invited to bring a picnic dinner and their beverage of choice. $20 per person.
Lake Switzerland was built in 1907 for boating and ice harvesting by damming the Bushkill stream. It was later removed and thereafter Lake Switzerland drained considerably. The St Regis, which was originally on the banks of Lake Switzerland, now faces a valley, the original stream, and houses that have since been built on the stream banks. Trees have since grown back and the same view as the old postcard is not really possible from Breezy Hill Road (bottom).
Built in 1907, the dam that created Lake Switzerland was later thought to be structurally unsound and removed. Just to the right of today’s picture is the road and the spot on which the St Regis Hotel still stands. If you look at the postcard of the St Regis Hotel, it will give you an idea of the area covered by the lake. In the right of today’s picture are some white concrete barriers where the bridge used to be. The image at bottom of the post is the view of the St Regis today from other side of the bridge.
Up the hill behind the train tracks of the DURR opposite The Emerson, a new inn is being fitted out with ten rooms, restaurant, bar and lounge named The Foxfire Mountain House. Most of the furnishings are second-hand items found in the Catskills, with the decorative Moroccan tiling found in a warehouse in Brooklyn. There are still chairs to be sanded, beds to be built and raspberry banquets to be fitted, but proprietor Tim Trojan hopes to be open by June. An adjacent cottage has been ready for a while and has been rented for weekends on AirBNB. Tim owns the inn with his wife Eliza Clark a television producer and Eliza’s daughter Arden Wray, a photographer. He’s been directing the renovation for the past year, but the style has come from his wife Eliza who produced renovation television shows.
Poignant relics of Catskills’ history like this antique tractor are to be found all over the Catskills, as much part of the landscape as the forest. Over the next few weeks, as spring begins, we’ll be photographing these enigmatic idols as they sit silently conveying their story like stoic immortal pioneers. May they always be around to remind us of the work involved in settling these mountains. Along Route 28 and other routes, you will find pieces of farm equipment and other machinery arranged into statues. We’ll be documenting those too.
The Hubbell Cider Press dates back to the 1880s. The mountain railroad allowed farmers of the Catskills access to heavy machinery left over from the civil war. Chopped apples come down the chute, top left and land in the barrel, bottom left. The mush is then pressed flat between racks on the press in the background. Juice is collected in trays beneath the press running down the centre.