TheLand of Rip Van Winkle

Monday, September 19, 2016

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Catskill Collectibles

Welcome to Catskill Collectibles. My interest in the Catskills dates from my childhood. Through the years I have been an avid student of Catskill history. I have read and researched many books and assembled a regional collection that is a part of that history.

I love the still-unspoiled natural beauty of the mountains and crystal-clear waters of its lakes and streams. Life is beautiful here; a sanctuary for us all. Yet, so much about the region, its art and its history is unknown to many. We hope you will visit often. I am available on-line to answer any questions you may have about the collection, and to share my personal knowledge of each item of interest to you as well as of this great region and its history. My commitment is to do my part to keeping alive the heritage and spirit of the Catskills.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Three large hotels once stood above the eastern slope of the Catskills here in Greene County, looking over the Hudson Valley and the deep cut in the mountains carved by Kaaterskill Creek. The first and most famed, the Catskill Mountain House, stood on the broad lawn, in growing disrepair, until the state bought the site and burned it in 1963.
The second, the Kaaterskill Hotel, with rooms for 800 guests, burned accidentally in 1924. The third, the Laurel House, built at the head of Kaaterskill Falls, the highest falls in New York, was bought by the state and burned in 1966.

The Otis Elevating Railway represented the final stage in improved transportation to the Catskill Mountain House. When the great resort opened in 1824, early travelers from New York City faced a grueling four hour stagecoach ride from the steamship landing at Catskill, 12 miles distant. When the Catskill Mountain Railroad reached Palenville in 1882, the brutal stage ride had dropped to a manageable two mile ride. Still, the increasingly sophisticated vacationer found the hour-long stage ride fit for a barbarian.
The Beach family, owners of the Catskill Mountain House, enlisted Otis Elevator Company, headed by Charles Owen Otis, to develop a cable railway. Drawing on his expertise, Otis called upon other great industrial firms of the day, (Hamilton-Corliis to supply the engines and Roebling to supply the cable) to help execute the project. The Railway opened on August 7, 1892 with coaches and baggage cars from Jackson & Sharp of Wilmington, Delaware.
The Otis Elevating Railway, later the Otis Railway, closed forever after the 1918 season, an early victim of America's love affair with the automobile.

Hotel Kaaterskill

While the Mountain House had the view and the Laurel House had the falls, the Hotel Kaaterskill, located on nearby South Mountain and erected by George Harding, had the sheer size to make it a contender.
Folklore tells us that the genesis of the hotel was the so-called “Fried Chicken War” between Mountain House owner Beach and George Harding, a Mountain House patron and leading patent attorney of his day (his clients included inventors Samuel F.B. Morse). As the story goes, while dining at the Mountain House, Harding requested some fried chicken (others say boiled) in lieu of red meat for his daughter (others say it was his wife), but was refused. Harding made a fuss, Beach was called onto the scene, and the argument ended with Beach suggesting that Harding build his own hotel.
“Rather than being upset about the meal selection, it’s more likely that Harding saw a business opportunity,” says Dorpfeld. After an eight-month building frenzy, the Hotel Kaaterskill opened in 1881, advertising that it could accommodate 612 guests. Two years later, the addition of an annex allowed the number of patrons to swell to 1,100, making it three times the size of the Mountain House. Harding spared no expense on his hotel, hiring French chefs and decorating the place with modern Eastlake furniture. The Hotel Kaaterskill quickly developed a stellar reputation. “If you wanted to be noticed and commented upon in the newspaper, you’d go there or to the Mountain House”.
By the early 20th century, the entire Catskill region had begun to lose much of its cache. Beach and Harding both died in 1902. Neighboring hotels offered cheaper lodging, which attracted the middle class — but drove away the wealthy.

Leeds Bridge

This bridge at first glance appears to be a stone arch that dates to 1775. The overall visual appearance of the bridge, combined with a plaque on the bridge which says the "original bridge" was built in 1775 and "restored" in 1937 seem to suggest this. However, the bridge is quite wide (30 foot roadway), and in the National Bridge Inventory is listed as a concrete arch built in 1825 and rehabilitated in 1937. After a closer examination of the NBI data and the bridge itself, it appears that in 1775 a bridge was first built at this location. In 1825, the bridge was replaced with a stone arch. In 1937, the stone arch was replaced with a concrete arch bridge. The concrete arch bridge was wider but kept the same arch shape as the stone arch bridge, and the stones from the 1825 bridge were placed on the spandrel walls of the bridge (and the parapets reused also), so that the concrete arch bridge looks like the stone arch bridge. Assuming this is all true, the 1825 bridge obviously does not have historic integrity. However, the 1937 alteration, apparently designed to try to retain some of the materials and character of the stone arch bridge, represents an early United States example of historic bridge preservation effort. This fact, combined with the portions of the 1825 bridge that remain on the bridge, mean that this bridge should be considered historic. 
The Canajoharie and Catskill Rail Road (C&C) ran from Catskill, NY to Potter's Hollow, NY. Originally it was intended to extend the railroad to Canajoharie, New York.
Chartered in 1830,it never achieved its intended goal of connecting its namesake villages. A ground breaking ceremony was held in 1831,but construction did not begin in earnest until 1836 when the route was surveyed by George H. Cook.By the end of construction a total of 26¼ miles of track had been laid.
The track consisted of wooden rails topped with strap iron.The track generally followed Catskill Creek, and the communities served included Cairo and Leeds. The first trains, consisting of cars hauled by horses, ran in 1839.The line's only locomotive, Mountaineer, began operation in 1840. It was never very satisfactory. The C&C carried both passengers and freight.[Commodities carried included iron, brick, wood, various agricultural products, and household goods including such items as candles, tea, salt, snuff and raisins.
On 4 May 1840 the High Rock covered bridge over Catskill Creek collapsed under the weight of the train, killing one Jehiel Tyler and injuring a number of others. This disaster is marked by a New York State historic plaque on Route 145, about two and half miles west of East Durham.
Following the bridge collapse, the line collapsed financially and was sold and scrapped in 1842.
The only known depiction of the railroad is Thomas Cole's River in the Catskills at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Catskill Mountain Railway Tunnel - Main Street Catskill NY

Construction of the tunnel under lower Main Street in Catskill. This was used by the Catskill Mountain railway as it ran to and from the point.
Nelida Theatre
373 Main Street, Catskill, NY 12414

Built in 1880 as a roller rink the Nelida derived its name as an amalgam of the names of the wives of the owners, Nell Lampman and Ida Kortz. By the end of the decade it had been converted to a theater which housed plays, concerts, community events and movies.
On New Year’s Eve, 1917, a sellout crowd was present for a fundraiser. Shortly after the last people left in the early AM a fire was discovered in the basement. It was subsequently attributed to a defect in the recently updated heating system and the need to overcome the minus 12 temperatures outside.
The wooden building was quickly consumed also spreading to those on either side and to the rear. Seven buildings were destroyed, an estimated loss of $150,000. The $14,000 value of the Nelida Theatre was only partially covered by insurance.

Other adjacent buildings also suffered damage.
The Community Theater is now on this site,
Catskill Point is located where the Catskill Creek meets the Hudson River. In the late 1800s, thousands of visitors arrived here each week on steamships, the Hudson River Day and Night Liners, to vacation in local hotels and venture up into the Catskill Mountains.
The Village of Catskill, established in 1806, is located just up the creek from this point. The low,
yellow-colored building near the tip of Catskill Point was once the warehouse where local farmers brought animals and produce for transport by ship to New York City. The nearby brick building, now an interpretive center for the Historic Catskill Point, was the Freight master’s building.
Next door to the Freightmaster’s Building, you can still see the ferry slip for those traveling across the river during the 19th century. Until trains were available in the 1850s, river traffic stopped during the winter months when the Hudson was ice-bound.
The Hop-o'-Nose Knitting Mill was a structure representative of the industrial history of Catskill, New York in the nineteenth century. The mill was built by Wolfe Bros., carpenters, and Mull & Fromer, Masons and Builders, in 1881at 130 West Main Street. West Main Street is located on the western side of Catskill Creek, while East Main Street is on the eastern side of the creek. The mill was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995 as Hop-O-Nose Knitting Mill. It has since been demolished, with the exception of the tower, which remains overlooking a lot full of brick demolition debris.

The Rip Van Winkle House was located just north of Palenville on the old mountain road that went from Sleepy Hollow to the Catskill Mountain House.
The smaller house (shanty) was built in 1845. Ira Sax owned the shanty in 1867, and he hired William Comfort to build a larger boarding house. In 1880, Ira Sax sold the lot and Rip Van Winkle Boarding House to Elizabeth Lusk. Elizabeth Lusk was the wife of Gilbert Lusk. Gilbert Lusk then managed the property and the boarding house. It is alleged that Thomas Cole painted an image of Rip Van Winkle over the door. Gilbert died in 1885. His wife, Elizabeth Lusk continued to operate the business under the management of H. A. Schutt and J. M. Miller.
The Mountain House Road and the Rip Van Winkle house began a steady demise in 1892 when the Otis Company built an inclined railway up the mountainside to the Catskill Mountain House. Eiizabeth Lusk sold the property to Sarah Emory in 1893 who then sold the property to Robert M. Mabie in 1896. Robert's investment was a poor one. The property deteriorated. Around 1902 it was abandoned. It is believed to have burned to the ground around 1918. The Mountain House Road is now used as a hiking trail and snowmobile trail in the winter.

The Catskill Mountain House

The Mountain House's site, the "Pine Orchard," had long been famous for its panoramic views up and down the Hudson Valley and even beyond to the east. John Bartram and James Fenimore Cooper had both written about it in different contexts.
Artists and writers had discovered the Catskills some time earlier. Shortly after it was constructed, the Mountain House and its surroundings became a favorite subject for Washington Irving and artists of the new Hudson River School, most notably Thomas Cole. Cooper advised his European audience, "If you want to see the sights of America, go to see Niagara Falls, Lake George and the Catskill Mountain House."
The hotel was built in 1823 and opened a year later by a group of merchants from nearby Catskill on a plateau with sweeping views of the Hudson Valley on one side and two lakes on the other side that provided water and recreation.
In 1839, Charles Beach, whose father ran a stage coach line from the town of Catskill to the Mountain House, leased the hotel from the owners for six years and then bought it outright. Beach rebuilt the Mountain House, changing the original Federalist design into a neo-classical structure.

Tom Andersen - Catskill Keeps Callin' Me

Rip Van Winkle

Did you know?
Rip Van Winkle is a short story by the American author Washington Irving published in 1819, as well as the name of the story’s fictional leading character. Written while Irving was living in Birmingham, England, it was part of a collection of stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. Although the story is set in New York‘s Catskill Mountains, Irving later admitted, “When I wrote the story, I had never been in the Catskills."

Where did the word "Catskill" come from?

The name "Catskills" did not come into wide popular use for the mountains until the mid-19th century — in fact, that name was disparaged by purists as too plebeian, too reminiscent of the area's Dutch colonial past, especially since it was used by the local farming population. It may also have been a continuation of the British practice, after taking possession of the colony in the late 17th century, of trying to replace most Dutch toponyms in present-day New York with their English alternatives. The locals preferred to call them the Blue Mountains, to harmonize with Vermont's Green Mountains and New Hampshire's White Mountains. It was only after Irving's stories that Catskills won out over Blue Mountains, and several other competitors.
While the meaning of the name ("cat creek" in Dutch) and the namer (early Dutch explorers) are settled matters, exactly how and why the area is named is a mystery.
The most common, and easiest, is that bobcats were seen near Catskill creek and the present-day village of Catskill, and the name followed from there. However there is no record of bobcats ever having been seen in significant numbers on the banks of the Hudson, and the name Catskill does not appear on paper until 1655, more than four decades later.
Other theories include:
A corruption of kasteel, the Dutch sailors' term for the Indian stockades they saw on the riverbank. According to one Belgian authority, kat occurs in many place names throughout Flanders and has nothing to do with cats and everything to do with fortifications.

It was to honor Dutch poet Jacob Cats, who was also known for his real estate prowess, profiting from speculation in lands reclaimed from the sea.
A ship named The Cat had gone up the Hudson shortly before the name was first used. In nautical slang of the era, cat could also mean a piece of equipment, or a particular type of small vessel.
It has also been suggested that it refers to lacrosse, which Dutch visitors had seen the Iroquois natives play. Kat can also refer to a tennis racket, which a lacrosse stick resembles, and the first place the Dutch saw this, further down the river in the present-day Town of Saugerties, they gave the name Kaatsbaan, for "tennis court," which is still on maps today.
The confusion over the exact origins of the name led over the years to variant spellings such as Kaatskill and Kaaterskill, both of which are also still used.
Rowena School - Palenville NY
#palenville #catskill #catskillcollectibles

Built by Lysander Lawrence, a wealthy New York City merchant. He, among many others, passed through Palenville during his summers in the late 19th century on his way to the Catskill Mountain House. During those trips, he became acquainted with one of the local school principals. After the death of his wife Rowena in the 1890s, Lawrence decided to pay tribute to her by doing something for the community they had both come to love. He decided to pay for a new school building that would combine the populations currently attending Palenville's two small schoolhouses.
He hired Brooklyn architect John A. Davidson to draw up plans, and local mason George Holdridge began cutting stone from the nearby Empire Quarry. Construction began in 1899; the first classes were held in 1901. The community was at first ecstatic about its new edifice. "How fitting it is", said Catskill High School Principal Charles Hale, "that a village nestled at the foot of the grand old mountains should have a school that speaks so eloquently of the skill of man — a building perfect as a work of art." On September 3, 1900, a dedication ceremony featuring a children's choir and fireworks display was attended by the state's deputy superintendent of public instruction.
As the reality of the new school set in, some residents began to express concern about its maintenance costs. Lawrence had paid the $50,000 construction cost himself, but the community would have to pay the annual upkeep for the new school, which could accommodate five times as many students as the district then had, and some residents did not think it could afford to do so. There was also opposition to the choice of C.F. Payne, Lawrence's friend, as principal of the new school. After a series of political maneuvers that involved the state schools superintendent and led to the removal of one member of the school board, Payne kept his job. The building remained a source of contention, and some residents called for its demolition so that everyone could be friends again. It continued as Palenville's school until 1977, when the Catskill Central School District was created from the merger of the small rural districts in the area. The new district closed the building down. It continued in use as a library until it was closed again in 1989. For several years it deteriorated until jewelry designer Steven Kretchmer and his wife purchased it and remodeled it into Ringing Metal Studios. Since his death in a motorcycle accident in 2006, Steven's step-daughter moved in, took over the business and building maintenance.

Hidden in Plain Sight - Symbolism and the Hudson River School

By Thomas J. Illari

The Hudson River School artists were in search of an art form that would allow them to celebrate that which set America apart from Europe and this they found in the splendor of the American landscape. Over the course of the 19th century there was a remarkable change in attitudes toward nature, discoverable in all the arts, especially literature, painting and landscape architecture. It culminated in the Romantic landscape tradition in Europe and America in the 19th century. It was the golden age of landscape painting marked by a major change in the view of the relationship between man and nature.

The early Hudson River artists searched for the sublime and modified what they saw when they later applied the landscape to their canvases. They viewed the sublime as a manifestation of God’s power, to impress the mind with a sense of awe. They believed that there was a moral purpose for being an artist. Their goal was to recreate, not necessarily reproduce or just copy, what they found in nature. Their belief was that art itself is the process of creation and fundamentally religious. Rather than painting the actual landscape as first viewed by the artist their goal was to create their own allowing time to diminish unnecessary details.  They permitted themselves to embellish on those components of the landscape they wanted to emphasize by adding various elements, symbolism, and at times carefully hidden meanings within their landscapes. In the nineteenth century both the artists and their audiences were aware of the tradition of using symbols and they were fully able to understand and incorporate these into their works.

For example, in Thomas Cole’s series The Course of Empire he rejects the American nationalist pride by predicting its inevitable decline by showing in a series of five paintings the progression from wilderness  (The Savage State) to pastoral (The Arcadian State) to the empire (The Consummation of Empire), it’s demise (Destruction) and the landscape returning to wilderness (Desolation). This series could be taken as a warning that if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. And perhaps the next time our civilization collapses, it very well could be the last. Cole portrays the inevitable course of the empires of the past that have fallen into corruption, decadence and who brought about their own demise. It is a lesson in five panels outlining the historical course of empire building and a warning of what may be in store for his newly created country.

In Cole’s scene from Last of the Mohicans he uses enhanced geological features including imagery of a large phallic next to a dark cave to expose the sexual tensions in the popular James Fenimore Cooper novel that inspired the painting.

In Coles painting The Oxbow the painting can almost be divided in half with the left side being an untamed wilderness with a storm passing through.  On the right side the storm has passed and everything is calm. It is an ideal rural scene, but the removal of trees has left scars on the hillside. On closer inspection, those scars are in the shape of Hebrew letters. For the viewer they spell Noah. Looking down, from God's perspective, they same shapes spell Shaddai, or the Hebrew word for God, or Almighty. Is Cole suggesting that the landscape be read as a holy text?

Aside from some of the obvious messaging, many Hudson River School artists used storm imagery that was originally used to represent the dark side of the sublime. However, as the 19th century evolved the storm imagery grew to symbolize civic discord during the civil war and to represent the coming crisis and tension of industrialization and technology that threatened a sanctified landscape.

Other symbolic images such as lakes were used to link sky an earth, man with God. To Cole, the sky represented “the soul of all scenery”, the sublime in the landscape. Waterfalls represented unceasing change, everlasting duration and power. The blasted tree represented the cycle of nature – death coexisting with growth and life. The absence of ruins in the paintings signified America’s freedom of monarchy and corruption. The trees of the American landscape represented primeval forest, a sort of Eden, emphasizing that America was untouched, pure as the day of creation. The trees had a primitive quality to set them apart from the destitute European forests and they gave forth the autumn colors like no European had ever seen. Cole referred to trees as “they are like men…they exhibit striking peculiarities, and sometimes grand originality.”

The figure of a man in the landscapes was shown as small part of the larger environment that implied the insignificance of humans within the natural world. However, despite how diminutive man may be in nature, these artists knew well that humans could devastate the land. Many paintings were used as a plea for preservation of the American landscape. Examples include scenes of railways plowing through a picturesque landscape, open fields ravaged by man and tree trunks clearly identified as being cut down by the axe.

Thomas Cole’s The Picnic is a scene depicting sublime nature and man’s place within it.  Even here you see evidence of man’s dominate position with the tree stumps in the foreground cut by an axe.  This was Cole’s protest of the advancement into the wilderness. Wood was a basic commodity for homes, railroads and expansion of the American industrial age and the wilderness was being chopped by the ax at a rapid pace.

Artists of the Hudson River School added other symbols some of which were considered specific to the American landscape. Native Americans represented the wilderness and the savagery associated with it, deer as a symbol of wilderness before the arrival of man and the cow as a symbol of man cultivating the land and his co-existence with nature.

In pastoral landscapes, portraying the life in the country in an idealized and conventionalized manner, the Hudson River School artists celebrated the dominion of mankind over nature. The scenes are peaceful, often depicting harvests, gardens, lawns with broad vistas, and healthy livestock. The view was that man has developed and tamed the landscape which then yielded the necessities we need to live as well as providing beauty and safety. A classic example of this is the Pastoral Landscape by Asher Brown Durand.

In sublime landscapes nature is shown at its most fearsome. There is an awe and reverence for the wild. Humanity is small and impotent in front of raging waters and violent storms. These works can also be uplifting, in a spiritual way. The sublime emphasizes God’s dominion over humanity. An example is The Catskill Mountain House: The Four Elements by Thomas Cole.
Whatever messaging or themes that may be present in these landscape paintings, most of Hudson River School artists had one common message to convey - morality. Despite their different styles and subject matter, their purpose was a common one. It was to preserve their new nation’s beautiful and natural scenes. They wanted to express man’s harmony with nature, and viewed their new country as a gift, a second chance for mankind to live in the new Eden of the untouched American wilderness.
As you view these 19th century landscapes it is of interest to think about how the artists have contributed to our view of the natural world and its significance in our lives even today. The era of the Hudson River School was complex. They created some extraordinary works leaving behind their vision of man’s association with nature. Almost two hundred years later their legacy continues and their revelations stand as strong today as it did when they first rambled through the Catskill Mountains in search for the sublime and picturesque.