TheLand of Rip Van Winkle

Friday, December 15, 2017

Winter Clove Inn

Round Top NY

The origins of Winter Clove Inn begin in the late 1700’s just after the Revolutionary War when the Slater family received a large land grant as payment for Revolutionary War services in present day Round Top, NY. The Slaters began farming this land and it is here they would establish their homestead. Around this time the name Winter Clove also first appeared on an early map of the Northern Catskill Mountains. When the surveyors ran their lines through this clove, or mountain valley, they found the ice and snow of winter had not given way to spring as it had in the surrounding area, thus the name Winter Clove was born.

  Then in the early 1800’s travel to the Catskill Mountains increased as visitors looked for an escape from the summer heat and commotion of New York City. In the summer of 1838 Mr. Slater opened his farmhouse to visiting guest and soon after the name Winter Clove was first used in reference to the house.
   In the 1860’s Henry Barber Whitcomb arrived to survey the Slater’s land and would fall in love with and wed Mary Slater. The two would eventually inherit the farm and boarding house which they would continue to operate during summer months. Many renovations and nearly 200 years and five generations later the Whitcomb Family still owns and operates the resort making it the oldest single family owned hotel in the United States. Today the Whitcombs are proud to continue the family tradition of welcoming guest who are attracted by the same principals of family, relaxation and natural beauty that attracted Winter Clove’s first guest in the early 1800’s. 
Winter Clove Inn © 2016

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Cry of the Hillborn

by: Bliss Carman

I AM homesick for the mountains—
My heroic mother hills—
And the longing that is on me
No solace ever stills.
I would climb to brooding summits
With their old untarnished dreams,
Cool my heart in forest shadows
To the lull of falling streams;
Hear the innocence of aspens
That babble in the breeze,
And the fragrant sudden showers
That patter on the trees.
I am lonely for my thrushes
In their hermitage withdrawn,
Toning the quiet transports
 Of twilight and of dawn.
I need the pure, strong mornings,
When the soul of day is still,
With the touch of frost that kindles
The scarlet on the hill;
Lone trails and winding woodroads
To outlooks wild and high,
And the pale moon waiting sundown
Where ledges cut the sky.
I dream of upland clearings
Where cones of sumac burn,
And gaunt and gray-mossed boulders
Lie deep in beds of fern;
The gray and mottled beeches,
The birches' satin sheen,
The majesty of hemlocks
Crowning the blue ravine.
My eyes dim for the skyline
Where purple peaks aspire,
And the forges of the sunset
Flare up in golden fire.
There crests look down unheeding
And see the great winds blow,
Tossing the huddled tree-tops
In gorges far below;
Where cloud-mists from the warm earth
Roll up about their knees,
And hang their filmy tatters
Like prayers upon the trees.
I cry for night-blue shadows
On plain and hill and dome,—
The spell of old enchantments,
The sorcery of home.

The Land of Rip Van Winkle

By Thomas J. Illari

2018 will celebrate the anniversary of the most prominent resident of the Catskills who actually never resided there. Rip Van Winkle. It was in June 1818 that Washington Irving penned the classic short story. It was published a year later in a book which is a collection of short stories called “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.”

Although the story is set in the Catskill Mountains, Irving later admitted, "When I wrote the story, I had never been on the Catskills”?  Irving’s first trip up the Hudson wasn’t until 1832.

In the opening of the story of Rip Van Winkle, Irving makes reference that the tale was found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker. A fictional character made up by Irving as narrator of the story. The word Knickerbocker later became synonymous with Dutch Americans living in New York State.

The story of Rip Van Winkle itself is widely thought to have been based on Johann Karl Christophe Nachtigal’s German folktale "Peter Klaus”. This story, set in a German village, tells of a goat herder by the name of Peter who goes looking for a lost goat. Peter finds some men drinking in the woods and after drinking some of their wine he falls asleep. When he wakes back up, twenty years have passed. Sound familiar? Nonetheless it was a hit.

The story of Rip Van Winkle gripped the imagination of nineteenth century America and it seemed that no matter what part of the Catskills you visited, Rip Van Winkle had been there ahead of you.

Although Irving wished to keep the location a secret, it didn’t stop local towns from laying claims that they were the home of Rip Van Winkle. Palenville, at the base of Kaaterskill Clove, was a popular 19th century hamlet and taken as the village where Rip’s adventures began. But Irving himself wished to keep the exact location a mystery.

Another contender to Rip’s whereabouts was the old Mountain Turnpike leading up to the Catskill Mountain House. It had its own fame regarding Rip Van Winkle. Irving mentions a deep mountain glen in his story and, Sleepy Hollow; a horseshoe bend on the old Mountain Turnpike, took claim to fame as the exact location of Rip’s famous sleep. There was a boarding house at the horseshoe bend by the name of The Rip Van Winkle House and a boulder claiming to be the exact place that old Rip slept for twenty years.

When Irving himself was asked to help solve the exact location of Rip’s home he only made sure the mystery did not fade. In a letter dated February 5, 1858 Irving writes the following in response to a letter inquiring the location of Rip’s hometown:

“I can give you no other information concerning the localities of the story Rip Van Winkle, than is to be gathered from the manuscript of Mr. Knickerbocker…perhaps he left this purposely in doubt. I would advise you to defer to the opinion of the very old gentlemen with whom you say you had an argument on the subject. I think it probable he is as accurately informed as anyone on the matter”

Some other fun “Rip” facts:

Route 23A leading from Catskill West was known as “The Rip Van Winkle Trail”

In 1930 Tannersville had their very own airport – the Rip Van Winkle Airways Airport

Actor Joseph Jefferson made a lifelong career acting as Rip Van Winkle and would continue acting in his show for 40 years. Jefferson was able to take an American play and characters to places like Australia and England with great success.  Jefferson also starred in a number of films as the Van Winkle character starting in the 1896 Awakening of Rip.  Jefferson's son Thomas followed in his father's footsteps and played the character in a number of early 20th century films. Joseph Jefferson made several recordings, all of material from "Rip Van Winkle". The success of Rip Van Winkle was so pronounced that he has often been called a one-part actor.

When Rip wakes from his twenty-year slumber his world has changed. Many of his friends are dead. The image of King George III over the tavern has been replaced by one of General Washington. Rip has missed out on the entire era of the American Revolution. Some critics have pointed to this as evidence that Rip Van Winkle is a symbol of America itself, baffled by rapid political change and freed from tyranny.

Rip Van Winkle is full of symbols. The most noteworthy is the relationship between he and his antagonistic wife, Dame Van Winkle. She symbolizes the relationship between America and Britain prior to the revolution.

In 1954  “Rips Retreat” opened in Haines Falls on the East side of North Lake. The retreat was essentially commercial but also based upon historical and educational features. Rip was always on hand to greet visitors. It operated through 1960 and the land was then sold to New York State.

There was a short-lived amusement park called Rip Van Winkle Park built in 1908 on Catskill Creek in Leeds. It was built to increase trolley ridership from Catskill Landing to help the financially troubled Catskill Electric Railway Company. Both ventures later failed.

Rip’s Lookout was a souvenir stand, a small building, just past the horseshoe turn on 23A as you drive up Kaaterskill Clove (on the Rip Van Winkle Tail).  They had a viewing glass to see where Rip Van Winkle slept on the side of the mountain. There was a wishing in the front and the small building which operated as a refreshment stand and gas station.  It was a popular motorist stop with spectacular views of the Clove. (This location is now the parking lot for those wishing to hike to the lower Kaaterskill falls.)

The infiltration of Rip Van Winkle on the Catskills is profound. Rip Van Winkle Tours once ran from NYC to Sullivan County, one may cross the Hudson at Catskill over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, or fill your gas tank at the Rip van Winkle Gas Station, drive along the Rip Van Winkle Trail, sleep at the Rip Van Winkle Lodge on a mattress by the Rip Van Winkle Bedding Company or rest on a Rip Van Winkle Recliner.

So as we approach the 200th anniversary of Rip Van Winkle, let us not forget how this fictional resident of the Catskills has played a significant role in the identity of the region.  To this day we see his name associated throughout the Catskills and even throughout the US.  However, it is Greene County that remains identified as the Land of Rip Van Winkle.