Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2011 Issue

A Fish Story:  1906

Eddyville 1840

Eddyville at its peak: 1840

Diminutive size has its advantages or had its advantages, when the smaller than small town of Eddyville in Ulster County, New York in the shadow of Rondout [now deceased] decided to conceal from public view and the prying eyes of nearby newspapers and neighborhood gossipmongers, facts that unvarnished might have damaged the budding reputation and dampened the ambitions of a community seeking to become the fishing capital of the world.  Such is the price of ambition that conspiracies may emerge on the wings of best intentions, born to flight by the prospect of profit, the much-maligned footman to the wealthy.  Almost to a man the male residents of the town owned frontage on the noble Rondout Creek, to hear it explained locally, a Riviera like France’s, only better.  Local pride knew no bounds; neither did the need for ready money that was in short supply as misbegotten Americans, immigrants and tourists increasingly failed to appreciate the mystic power of the place.   As luck would have it, as all eyes shifted west, a gory story threatening the prospects and property values of this little berg, unfolded: the disappearance of swimmers and the sighting of a monster during a peaceful summer swim in the mighty Rondout.

Disasters have a way of focusing the mind and potentially undermining the appeal of a community whose virtues had long gone unremarked except by clients of Longshore’s Saloon where a thirsty man could replenish fluids and retail gibberish.  There, in the clouded awareness of the inebriated, the virtues of Eddyville went uncontested while distant places were damned, diminished and declared underrated.  A visitor could be forgiven for feeling lost in time for if one asked for directions all references given were to the sixty year old Burr maps of Ulster County of the 1840s that showed Eddyville as the equal or better of most of the burgs, in fact a dominant place and veritable giant compared to the snip of a whistle stop Poughkeepsie just a few miles southwest.  One had to go north to Albany or south to New York to find something more extravagant.  Later maps would shrink and then drop Eddyville altogether, an insult and, to local minds, evidence of incompetence.  As locals were wont to say, “they aut’ta knew better.”  As a consequence, in the gathering sundown in Eddyville each night, the resurrection bruited on Sundays at the First Baptist found its confirmation on earth in the liquor-lubricated prospect that this little Lazarus would rise again.  Again you ask?

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