Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2016 Issue

The Catskill Mountain House: life moves on

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Several months ago I was offered a group of legal documents relating to the Catskill Mountain House, the 19th century resort that once perched on mountain cliffs a few miles west of the Hudson River in Greene County, New York.  The material was mostly early 20th century legal records that captured some of the history of what was, in its time, one of America’s most famous hotel resorts.  I found the material appealing and purchased it for $850.

 

The wooden hotel, a commercial project invested in by local merchants, first opened in 1824.  The hotel was not winterized, neither was the Hudson River passable in winter and railroads were some 25 years in the future.

 

The hotel’s history would mirror the rise and decline of the Hudson River as America’s Broadway [1825-1860].  From its beginnings the hotel was unique and special, attracting both the rich and famous of its day.

 

The hotel’s history also paralleled the development of American hand-colored prints such as those by Currier and Ives.   A group of them illustrate this article.

 

The legal documents illuminate the decline of the once fine hotel.  The property was the outcome of dozens of purchases in the 19th and sales in the 20th century.  New York State has long depended on real estate taxes and forced almost all the major Hudson Valley landed hotels into ruinous debt, bankruptcy, or conversion to modified public use trusts.  When the world shifted west, toward Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago, the people, their energy, efforts and money moved with them, leaving not so much ghost towns as communities in decline, many of which today have not recovered.

 

These documents, which include deeds and maps, graphically portray the rise and fall of the enterprise.  By themselves, they are an arcane history of death by inches.  When joined with early 19th century images they force a comparison between what once was with what the place became.  Today, after fires and time, only remnants remain.

 

Life moved on.

 

The documents;

 

Various deeds

Various tax bills and delinquency notices

Various title searches

Legal communications

7 maps [blueprints]

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