Just when I decide I don’t know as much as I think I find I know even less. For this epiphany I can thank the Rev. Charles Rockwell, Dutch Dominie of the Catskills, and author of “The Catskill Mountains and the Region Around” that was published in 1867 and revised in 1869 in New York by Taintor Brothers & Co., 229 Broadway. I grew up a scant 35 miles south of Catskill in the Hudson River valley in New Paltz and had, from about the age of 8, a deep and abiding interest in history. That this book eluded me until now is not easily explained.
The Rev. Rockwell’s 351-page book is a very complete collection of both his and others’ accounts of the history and myths of the Catskill Mountain region. There is much and many.
In this book Catskill is the gateway to the Catskill Mountains. This is not a proposition that receives much consideration in southern Ulster County where I come from but, in reading his account his view becomes understandable. In the 19th century access to the Catskills was often made by boat conveying passengers and cargo up the Hudson River. This is long before cars and even longer before good roads. Access by boat made sense.
Near Catskill was the famous Mountain House, the subject of many famous paintings and engravings. In an era captured in many of the paintings of Thomas Cole and others, mystical beauty was a recurring theme and the Catskills one of its epicenters. This book effectively brings the heyday of the Catskills back to view.
Before there were airplanes, Palm Beach and later Palm Springs there was Catskill. New Yorkers and those arriving from other parts could make the final leg of their journey up the Hudson on a virtual tour of American history. The Hudson was yet pristine and in season, filled with Shad whose last wish and goal was to spawn in the streams that fed the Hudson. Past the rocky Pallisades to West Point where Benedict Arnold entered the history books, past Newburgh where Washington quartered his troops and on past Poughkeepsie to Kingston, the first capital of New York State. Continuing north by boat the Mountain House loomed into view high up on the west bank.