The Catskills


Willard Van De Bogart Sr.

Pencil sketch of Rip Van Winkle Rip Van Winkle - sketch by Willard Van De Bogart Sr. 1921

The sketch is of the legendary personality called Rip Van Winkle. It is told in the legend that Rip Van Winkle fell asleep under a tree in the Catskills, and did not re-awaken for 100 years. It was drawn by my father when he was 17 years of age. I found the manuscript in his personal affects, and it clearly describes the idyllic lifestyle which was present in the Catskills in 1921.

He dedicated the writing to his parents because of spending all their childhood days in the Catskills.
Chapter I: Description of the Catskill Mountains as to their location, changes, peaks, and lakes and reservoirs.
Chapter II: The Askokan Reservoir as to its size, depth and the building of shafts and aqueducts.
Chapter III: Chief and important industry carried on in the Catskills.
Chapter IV: Important summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains; both summer and winter.
Chapter V: Sports in the Catskill Mountains.

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Chapter I

If you go up the Hudson River you will see the famous Catskill Mountains. They are a branch of a still greater range stretching West of the river. Every change of weather produces some change of magical hues and shapes of these mountains.

When the weather is fair they are clothed in blue and purple, and they show their bold lines on the clear sky; and sometimes they gather a hood of grey vapor which show in the last rays of the setting sun, and glow and light up like a crown of glory. These mountains have high peaks, and round tops connected with them. There are very fertile valleys in these mountains, and this being so there are many large farming districts.

View of the Catskill Mountains looking West

There is a rail road running up to the extreme end of these mountains. The mountains also contain many creeks and lakes, but not of great size, which pour into the Ashokan Reservoir. This water supplies New York City. A broad road runs along the top of the reservoir. This reservoir is one hundred miles from New York City and is divided into two parts. All the water before it enters the aqueducts is thrown into a fine spray, and this purifies it. Then it is put into the large aqueducts, and is sent to New York City.

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Chapter II

A few years ago during a hot summer the reservoir became very low. If the supply of water became low for one day disease would follow, and it would hurt the factories also. So, men were sent to examine all streams, and get the nearest place around where they could get a larger water supply of pure water. The men searched the Catskill Mountains for pure water.

Work soon began, and the ground was cleared. Villages sheltering less than two thousand persons were destroyed and many cemeteries were moved. Then steam shovels, crains, and small trains began working. Many men were hired to sink shafts down into the earth. The reservoir was build across the Esopus Creek. It is about 220 feet high from the creek bed, and at the bottom nearly one hundred and ninety feet. The dam is about forty miles around and one hundred and ninety feet deep.

Historical pictures of the Esopus Creek - Genelogy search capabilities for Dutch ancestors.

The aqueduct in which the water runs to New York is first made up of a structure of iron, then concrete is just over that. In some places the aqueduct is seventeen feet wide and seventeen feet high. There are twenty four other tunnels or aqueducts and now water is running continuously to New York to supply the people with good pure water from the Catskill Mountains.

Think of it! The men were eleven hundred feet below the surface tunneling toward each other, and after very hard work they met, and now the Ashokan Reservoir is completed.

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Chapter III

The chief and important industry carried on in the Catskill Mountains is lumbering. It is carried on in the Northern part of the state, but not on such a large scale as in Maine or Vermont. They also get the pulp from the hemlock trees and take it to the mills to be made into paper. They cut the trees down, strip the bark of, and take it to the factories for tanning leathers.

There are many different kinds of trees in the Catskill Mountains such as pine trees, spruce, hemlock, balsm, birch, wild cherry and also hard and soft maple trees. They use the bark and chestnuts and hard maple for furniture.

The maple trees are used for making maple syrup. The process is, first they tap the hard maple trees in the Spring, and catch the sap in buckets or in pails, and each day they collect the sap and pour it in a large vat where it is boiled down. You have to have a hot fire under the pan. When it is boiled down to syrup you let it cool. Then you put it into gallon cans, and then it is taken to stores where it is sold. Maple sugar can be obtained by boiling the syrup down until it gets thick, then it is put in molds to cool and get hard.

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Chapter IV

The Catskill mountains are noted for summer resorts on account of its good location. There is plenty of fresh, pure spring water which can not always be had in the cities. The air is dry and pure, not like the damp, smoky air in the cities. Many people come to the Catskills for their health. When the Spanish influenza was sweeping over the cities many hundreds of people were dying. Those that recoved had weak lungs so they came to the mountains for their health. Because the air is dry people could regain their health easier. Most of the tuberculosis camps are found in the high parts of the Catskills, but more so in the Aderondocks.

There is also great scenery in the mountains. Many people come touring through to see the beautiful scenery of the mountains. There are also many parks in the Catskill mountains. There is Onteora Park, Elka Park, and Twilight Park. There are also many beautiful places in these parks. Some of the good summer and winter resorts are mountain houses. The most famed view in the world is the Katerskill House. Many resorts are also in Tannersville: There is Mount Sumit, American House, Fairmont, Cold Spring, Colonial House and the Astor House.

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Chapter V

Many sports are carried on in the Catskill Mountains. Being that there so many lakes and streams boating and fishing are very convenient. In the summer it is common to see men and boys fishing or swimming. The mountains with the beautiful scenery also brings many people from the cities so they can obtain good health and rest up for the Fall when they have to go back to work.

During the Fall there is great sport in hunting. Many people go squirrel hunting, and deer hunting in the Catskills. Later, in about November, trapping is on. The boys go trapping for skunk, muskrat, fox, mink, and bear all of which are brought in where they are sold for a good sum of money.

When the snow begins to fall the sleighing gets good. Coasting down hill is the sport. The hills are crowded when the snow is packed down. There is also skating, and skiing. Skiing is another great sport in the Catskills seeing as there are so many hills which are easy to ski down.

Related Links:

The Catskills - A Sense of Place - Human History of the Catskills

Catskill Mountain Region Guide

Online Guide to the Catskills - 2000 version.

The Greene County - Catskills a History by Field Horne

The Land of Rip Van Winkle - Catskill Legends and Traditions 1884 by AEP Searing

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