Pamela Phelps guest posts in this entry on Smallfox Photos. She lives in New York State, quite another place from the New York City you might be familiar with if you have travelled there or just scene photos, films or TV shows. This piece is about the Catskills Mountains and shows her deep knowledge and obvious love of the place, giving its fascinating history and marvellous scenery.
You can see Pamela Phelps’ RedBubble profile by clicking on the avatar to the left of this.
You can also visit Pamela’s website:
The Forever Catskill Mountains
Beginning its existence 350 million years ago as a river delta, the Catskill Mountains of New York is today a detached portion of the Appalachian Mountains. As a result of a meteor striking what is known as Panther Mountain, the delta region rose to form a plateau rather than becoming smaller mountains. The many winding streams today were formed, eroding gaps and valleys, leaving what many have come to know and love as the Catskill Mountains. Today the mountains are filled with hikers, wanderers, and oh so many photographers seeking visions through the lens of the camera, for the beauty is one which is rarely forgotten.
Along came the Ice Age, creating the next profound change to the landscape of the Catskills. Glaciers left behind inland waterways, mineral and ore deposits, and many sedimentary layers creating a new appearance in the mountains.
In 1609, as the Half Moon sailed the Hudson River, one of Henry Hudson’s crew, Robert Juet, was one of the first people to take notice of the Catskills. Over the next several decades, hardy pioneers, explorers, and traders followed in the discovery of the glorious mountains, leaving their imprint in time through the naming of many towns and villages that remain today.
With the early beginning of time spoken of here, let us move on to the more romantic and intriguing aspects of a most magical and mysterious area of rolling mountains, mystical skies, and lavish forests.
Washington Irving best describes the enchantment of the Catskills. I share this quote, often used in many publications, about the beloved Catskill Mountains: “The Kaatsberg or Catskill Mountains have always been a region full of fable. The Indians considered them the abode of spirits, who influenced the weather, spreading sunshine or clouds, over the landscape, and sending good or bad hunting seasons. They were ruled by an old squaw spirit, said to be their mother. She dwelt on the highest peak of the Catskills, and had charge, of the doors of day and night, to open and shut them at the proper hour. She hung up the new moons in the skies, and cut up the old ones into stars. In times of drought, if properly propitiated, she would spin light summer clouds out of cobwebs and morning dew, and send them off from the crest of the mountain, flake after flake, like flakes of carded cotton, to float in the air, until, dissolved by the heat of the sun, they would fall in gentle showers, causing grass to spring, the fruits to ripen, and the corn to grow and inch an hour. If displeased, however, she would brew up clouds black as ink, sitting in the midst of them like a bottle-bellied spider in the midst of its web, and when these clouds broke, woe betide the valleys.”
Looking to capture the most profound weather changes? The Catskills offer an ever changing view of the skies, clouds, sunrises and sunsets…bring your camera, your easel, your paints and enjoy your day in the area creating ever lasting memories!
Irving goes on to say: “Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson,” wrote Irving, “Must remember the Kaatskill Mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all good housewives far and near as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.”
And so it remains today in the Catskills, the mountains, valleys, and streams enchant those who visit and reside within the beauty of the natural elements sequestered within the lands. The history of the lands intrigues, as ruins are uncovered in ones travel through the area. Traces of trades from long ago sit idle, speaking out their days of laborious being. Old homesteads built of primitive material stand proudly, speaking of family life hundreds of years ago. Thousands of miles of stone walls weave throughout the woodlands, reminding us of how early settlers came to the mountains to seek life in the fresh air and along the streams, and how because of the rocky lands, many were forced to give up their dreams. The Catskills are an earth filled with layer upon layer of rock bed and stone, each one having to be moved before the early settler could attempt to cultivate the land to survive. It is said by some that you know you are in the Catskills when every stone turned presents ten more. The heritage of the mountains give ample opportunity for photographers and artists alike to meander through ruins, along old stone walls, capturing the moments of history which once were…come and join in the beauty of the history that made the Catskills!
In the 18th century, Johannes Hardenbergh and his partner Jacob Rusten petitioned for a land grant, in an attempt to head off another petition for such who had not properly purchased the lands from local Native American tribes as the law at that time required. After many an argument over the lands, the Hardenbergh Patent was granted in 1708. Through lack of proper survey, the Hardenbergh Patent ended up consisting of almost the entire Catskill region. Humor still speaks of the Queen of England giving all this land to someone she had never even met, in simple attempt to keep it from other’s hands. Hence, years of dispute of boundaries, surveys by the score, and haggling between owner, squatters, and those attempting to disprove boundaries occurred. The unclear early land ownership in these early days would impact generations to come.
In the early 1770’s, the Catskills saw another divided play, as tension increased between the colonies over how to pay for the Revolutionary War. Large landowners feared land tax which would cut their wealth tremendously. In allowing tenant farmers use of the lands, tenant were obliged to stand by the King or the land would be returned to the landholder, which would in return keep the lands safe to those who had been loyal, ex: Hardenbergh and Livingston. The history of this period is rich and filled with drama lived in those days amid the mountains.
After the war had ended, the mountains once again saw change in the landscape as folks began to attempt agricultural settlement on the lands. Many failed, being forced to leave the mountains they had come to love. Other people found the mountains a place of renewal, an environment conducive to good health and healing for those ailing with respiratory disease, hence settling on lands for new journey in the peaceful valleys and mountains.
People came and people left the bewitching mountains rolling like thunder along the Hudson River. Times were not easy, transportation crude and difficult along the stony roads built by the settlers. Some became weary and discouraged, while others had visions of what could possibly be in the charming area known as the Catskills. Hudson River Artists began to take notice of the beauty held within the escarpments of the mountains. Inns, boarding houses, and glorious hotels of grandeur came into being where artists and naturalists alike could spend time examining, exploring, and creating on canvas the visions before them. It was a romantic period of enchantment here in the Catskills, when the cherished mountains were honored and admired with mutual understanding. Hudson Valley/Catskill Mountain artists continue today to enjoy photographing and painting the the charm the area offers. Rarely can one travel through without stumbling upon folks gathering to capture the essence of our enchanting lands.
While some were enticed by the beauty of the Catskills, those who lived within the craggy area needed o survive. Water was bountiful, as rivers, streams, and waterfalls scurried along the lands, through the forests, and down the mountains. Mills and tanneries arose along most streams, as a source of income for the local people. Though survival was indeed met for many people, deforestation occurred heavily as trees were cut in multitude, and bark was peeled from all too many gracious old hemlock trees. The mountains began to grow weary of man destroying what was needed for balance in the natural elements. Eventually mills and tanneries would close up, leaving only ruins behind to tell the sad tale of how the woodlands were often destroyed years ago.
In the mid-20th century, changes once again befell the mountains. People from the sweltering streets of New York City found the healing air to be in demand from the TB outbreak suffered by many from the pollution of factories in the metropolis. Though originally people stayed in farmhouses converted to boardinghouses by local farmers, resorts grew up throughout the region, as well as bungalow colonies to provide summer vacation destinations. The area, especially within the Sullivan County area of the Catskills soon grew to be known as the Borscht Belt, a slang title used to denote the vast Jewish clientele staying in the mountains during the summer months. While most hotels are now closed and in ruins, some colonies remain working for the Orthodox group of Jewish clientele, who continue to reside in the mountains each year between Memorial day and Labor day.
Today, what was once known as “The First American Wilderness”, once again is recapturing its virgin appearance, is again being restored to what it was years ago, through great endeavors by both the state government and the people here who so love the earth.
Presently, The Catskills embrace over 700,000 acres of parkland contained in the State-designated Catskill Park, over a quarter of a million acres. The lands now are known and designated as “The Forever Wild Forest”.
Rich farmlands, stunning rustic barns restored to natural states of beauty, parks and forests, clear-flowing streams, cascading waterfalls, grand panoramic views, and historic villages characterize the Catskills today. The mountains offer their riches for all to behold as a true land of opportunity whether for living, quaint businesses, recreational opportunities including hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, camping, biking, rock and ice climbing, canoeing, fishing, hunting, bird-watching, or just plain relaxing in the four season climate, unspoiled, untamed, and forever wild once again! Come see for yourself the beauty our Catskill Mountains behold.
Bring your camera, spend the days journeying through a land romantic, enchanting, filled with magic and mystique. Few other areas can offer such a diversity of opportunity for the photographer and artist. The visions set before your eyes will never cease to amaze you.