A history that demonstrates “the color, charm, and even lunacy that for the past four hundred years have characterized the Catskill Mountains and the people attracted to them.”
Silverman (David Lean, 1992, etc.) and the late Silver (Congregation, 2014) stress the enormous influence of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow, which invented a place of imagination for artists, painters, and essayists. Among those were America’s first novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, whose Leatherstocking Tales enlightened Europeans and Americans of the beauty of the Catskills region; and Thomas Cole, the leader of the Hudson River School, who claimed that in America, all nature is new to art. In 1807, Robert Fulton’s steamship, the Clermont, sailed from New York to Albany, further opening the area to travel. At first, industry such as tanning and bluestone mining took hold, followed by the arrival of migrants looking for a homestead. Unfortunately for the immigrants, the feudal practice of leasehold under the post-revolutionary landlords was too much. In the 1830s, the “rent wars” began, causing widespread evictions and forced sale of belongings. In addition to a host of other colorful characters, the authors point out two boyhood friends who traveled widely different paths: railroad tycoon Jay Gould and naturalist John Burroughs. One sought to protect the area, while the other exploited it. The railroads brought increasing numbers of visitors, and wealthy New Yorkers established large, restricted resorts, tuberculosis sanatoriums, and boardinghouses like that of the Grossingers. All of these expanded with the arrival of the automobile. Eventually, as the authors engagingly chronicle, the New York syndicate made up of Sicilian and Jewish gangsters discovered the fine hiding places of the area. As the days of the big resorts ebbed, the Arts and Crafts movement grew up around Woodstock, morphing into the hippie movement and the rise of folk music.
Those who’ve seen the Catskills will love how the authors capture its magic. Those who haven’t will start planning a trip.