A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: Aug. 11, 2010

The long narrative poem seems out of favor today, among both general readers and academic types. Nobody much reads Henry Wadsworth Longfellow anymore. His “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” seems quaint, and “Hiawatha” patronizing. Once, these stories-in-verse gave Americans a sense of place, a cultural legacy, our own national legends.


A Catskill Catalog: Aug. 4, 2010

The American economy boomed in the years after 1865, the end of the Civil War. A brief financial panic in 1873 was followed by 20 years of sustained growth of, like, six percent a year. Railroad building and railroad buying and selling was the driving force of the economy, the west was opening, and some folks made a whole lot of money.


A Catskill Catalog: July 28, 2010

So, I get a call from Joe Ludewig of Roxbury who tells me he has some history that might interest me. Seems his house is on a mountain that’s been home to his family for three generations. Mentions a bordello once operated up there. Hooked, I went to see him.


A Catskill Catalog: July 21, 2010

The bus from Fleischmanns took four full hours to get to New York City the other morning. Seemed awfully slow, winding its way through routes 28, 212, and 32 before hitting the Thruway, then crawling through Manhattan-style congestion that starts a good distance this side of Weehawken.


A Catskill Catalog: July 14, 2010

Christian’s Drug Store, on Margaretville’s corner of Walnut and Main, was a throwback to an earlier era, even in 1971, when I first entered the place. Joe Christian’s store was part newsstand, part soda fountain, part bus station, part candy counter.


A Catskill Catalog: July 7, 2010

The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown makes a great day trip destination with the kids this summer. Even without kids, The Farmers’ Museum provides a pleasant and informative summer day.
The drive up Route 28 is beautiful, lushly green at the height of a Catskill summer.


A Catskill Catalog: June 30, 2010

For me, the iconic image of Margaretville is a classic Main Street postcard photo, taken around 1940, from the Walnut Street intersection. Now, that’s odd, because I wasn’t yet born when the picture was taken, and did not lay eyes on Margaretville until nearly 30 years later. Yet, somehow, that photo captures my sense of the village as a self-contained community, a small town at a time when America seemed a land of small towns. I love the picture.


A Catskill Catalog: June 23, 2010

Woodstock, the famous Catskill Mountain artist colony, became famous all over again as a music scene several years before the 1969 Woodstock Concert. After all, concert producers benefitted from the hip vibe of Bob Dylan’s town in the very name of the Bethel, Sullivan County, festival, originally planned for Warwick. Woodstock was hip.


A Catskill Catalog: June 16, 2010

In 1887, J. Francis Murphy, celebrated New York studio artist, was inducted into the National Academy, and moved to Arkville. The National Academy was the very establishment of American art and design. It had been founded in 1825 by Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Samuel F. B. Morse, and Martin Thompson “to promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition.”


A Catskill Catalog: June 9, 2010

Orvan W. Hess grew up in Margaretville. His family moved up here in 1908 from Pike County, Pennsylvania, downriver on the Delaware. It wasn’t a happy move: little Orvan’s mother had just died. I would guess she died trying to give birth to another child. Maybe that’s why Orvan became an obstetrician.


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