A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: Dec. 3, 2008

“Shop local!” we’re told, particularly this holiday season with a world recession squeezing local economies. We want to help, want to do the right thing, want our holiday dollars to circulate in our mountain towns. But we also want to buy Christmas and Hanukah gifts worth giving. Happily, many regional retail outlets now stock Catskill Mountain themed books, books that just might be the perfect holiday gifts this year.

A Catskill Catalog: Nov. 26, 2008

We have a little gem of a park right nearby. Maybe the word park is less than clearly specific here. I have a friend who often reminds us that, here, we live in a park – mountains and valleys, state land and privately owned – the whole area inside the Blue Line boundaries is the Catskill Park, basically, from Johnson Ford, Kingston to Bridge Street, Margaretville.

A Catskill Catalog: Nov. 19, 2008

I stopped a former student of mine the other day in the store where she works. I told her that I had recently held in my hand a little book of poems put together in 1932 in the Shaver Hollow School. There were poems in the booklet by children who shared her family name, children she identified as her father and her aunt.

A Catskill Catalog: Nov. 12, 2008

Usually, I do my research before I write. Usually. A couple of weeks ago, I took a shortcut. Writing about the founder of the hospital in Margaretville, Dr. Gordon Maurer, I mentioned that his epitaph appeared in a book of American epitaphs. Dr. Maurer was killed exactly 70 years ago in a November 1938 hunting accident. He is buried in the old Margaretville Cemetery.

A Catskill Catalog: Nov. 5, 2008

I’ve been spending a little time lately in the 1930s with the Catskill Mountain News. Weekly newspaper issues published between 1902 and 1937 are now posted on-line. A couple of weeks ago, I got to thinking about the market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed it. I know a lot of people were thinking about that historical precedent, a couple of weeks ago. So, I visited the Catskills in the ’30s.

A Catskill Catalog: Oct. 29, 2008

When I first came to this part of the Catskills, Margaretville Memorial Hospital, on Route 28, was still referred to as “the new hospital.” Forward-looking men and women of the Upper East Branch Valley had conducted major community fund-raising a few years before, raising astounding thousands of dollars for the effort. The new hospital was a source of community pride: a bricks and mortar example of what a community can accomplish when focused on a tangible goal.

A Catskill Catalog: Oct. 22, 2008

On August 27, 1845 New York State Governor Silas Wright declared Delaware County “to be in a state of insurrection.” For the previous three weeks, since county Undersheriff Osman Steele was shot and killed on Dingle Hill in the Town of Andes, anti-rent activists had been harassed, chased, and arrested by a vengeful posse of over 300 citizens, impressed, by the sheriff, into law-and-order service from towns with up-rent majorities, towns like Walton, Franklin, and Delhi, the county seat, which was Osman Steele’s hometown.

A Catskill Catalog: Oct. 15, 2008

The 1838 mid-term elections were a real challenge for incumbent President Martin Van Buren and his Democratic Party. His party had been in power for the past 10 years nationally, the past 13 in the president’s home state of New York, where Governor William Marcy, after whom the Adirondack’s highest mountain would later be named, was running for re-election. But the economy was not in his favor.

A Catskill Catalog: Oct. 8, 2008

I am looking at a map of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson Valley in 1750. The two- million-acre Hardenbergh Patent contains most of the Catskills, including half of Delaware, Greene, and Ulster counties, and three-quarters of Sullivan. This huge land grant, given to a group of speculators by Queen Anne in 1708, stretches from just southwest of the Village of Catskill to just north of the Village of Monticello, from the West Branch of the Delaware to just beyond today’s Ashoken Reservoir.

A Catskill Catalog: Oct. 1, 2008

A couple of years ago, I drove out to Lenox, Massachusetts, in our neighboring Berkshires, to visit The Mount, the magnificent summer mansion and gardens of Edith Wharton. Wharton, who lived from the 1860s to the 1930s, was a major American writer, the author of over a dozen novels, including The House of Mirth, a great book, and The Age of Innocence, an important novel that, 15 years ago, was turned into a big movie by director Martin Scorsese.

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