A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: September 24, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, coming home from a visit with a friend in the Hudson Valley, I visited Slabsides. Slabsides was the Hudson Valley woodland retreat of naturalist and essayist John Burroughs, the Roxbury boy who left our mountains to seek his fortune in the middle of the 19th century and became an icon to millions of nature-observant spiritual seekers at the beginning of the 20th. His picture hangs on the wall behind me as I write this.


A Catskill Catalog: September 17, 2008

Underneath state Route 28, between Margaretville and Arkville, where the Hess gas station and convenience store and the Delaware National Bank of Delhi stand on one side of the road and the Meadows Golf Center on the other, there is a cow pass. A cow pass is a tunnel, and this one, back in the ’50 and ’60s, allowed Glen Vermilyea’s cows to cross safely from the barn on the south side of the road to the pasture on the north side. I walked through it not long ago, although I’m guessing I probably wasn’t supposed to be in there. I’d plead research!


A Catskill Catalog: September 10, 2008

I have on my computer a photo, sent to me by a friend, of former President Bill Clinton, his wife, the junior Senator from New York, and Ike Phillips of Woodstock radio station WDST standing in a crowd of onlookers on Tinker Street in Woodstock. The former President and the Senator came to the Catskills this August in an unannounced visit that was a surprise to most of us and a mountain vacation for them.


A Catskill Catalog: September 3, 2008

In the year 2000, the Village of Margaretville marked the 125th anniversary of the incorporation of the village with a celebration at the old Margaretville pavilion. I served as master of ceremonies, the first choice for the job having turned it down. My role was to make some introductory remarks and introduce the various dignitaries who would offer their own comments. We’d then enjoy some food, beverage, and neighborly conversation.
What do you talk about when trying to sum up 125 years of community life? Being a guy who likes to understand the history of things, I did a little research into the history of Margaretville. That’s when I discovered Dr. Orson M. Allaben, one of those people few remember but to whom many are indebted.


A Catskill Catalog: August 27, 2008

Jay Gould’s reputation in history was shaped on September 24, 1869, one of several “Black Fridays” in American financial history, this one a day when the price of gold dropped over 20 percent from $169 to $135 an ounce. Gould, president of the Erie Railroad, and his partner, Jim Fisk, had begun buying gold in August of that year in an attempt, it was said, to corner the gold market. When the price fell, Jay Gould took much of the blame.


A Catskill Catalog: August 20, 2008

What’s the highest mountain in the Catskills? How many Catskill peaks exceed 3,500 feet? How many people have climbed them all?
The answers to these questions are tied up with the Catskill 3,500 Club, the leading hiking organization devoted specifically to climbing our mountains. Founded in 1962, the Catskill 3,500 Club is open to anyone who meets the club’s strenuous requirements of outdoor accomplishment.


A Catskill Catalog: August 13, 2008

The Catskills were once an experiment in American feudalism. The experiment failed, thankfully, but it is useful to remember that many of our homes, fields, woods and farms were once the property of fabulously wealthy men who rented out parts of their great estates to tenants, who owed them yearly payment in both goods and service.


A Catskill Catalog: August 6, 2008

My father was in the leather trade. His narrow wooden warehouse and office was on Gold Street, downtown by the Brooklyn Bridge, in an area of Manhattan known as the Swamp. As a small boy exploring piles of soles and heels and leather strapping, I never imagined the connection between that place in the city and my future home here in the Catskills.


A Catskill Catalog: July 30, 2008

Donald W. Bouton of Greene County’s Halcott Center has written and published a wonderful memoir chronicling the changes in Catskill Mountain life over the 150 years of the family farm. Don’s great-grandfather settled in the Halcott Valley in the 1850s. His grandfather, father, children and grandchildren have all made a home – and a life - in what Don lovingly calls “this special place in the Catskills.”


A Catskill Catalog: July 23, 2008

For years, my brother in Philadelphia and I have talked – it’s always been just talk – about taking a raft down the Delaware from my house to his house. While the rain that falls on my roof soon swells the river that runs by his, those who patrol the New York City reservoirs would certainly not welcome our raft. It’s merely a fantasy.


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