A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

Bill Birns presents a weekly essay on history, geography, day-trips, arts and culture in the Catskill Mountain region.

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.