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: December 14, 2011

Couldn’t help but think of John Halcott, as I rode an Amtrak train recently over New York’s City’s Spuyten Duyvil. He was the young Eton-educated Englishman who swam that channel with his sword clutched in his teeth, once he “became convinced he was fighting on the wrong side,” during the American Revolution.


A Catskill Catalog: December 7, 2011

My friend is 86 years old, yet he remembers where he was that day like it was yesterday. He was coming out of the woods, deer hunting. Sixteen years old, he got in the car and switched-on the radio. This was 1941, and car radios worked on vacuum tubes, so it took a while to warm up, but when it did, those old car radios could bring in some distant stations. That’s when he heard.


A Catskill Catalog: November 30, 2011

From 1946 to 1985, Henry Bernstein patrolled the woods and steams of the Ulster County Catskills. Hank retired as an environmental conservation officer, but his career began as a game protector.
Hank Bernstein died, this past July, at 94. Only a handful of men who once carried the title of game protector survive him.


A Catskill Catalog: November 23, 2011

The day after Thanksgiving, 1948, the Catskill Mountain News reported on several fires in the previous week. The Arkville Laundry burned, suspiciously, at midnight, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Fifty-thousand dollars worth of equipment and machinery were lost. In the river hamlet, Pepacton, a chimney fire took John Shaver’s farmhouse, destroying 500 quarts of canned fruits and vegetables, and the winter supply of potatoes.

Stan’s Tavern, in Arena, advertised steamed clams, “fresh from natural Long Island clam beds,” and platters of French fries.


A Catskill Catalog: November 16, 2011

I remember thinking this guy Halcott must have been some fellow, having two local towns named after him. Turns out Halcott wasn’t one guy at all. He was three!

John Halcott started it all, back in 1776, when he ran away to join King George’s army to put down the rebellion in the colonies. The story is told that he was an Eton lad, student at a prestigious English school, son of, what-they-called-in-those-days, a good family. His people were said to be descended from a knight in the Court of King James, back in the early 1600s, and distinguished, since that time, in military affairs.