A Catskill Catalog: Dec. 30, 2008
A good friend of mine, long a stalwart member of the community, first came to the Catskills on summer vacations with his parents in the ’50s. He’d stay at John and Martha Hewitt’s Denver Valley farm, boarding in the big farmhouse for a week or two, living the country life of fresh air and outdoor exercise. The car trip from Long Island’s Nassau County to the Town of Roxbury took over six hours, my friend remembers today, much of it winding through villages and hamlets up the old, narrow, twisting Route 28.
Route 28 was widened and straightened in the late 1950s, a widening and straightening that made the road much more a state highway and much less a country road. Old-timers report that the old road was quite rustic as it rose through Stony Clove just west of Kingston making the ascent into the mountains.
Once in a while, I like to try to capture the experience of traveling the Old Route 28 by turning off the present 28 every time a portion of the old road appears, often signaled by a little green road sign reading “Old Route 28.” I’m not sure that system gives the old road justice.
Take a bus ride
Maybe a better way to get the feel of the old entrance to the mountains is by riding the bus from Kingston west. While the bus route follows state Highway 212, not 28, the slow winding path through each of the mountain towns; Woodstock, Shady, Mount Tremper and Phoenicia provides an old-fashioned feeling of the long slow experience of getting up into the hills.
Living out in the mountains requires a lot of time on the road just getting where we need to go. Roads are mighty important to country living, and their history, I think, is both important and interesting. John D. Monroe’s classic 1949 book Chapters in the History of Delaware County New York (Delhi: Delaware County Historical Association) is particularly good at presenting the history of roads in our part of the world.
“The earliest known road west of the Hudson River south of Albany,” Monroe reports, “was the Minisink Road, otherwise [known as] the Old Mine Road, leading from Kingston to Port Jervis, said to have been constructed by the Dutch to reach mines in Warren County, New Jersey.” State Route 209 follows the trail of that road, built sometime in the late 1600s to facilitate the shipping of copper from the Delaware River mines to the Hudson. The road stretches 104 miles from Kingston to Kiittatinny Point at the Delaware Water Gap. It is said to be the oldest continuously used roadway in America. I’ve driven its length. It seems to go on forever.
State Route 28 follows the route of the old Ulster and Delaware Turnpike. That turnpike was chartered in 1802 by the state legislature when they incorporated the Ulster and Delaware Turnpike Road Company to build a road from Salisbury, Connecticut to the Susquehanna River at Jericho, now Bainbridge.
The turnpike was chartered to run from the state line through Pine Plains to Rhinecliff on the east bank of the Hudson. There it would meet up with the ferry, owned by John Radcliff and Moses Cantine, which would carry traffic to Kingston on the west bank.
From Kingston, a road 33 feet wide passed via the old “Red Bridge” over the Esopus Creek, then followed that stream-bed west to Shandaken, up over Pine Hill, followed the Bushkill stream – then called “The Tweed” – to the East Branch of the Delaware up to the Little Stone Schoolhouse in Dunraven.
Let Monroe tell the tale. He does it better than I. “Near the Stone Schoolhouse the road crossed the East Branch of the Delaware and ran up the Plattekill, over Palmer Hill to Andes, then over Cabin Hill to DeLancey, then to near the bridge at Hamden, and so to Walton and thence to Bainbridge. From Dunraven to Hamden the road was all new road to be built through the wilderness. Doubtless Morgan Lewis, who was governor of New York from 1804 to 1807, and owned the north one-half of Great Lot No. 39, Hardenbergh Patent, had much to do with fixing the route through Andes.”
Regular readers will not be surprised to recall that Morgan Lewis was married to a Livingston!
Route 28 was constructed as an automobile road on the similar path to the old turnpike beginning in 1900. Construction and reconstruction went on in one form or another until 1935.
In 1912-13 the road from Andes to Delhi was built and the route changed to carry traffic that way rather than over Cabin Hill. By 1935, a good road ran from Kingston to Delhi: 74 miles of good road.
That road is the lifeline of this part of the Catskills.