2012-06-06 / A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns
A Catskill Catalog: June 6, 2012
Orange County’s City of Middletown and Delaware County’s Town of Middletown are 80 miles apart, two hours distant by car. That doesn’t seem to make sense.
The City of Middletown grew from a settlement mid-way between Newburgh on the Hudson and Port Jervis on the Delaware. Officially, the name dates from 1848 when the community was incorporated as a village.
The Town of Middletown is older than that.
New York State today is comprised of 62 counties. Each of those counties is made-up of towns, 932 of them statewide. New York’s 553 incorporated villages are independent municipalities within those towns. Our 62 cities are autonomous, self-contained, town-free.
The Town of Middletown was organized in 1789, as part of Ulster County, one of our state’s original 12 counties. New York, at the founding, was a land of three settled river valleys: the Hudson in the east, the Susquehanna in the west, and the Delaware in the middle. Middletown comprised most of the lands of the middle valley.
Originally, Middletown contained “all the territory of the present towns of Roxbury, Bovina, Middletown, Andes, Colchester and Hancock; nearly all of Stamford, a large part of Delhi, Hamden, Walton, and Tompkins, and a small portion of Shandaken, in Ulster County, comprising more than half of the whole county of Delaware.”
That’s a big middle! I drove to Walton three times last week. It’s a long way from the East Branch, at Margaretville, to the West Branch, at Walton, and the Town of Middletown essentially contained all of the upper Delaware.
In 1789, the upper Delaware was the western edge of Ulster County. “Whereas,” Chapter 48 of the Laws of New York set forth, “it is found that the towns of Rochester and Woodstock are too extensive and inconvenient for the inhabitants now residing in the western parts of said towns, and that the erection of another town is become necessary; therefore, be it enacted by the people of the State of New York, that all that part…be hereafter known as Middletown, in the county of Ulster, and that the first town meeting be held in the house of Benjamin Akerly.”
Charles Tay was elected supervisor at that first town meeting. He was later succeeded by that first meeting’s host, Benjamin Akerly.
Noah Dimmick and Asa Grant, both prominent local men, served terms in charge.
Delaware Valley settlement outgrew the Town of Middletown, and in 1797, Delaware County was created, with Middletown now one of its seven original towns. (The others: Colchester, Franklin, Harpersfield, Kortright, Stamford, and Walton.) Delhi, Meredith, and Roxbury were created before 1800, when 10,000 people were counted by census-takers in Delaware County.
Population grew quickly. Delaware County hit 42,000 residents in 1860, and that number has remained remarkably consistent in every succeeding census, the most recent one registering a county population of 47,980 people living in 19 towns.
Meanwhile, back in the Town of Middletown, the phone sometimes rings in the town hall with requests for City of Middletown information.
Area promotional campaigns strain for the right phrase to brand our eminently promotable, but difficult to identify, area: Greater Margaretville, Central Catskills, Belleayre Region.
Maybe we should consider a name change. In 1996, voters in North Tarrytown, voted to change their village name to Sleepy Hollow, taking advantage of their history and locale to adopt a more striking place name, one authentically associated with that place. Should we?
Kayakers and canoeists may soon be flocking to our reservoir. Town of Pepacton has a nice ring. “Containing two villages (Fleischmanns and Margaretville) bordering five towns (Hardenburgh, Halcott, Shandaken, Roxbury and Andes), the Town of Pepacton is a great place to live, work, and play. Come visit. (Paid for by the Town of Pepacton Development Commission.)”
What do you think?
Of course, if I can suggest Town of Pepacton, someone else can suggest Town of Pakataken, honoring a mountain, a native settlement, and a farmers’ market in one breath. Both names have merit, but Town of Pepacton connects to our new body of navigable water, and…
Problem with change is it always starts an argument. I haven’t finished this column and one’s started already.
Town of Middletown sounds pretty good. After all, we are smack, dab in the middle of the mountains. Middle Catskills. That’s not bad. “The Town of Middletown in the Middle of the Catskills. Come kayak with us.”