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Catskill Mountains

A visit to the Mountain House
From the Boston Recorder And Telegraph Oct. 6, 1826

The town of Catskill is not visible at landing. It is built beyond the ridge which rises from Hudson, upon the declivity to a small creek whose banks are western boundary of the village. The principal street is about half a mile in length, nearly parallel to the river. The buildings are neat, and the town wears an appearance of cleanliness, far beyond most towns upon Hudson. The banks of the creek opposite the town are very picturesque, rising at the entrance abruptly, and farther in with every variety of slope, studded with clumps of trees, and in a high state of cultivation. They afford fine sites for building, and will probably with the growth of the place become its chief beauty.

We started for the mountain at 4 o'clock. The distance to the House is 12 miles, and the ascent occupies about 5 hours. The road for the first 8 miles is highly interesting -- passing over elevations, mountains in themselves, and crossing a broad valley whose fine cultivation, graceful outline and woodland, combine to make a picture like a creation of poetry. What is called the ascent commences about 3 miles from the summit. There is a good carriage Road; but it is uncomfortably steep for a ride, we got out to pursue our way on foot. This you know is classic ground; and you are very gravely assured by the inhabitants of the valley, who have been questioned about Rip Van Winkle till they believed it to be a veritable tradition from their ancestors, that it is the identical path up which Rip toiled with the contents of the oblivious flagon.

Rip Van Winkle's House

 
 Two miles from the summit is a small hut, or shantey as they are called here, whose occupant by universal consent bears the name of the immortal sleeper. Whether a genuine descendant or not is the point upon which I will not state my veracity. His hut is in a singularly romantic situation; built in a deep angle of the rock with a perpendicular ascent fifty feet directly above him. He keeps refreshment for travelers, and is supplied with water by spout which is laid from his window to the spring in a rock behind him. It was just dark when we arrived there, and probably the deep shadows of the woods and rocks added to the effect - but I have seldom been so struck as by the sudden turn which brought me upon the wild eyrie of this modern Rip Van Winkle.

 
We toiled on at the rate of a mile and a half an hour, keeping at that pace far in advance of the carriage, and growing more vigorous as we came into the bracing atmosphere of the summit. Perspiration became very free, as the tenuity of the air increased, and I felt as if every trace of bodily infirmity oozed with it from my pores. I could have shouted with the exhilaration and elasticity which grew upon me. Command me to mountain air and free limbs, if ever I am hyp-ridden.

I forgot to speak of the sun-set, and perhaps it was better. But I will merely assert that the local advantages of a bold horizon, high atmosphere and interposed water combine to render the "gloamings" of Catskill valleys beyond conception beautiful.

Catskill Mountain House

 
We reached the house about 9 o'clock buttoned to the throat, and breasting a chill November blast. Fifty feet below we had stood at a turning in the road, peering through the darkness to get a glimpse of the House, which we at last discovered perched on a perpendicular rock, rising almost from our feet. The road which pursues a zig zag course all the way up the mountain, here made several abrupt turns and brought us very suddenly to the broad tabular rock upon which the House is set. We could hardly realize it. After threading in the dark for two or three hours a perfect wilderness, without a trace save our narrow road, to burst thus suddenly upon a splendid hotel and, glittering with lights, and noisy with the sound of the piano and the hum of gaiety - it was like enchantment.

 
 I seated myself in the drawing room, and was for a moment bewildered. It was in keeping with the place; for so was Rip Van Winkle when he woke upon that very spot. But to find myself in an elegant room, fashionably furnished, and thronged with people promenading to the sound the piano - in such a place! - a long beard and a rusty gun were trifles to it. To return to tangible impressions, however - my supper convinced me that it was not fairy land, and a view of the promises satisfied me of their substantiality. The house is a large wooden building, capable of accommodating two or three hundred people. It makes a fine appearance, is well-painted, and has a noble piazza running the whole length of the front. The host is uncommonly polite and gentlemanly, and his table and rooms afford all the comforts and most of the luxuries of the city. I went to bed, and having added my cloak to a winter provision of covering, I was sensible of the single impression of comfort as I heard the wind whistling at the window, and slept as a well man sleeps.

I rose the next morning at day break to see the prospect. It was a clear cold morning, and the minute points of a view with a radius of 50 miles were distinctly visible. The magnificent prospect from this mountain has been often described, and is too familiar to be repeated. It is indeed magnificent - and he who could look upon such a scene and not turn from it a better man, must truly have forgotten his better elements. An area wide enough for the territory of a nation lies beneath you like a picture, with the Hudson winding through like an inlaid vein of silver. The steamboats were just visible, and I cannot give you a better idea of them than is given in the ludicrous remark of someone, that "they looked like shoes with cigar's stuck in them". The sun rose, and excuse me if I say much to my comfort; for although wrapped in my cloak, I was chilled through. The first beams which streamed across the landscape, looked like sprinklings of white; for at my elevation the hills all sunk to a level, and I puzzled myself to account for the long shadows. They soon diminished however, as the sun rose higher, and the beauty of the scene became transcendent. The rich colours of the "garniture of the earth" stole out and the hundred towns within the range of the eye glittered like studded gems over the scene. It looked like a distant Eden flooded with light.

The Cauterskill Falls, (I do not know the etymology) are a mile and half from the hotel, by the foot path; by the carriage road it is farther. We pursued the gradual descent through woods which seem to have suffered only from the hand of ages. The way was exceedingly rough, and the huge trees were knit together in every position as decay or storm had left them. Is really a noble forest; fit for the company it keeps, of glen and waterfall; and if I were disposed to moralize as I sometimes do over the prostration of these kings of inanimate nature, I know of no place where the text would be more forcible. We pursued our way for about an hour, till without being aware of its neighborhood, we stood nearly upon the brow of the precipice; I cannot describe the effect. It makes a man feel like the poor worm, or elevates him to sublimity in keeping with its own, as his humility or his pride is uppermost. I felt both; for my temperament is chameleon.

Under the falls

 
The glen of Cauterskill is probably half a stone's throw in width, and two or three hundred feet in depth. It looks like, I scarce know what - a huge well - a fearful chasm - a sinking of the earth to its center - any thing that will give you an idea of depth made by violence. There is no slope - but abrupt ragged perpendicular of sides, appearing as if they had been rent asunder by an earthquake. The rock over which the water pours projects far out of from its base, somewhat in the shape of an umbrella; leaving a very considerable area between it and the sheet of the fall. There is a ledge about halfway up from the base, of the width of a mantelpiece around which you can get, for it is neither walking nor creeping, but a very ugly kind of hitch, not all comfortable, when coupled of the danger of mingling with the "mighty waters" at the bottom. Here, however, we perched ourselves, and clung long enough to get our four shillings worth of the sublime; for this is the price the Miller received for opening his sluice, that supplies the water for the fall; though I must do myself justice to say that I forgot my four shillings till the roar subsided.

Kaaterskill Falls

 
The quantity of water is very small, and in falling a hundred feet it divides: into drops, and has a beautiful effect when seen from behind. It pours immediately from the basin which receives it, over a second fall about 80 ft., where, breaking repeatedly upon projecting rocks before it reaches the bottom it assumes an appearance of most wonderful sublimity and beauty. We went to the bottom, and looked up both the falls. This is the perfection of the scene. You gaze up from such depth along two sheets of water - one just above you, pouring down its fearful path with the noise of a thunder peal, and another beyond leaping from a projecting shelf which seems to you more like an outlet of the clouds than an earthly level, - to look up and see only a piece of the blue sky, and be walled in apparently by rocks reaching up to it, it is awful. It is a place for man to fall down and confess himself a worm.


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