Catskill Mountain House

Chapter 2
Early History Continued - Geography And Geology Of The Mountains

From "The Catskill Mountains And The Region Around" (1867) By Rev. Charles Rockwell
First Settlement of Schoharie.-Queen Anne.-Lands Purchased.-German Emigrants.-East and West Camps.-They reach Schoharie.-Contest with Bayard.-The Seven Partners.-Greene County.-The Catskill MountainsTheir Form, Direction, and Extent.-Their Mineralogy and GeologyQuarries and their Products.-Geological Sketch of the Earth and its Strata. -Glacial Action.-Traces and Results of its Upheaval of MountainsProfessors Agassiz and Guyot.-Nature and Extent of Glacial Action. Products of Greene County.-Tanneries.-The Palens.-Colonel Edwards and Son.-Colonel Pratt and Son. -Tannersville.-Tanner's Bank.-Erie Canal.-Hudson River and Harlem Railroads.-Their Effects on CatskillThe Hardenburg Patent.-Stephen Day-Emigrants from Connecticut. Burton J. Morss.-Hunter.-Early Settlers There.-Shay's Men.-Lindsey's Patent.-Loverage Patent.-Beekman's Patent.-Salisbury and Van Bergen Patent.-Extent of these Patents.- Statistics of Greene County.

The following facts connected with the first settlement of Schoharie County by the whites may properly be given here. Queen Ann, wishing to settle emigrants in America, sent an agent there to purchase land, who bought twenty thousand acres on the Schoharie Kill or Creek. She then sent to Germany for emigrants to come and occupy these lands free of cost. January 1, 1710, a vessel sailed from some port on the Rhine, down that river to Holland, and from thence to England, stopping some time there, and being better provided for their journey. After a long voyage, during which many of them died, they reached New York June 14,1712, more than two years after they left Germany. They were sent up the Hudson River, and spent the next winter in huts made of logs and earth, in the towns of Germantown and Saugerties, on opposite sides of the river, the places where they wintered having ever since been called East and West Camp.

In the spring they went to Albany, where one hundred of them enlisted to serve in the British army, under Colonel Nicholson; and others, with the tools and provisions furnished them by the Queen on their backs, went to Schoharie, by an Indian footpath, travelling a distance of thirty miles in four days. Some years afterwards, an agent by the name of Bayard, was sent to these emigrants, to give them a legal title to their lands and extend to them the protection of the laws ; but they, fearing taxation and oppression, raised a mob against him, and sought to do him violence. These rioters, armed with guns, pitchforks, hoes, and clubs, surrounded the hotel where he was, and fired some sixty bullets into the straw roof of the building. Bayard had pistols, which he fired from time to time, to frighten them, and kept them at a distance. At night he went to Schenechtady, and sent back offers to them to give deeds to all of them who would come to him, with an ear of corn in payment for their lands. As none of them came, he went to Albany, and sold the lands to a private company styled the "Seven Partners," November 3, 1714. They bought at first ten thousand acres, to which they added largely afterwards. Offended by this, and by the punishment of some of the leading rioters, a part of the settlers removed from Schoharie, while others were induced to remain and submit to the burdens which their violence and folly had brought upon them.

Catskill Mountain House From The Carriage Road

Catskill Mountain House

Greene County, in which is most of the group or range of lofty heights known as the Catskill Mountains, was formed from portions of Albany and Ulster counties, March 25, 1800. It was named in honor of General Nathaniel Greene, of Rhode Island.

The central parts of the county are about thirty miles south of Albany. The nearest point of the base of the mountains, to the western bank of the Hudson River, is seven miles, by the road; while the Mountain House, on one of the eastern heights, is twelve miles from the river. The main range of the mountains extends about twelve miles north and south, nearly parallel to the river, and at the northern extremity inclines to the northwest, and at the southern to the west, extending thence, along the southern border of the county, to Delaware County; while on the north it connects with the lower range, known as the Schoharie Mountains, extending along the southern border of the county of the same name, while along its eastern part, extending into Albany County, is the range known as the Hellebark Mountains.

These mountains belong to the great Appalachian or Alleghany range of mountains, but are more Alpine than other portions of this range, the elevated peaks rising higher above the general range of the summits below them. As elsewhere in these mountains, the eastern slope of the Catskills is abrupt, precipitous, and broken, while their western descent is more gentle and gradual. These eastern slopes are also often in distinct strata, looking like a succession of extensive and regular terraces, such as are seen north of the Cauterskill Clove. At the eastern base strata of the Old Red Sandstone formation are seen, dipping abruptly in towards the central axis. Then gray slaty sandstones, of hard texture, make up the most precipitous slopes, except those of the highest summits, which are capped by the conglomerate of white quartz pebbles. This is the basis or floor of the coal formation, and is found on the highest knobs of the Alleghanies. Coal-beds are found directly above this conglomerate quartz; and, were the Catskill Mountains one hundred feet or more higher than they are, some of the lowest of the coal-beds might be found there. Black shales are sometimes met with among the conglomerate, and seams of anthracite coal a few inches thick, showing a near approach to carboniferous or coal-bearing strata or deposits.

The upper Hudson River group of mountains is partly clay slate, and partly talcose schist, with occasional beds of limestone, such as are met with between Catskill and the base of the mountains. The Catskill Red Sandstone is the upper member or portion of this kind of rocks in this country, and is about three thousand feet thick. The whole thickness of the system in the United States is 11,750 feet. Between the Dutch church, at the base of the mountains, and the Rip Van Winkle Glen, there are fifty-seven distinct layers, or. strata of rock, mostly grit shale, of different colors, and one hundred and thirty-seven layers in all, up to the summit of the mountains. From the river to the Mountain House, most of the different kinds of rocks found in the whole State of New York, of the depth in all of near four thousand feet, maybe seen. The Catskill division of rocks has but few minerals in it. Small quantities of iron, copper, lead, and zinc are extensively found in a particular kind or layer of rock, in different parts of Greene, Ulster, Sullivan, and Delaware counties, but nowhere in veins of more than eighteen inches thick. This rock is generally a calcareous or limestone conglomerate of breccia or pudding-stone, formed of small masses of limestone, included in a reddish or brownish paste of the underlying shale, or slaty rockbed.

Stones, for paving and building' are obtained in immense quantities from quarries along the base and the eastern front of the Catskill Mountains, which are transported, by way of the Hudson River, to all parts of the United States. The strata, or layers, in which these rocks are found, are from two to fifteen feet or more in thickness, with slabs of from four or five to one hundred or more square feet of surface, and from one to six or more inches in thickness ; often traversed or crossed by joints, or seams, perpendicular to the surface, as smooth as if cut by a saw, though at times there is no break or seam in these rocks for one hundred and fifty feet or more in horizontal length. These quarries are commonly leased to those who work them, and who sell the stone to large dealers and shippers, on the banks of the river, from two to five dollars for each one thousand feet taken from the quarries, being paid by those who work them. Judge Hasbrouck, of Kingston, for example, leased his quarries for five dollars for one thousand feet, each square yard yielding from fifty to seventy square feet, or three hundred thousand feet to the acre, bringing him in fifteen hundred dollars per acre; though he gave, a few years since, but a dollar an acre for the land. Among the largest dealers in stone are the Messrs. Bigelow, of Malden, on the river, near Saugerties, in Ulster County. They are brothers of the Hon. John Bigelow, recently United States Minister at the Court of France. In 1860, it was computed that in Sullivan , Ulster, Greene, and Albany counties, there were three million five hundred thousand square feet of flag or paving stones quarried and sent to market. Much more than this amount must now be wrought and shipped from these counties annually, to say nothing of large quantities of brick, made all along the western bank of the river, and the hydraulic or water-cement manufactured in large quantities in Ulster County.

At this point it may be well to notice certain principles and facts connected with the bard, rocky shell or outer covering of the earth, as made known to us by the science of Geology, of some of which striking proofs and illustrations are met with in the Catskill Mountains and the region around. Geologists divide the rocks on and beneath the surface of the earth into five classes. First and lowest of these are the primary, or crystalline, which are in solid, massive, irregular forms, without strata, or layers. The rocks of this class are granite, sienite, porphyry, trap, and lava. They have in them no traces or remains of plants or animals, and are supposed to owe their form, origin and structure to the action of fire raging and melting beneath them. The second, or Palaeozoic class, contain the earliest traces of the forms of animals and plants, were mostly deposited in the ocean, and are some thirty-three thousand feet, or more than six miles thick, or deep. The third class are called Secondary rocks, extending from the top of the lower new red or Permian system to the top of the chalk formation, a depth or thickness of five thousand feet, or nearly one mile. The Tertiary strata come next in order; partly solid, but with very different organic remains from those of the strata below them, with an average thickness of about two thousand feet, or more than one-third of a mile. Last and uppermost is Alluvium, or the earth and rocks forming the surface of our globe, to a depth of two hundred feet or more, and made up mainly of decayed and decaying animal, mineral and vegetable matter. The lower or primary rocks, seem to have been forced up through, and far above, the overlying strata and the level surface of the earth, by the action of heat below them, so as in many instances to form the summits of lofty mountains ; and, in the case of lava, still to overflow these mountains. Granite seems to have been thus forced up first, then sienite and porphyry from below it; after these the various kinds of trap-rock, from below the porphyry; and last the lava, which still rises from beneath all the rest. Geologists claim that at the end of the Tertiary period of deposit, when the alluvial mass began to be for ed there was a long, dreary winter of ice and snow, which extended far down towards the equator, when mighty glaciers and masses of ice, loaded on their lower surface with vast rocks, were borne far and wide along the surface of the earth, crushing and levelling down hills, removing the summits of lofty mountains, and deeply ploughing along and marking their upper heights and sides, thus preparing for the surface of the earth a covering which would, in after times, aid in furnishing food for man and beast. The extent of this ploughing and grinding movement is dedetermined by the limits of the crushed and broken ruins it has left behind it.

There are evident traces of the action of these glacier along the valleys of the Penobscot, the Connecticut, the Hudson, the Mohawk, and the Susquehanna rivers. On the Catskill Mountains, as we learn from Ramsey, the glacial scratches and grooves are numerous, and extend up to where the Mountain House stands, nearly three thousand feet above the level of the sea. All but a few of the highest of these grooves run from north to south along the flanks of the precipices in the direction of the Hudson River Valley, and not from west to east, down the slope of the mountain. The principal grooves run between south twenty-two degrees east, and south, fifty-five west. These variations seem to be connected with bends and other irregularities, in the direction of the great eastern wall of the mountains. The course south, fifty-five degrees west, is found at the top, near the Mountain House ; while at the summit of the water-shed, there are numerous main grooves passing across the mountain at right angles to most of those observed in ascending it.

As freezing water expands, or fills more space before, after reaching thirty-nine and one-half degrees, it thus opens and widens seams in rocks, rends them asunder, and rolls them down precipices; while in soft, porous rocks, it crumbles off the surface and decomposes them. Beneath the high cliffs, and all along the base of the Catskill and other high mountains, are immense masses of these detached and decomposed rocks. Much of the soil, on large portions of the surface of the earth, has come from this process, which, in icy regions, is constantly going on. Glaciers, or immense moving masses of ice and snow, descend by their own weight and the pressure of the mass above them along valleys, from snow-covered mountains, and are from two thousand to five thousand feet deep, being fed by the snow and frozen mist of regions of perpetual snow and ice. They reach from five thousand to seven thousand five hundred feet, or from a mile to a mile and a half below the line of perpetual snow ; their depth or thickness being such that the heat of summer does not melt them.

It is a singular fact connected with the upheaving of some of the lower and earlier strata which form the crust of the earth, that remains of various kinds of animals, which grew in the depths of the ocean, are found in the Alps, from six thousand to eight thousand, and in the Andes fourteen thousand, feet above the level of the sea; and these not brought there by any sudden overflow of the waters of the great deep, but deposited for ages in beds of great thickness; so that these remains must have been forced up from below by some mighty power beneath them, or else the sea must have retired from its former level. Saussure says that the summit of Mount Blanc, which is thirteen thousand feet high, must have been two leagues below the level of the sea, and that the granite formed there was afterwards raised. The peaks of the Andes are mostly volcanic, no granite having been found there higher than eleven thousand five hundred feet. Were it not for the abundant remains of plants and animals in the different strata and systems of rocks, we could not be sure that all rocks were not of one and the same age and date. The beds of granite, which in mountain peaks and ranges are nearly vertical or perpendicular, owing to their having been forced up from below, must have become solid before they were thus raised up.

More than thirty years since, Professor Agassiz, now of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Professor Guyot, of Princeton, New Jersey, engaged in minute and extensive observations among the Alps, near which they were born, with a view to determine the movements and agency of glaciers across the valleys of Switzerland between one mountain range and another ; the result of their investigations and those of others, there and elsewhere, having thus far been in part as follows, as stated by Professor Agassiz : "That there was a time, immediately preceding the state of things which now prevails upon the earth, during which the whole surface of the globe was covered by masses of ice as thick, as extensive, as compact as those which now overspread the Arctic regions ; and perhaps we shall see, that even where the tropical sun now shines, there was at one time a field of ice extending over the Valley of the Amazon toward the Atlantic, and covering, it may be, the sea to such an extent, that the question may be fairly asked, whether there was not open water at the equator. Thus, by intense cold, life must have been banished from the surface of the earth, so as to prepare it for the new creation which now exists upon it ; this severe winter having put an end to all living beings on the surface of the globe."

As glaciers are not solid ice, but snow, penetrated by water and but partially frozen, hence they move slowly down the sides oil mountains, at the rate of from twenty to two hundred and fifty feet, or more, in a year; the centre of a glacier being higher than its sides, and moving faster, in as much as the sides are melted by the heat of the rocks and cliffs against which they press; and from this cause also their motion is made slower by means of friction. As also the heat of the sun passes freely through the glaciers, the rocks under them, by this heat, shape for themselves a mould, or firm resting-place in the mass above them, and are borne onwards by the movement of the glaciers, so as to smoothly wear, or deeply furrow the surface of rocks and mountains over which they move. Hence "the lower surface of the glaciers is like a file, thickly set with diamonds, constantly grooving, furrowing, polishing or scratching the surface over which it moves," writing or deeply engraving the record of their deeds of violence on the region over which they pass. The course of glaciers is traced, not only by the marks just noticed, but by the rocks they have carried along with them, and left by the way ; so that thus there is evidence that the Valley of Switzerland, between the Jura Mountains and the Alps, was once covered to the depth of three thousand feet.

On visiting Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States, and more recently the Valley of the Amazon, Professor Agassiz found traces of the action of glaciers extending down to the sea-coast, and reaching as far as South Carolina, or to thirty-two degrees of north latitude. In Maine he was satisfied, by observation, that glaciers there must have been six thousand feet, or more than one mile in thickness ; and he is now convinced that we have had snow-fields on this continent, covering the land to the depth of twelve thousand or thirteen thousand feet. The difficulty urged against the moving of glaciers on level ground is met by the fact, that they do thus move in Greenland, that there are traces of such motion in our own country, and that the rapidly accumulating masses of snow in the colder latitudes would create a pressure towards the warmer regions, where the melting of the snow would open a way for the pressure in the rear.

By extensive and minute observation, Professor Agassiz is satisfied that the whole valley of the Amazon was once occupied by a stupendous glacier, coming down from the Andes, and reaching the Atlantic ; and that all the loose materials which now form the bottom of the valley of the Amazon, were ground down by that ice, and scattered evenly over the whole land, as the valley of the Rhine is covered with mud and clay, once ground in the Alps, and brought down by the waters from the glaciers in that region.

To the views of Professor Agassiz, with regard to the utter destruction of animal and vegetable life, just before the creation of the animals and plants now on the face of the earth, it is urged, that we now find, in England for example, more than nine-tenths, or ninety-six per cent. of the species which existed during the latest tertiary period, and before the glacial. Hence it follows, that, if all these species were destroyed by the universal reign of snow and ice, they must, of course, have been re-created at the beginning of the present order of things; an event not impossible surely, how improbable soever it might seem to have been.

The streams from the eastern slope of the Catskill Mountains soon reach the Hudson, while those from the west flow into the Mohawk and Delaware rivers.

The principal products of Greene County, besides stone, are pressed hay, which is shipped in large quantities, Indiancorn, rye, buckwheat, oats, potatoes, butter, and cheese. The principal manufactured articles are brick, paper, cotton and woollen goods, and formerly large quantities of leather, before the mountains were stripped of their widespread growth of hemlock bark. Thirty or forty years ago, Greene County made more leather than all the State of New York besides.

About 1817, when improved methods of tanning leather were discovered, numerous tanneries were established among the Catskill Mountains. The Palens of Palensville, a family of much intelligence, worth, and successful business enterprise, built a large tannery at the lower entrance of Cauterskill Clove, near the commencement of the present century, earlier than the date named above. In July, 1717, Colonel William W. Edwards and his son, of the same name, removed from North Hampton, Massachusetts, to the village of Hunter, and erected there the first extensive tannery in the State, in which what was then the new mode of tanning was adopted; and the family still have a summer residence there. Colonel Zadoc Pratt, from whom Prattsville, formed from Windham, in 1833, was named, tanned two million sides of sole-leather there, besides being extensively and successfully engaged in agricultural pursuits. He has been a liberal patron of the different churches in the village where he resides, and of other worthy objects; was a member of Congress ; and his bust, with that of his noble and patriotic son, also a large manufacturer of leather, a brave officer in our late war, and a victim of it, has been cut in the solid rock of a high cliff which overhangs the village. There are the decayed and decaying ruins of what was once a busy and thrifty village of tanners in the wild ravine of the Cauterskill Clove, nearly opposite the Laurel House; and this place, and the region above it, once known as Tannersville, with the Tanner's Bank in Catskill, are memorials of a business which did much to increase the population and wealth of the county, and to clothe with productive fertility the hillsides and mountains far and wide around.

Before the Erie Canal was opened Catskill shared in the trade of Southern and Western New York as far as Lake Erie, as also of Northern Pennsylvania; but the Canal, with the Erie, Hudson River, and Harlem Railroads, by turning travel and trade in other directions, have seriously affected the condition and prospects of the place. Catskill was once a great wheat-market; and at the Falls of the Catskill, three miles west of the village, were the most extensive flouring-mills in the State.

The great Hardenburgh patent, granted to Johannes Hardenburgh, of Kingston, Ulster County, by Queen Anne, April 10, 1708, who had previously purchased the land of the Indians, covered nearly all of Greene County lying west of the mountains, with large portions of adjoining counties. The north line of this grant commenced at the lakes just back of the Mountain House, the head waters of the Cauterskill, and ran northwest to the head waters of the west branch of Delaware River, in Stamford, Delaware County. Stephen Day, from Wallingford, Connecticut, early bought a tract, embracing a large part of the old town of Windham, now made up of Windham, Ashland, Jewett, and a part of Lexington and Hunter. This region was extensively settled by emigrants from Connecticut, as was also the town of Durham, north of the mountains, and their descendants retain the moral and religious traits, and have much of the industry, economy, business tact, shrewdness and success, which are met with in "the Land of Steady Habits." At Red Falls, on Batavia Hill, in Prattsville, Burton J. Morss, Esq., has a large manufactory of cotton cloth, as also another in Gilboa, in Schoharie County, while his extensive farms, and his large herds of cattle, of the best English breeds, have made him the benefactor of the region where he lives, and have caused him to be widely known in the State as a man of uncommon energy, enterprise, intelligence and worth.

The Mountain House is on the line of the town of Hunter, while the Laurel House, the Haines House, Gray's, and some of the wildest ravines and the loftiest peaks of the Catskills, are also in Hunter. Samuel, Elisha, and John Haines, and Gershom Griffin, early came to Hunter by the way of Kingston and Mink Hollow, to the south and east, and were discovered there, a year or two afterwards by some Dutchmen, who came there from the east side of the mountain hunting bears. They were followed in 1786 by a number of Shays' followers, from Massachusetts, who, on their defeat by the troops under General Lincoln, fled there for safety. Shays himself lived in Schoharie County, after the suppression of the insurrection which bears his name, and died in 1825.

The portion of Greene County, between the mountains and Hudson River, was much of it early held by a few large proprietors, who bought their lands of the Indians, and then obtained patents, or grants from the monarchs of Great Britain, confirming their claims to these lands, and giving them a full legal title to them. Lindsey's patent, which was an early one, dating back in the seventeenth century, covered seven hundred or eight hundred acres, where the village of Catskill now is, and in the country round. The Loverage patent of about one thousand acres embraced the Imbought below Catskill, and was bounded east by Hudson River, and north and west by Cauterskill and Catskill creeks ; its south line being near where the Gardiners live, in the Imbought. Beekman's patent was in Kiskatom, from where Kiskatom Creek enters into the Cauterskill, north to the Catskill patent line, and the Greene patent, to near Neely Lawrence's; embracing lands owned by Abraham Ramsen and others, along the fertile valley of Kiskatom and a little east of it. Greene's patent covered a large tract along the eastern base of the mountains, and extending west up their slope and over their summits.

In the year 1677, Sylvester Salisbury, who came to this country with Governor Nicoll and had command of Fort Albany, and Martin G. Bergen, purchased from the Indians their title to a large tract of land. For this a patent was given in 1688; and, as Salisbury was then dead, his wife, Elizabeth, held the land with Van Bergen. Salisbury had rendered meritorious service in the British army. This tract embraced five flats, on both sides of the Catskill Creek, near Leeds, and above the lands of Elder Degouer Geritsen, since known as the Van Vechten farm, which was first occupied by that family in 1681. From this grant the Brunk farm also was excepted, a tract of about one hundred acres, the house having been just back of where John Van Vechten, Esq., of Leeds, now lives; who, as a surveyor of long and wide experience, has given me much valuable information with regard to the early history of the county, of which he was a native, and now at the age of fourscore remembering the time when there were but five houses where the village of Catskill now is.

From the flats, spoken of above as a center, this grant of Salisbury and Van Bergen extended four miles east, west, north, and south, exclusive of the farms just spoken of, and of the lands covered by the earlier patents already noticed. Its southern bound was just below the covered bridge, near Zechariah Dederick's ; on the west it reached to the eastern line of the farm of the late John R. Linzey, on the side of the mountain, and embraced nearly the whole of the town of Athens, and a part of Cairo and Coxsackie.

Greene County contains six hundred and eighty-six square miles; its population is 15,591 males, and 15,546 females, a difference of only forty-five in a population of 31,137, and this too in favor of males, a state of things very uncommon in the older portions of our Union. Among its annual products are 480,795 bushels of grain, 116,871 bushels of potatoes, 192,814 bushels of apples, 1,191,930 pounds of butter, and 21,317 pounds of cheese.


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