Chapter II

Woodstock and the Overlook

From "The Catskills" (1918)
By T. Morris Longstreth

Woodstock, moreover, is no ordinary village where the one street is swamped by a surge of farmland and the inhabitants are moored to the milking-stool for life. It is a village through which sweep sane sturdy undercurrents of rural life, and, in addition, two tides of outside influence. One tide is of art, rising to the masterpieces produced there by Birge Harrison. The other is the foam of Greenwich village fantasy. Wherever real artists gather the pseudo delight to flock.

From the farmers I heard funny tales. A reassuring thing was the amusement they seemed to get out of the procession of poseurs, the value they attached to the presence of the genuine. One fine old man who had followed many a furrow told me with glee of the era of stockingless girls, the era of brother's clothes on sister, the season of bobbed hair. He was enthusiastic about the Maverick festivals, the stone-quarry concerts. He had only kindly words for those who were in earnest about "their bit o' brushin'." He subscribed to Mr. Hervey White's "Plowshare," the Woodstock magazine. It was a refreshing incident, this findin- a man who, in most of the other farm communities of our land, would have limited his interests to the price of eggs or local politics, but who, once subject to the play of creative forces, responded to their charm and worth. Thus once more was the artist justified.

That afternoon I luckily fell in with an illustrator whose circulation is in the million, one of the small group of kindred spirits who stay in Woodstock the calendar round. Truly there is virtue in a place where the twice lucky residents can pursue their professions in a veritable refuge of delight, and yet not lose touch with the great city at the other end of the river. He took me many miles up into the valleys, and from behind the wind-shield I saw mills that could have talked of Whigs and Tories, streams that murmured behind their veils of ice, and ever-opening valleys clad in a purple mist of hard-wood forest. I was told about Mink Hollow of unplacid fame, given a view of Cooper's Lake, a pond of respectable dimensions. We drove by an establishment whose owner, evidently not hungering for calm, sought to relieve the unfretfulness of his domain by signPosting his garden-corner, "Broadway" and "42nd Street." He had probably flown the city to escape the uproar. For us poor wingless creatures the promised land is forever where we are n It. And when we fly? I wonder if then ambition shall taste satiety. Shall we be more restless, or will the measure of the entirety attained quiet us down to some solider enjoyment than mere flight? Ever since Columbus brewed his dreams over the travels of Marco Polo, we have been chiefly concerned with getting somewhere else. As we rounded turn after turn, passed lovely valley after lovely valley, I began to wonder why, on the morrow, I was to start off with an unknown youth on a speculative journey. In the SawkiII, in the little Beaverkill, in every silver hollow there were more fish and more fresh thoughts than I could garner up in many a moon.

There were to be two answers. Months later I found one in the thrill of enjoyment I had in coming back to friends. That evening I f ound the other. Before a fragrant fire of apple boughs we talked late, as now acquaintance will, and discovered to each other (as new acquaintance will) such confidences as a year of other places or established friendship might not have brought f orth. We saw that, although we were two men of diff erent ages, different businesses, and with different goals, we were but on different stages of the same old road. And, though this could not have much of a discovery to either, yet there was great comfort in the checking up of mutual reminiscence, in the uncovering of common pitfalls.

Knapsack and Shoe-Leather

Knapsack and Shoe-Leather

This warming to fresh sympathies is the heart of travel. Whether one voyages in the Catskills or in the Mountains of the Moon matters only to the purse. The enjoyment is the samethe broaching of new casks of life. Both the Andes and the Adirondacks are cold stone, and to travel vast distances just to observe huger heaps of that betokens a fantastic judgment. It is the number of hearts disclosed or the depth delved into one that makes a trip successful. The only advantage of travel in the wilderness is that with fewer people your eye is clearer and you accept nothing from the habit of accepting it. Otherwise your home town, your street, your house, would be the completest stage you'd need. It takes genius to travel in a city. Life there is too rich to be drunk swiftly of, and most have not the patience to travel slowly. They taste here and taste there, and travel on. But in the country, particularly in the back country of our great East, any amateur can enrich his trip. Any tyro in the art of living, if be but have some sympathy with folk, can exchange confidences, can ballast his faith in humanity, and put on ten pounds at the same time. Had I not ventured to Woodstock I should have been less rich by several friends.

It was long past the bed-time of the quartermoon when we recognized that it was ours. It was even further past sun-up when I came down to the breakfast which, in that pleasant country, marches gallantly to a stern conclusion of hotcakes and maple syrup, attacking which every man must do his duty and at least one more. There is no quarter allowed.


 Punctually we met, my acquaintance of the Ford and I, in front of the church. He was "trimmed down for leggin' it," as he termed our pilgrimage, and we set out in a nipping air well satisfied with life and a little curious about the intimacies ahead, each somewhat shy about beginning them. I asked about the church, which is really very picturesque and piquing to the fancy, and Vreeland had told me that it was at least six generations old, when a breezy lad passed us and called out, "Hello, Brute; where you makin' for?"

"The other side o' hell," my friend replied. "Want to go part way?" The briskness of the reply startled me.

"I shall not be dull," I thought, and settled down to enjoy the trip.

"Is Brute the name they gave you in the church, or a nickname?" I asked.

"No; teacher gave it me. She said it was in Shakespeare-short for Brutus, you know. She'd always giggle when she'd say it. But she was awful silly. Teachers aren't mostly like that, are they?"

"Mostly," I replied. It looked as if the intimacies were about to begin; and, as I did not intend them to be premature, I had the conversation revert to the antiquities of Woodstock. Its fortunes had gone up and down. In 1728 a Martin Snyder had settled, with his ten sons and uncounted daughters, not far from the spot, and his progeny bad gradually enveloped the wilderness. Even in the memory of Brute, some of his neighbors quarreled in Dutch when under extreme provocation. For a while tanneries flourished up the brooks. The great hemlocks were felled and stripped and left to rot, only the bark being utilized. Such reckless days brought on reaction. Then there was a period of blue-stone quarrying up on the Overlook, the great flat stones being used for the edges of city gutters, for flagging pavement and doorsills. That era passed. Rather quickly the remaining timber was used up, the game shot out, the streams fished out. With the passing of fire-wood in great quantities passed the glass business which bad grown up, sand having been brought from Jersey so that the fuel might be utilized. And now the fields were fit, at last, for crops and cows.


A Sawkill Memory

A Sawkill Memory

It is a mile from the village to the foot of the mountain, two miles of very genuine climb to the resting-place called Meads', and two more to the Overlook House. And there is no day too hot to make the exertion not worth while. In spring, even, the sun can be very earnest on that southern slope, but there are always wild fruits to enrich the way. The sun that had beguiled Brute and me upon the road soon shifted the responsibility for the day. Flurries of snow swept down upon us from the pass. Our early spring had suddenly lost its equilibrium and was falling back into the arms of winter. Bits of sunshine, pale and distraught, were racing thin and far over the dun landscape -the fragments of our glorious morning. We had paused to get our several breaths when I noticed a man turning off the road a little ahead. I requested a direction or two, and by some slip of the conversation I found that I was talking with a man who had lived with William Morris and had known Ruskin well. Such are the surprises of Woodstock.

It was on another very different day, when the gardens at Byrdcliffe were rich -with poppies and larkspur and the Persian rose, that Mr. Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead showed me about his mountainside. There he had intended that the families who had caught the flame of his ambition were to live. There they were to weave by hand, to fashion out their pleasure in pottery, and to work in metals. Their children were to be taught to use their hands until they had reached college age. Health and simplicity and the genuine riches of life were to be the rewards for all.


Byrdcliffe could not compete with Patterson. The factory is stronger than the hand that taught it, and Byrdcliffe is a shattered dream. But Mr. Whitehead's beautiful pottery is none the less beautiful, his nature nowise embittered by the shattering of the dream. In a room of his home hangs a coast-scene of Birge Harrison's. Its shimmering beauty I shall remember always. I should think that in the same way the beautiful endeavor at Byrdcliffe must stay always in the memory of Woodstock, making it a better village than it would otherwise have been.

In the snow-veiled pastures who could conceive that buttercups and wild strawberries were but two months off! Up we struggled to Meads', and warmed our noses in the kitchen of that hospitable house. From the porch in clear weather there is a view, flanked by hillsides, that sweeps out over Woodstock, lights up in the shine of Ashokan Reservoir, and darkens to the southwest in the forests of the Peekamose country. The house sits comfortably in the hollow, and from the other end you look down over a pond into a deep wooded valley, sheltered on the north by the four peaks of the Indian Head range. To Brute and me they spoke in terms of grim cold. From the passes advanced veils of snow, and when the onslaught slackened the dark mountain-heads seemed to be threatening new squalls.

From Meads' the road runs steeply up to the Overlook House. It is a consistent climb, and will have its effect on man or beast or motor; but all three accomplish it. On the way up trees obstruct the view, except occasionally to the left down into the beautifully wooded valley. But from the porch of the hotel the world lies visible.

I cannot recall having seen an advertisement of this hostelry, but it is not hard to imagine the powerful adjectives which the management must have collected to describe that view. In summer, except on rare days, a blue haze narrows the spectacle to a radius of fifty miles. In the clearer atmosphere of winter it is very impressive. The Ashokan, the Hudson, highlands in seven States, the vast shoulder of earth, soar away from one. At last the earth is partially appreciable. It may not seem a sphere, but so much of it is seen that you realize that you are on an Earth. That is an extraordinary feeling. Go up higher mountains, and you lose contact with the globe. But this plain at your feet is yet near enough to show its pattern. When you rode through it, it seemed mostly farmland; now it shows mainly wood. To the west rise the Catskills, range beyond range, until the blue calm of summer frames the view. No summer visitors could have imagined the scene that opened to my journeyman and me for the few moments between squalls. The wind seemed to be gathering strength. For the space of a few seconds the cloud shadows would fly over the edge. Then the sun would stream after them. Out it would pour along the level plain below. Those distances below us were remote and cold. And the mountains at our backs were bleak with trailing gray, except when the April strength of sun overtook the February carnival of snow and overcame it. Then the flame of lif e seemed to flare for a glad moment before being overwhelmed by the next onslaught.

The great single fact was the pressure of the wind during the squalls. With its broad hand the gale pushed against the exposed flanks of the hotel until the cables that fastened it to the earth tightened and sang, and I began to wonder how long mere wood and nails were going to survive. It was a bold architect who planted such an expanse of board on such an exposed perch. In winter's heaviest gales the weight of wind must be enormous. Even on our day of ruthless weather, when the great blasts, tawny with driven flakes, swept down upon us, roaring as they came, we felt there were chances of not remaining attached to terra firma. It was as exhilarating as a run at sea, sails glistening and rail a-wash. And I was secretly delighted that the youth beside me was held by the fascination of it, too.

"Wouldn't it fool you!" he exclaimed, after a while, as we stood near the brink looking down into the indefinite depths at our feet. "It certainly would fool you. To think I never took the bother to come up, and me looking at this old white hotel all these steens of years."

"How does it hit you?"

"There's not a word to cover it. I used to hear those art-painters talk about it till I guessed it'd make me sick. They did, anyway. They're mostly high-dome pussy-cats. They'd say, 'Oh! wasn't it grand! Wasn't it colossal! "

"Well, what do you think of it? Weren't the high-dome pussy-cats right?" I tried not to sound amused.

"Absolutely," he admitted meekly, "I've got to go back and slobber just like them, 'Ain't it grand! Ain't it colossal! if they're the words meaning what you can't take in and wish you could. I'd like to watch the thing out."

I was beginning to like him. There are certain things essential in the friend who is to walk by one's side through rough weather as well as finegenerosity, a sense of humor, a sense of beauty, honesty, a liking for adventure. The man that I had partly divined in that first roadside meeting was beginning to come true. Already I knew that I could trust this youthful native far-, even as far, possibly, as he had picturesquely forecast our journey - "to the other side o' hell."


Previous Chapter | Back to the Index | Next Chapter


Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery