A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: June 20, 2012

Oscar Wilde once stayed in Phoenicia. Figured a few folks would like to know that.

It was the summer of 1883, when Oscar Wilde came here. The celebrated 27-year-old poet and playwright was on his second trip to America, and second trip to the Catskills. The year before, the Dublin-born, London-based, spokesman for the Aesthete Movement had delivered a lecture on the Decorative Arts at the Hotel Katterskill, up on the Pine Orchard, above Haines Falls.


A Catskill Catalog: June 13, 2012

When the dam rose at Downsville, and Delaware River waters backed-up to flood the entire upper East Branch valley (more than 20-miles of prime, productive riverfront land) it seemed that every farm on the river was owned by a family descended from a soldier of the Revolutionary War.
That’s how long those folks had been there. Since the founding of the Republic. No wonder that taking still rankles among displaced survivors of a certain age.


A Catskill Catalog: June 6, 2012

The City of Kingston and the Town of Kingston border one another. Separate Ulster County municipalities, the busy city on the Rondout and the sleepy town that stretches up the Sawkill sit side-by-side.

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.


A Catskill Catalog: May 30, 2012

Lately, I’ve been investigating Lehman. Not the Wall Street firm that famously collapsed in 2008, but the family that both created that firm and produced a New York State Governor, Senator, and Chief Judge of the State Court of Appeals. They used to have a house in Fleischmanns.

It should be noted that the Lehman family had no connection to the firm that failed. The Lehman family ceased participation in Lehman Brothers in 1969, with the death of Robert Lehman, the Governor’s cousin, the last Lehman in the firm.


A Catskill Catalog: May 23, 2012

The year 1913 marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point of the Civil War, three days of carnage that assured the survival of the constitution and the nation.
Civil War veterans were uniformly old men, and 50 years after their service had saved the United States, they were dying off rapidly. The whole country was eager to honor them and memorialize the 625,000 Americans, north and south, who died in the Civil War.


A Catskill Catalog: May 16, 2012

My Uncle Eugene served in the First World War. I have his service medal. World War I was still a horse-drawn war, and Private Birns was a groom, attending the mules and horses that served his engineering regiment, paying particular attention to the Colonel’s horse, a thoroughbred, no doubt.


A Catskill Catalog: May 9, 2012

Don’t normally associate the woman’s suffrage movement with Keeney Hollow. In fact, until last week, I didn’t even know where Keeney Hollow is. If you do know, you’ve been around these parts a long time.

Keeney Hollow is on the uphill side of Southside Road, in Margaretville. It’s an obscure, depopulated stretch of brook-washed hollow, obscured now by decades of watershed-protecting city ownership.


A Catskill Catalog: April 25, 2012

In 1977, the late Harriet Smith, of Roxbury, told me about the Firemen’s Museum in Hudson. I was the father of two small boys, and Harriet assured me that taking the boys to the Hudson museum would be a real treat. The kids will love it, she said.

So, being a bit slow on the uptake, a couple of Saturdays ago, I went, with one son and his five-year-old daughter in tow. And Harriet was right! Twenty-five years later, the more modernly named Museum of Firefighting proved a delight for three generations.


A Catskill Catalog: April 18, 2012

I watched the eight-minute film “Game Warden” this morning. The 1955 theatrical short focuses on Margaretville Game Protector Bryan Burgin, the father of Hunter Safety programs in New York, a major figure in the history of outdoor conservation in this state. A video of the film is at catskillarchive.com. It is also available at YouTube.


A Catskill Catalog: April 11, 2012

In April 1952, Delaware County played a pivotal role in a presidential primary. April 22nd, 60 years ago, was the New York Republican primary. At stake were two delegates to the Republican National Convention in each of the state’s 43 congressional districts. Delaware County was in the 29th Congressional District.

Dr. Ogden E. Bush was the leader of the Delaware County Republican Party and, one of two party leaders chosen to represent Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, and Delaware County Republicans at the Chicago convention.


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