A Catskill Catalog by Bill Birns

A Catskill Catalog: November 9, 2011

James Oliver keeps coming to mind. He’s the guy who came down from the state Normal School, up in Albany, to teach in Roxbury’s West Settlement School, back in the late 1840s. Albany had a reputation as the best teacher-training school in the state. I don’t know if the farmer who hired him, president of the valley school board that year, was tipped-off that he was hiring a very talented young man.


A Catskill Catalog: November 2, 2011

In August of 1940, Dave Todd made a visit to the end-of-the Redkill Valley farm of his friend, Carson Kelly. Dave, like Carson, was a farmer, his place was over in the Denver Valley, up where Roxbury Run is now.

Dave was a fiddler and square dance caller, as was Carson Kelly, and he had come on fiddling business, but the guy he really wanted to see was Carson’s 15-year-old son, Hilton. Young Hilton was earning quite a schoolboy reputation as a fiddler and square dance caller.


A Catskill Catalog: October 26, 2011

The town supervisor is the top office-holder in any, and all, of New York State’s 932 towns. The supervisor holds a similar position to that of mayor in any the state’s 62 cities and 555 villages. Each is an elected chief executive officer, head honcho of a municipal government.

With so many seemingly overlapping layers of government, it can be, sometimes, confusing to sort out who’s who and what’s what. Town, village, hamlet, huh?

Around here, we’ve got a number of towns, a couple of villages, and a whole bunch of hamlets.


A Catskill Catalog: October 12, 2011

William Streeter came to America in 1790. There are still, today, Streeters in Sussex, England, the family-home the 20-year-old left behind.

The Streeters were Baptists, non-conformists in a place, late 18th-century England, where everyone was required to utilize the established church, the church sponsored by the government. Want to get married? To be recognized as legal, all marriages had to be performed in an Anglican church by an Anglican priest.


A Catskill Catalog: October 5, 2011

Prozac for the flood-dampened soul. Apple pressing time!

New York State produces nearly 30 million bushels of apples a year, and that number only includes commercial production. Back-yard orchards and abandoned farmsteads provide bushels beyond the official count.

On October’s first Saturday, a friend brought 24 bushels of apples to the Hubbell Farm in Kelly Corners where, for custom jobs, Bob Hubbell still fires up the old gas engine that powers the three-story apple press that’s been operating there since 1866.


A Catskill Catalog: September 28, 2011

The discovery of the Gilboa fossils happened quietly. An interested and curious amateur found evidence of the oldest forest on earth. His name was Samuel Lockwood.

Today’s hamlet of Gilboa is a watery reflection of its former self. The original village, a thriving mill town, was drowned by the construction of the Gilboa Dam, creating New York City’s second Catskill Mountain reservoir. Digging for the dam began in 1917. The old village became history in 1926.


A Catskill Catalog: September 21, 2011

At the end of August 1945, Governor Dewey went to the Walton Fair.

World War II had just, that month, come to an end. Atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just, that month, ushered in the Atomic Age. It was a time of big things, and the governor came to Delaware County.


A Catskill Catalog: September 14, 2011

The Catskills, geologically, are an upland plateau, cut up, by erosion, into peaks and valleys. A plateau rises steeply on one side, maintains high elevation, and slopes gradually into the lands that surround it.

That’s our mountains, which rise dramatically from the Hudson River Valley, reach full height in western Greene and Ulster counties, and slope elegantly downhill from the heights of the Delaware River feeder streams in the west.


A Catskill Catalog: September 7, 2011

A woman, absent-mindedly, locks her keys in her still-running car in front of the Fleischmanns Supermarket. Her son is at home mucking out the basement, and she can’t remember where she put the spare keys. She had to leave the house so suddenly, so abruptly, the previous Sunday, Aug. 28, Irene’s Day, that everything’s a bit of a fog since.

A fire policeman, guarding Margaretville’s broken Bridge Street, allows that he hasn’t been able to sleep, visions of rampaging water tearing at his heart.


A Catskill Catalog: August 31, 2011

Devastating. That’s the only word I can think to write, the Monday after Irene’s Day. Devastating.
Leah Stern died in the storm. She was vacationing in Fleischmanns with her husband, Meyer, just as she had done every summer for years. But Leah was 83, weakened by age and infirmity, and when the Valkyrian Motel was evacuated Sunday morning, somehow, she didn’t get out. Soon, getting out became impossible.


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