A Catskill Catalog: July 21, 2010

The bus from Fleischmanns took four full hours to get to New York City the other morning. Seemed awfully slow, winding its way through routes 28, 212, and 32 before hitting the Thruway, then crawling through Manhattan-style congestion that starts a good distance this side of Weehawken.

Not so bad, I guess, when you consider a similar trip made in the mid-1800s. A horse-drawn stage coach traveled at five miles per hour, making the daily trip from Delhi to Kingston a 16- hour ordeal, 14 hours of ponderous, bone-jarring travel with two additional hours for meals and changing horses. Up until about 1870, the Delhi to Rondout stage left the West Branch of the Delaware River each day at 2 a.m., arriving at the Hudson River around 6 that evening.

The coach followed the road built from Rondout to Jericho, Kingston to Bainbridge today, one of the first improved roads in New York State, and a major route west in the early years of America. The portion of the road from Kingston to Pine Hill was known, in the middle 1800s, as the ‘Sopus Turnpike,’ after the creek that provided the road’s passage through the Catskills.

Today’s Route 28 has a long history with serial antecedents. It’s not the oldest road west of the Hudson River, however. The first road on this side of the big river is the Old Mine Road, the Minisink Road from Kingston to Port Jervis, built to reach the Warren County, New Jersey copper mines down on the Delaware. Today, that road has become state Route 209.

A 1765 map, attributed to the surveyor, William Cockburn, shows a road from Marbletown, in Ulster County, up the Esopus Creek, over Pine Hill to “the Tweed,” a common colonial-era name for the East Branch of the Delaware River. The road then leads to Pakatakan, earliest settlement in what was to become Delaware County. Thus, an early road on the Route 28 path precedes the Revolution.

A 1779 map shows a road from Marbletown, through Kingston, to “Pakatakan,” along with a second road, this one a road from Saugerties to the East Branch. The road continues from Pakatakan down the East Branch to the settlement of Papacton, now under the reservoir that bears its name.
Road building began in earnest after the American Revolution. Independence meant growth, and growth required the transportation and communication network that only passable roads could provide.

In 1791, contracts were let for the improvement of 57 miles of road between Shandaken and Walton. Trees were cut, brush cleared, bridges built to create a road “so that loaded ox-carts and waggons may with ease pass along the same.”

This road traveled from Shandaken along the Esopus, up over Pine Hill, through Pakatakan along the Delaware to Pepacton, crossing the river to Downsville, and on to Walton on the West Branch.
Private, profit-making turnpikes companies were a growth industry at the turn of the 18th Century into the 19th. The Ulster and Delaware Turnpike Company received its charter from the state legislature in 1802. Its purpose: construction of a major road west.

Frederick DeZeng was the force behind the Ulster and Delaware Turnpike. He envisioned a turnpike connecting the Connecticut border to the Hudson River, and the Hudson to the Susquehanna. Tollbooths every 10 miles would insure frequent collections along the road’s 110-mile passage. Charges of 12 and a half cents each 10 miles promised a good return.

Frederick DeZeng was a Hessian officer, a Baron, who switched sides shortly after he arrived in New York as a mercenary hired out to the English to suppress the American Revolution. He married a colonial girl from Flushing, renounced his noble title, and, in 1789, became a citizen of our new republic.

DeZeng lived at Great Shandaken from 1788 to 1790, serving as a major in the Ulster County militia. He was involved in a number of land deals and construction projects in the newly opening lands of central New York. In 1801, DeZeng moved to Kingston to supervise the Ulster and Delaware Turnpike Project.

The road was completed in 1807, 28-feet wide, bedded in stone and covered in gravel, with ditches on both sides, 33-feet apart.

John D. Monroe marks the route in his 1949 Chapters in the History of Delaware County New York. “The Ulster and Delaware Turnpike Road, as constructed, passed by way of ‘the Red Bridge’ over the Esopus Creek at Kingston, to the house of Lazarus Sprague at Shandaken, and thence over Pine Hill to the Old Stone School House east of Dunraven on the existing roadbed, or substantially so. Near the Stone School House the road crossed the East Branch of Delaware and ran up the Plattekill, over Palmer Hill to Andes, then over Cabin Hill to DeLancey, then to the bridge at Hamden, and so to Walton and thence to Bainbridge.”

But, alas, the turnpike business proved not as profitable as hoped, especially when the cost of construction ballooned to a $1,000 per mile. By 1816, the turnpike was out of business. Maintenance of the road fell to local authorities.

But financial failure or not, DeZeng and his private road-building associates had established the Ulster and Delaware, the ‘Sopus Turnpike’ after the company’s demise, as one of only three ways west, through the mountains, to the New York frontier.
The future Route 28 had been firmly established.
© William Birns