Heart of the Catskills newest Steuding book
Fleischmanns — Purple Mountain Press has announced the publication of The Heart of the Catskills by Bob Steuding, author of the popular and highly acclaimed The Last of the Handmade Dams: The Story of the Ashokan Reservoir.
In this new book Steuding describes the early settlement of the area, its exploitation by the tanning industry, and the building of the Grand Hotel near Belleayre. He presents the stories of colorful personalities, such as Jim Dutcher, the mountain man; John Burroughs, the writer and naturalist; and others, who once peopled this wild and beautiful place.
“When young Jimmy Dutcher hiked over the mountains from Prattsville to Shandaken in 1851, he was not traveling for pleasure; he was looking for work. His father had died two years earlier; his mother had remarried, and life had become tough for Jim at home. So Jim, 13 years old at the time, left his family and set out in the world on his own. Like many other folk from the Northern Catskills, where the hemlock had been depleted, Jim headed south and found work.”
So begins chapter 10 of Steuding’s projected three-volume social history of the Catskills High Peak Region. The Heart of the Catskills serves as a prologue to his first regional history, The Last of the Handmade Dams. Containing maps, numerous photographs, and an extensive bibliography of regional sources, The Heart of the Catskills was written over the last 10 years and was drawn from a wide range of sources, including old publications and newspapers, letters and diaries, church records, legal deeds, personal interviews, and even the contents of a dusty, cardboard box found in the broom closet of a local library.
In the preface Steuding writes: “More than 30 years ago, while working on another book, I interviewed a woman who was over 100 years old. She was ‘sharp as a tack’ and in full possession of her faculties. She had lived in the Esopus Valley before the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir and was the descendant of Catskill Mountain pioneers. ‘We’ve lived, and that’s all,’ she said, when asked about her family. ‘It’s a drawn-out story, and it doesn’t amount to much.’ Nonetheless, I was deeply interested in that story. For this place, and those who settled it, their very names often forgotten, their lives marked only by a weathered gravestone or by the rubble of an abandoned farmhouse foundation found high up on the mountainside have fascinated me since I was very young. The study of the Catskill Mountains and those who have lived in them in the past, in fact, has become my lifework.”
In a recent interview, Steuding has said: “We live in an area where history is a living thing.” I’m “honored and gratified” to have been able “to do what I can…to celebrate this place and commemorate its history.”
A writer on Catskill Mountain and Hudson Valley subjects since the 1960s, Bob Steuding has served the region as a teacher, town historian, and county poet laureate. A native of the Catskills, Steuding is the author of two collections of poetry—Ashokan and Winter Sun—as well as A Catskill Mountain Journal; a critical biography of Pulitzer Prize poet Gary Snyder; and three regional histories—The Last of the Handmade Dams: The Story of the Ashokan Reservoir, Rondout: A Hudson River Port, and The Heart of the Catskills. Bob lives with his wife Martha in Olivebridge near the Ashokan Reservoir and is a Professor of English and Philosophy at SUNY Ulster.
The book, a quality paperback for $15, will go on sale at 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Olive Free Library in West Shokan, where the author will present a slide talk and sign copies. For more information contact Wray Rominger at Purple Mountain Press, 800-325-2665.