MTHS Through the Years.

Last year the Mountain Top Historical Society celebrated 40 years of service to the Mountain Top communities of Greene County, NY.
As we move into our fifth decade we will be using this space to feature events, accomplishments, and challenges of the Society through the years.

Some recent posts on the local history Facebook page about the history of East Jewett Valley got me thinking again about Timberlane Ranch and the period when it was known as The Gabby Hayes Resort Ranch.
Like most people who grew up in the 50s, Gabby Hayes, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and the great number of western stars and cowboy programs on TV were a great influence on me. I didn't live in this area as a child, but the memories of Roy, Dale, Gabby, Pat Brady, Gene, Hoppy, Clayton Moore and countless others never left my imagination. Knowing that our area had a connection to Gabby Hayes made me think of doing an MTHS program on the Gabby Hayes Ranch. I explained this in a letter that I wrote to Dale Evans Rogers in 1999 (Roy had passed away a year earlier in July of 1998.) Here is a copy of the text of that letter and the photo of Gabby that I sent to Mrs. Rogers.

I watched the mail like a kid waiting for cereal premium ordered with a box-top and "one thin dime" but none arrived before the date of the society's program at the East Jewett Fire House. My program was heavy on the cowboy TV shows with videos and music including songs by The Sons of the Pioneers and even the Olympics singing 'My Baby Loves the Western Movies." but was rather light on local history.

About a week after the program, I got a gracious reply from Mrs. Rogers. Here is a photo of her reply framed and in a place of Honor in our home.

The note reads:
Dear Bob,
Gabby Hayes was a wonderful person & artist.
He was a marvelous actor, and quite gifted.
Roy and I enjoyed and loved Gabby, his talents, and his beautiful character.
Thank you for asking!
Sincerely
Dale Evans Rogers


A year or two back, Carol Vanucchi kindly donated much of the materials I used for research and other material on Timberland Ranch to the Mountain Top Historical Society. The material is kept in the climate controlled and fire resistant Justine Hommel Archive Room.

by Adrienne Larys

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The MTHS Hiking Program emerged as a natural and logical outgrowth of the founding of the MTHS. Linked forever to the natural beauty of the Catskill high peaks, the history of the discovery and exploration of the Catskills natural wonders became the focus of mostly seasonal hikes led initially by Catskill artist Barry Hopkins and a year or so later by, Larry Tompkins and Bob Gildersleeve. Primarily from April to October, with occasional snowshoe excursions, the MTHS Hiking Program has roamed the Catskills, the Taconics, the Shawangunks, and the Hudson River Valley following in the footsteps of Thomas Cole, Frederick Church, Sanford Gifford, and Asher Durand. While not mountain hikes, there were forays to various Hudson Valley historic sites. The Mills Mansion in Staatsburgh was a regular excursion, mixing hiking with history.

As with every hiking group, while destination is important, it is the fun and fellowship and unexpected bonding experiences along the way that make so many MTHS hikes memorable. There was the time Bob and Larry had to go back into the woods after dark to ferret out slow moving hikers on an Indian Head hike (they found them!), and the shocking moment when a hiker slipped over a ledge on Giant Ledge to hang upside down (she survived without a scratch), and the terrifying moment when a hiker had a close encounter with a rattlesnake in the Taconics while blueberry picking (the snake continued to rattle for at least 10 minutes while the astonishment and adrenaline slowly subsided!).

By Mara Lehmann, Open House Chairman

The annual OPEN HOUSE has always been a day of fun filled and historical learning activities that is our way of saying “Thanks” to our Mountain Top community for their continued support throughout the year.

Activities are offered, for both young and old. We always have an informative lecture and themed photo exhibition in our beautifully restored train station. Knowledgeable locals have brought to life for us, what life was like here during the “good ole days.” Who came here? How did they get here? What did everyone do? How did people dress? Many a guest speaker, being an author as well, has followed his talk with a book signing. Topics have included trains and railroads, boarding houses and hikes to unique sites to our area.

During the OPEN HOUSE the red barn on our campus has been put to good use, providing an exhibition space often filled with visual art, memorabilia and ephemera from our past history. These exhibits usually result from collaborations with community members and organization. Just recently, the red barn was filled with memorabilia from the Town of Hunter, helping to celebrate the town’s 200th Anniversary. In the past, all of the local town fire departments staged an exhibition here. Many times local artists, following in the Hudson River School Of Art tradition of painting, have been given an opportunity to show their own art work here as well. One particularly memorable show was an exhibit of our local high school students’ original paintings and poems on the theme of Waterfalls. This was a collaborative effort of the Windham Arts Alliance, our local school personnel and our society.

Our newly completed Archives is always an interesting place to spend some time and get a tour.

Music has always filled the air during our event. Live bands perform in a variety of styles: folk, country and Civil War ballads to name a few.

Often a wide variety of craft vendors are invited to set up and show their wares. Pottery, landscape and wildlife photographs, cloth handbags, wax candles, pine sachets, wooden twig tables, scented soaps and many other hand- made items can be found for sale.

Lots of children’s activities are available. At our Children’s Corner there is face painting and coloring. We have a puppet theater where the story of Rip Van Winkle is told, much to the delight of our young audience. Rip has actually been known to show up and say Hello!

More family fun comes in the form of a tractor pulled hayride around our campus grounds. Anyone hungry can easily find our food table with hot dogs, drinks and ice cream available.

There is always a grateful raffle winner!

As you can see, the Open House is a day of celebration. It brings all of us together to remind us of our history, enjoy our surroundings and have a wonderful time.

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Color postcard of the original 1950s puppet show.

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In the 1950s a tourist attraction known as Rip's Retreat occupied what is now the North-South Lake Campground's beach picnic area near North Lake. One memorable feature of the attraction was a puppet theater with a show retelling Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle. Thanks to postcards in our collection, photographs donated to the Society's archives, interviews with folks who remembered the puppet show, and the hard work of volunteers, the show has been revived and is now a popular feature at MTHS events.
GNH Lumber donated some of the materials and Platte Clove Community built the theater. Chris Cade designed the puppets, Linda Nichols directed the production and the original 12 minute recording used at Rip's Retreat, a children's record featuring Walter Huston as Rip, was used for our production. Each year since our first production, local youngsters recreate the show for the entertainment of attendees of our Open House.

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On Saturday, June 16, 2007 a strong thunderstorm struck the Eastern Escarpment of the Catskills. Our new Visitors' Center located in a beautiful clearing at the top of Kaaterskill Clove was the perfect target for nature's violence. A single stroke of lightning hit the northeast corner of the building and started a fire. A fortunate set of events allowed for the quick response of the Haines Falls Volunteer Fire Company and prevented the loss of our building and our historic collection. A passerby saw the fire and stopped at the firehouse just as the firefighters were returning from another call.
Thanks to the firefighters the damage was minimal and, after much assistance from our members and friends, the water damage to some of our collection was minimized. The event sparked two actions from the Society. Lightning Rods were installed on the building, and we accelerated our plans and fund raising for a a new and more secure home for our collection.