Spring Fling 2016
The Dodd House
In response to a question about the Grand View Hotel, I found this article by former MTHS president Justine Hommel.
The article originally appeared in the Spring 1992 issue of the Society's newsletter, The Hemlock.
South Lake Creek
What do we call the Creek from South Lake?
Within the past few months I've had a number of people ask me the name of the creek that flows from South Lake, joins a second creek just before it plunges over Kaaterskill Falls and then cascades over Bastion Falls (and Terrace Cascade) until it and the creek that drops over Haines Falls merge in the depths of Kaaterskill Clove. The immediate answer is that the creek is Spruce Creek.
People who know me or are familiar with my 2005 book Catskill Mountain House Trail Guide, will not be at all surprised to find that my answer has not been Spruce Creek. Nevertheless, who am I to dispute the United States Geologic Survey or the U. S. Board on Geographic Names? The question of the name of Spruce Creek has been settled, modern Greene County Highway maps clearly show it as Spruce Creek, and I'll agree to go by the decision. But why has it been a question among local residents, authors, and map makers? What other names have been used, and what were some of the sources of those other names?
Since the 19th century there has been no disagreement that Spruce Creek starts on North Mountain, flows South. It crosses North Lake Road (County Route 18) and flows between Laurel House Road and Schutt Road until, just east of the site of the Laurel House, it joins the creek from North-South Lake. That section is shown as Spruce Creek on USGS maps, and 19th and 20th Century trail maps. Trail Guides and travelogs call it Spruce Creek more or less consistently and have so for over a century and a half. But once it joins the creek from South Lake the agreement ends, and in most historic cases the name 'Spruce Creek' does not appear downstream from that confluence.
So if the stream wasn't referred to as Spruce Creek, what was it called? There are two candidates: first the east or main branch of Kaaterskill Creek and second Lake Creek. There is ample evidence that both names were used in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The evidence for Kaaterskill Creek is sometimes semantic and sometimes direct. The name of Thomas Cole's 1826 painting “The Falls of the Kaaterskill” seems to imply that it is the waters of Kaaterskill that falls and therefore that the creek was known as the Kaaterskill. Kaaterskill Falls was often called “The Falls of the Kaaterskill,” for example again in an 1837 Atlantic Monthly article “A September Trip to the Catskills” reprinted in a Mountain House publication The Scenery of the Catskill Mountains. Another well know example is from William Cullen Bryant's poem Catterskill Falls which starts
Midst greens and shades the Catterskill leaps.
Again, it's the stream, and therefore the Catterskill (we won't quibble over the spelling) that leaps.
But arguing by semantics is hardly enough evidence. There is clear written use of the name Kaaterskill in Beers' 1884 History of Greene County. On page 18, the history states:
[T]he Katerskil … which rises in the lakes on South Mountain and flows through a channel down one of the grandest gorges in all this mountain region. As it descends it makes several falls and cascades of rare beauty and grandeur. The most noteworthy of these are Haines Falls, where the waters of the West Branch of the Katerskil dash over a precipice 150 feet high, and the Katerskil Falls where the east or main branch of the stream comes over two falls a few yards apart, the first being 175 feet high and the second 80 feet.
In the late 1700s, the land that was to become the Town of Hunter was part of a vast land grant, the Hardenburgh Patent. The wildness and poor suitability of the area for agriculture delayed settlement of the area until the early 1800s. According to Beers' History of Greene County (1884) the only settlers in the Hunter area at that time were Tory refugees from Putnam County and some people who fled New England in the wake of Daniel Shay's rebellion. The two major resources that brought people into Hunter in the first half of the 19th century were the abundant hemlock trees and the physical beauty of the area.
The Greene County historian in 1927, Jessie V.V. Vedder wrote: “ The scenic wealth of the Catskills lies within the borders of the Town of Hunter. It has been more richly endowed in this respect than any other town in Greene County.” Three cloves with their streams, ravines and cliffs are located in Hunter, along with impressive vistas of the Hudson Valley.
Town of Hunter historian, Dede Thorpe, and president to the Mountain Top Historical Society, Cyndi LaPierre, used vintage images from the MTHS archives and other sources to share the 200 year story of the area Around Hunter, highlighting the resourcefulness of local people earning a living in a wild and beautiful part of New York State.
Around Hunter was released on September 28, 2015 and had a premiere at the Mountain Top Historical Society on October 4, 2015 with a presentation by the authors and book signing. A second event with presentation and signing is scheduled for the Catskill Mountain Foundation Bookstore on November 14, 2015, from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. Come in to meet the authors and pick up your signed copy of the latest local history book.
You can purchase your copy of Around Hunter by stopping in at the MTHS Visitors' Center in Haines Falls on Monday, Wednesday or Friday from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.. You can also send a check to the MTHS, PO Box 263, Haines Falls, NY 12436 and they can send you a copy. The cost per book, including tax, is $23.75. Please add $3.00 for shipping and handling.
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