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.

Cyndi and Dede sign Around Hunter for Fran Driscoll.

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.

On Saturday, October 10, 2015 the Mountain Top Historical Society's Haines Falls campus will be the place to begin your Lark in the Park. Starting at 9:00 a.m. we'll offer a choice of four hikes spreading out to various trail heads around the area with popular, experienced hike leaders. Robert Titus, the Catskills Geologist, will lead the Rip Van Winkle hike to Sunset Rock from North Lake recounting Rip's adventures along the way. Paul LaPierre and Pete Senterman will begin at the South Lake dam and head up the west side of the lake along the old railroad right of way. This easy hike, including stops at the Otis Elevating Railway cut, Alligator Rock, the Catskill Mountain House site will be accompanied by railroad lore of the early 1900s. Our own Bob Gildersleeve will lead a Fall tour of Three Waterfalls in Kaaterskill Clove. Thanks to Twilight Cottagers we will visit overlooks of three waterfalls in Twilight Park. After a stop to view Haines Falls from the bridge and the tennis courts we will do a two-mile walk through the woods to see Santa Cruz Falls and Buttermilk Falls. Along the way, we will see some beautiful views of Kaaterskill Clove from the South Rim of the Clove. Nancy Allen will lead a hike to Codfish Point. Beginning at the parking lot at the top of Devil's Kitchen, Nancy's group will take a five-mile round trip that has a 1500 foot elevation gain in 2.5 miles. They will pass some old stone quarries and enjoy great views to the southeast.
All of the hikers will meet at the MTHS campus at 9:00 a.m. and car pool to the various trail heads for the hikes. The hikes are designed to last about three hours and return to the MTHS for lunch.
Lunch will be hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill with all the fixings including salads, cold drinks and dessert. The cost per person for lunch is $10.
After lunch, in the U&D Train Station, we will have presentations by Michelle Yost on the present and future Kaaterskill Rail Trail, and by Jeff Senterman about the Catskill Center. We'll end the day with a presentation by Marty Molitoris of Alpine Endeavors on ice climbing.
We welcome hikers and those interested in hiking or just the beauty of the Catskill Park to join us for a hike, a presentation, lunch, good company and interesting information.
Please make reservations for the hikes and for lunch by emailing us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling (518)589-6657.

MTHS does not require membership for hike participation. We do however request that you register for each hike. Participants can register at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling (518) 589-6657. Please leave your name, phone number, and total in your party. Schedule subject to change. The latest information is available on our web site For last-minute questions call Bob at (518) 734-9701. Notification of changes, including weather cancellations will be made on the web site up to the day of any given hike.


On Sunday, September 27, 2015, Jim Sterba will appear at the Ulster and Delaware Train Station on the Mountain Top Historical Society campus at 2:00 p.m. to discuss and sign his 2012 book, Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds. After more than three decades as a foreign correspondent, war correspondent, and national news reporter for The New York Times and then The Wall Street Journal, Sterba turned his attention to the conflicts that occur as Americans struggle to define their relationship with the wild animals who share their habitat. Kirkus Reviews states “Sterba provides a summary history of the wilderness colonists found, the replacement of the great Eastern forest with farmland, and the market-driven extermination of wildlife through commercial hunting and trapping.”  He further documents the problems that humans have with each other and with the many animals that have made their way back to populated areas as re-forestation has advanced. Mark your calendar now and look forward to a lively discussion as Jim Sterba presents “an eye-opening take on how romantic sentimentalism about nature can have destructive consequences.” (Kirkus Reviews)The MTHS campus is located in Haines Falls on NYS rt. 23A. The presentation will be followed by a reception and time for book purchases and signing.A $ 5.00 donation is suggested.