The Catskills Via The Ashokan, The Mohican and the Rip Van Winkle Trails

It is a charming impression one gets of the beautiful country embraced in the Catskills. Enter by whatever route you will, there is a great deal that is interesting. It is a country to delight the artist. Many of them make their homes within the borders of this picturesque area.

There have been many attempts to describe the beauties of the three main Trails leading into the Catskills from the East – Ashokan, Rip Van Winkle, Mohican. They are so unlike, and yet each has such outstanding characteristics to delight the eye that somebody has hit upon the simple, but unflattering title for the three of the – “Portals of Paradise.” And such portals!

The CatskillsAbout sixty-five years after the Dutch bought and settled Manhattan Island, they completed another real estate deal that ranks among the most important in history. From the Indians they bought a large portion of the “Ontioras”, the native name for what we now know as the Catskills. This was sixty-nine years after Hendrick Hudson, sailing up the river in the Half Moon, first had them unfolded to his view. The purchasers of this tract little knew what it would mean to the untold thousands who visit it every year; at the time of the purchase they could view it as nothing more than a land admirably suited for settlement. And settle it they did. After the Dutch came the English, and the Indians gradually drew back from the advance of civilization, leaving behind only a few relics that eloquently speak of wars between their own tribes and between the French and English, and the English and the Yankees, in which they took part.

The early settlers found the Catskills a rich citadel, from which they took furs and, later on, slate and hemlock bar for tanning. Small settlements began to take form with the advent of quarries, sawmills and tanneries. Evidences of these industries are still abundant. But there are no booming cities as monuments to the settlers, for they moved on and turned to other pursuits elsewhere when the raw materials were exhausted.

New Amsterdam became New York and New York became a metropolis. Then the Catskills became a playground – a playground so fit for that purpose in nature and situation that those early settlers who bought it could have done no better if they had had its ultimate use in mind at the time the deal was transacted.

Its nearness seems too good to be true. The Hudson River Valley – that picturesque intervening space – is itself a delight to travel. It gives us time to get into an anticipatory mood. Were the Catskills any nearer to the city, they would hold far less charm, for then they would be so oft-visited as to become a thing taken for granted, like Central Park.

We are told that the entire region was once quite level, low and under the sea, bed upon bed of sandstone and shale being laid down on the sea bottom. Then the region began to rise slowly and lofty peaks were formed, centuries of following erosion giving us beautiful valleys and gorges. The mountains conform to no well-defined axis. Every turn of the road reveals unexpected features, either a barrier or a pass, a sky-bent slope or a vista. Because of their “careless” formation, the Catskills have been likened to the Lawrenthian Hills of Canada, but they are generally conceded to be unique. The region abounds in a variety of natural features. You will find hills as well as mountains, rills and well as rivers, cascades and cataracts, peaceful valleys and brooding gorges, small lakes, and cliffs that still bear scars of tide and surf.

The Catskills form the mountainous part of the Alleghany plateau, which is a part of the great Appalachian system that extends along the Atlantic Coast from Newfoundland to Alabama. On the south they almost grade into the folded region of the Appalachians’ on the west they gradually merge into the southwestern plateau; on the north, the Helderberg escarpment, standing out abruptly and to the great height, forms a sharp boundary; on the eastern side they present a very steep, high front facing the Hudson Valley. This profile of mountains seen from the river was known to the Indians as the Wall of Manitou. The region beyond was believed to be one of the favorite hunting grounds of the Great Spirit, as it was of the Indians themselves.


As we descend the other side of the mountain we come upon Fleischmanns, the prosperity of which is indirectly due to Charles Fleischmann, the founder of the big business which bears his name. Fleischmann established his summer home here many years ago when it was the little hamlet of Griffin’s Corners. Many of his friends followed his example, and finally the place evolved into a popular resort town. It also has a body of water, Lake Switzerland , within the village limits, and an unusually good athletic field. Nearby are the summer estates of several noted people, among which is Sul Monte, the home of Madame Amelita Galli-Curci.

With our entrance into Fleischmanns we have come into Delaware County and we find the country placid and pastoral. A short distance ahead is the little community of Arkville, not in itself a large resort, but surrounded with numerous farmhouses which enjoy an extensive vacationist patronage. This is a famous trout section, as the East Branch of the Delaware River is here joined by the Bushkill and Dry Brook. Kingdon Gould has a country home up the Dry Brook Valley, which is traversed by a good road that turns to the left off the State Road after we cross the picturesque covered bridge at the west end of the village. An out trail also winds up at then Pakatakan Colony which maintains an excellent golf course here, where the Catskill Mountain Amateur Golf Tournament is held annually.

Only a mile and a half farther on is a larger village, Margaretville, once the site of the headquarters of the Tuscarora Indians and now the gateway through which traffic enters from the foothills of the Catskills. Margaretville is situated at the confluence of the East Branch of the Delaware and Dry Brook and is in the heart of good fishing grounds. It is on the Delaware and Northern Railroad which travels down the East Branch valley and is reached from the Catskill Mountain Division of the New York Central by stage or taxi from Arkville. The Delaware and Northern also has a station at Arkville. At Margaretville Route 28 continues through Andes where is situated Tunis Lake Camp for boys and nine miles up the valley near Shavertown is situated the beautiful Oquago Camp for girls. Near Andes is Lake Delaware and the large Gerry estate. At Lake Delaware a new arch bridge has been completed which is very artistic in rustic stone, as is an Episcopal Church nearby. Continuing from Andes to Delhi, one passes Cole Lake which covers a number of acres of land and is privately owned. A short distance beyond is a road to the right that leads through a pretty valley to Bovina Center, which nestles in the beautiful foothills of the Catskills.

Delhi is the county seat of Delaware County and situated in the broad fertile valley of the Delaware River basin. Delhi is a beautiful town with broad, clean streets and up-to-date business places. At Delhi tourists may take Route 10 to Stamford, where it connects again with Route 23.

Starting again at Margaretville on Route 30, we now follow a valley through which the headwaters of the East Branch flow. By the time we reach Grand Gorge we will be almost at the actual source of the stream which rounds the corner near Margaretville and flows down into the foothills of the Catskills, there meeting the Delaware itself. Traveling up this charming glade we pass through the closely located communities of Kelly Corners and Halcottville, where excellent accommodations are available to those who prefer the less pretentious type of summering place. At Halcottville is a lake that fits in well with the landscape. We are now heading, in an indirect course for the extreme western portion of the Catskills.

There is much to attract the visitor in Roxbury. It is the birthplace of Jay Gould and the summer estate of his daughter, Helen Gould Shepard, is located here. A church erected in memory of Jay Gould is surrounded by a well kept park. But a short distance from the town is the birthplace of John Burroughs. Woodchuck Lodge, where Mr. Burroughs lived for many years and wrote many of the works that have been enjoyed by thousands, is also here. His last resting place, too, is among these eternal hills and has been visited by hundreds of his admirers.

We leave Roxbury and sweep along the broad valley for a few miles and then the road and railroad right of way converge and follow through a deep gorge. A few miles farther and the mountains release us from their hug. We come suddenly upon another village.

Grand Gorge
In Grand Gorge the Ashokan Trail is joined by a continuation of the Mohican and Rip Van Winkle Trails.

Through the town passes much of the tourist traffic from these two routes, and that traveling the Ashokan Trail between Oneonta, or Stamford, and Kingston. At this point is also a highway that takes us to Gilboa Reservoir, and thence to Schoharie, where we meet the popular route to Albany from the West.

The gorge through which we passed to reach the village is that from which its name is taken. Anyone stopping at Grand Gorge for a while will find this cut through the mountains worthy of more than passing observation.

To continue our way, we turn sharply to the left and head directly for the extreme western Catskills. About halfway between Grand Gorge and Stamford is the hamlet of South Gilboa. This is a strictly rural section, too, is a nice little lake, one of the few to be enjoyed in the Catskills. Now and then one comes by groves of evergreen trees and first thing we know, we are in Stamford.

Stamford’s popularity as a summer resort has grown rapidly since the first city guest was entertained here over 60 years ago. Its pretty setting at the foot of the majestic Utsayantha, combined with the many natural attractions with which Nature has endowed this section, make it one of the real pleasures and recreation spots of the Catskills. Its elevation is 1,800 feet, while Utsayantha towers 3.365 feet above sea level, and the healthful and invigorating climate, pure spring water, modern improvements, the highest quality of Delaware County dairy products, easy accessibility, etc., make it one of the most popular resort sections in the mountains. The temperature here is always from 15 to 20 degreed cooler than in the Metropolitan districts.

Among its major attractions is a splendid, standard 18 hole golf course on a hill overlooking the village. This was laid out under the supervision of the late Walter J. Travis and those who have played upon it are keen enthusiasts about what has been accomplished here. On the property is a delightful clubhouse with fine appointments.

As an addition to its aquatic facilities, which are three tiny but picturesque lakes locate in Rexmere Park, there was built a large concrete swimming pool in the same park, with a casino containing dressing and other rooms. The water in this pool is supplied from mountain springs and is continually changing. Almost every day in June, July and August a program of aquatic events is put on at the pool by an expert from Florida. Indian Trail Lake, located in a park in the heart of the village, is also the scene of water sports under the supervision of a guard, each summer.

The civic features of Stamford are not exceeded anywhere in the mountains. The long streets are paved, curbed and well-shaded. The business places are well stocked with up-to-the-minute merchandise, are attractive and clean. There are two fine libraries, always heavily patronized; four churches – Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal; an excellent hospital; and a splendid theatre exhibiting first-run Photophone-reproduced “talkies.” The Stamford Fire Department, which is housed in the municipal building, with the post office, in the center of the town, has the last word in fire-fighting apparatus.

The summit of Mt. Utsayantha, 3.365 feet above sea level, is a mecca for enthusiastic hikers. Those to whom the Indian trail is too formidable will reach the top by a good automobile road. From the tower one’s ken seeps 20,000 square miles of territory, portions of four states, twenty prominent peaks, the Hudson River and the cities of Albany and Schenectady.

From a huge hostelry serving 300 people to a cottage accommodating only 10, Stamford is ready for every desirable class of varying means. Its patronage is and has been, however, of the more exclusive sort, and will be found highly congenial.

Recently a fine new concrete highway, going north out of Stamford, has been constructed. It connects the Ashokan Trail and other Catskill Mountain highways with the Schohanna Trail, Cherry Valley Turnpike and other routes to Utica, Syracuse, Albany and other northern points, making Stamford much more accessible to these places than it formerly was, and greatly increasing the touring area of visiting motorists.

Continuing along the Ashokan Trail from Stamford, one begins to drop gently out of the Catskills, although they are really not left behind until one comes near to the city of Oneonta. Even this section of the Trail, where it wanders into the foothills, has its charm, following along brooks and through delightfully cool woods. Along the way are villages of Harpersfield, Davenport and Davenport Center, each with its accommodations for tourists, including neat farmhouses in between the communities.

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