The story of the Shawangunk Mountains Region (the region) is the story
of two valleys and the mountain that lies between them. This
mountain—known as the Shawangunk Ridge, or sometimes just "the
ridge"—and the Wallkill and Rondout Valleys, share a history that
begins about 11,500 years ago, at a time when the last glaciers were
receding from the landscape and the first human beings began to venture
into what is now New York State. For countless generations, Native
Americans lived here, traveling back and forth over the Shawangunk
Ridge, between the two rivers that give the valleys their names. When
first encountered by Europeans in the early 17th century, the resident
Native American groups, known as the Esopus, were united by a common
culture. So too were the Dutch and French Huguenot settlers who
supplanted the Esopus and whose descendents reside in the region to
this day. The degree to which these groups once dominated the region is
evident in the abundance of local place names deriving from their
languages. Although the ridge would remain largely uninhabited
throughout the pre-industrial period, its presence shaped patterns of
settlement and travel, as well as local lifeways and
In the early decades of the 19th century, with the advent of
industrialization and new forms of transportation, the story of the
region becomes more complex. At times during the next century and a
half, the histories of the Rondout and Wallkill Valleys diverged, each
following slightly different social and economic paths. Throughout this
period, however, the ridge remained a powerful force in a local economy
driven by the region's natural resources and by tourism. Today as the
21st century opens, the unbroken forests of the Shawangunk Ridge and
the scenic farmland and villages of the two valleys, although
threatened by development, have become critical aspects of the region's
identity. This shared experience, and the awareness that
these are valuable resources that must be protected, has had the effect
bringing together communities and institutions from both sides of the
The region's multiple stories are converging once again into a single
The route of the Shawangunk Mountains Scenic Byway (the byway) binds
the region together. The network of roadways defining the byway
encloses a group of communities that at various times in their
histories have been affected by their proximity to the ridge. At the
center of the region lie the Northern Shawangunks, part of a larger
ridge system that extends for 350 miles from the Susquehanna River in
Pennsylvania northwards to Rosendale, New York. Known in Pennsylvania
as the Blue Mountains, in New Jersey as the Kittatinnys, and in New
York as the Shawangunks, the ridge is a subsection of a geological
province known as the High Allegheny Plateau. Within the region, the
topography of the larger ridge system assumes its most dramatic and
rugged aspect, with white cliffs, sky lakes and deep fissures
in the conglomerate bedrock known as "ice caves."
the region lies within Ulster County. A small section is located within
Orange County. The southernmost point of the region is Bullville,
located in the Town of Crawford, Orange County. The region's western
boundary is the Catskill Mountain foothills, forming the western margin
of the Rondout Valley. The Rondout Creek flows through the valley, fed
by tributaries rising in the Shawangunks and in the foothills of the
Catskills. Entering the valley from the west at Napanoch, the Rondout
the Sandburgh Creek and is eventually joined by the Wallkill River near
the Village of Rosendale, Ulster County—the region's northernmost
Near Kingston, the Rondout Creek flows into the Hudson River. The
eastern boundary overlaps and extends slightly to the east of the
River. This river, which is the principal drainage for the Wallkill
flows north, originating in northern New Jersey.
The Shawangunk Ridge is the dominant landscape feature of the region.
Through time, its physical presence has had a profound influence upon
the region's evolution. Although the story that follows below is
in scope, its focus is necessarily upon the geological, natural, and
cultural history of the Shawangunks.
GEOLOGY AND VEGETATION
Most of the natural resources that we enjoy today and that were
exploited in the past by Native Americans, Euro-American settlers, and
other previous inhabitants of the region, have their origins in the
geology of the Shawangunk Ridge. The most visible geological feature of
the ridge is the white rock that forms its "backbone." Caught by the
at certain angles, the Shawangunks seem to glow from within. In the
century, the Dutch, searching for minerals that they believed lay in
wilderness west of the Hudson River, spoke of a "crystal
(Anonymous 1907a). It was probably the Shawangunk Ridge.
Geologists call the ridge's caprock "the Shawangunk formation."
Contained within it are layers of sandstone, siltstones, shales,
notably—a hard white conglomerate rock known as "Shawangunk grit" or
Shawangunk conglomerate." This conglomerate is the layer that
most exposed and visible throughout the ridge. An extraordinarily
rock, it is made of quartz pebbles bound together in a cement-like
of white sand. Over the millennia it has resisted the effects of
by water and glaciation. Its formation dates to a time designated as
Silurian Period by geologists - about 420 million years ago.
as erosional sediments washed from the slopes of an ancient mountain
ancestral to today's Taconic Mountains, the conglomerate was deposited
braided rivers that flowed into an inland sea. This shallow
Period sea became deeper during the Devonian Period (345 million years
to 395 million years ago). Subsequent layers of fossil-rich limestone
accumulated above the Shawangunk conglomerate. Below the entire
Shawangunk Formation was a 10,000-foot thick layer of compacted mud and
silt known as the Martinsburg Formation. It was formed from deep ocean
deposits during the Ordovician Period, approximately 465 million years
ago. In contrast to the hard white conglomerate, the Martinsburg shale
is grayish brown in color and easier to erode. Tens of millions of
years of mountain building and erosion are represented in the
unconformable contact between the two formations (Davis 2003: personal
communication; Fagan 1998: 11-23; Kiviat 1988: 3-8; Snyder and Beard
1981: 8-12; Van Diver 1985).
Approximately 330 to 280 million years ago, the entire Shawangunk
Formation was affected by a sequence of folding and faulting known as
the Alleghenian Orogeny. At this point in geological history, the
topography that we would eventually recognize as the Shawangunk Ridge
and the adjoining valleys took shape. Because all of this rock remained
buried beneath layers and layers of sediments, the process also
the uplifting and exhumation of the Shawangunk formation and underlying
formations. The actual emergence of the ridge occurred during the last
100 million years, when subsequent erosion of overlying rock revealed
the erosion resistant Shawangunk conglomerate (Davis 2003, personal
Beginning about two million years ago a great ice sheet lying to the
north began a series of advances and retreats, burying the Shawangunks
in ice that was at times as much as a mile deep. The erosive forces of
glaciation sculpted the terrain that we see today. Overlying soils, as
well as the remaining softer limestones and underlying shales, were
jagged escarpments and bare ridge tops composed of durable
conglomerate. The Shawangunks' sky lakes (Maratanza, Mud Pond,
Awosting, Mohonk, and Minnewaska) are also a legacy of the
glaciers—created when water pooled in deep basins quarried by ice into
the bedrock's surface. During glaciation and afterwards, weathering of
the conglomerate formed the crevices, pinnacles, and sharp cliff
faces that comprise the familiar Shawangunk landscape. Even today,
shales exposed at the base of the cliffs are continually eroding away,
more breakage above, and thus sharpening the already dramatic contours
the conglomerate formations above (Davis 2003, personal communication;
Glacial and post-glacial events also modified the two valleys adjoining
the ridge. For millions of years, stream flowing from the Catskills and
the Shawangunk Ridge carved out the Rondout Valley from Devonian
limestones, shales and siltstones that formed the north and west sides
of the Shawangunks. The legacy of the advancing and retreating ice
sheet here is mostly depositional. The flatness of the central valley
floor is due to glacial outwash and sediments deriving from extinct
glacial meltwater river and lakes. In
the Wallkill Valley, the very fractured shales and siltstones forming
bedrock were easily eroded by the passage of the ice. As the ice
north up the Hudson Valley, the Wallkill Valley served as a basin for a
series of extinct glacial lakes. There was a time when the view from
Shawangunk Ridge was of vast lakes on either side, and of a wall of
ice melting back towards present day Albany (Davis 2003,
communication; Fagan 1998: 1-23; Isachsen et al. 2000, Van Diver 1985:
The highest points in today's Northern Shawangunks range from about to
1000 to 2200 feet above sea level, as opposed to the valleys lying
to its east and west which average about 250 feet elevation. Covering
the ridge is an array of vegetation as distinctive as the underlying
geology. The ridge contains a variety of natural communities
including: cliff, talus, and ice cave communities; extensive northern
hardwood forests; the
largest chestnut oak forest in New York State (30,000 acres),
approximately 7000 acres of pitch-pine-oak heath rocky summit; and the
globally rare dwarf
pine ridge community. Found within these communities are 33
rare plant, animal, and nonvascular species (Batcher 2000: 5). The
sheer scope of the Shawangunks' biodiversity elements, along with its
geological inheritance, makes it one the most compelling landscapes in
The ridge's unusual plant life is very much a product of the underlying
Shawangunk conglomerate. Harder even than granite, the conglomerate has
weathered very slightly since the last glaciation, producing the thin,
nutrient poor, acidic soils that support pitch pines and other forms of
plant life characteristic of the ridge's unique environment.
with these conglomerate-derived soils are other markedly different soil
types originating from glacial tills, shales, limestones, and the more
recent breakdown of organic matter. As the naturalist Erik Kiviat
14-15) explains, the result is: "a fine-scale mosaic of topography and
soil types that are related to the considerable variety in the habitats
available to plants and animals." Other adaptational influences include
high elevations and frequent fires.
The geologic and natural history of the Shawangunks has greatly
affected the region's cultural history. As will be described
it was not just the availability of the ridge's resources—such as
skins, limestone, huckleberries, and timber—but also the very fact of
the ridge's physical presence that would prove so influential to the
and communities existing within its sight.
THE NATIVE AMERICAN PERIOD (11,500 B.P. - Mid-17th Century)
Most of what we know about the region's Native American inhabitants
comes to us from the work of archaeologists. Between 15,000 and 10,000
years ago, the last glaciers had withdrawn from our region (Fagan 1998:
22). In approximately 11,500 B.P. (before the present time)
the first human beings began to move into the Hudson and Delaware River
Archaeologists call these people Paleo-Indians. Archaeological evidence
of this culture, generally assigned dates of 11,500 to 10,000 BP has
found in the region, near the village of Wallkill (Eisenberg 1976: 111;
1991:165; New York State Museum Site Files). As indicated by
remains, subsequent Native American cultures in the region include the
(10,000-3,700 B.P), Transitional (3,700-2,700 B.P.) and Woodland
(2,700 B.P- 400 B.P.) (Eisenberg and Perez 1981; Funk 1976; Diamond
Lindner 1998). Because so many of these sites are located within the
plains or on the adjoining uplands of the Rondout and Wallkill Rivers,
believe that for thousands of years Native American settlement patterns
were shaped by waterways. Such environments would have served as travel
and trade routes, fishing areas, pathways for following game, and
with the advent of horticulture, sites for cultivation (Funk 1976). At
the time they were first viewed by Europeans, the Wallkill and Rondout
were said to be “lined with corn-planting grounds" (Sylvester 1880: 11).
Several lines of evidence, including archaeological sites, indicate a
Native American presence on the ridge (Eisenberg 1976, 1991; Diamond
1995; Harris 2001a,b; Schrabisch 1936). Tools unearthed at the Mohonk
Rock Shelter, in what is now the Mohonk Preserve, have led some
archaeologists to assign dates as early as the Paleo-Indian Period
(11,500 to 10,000
BP) to this site. They suggest that the ridge, because it may have been
deglaciated earlier than the surrounding lowlands, would be an
attractive area for the region's original inhabitants (Eisenberg 1991:
16). Regardless of their antiquity, the artifactual contents
excavated sites indicate that over the centuries Native Americans
into the Shawangunks for various purposes including: hunting; gathering
of various foodstuffs such as berries, nuts, and perhaps medicinal
Possibly they came for spiritual reasons as well. Their
in the ridge's ecological processes is suggested by fossilized pollen
samples. Beginning in about 1600 B.P., pitch pine dominance greatly
increased, possibly encouraged by the Native American practice of
setting forest fires in order to promote blueberry bush growth (Laing
1994, cited in Fried 1998: 25).
As it was later for the region's Euro-American settlers, the Shawangunk
Ridge must have been an important landmark in a world of footpaths and
rivers, visible from the Hudson River as well as from the mountains
lying to the west. Native American travelers would have followed a
trails over the ridge as they journeyed between the Wallkill and
Valleys. One such footpath, the “Old Wawarsing Trail,” connected Native
American settlements on either side of the mountain.
from the Wallkill Valley westwards across the ridge top to the Rondout
the trail crossed the steep eastward facing escarpment at a break near
Cave, passed close by Lake Awosting, and finally reached the Rondout
floodplain just outside of the Hamlet of Wawarsing (Fried
2000: personal communication). The alignments of other trails became
basis for many modern roadways including Route 209, Route 52, and Route
(Historical Perspectives 1991: 18; Pritchard 2002: personal
Although researchers often hypothesize using archaeological, linguistic
and ethnographic evidence, we still lack much basic information
concerning the cultural life of the region's Native American population
the arrival of Europeans. In fact, it is not until the middle of the
century—about twenty years after the first visits to the confluence of
the Hudson River and the Rondout Creek by Dutch traders—that Ulster
Native American residents begin to appear in written records (Fried
14-15). These men and women belonged to a Munsee-speaking
of the Lenape who had come to be known as the Esopus.
the Esopus residing in our region included the Warranawongkongs and the
Wawarsing (Goddard 1978; Pritchard 2002). The grand council house of
Esopus is said to have been located in Wawarsing (Sylvester 1880:20,
THE PRE-INDUSTRIAL ERA: EXILE OF THE ESOPUS PEOPLE AND SETTLEMENT OF
THE REGION BY EURO-AMERICANS (Mid-17th Century - Late 18th
The first Europeans to settle in what is now Ulster County arrived in
Kingston in the early 1650s. Although we are now accustomed to defining
the region's early settlers as “Dutch,” only a portion actually came
from the Netherlands. This group, in fact, encompassed a heterogeneous
mixture of French, Walloon, German, Flemish, Scandinavian, and English
heritage, leading some researchers to refer to them as
"Dutch-German-Huguenot" (Cohen 1992; Hansen 1995).
In many respects the Europeans' relationship to the region's landscape
was very similar to the Esopus. Like the Esopus, the early settlers
frequently relied upon rivers and streams to get them to their
destinations. The earliest recorded visit to the region by
Europeans probably occurred in 1660. In May of that year, a group of
Dutch soldiers set out from Kingston and followed the Rondout Creek
past its confluence with the Wallkill, just to the north of the village
of Rosendale, and possibly continued as far as south as
Accord (Fried 1975: 38-39, 174-177). Ultimately, European
settlers would develop communities within the Rondout and Wallkill
River Valleys, clustered along important trails and the corridors
created by the two rivers. In most cases, the region's major
Euro-American villages stood upon or adjacent to the sites of former
Native American settlements (Parker 1922: 704-705.
The Rondout, as one of the principal tributaries of the Hudson River,
first caught the notice of early European visitors and traders during
a period when travel was restricted to the waterways lying between Fort
Orange (Albany) and New Amsterdam (New York City). The
of the Hudson and Rondout was described in ship captain David DeVries'
journal. He wrote: "The 14th May (1640) took my leave of the commander
Fort Orange, and the same day reached Esopers [sic], where a creek runs
in, and where there is some maize land upon which some savages
in Fried 1975: 14). In fact, about one thousand Warranawongkongs lived
This Esopus band called their settlement, Atharhacton, or
“great field” and had more than 200 acres of fields under cultivation
(Fried 1975: 179; Pritchard 2000: 243).
The Dutch settlement at Kingston was known as Wildwyck. In 1661
another settlement was initiated slightly to the south, called Nieuwe
Dorp. It would become Hurley. The settlers quickly established farms
soon were growing sufficient amounts of corn, wheat, barley, and oats
to supply not only their own needs but to ship down the Hudson River to
market in New Amsterdam (present day New York City) (Schoonmaker 1888:
The Esopus Wars and their Aftermath
During these first years, the settlers and their Native American
neighbors attempted a peaceful coexistence. These efforts, however,
were almost immediately doomed by conflicting concepts of land
ownership, the destruction of the Native American's crops by the
settlers' livestock, the
subsequent retaliatory killing of livestock by the Native Americans,
the settlers' sale of liquor to the Native Americans (Fried 1975: 24;
1976: 151). Tensions culminated in the First and Second Esopus Wars,
the years 1659 to 1664, which were fought throughout what is now Ulster
County. Both sides committed terrible atrocities. Ultimately,
it was the Esopus who suffered the most, losing food supplies and
to their cornfields, as well as much of their land. Reports immediately
following the Second Esopus War indicate that the Esopus were dispersed
and hungry (Fried 1975: 72-73, 108-111).
During the wars, the Dutch pursued the Esopus down the Wallkill
and the Rondout Rivers, deep into the interior of what is now the
It was during these expeditionary journeys that the Dutch may have
fully grasped the region's enormous agriculture potential. English
had conquered New Netherland in 1663 and the parceling out of this
territory by the provincial government began shortly thereafter. There
was no resistance when the Dutch garrison at Wildwyck was replaced with
British troops in 1664. The local officials were allowed to remain in
office although the
military leadership was now English. Governor Nicolls awarded the
soldiers at Kingston portions of the lands within present day
in 1668. This represented the first movement of Euro-Americans into the
hinterlands of what was to become Ulster County (Fried 1975: 126-127;
Other settlements soon
followed. In 1677 Governor Andros granted portions of the
towns of New Paltz, Lloyd, Esopus, and Rosendale to twelve French
Huguenots. Several of the original patentees had been part of
the “rescue party” that journeyed down the Wallkill River in 1663,
during the Second Esopus War, in search of wives and children taken
captive during the attacks on Kingston and Hurley (Fried 1975: 62,
91-93). By 1678, the families of "the Duzine" had moved from
Hurley to New Paltz and began building homes (Halpern 1975: 15).
believed to have been in the Town of Shawangunk as early as the
land grants having been made by Governor Dongon in 1684 and 1685
1955: 5). By 1700 settlers were living in the village of Wawarsing,
upon land patents obtained in 1686 and 1688 (Benedict 1907:
392-393). Ulster and Orange Counties were established as
civic entities in 1683. At that time the province of New York was
divided into counties. Ulster then contained a portion of what is today
Orange County, extending slightly to the south of New Windsor
As European settlement spread southwards down the Rondout and Wallkill
Valleys, the Esopus people were gradually dispossessed of their lands.
Driven from their fields and settlements, many of the Esopus may have
taken up residence temporarily in more remote upland settings such as
the slopes of the Shawangunks as well as to the west, within the
Catskill foothills. Documentary evidence, however, indicates that the
Esopus continued to function as a political and cultural unit during
the first half of the 18th century, holding annual peace conferences at
Kingston, (Fried 1975: 118-119; Ruttenber 1872: 201). The last of these
occurred in 1771, most of the Esopus having been forced westwards into
upstate New York and Ohio (Kraft 1986; Ruttenber 1872).
The region's original inhabitants left behind archaeological remains,
the routes of early roadways, and words for villages, lakes, waterways,
and mountains. The latter are perhaps the most lasting reminder of the
Esopus and include such familiar place names as Mohonk, Kerhonkson,
Wawarsing, Napanoch, and Pakadasink (or Papanasink) (Ruttenber 1906:
140-170). Archaeologists, linguists, and historians still debate the
derivations of these words (Fried 1975; Pritchard 2002). Even the
origins of "Shawangunk" remain obscure. Although certainly a Native
American place name, it originally referred
to a district near the present day Bruynswick, in the Town of
Shawangunk. Eventually usage of “Shawangunk” spread from the Wallkill
Valley to encompass the nearby ridge. In the 1680s, however, when
references to the ridge first began to enter the documentary record,
the ridge was not called Shawangunk, but rather was described as “the
high hills …Pitskiskaker and Aisoskawasting” (Ruttenber 1907:
53). The Esopus, some researchers suggest, had no name for
the ridge itself, only for particular locations within the ridge's
bounds (Ruttenber 1907: 19).
Euro-American Cultural Traditions and Settlement Patterns
By the beginning of the 18th century, Dutch-American farms and villages
had completely transformed the lands of the Esopus. Although the
English had conquered New Netherland in the 17th century, Dutch
religion and language were pervasive throughout the region well into
the middle third of the 18th century. Even New Paltz's French Huguenots
came to speak Dutch before switching over to English at the end of the
century (Junior League 1774: 19). The Dutch also brought with them the
practice of slave owning, with the result that a significant portion of
the early population of the region was composed of people of African
(Roberts 1977b; Roth 2001; Zim 1946). Reinforcing Dutch-American and
Huguenot cultural traditions were ties of kinship that spread across
region. The path of migration—southward form Kingston down the Wallkill
and Rondout River Valleys, as well as across the Shawangunk Ridge—along
with intermarriage among members of the old families, created webs of
relationships that bound the region together. Family names such as
Deyo, Dubois, Hasbrouck, Van Keuren, and Van Wagener were common in
on both sides of the ridge, many persisting into the present. Dutch
names also endure. The Clove, the Trapps, Verkerderkill, Palmagat,
Rondout, Rest Plaus, Kripplebush, Mombaccus, Dwaarskill, and
Wallkill—are all Dutch in derivation (Hansen 1994, 1995; Ruttenber
Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the Dutch and French Huguenots are
the homes they built of native Ulster County limestone. These
structures can be found today along the region's roadways, on remote
or clustered together in the older villages. A number of historic
districts have been designated in the region for listing on the
of Historic Places. They include the Stone Ridge Main Street Historic
District, New Paltz's Huguenot Street Historic District, the
District, and the Rest Plaus Historic District. All contain a core
of buildings representing the architectural traditions of this period.
Within the region, initial Euro-American settlement patterns reflected
the nascent economic and transportation systems. The primary economic
pursuit was agriculture. Although early settlers were involved in the
lucrative fur trade, it was apparent from the very beginning that the
region’s “real riches” lay in the lowlands adjoining the Wallkill, and
Rondout Creeks. Farms and settlements thus tended to cluster along
these waterways. From the beginning agriculture was a commercial
undertaking—at least for farms located in the more accessible areas of
the valley. As early as 1683, wheat and other produce were grown for
market, including trade with both New York and West Indies.
During the 18th century, farmers in “the Butterfield” —a fertile band
of farmland located near the villages of High Falls, Stone Ridge and
Hurley—shipped cattle, butter, and cheese to other colonies, Europe and
the West Indies (Davenport 1958: 4; Hansen 1995; Zim 1946:
58-59). In New Paltz, by the 1690s, wheat and flax were the staple
crops, so much so that they were also used as a medium of
exchange. The fields to the north of New Paltz, especially in
an area called "Bontecoe," became famous
for wheat production (LeFevre 1909: 190-191).
The milling of grain was a vital economic function in pre-industrial
America. So too were the processing of timber and the fulling of
homespun fabrics (Junior League 1974: 20). Thus, the presence
of waterways that could furnish hydropower became another important
factor determining the location of Euro-American settlements in the
region. The unbroken forests and barrens of the Shawangunks fed
numerous streams that flowed down the ridge's slopes, joining the
Rondout, the Wallkill and the Shawangunk Kill (Batcher 2000: 5). The
first gristmill in the Town of Wawarsing (originally part of the Town
of Rochester) dates to 1702. It was constructed on the Vernooy Kill, a
tributary to the Rondout (Terwilliger 1977:7). In what
is now the Town of Gardiner, the earliest recorded settlement was at
Tuthilltown where a mill was built upon the Shawangunk Kill in 1745.
Other mills followed here later in the 18th century
(Hasbrouck 1953; LoRusso and Vaillencourt 1987). Settlement
in the Town of Crawford began in the mid-18th century, clustered around
a series of mills on the Dwaars Kill and Shawangunk Kill (Ruttenber
1881: 412-413; Town of Crawford 2001). In the Town of Shawangunk, the
availability of hydropower also played a major role in the settlement
of Brunswyck, Dwaarskill and Wallkill (White 1988: 18-19).
this period, on the opposite side of the ridge, in the Town of
a cluster of mills developed on the Stony Kill and Peters Kill,
of the Rondout that drained the Shawangunks' western slope (Sylvester
Many of the region's early "service industries" —such as taverns, inns,
blacksmiths, brewers—grew up along the early road system, especially at
crossroads and fording places (Junior League 1974:20). Like mills,
these facilities attracted small communities, often accompanied by a
Reformed Church. In the narrow Rondout Valley, settlement was
upon a single roadway, the Old Mine Road (corresponding to present day
Route 209)—called also Esopus-Minisink Trail, the Great Waggon Path and
King’s Highway—that connected the Delaware and Hudson Rivers. From the
very earliest days of European settlement there was no direct overland
route to the Hudson. Instead, the looming presence of the Shawangunk
funneled trade and travel northwards towards Kingston and the Hudson
Like most major roads of the time, the Old Mine Road followed an
Native American trail. Euro-American travelers used it as early as
By the 1730s, farmers as far away as Pennsylvania and western New
followed the Old Mine Road to the Hudson River at Kingston, where they
loaded their produce on New York City-bound sloops (Lowenthal 1997:
Ruttenber 1881: 110; Zim 1946: 71).
In the Wallkill Valley portion of the region, several early roadways
were oriented east/west to take advantage of Hudson River landings,
such as Newburgh and Milton. The Bruyn Turnpike is said to date to the
1690s. Another road, in existence by the 1730s, linked what are now the
villages of Galeville and Wallkill to the Hudson at Newburgh (White
1988: 18). By the late 1700s, before the hamlet of Gardiner existed, a
road led from Tuthilltown directly to Modena (Hasbrouck 1953; LoRusso
and Vaillancourt 1987). Opened in 1735, the principal north/south route
was the Old Kings Road—running through Kingston, New Paltz, and "the
Shawangunk Precinct" before
finally reaching Goshen in Orange County (portions corresponding to
day County Route 7) (Ruttenber 1881: 110). Because the King's Road
the west bank of the Wallkill River, New Paltz residents could connect
it only by crossing the Wallkill by scow (LeFevre 1909: 62-63). Another
road was built on the east bank of the Wallkill River leading south by
(corresponding to Plains Road and Route 208) (Halpern 1979: 16-17). A
leading from New Paltz to the Hudson (the New Paltz-Highland Turnpike)
not be established until the early decades of the 19th century (LeFevre
The Shawangunk Ridge
Although settlement spread southwards down the region's two valleys,
the Shawangunk Ridge remained largely uninhabited. There were no roads
across it, only footpaths. Because of its size and rugged terrain, it
would have represented a forbidding barrier for those settlers who
travel between the valleys. The threat of wild animals, unseen
crevices, and hostile Native Americans was always present.
Yet the ridge was also perceived as a place of refuge during times of
conflict, as well as a source of mineral riches and valuable animal
skins that could bring a family
a small fortune. Archaeological evidence, documentary sources, and
suggest that surveyors, trappers, hunters, and inter-valley travelers
time in the Shawangunks during the 18th century (Bevier 1846: 34; Fried
1981: 23-25; 1995: 37-39; 2000: personal communication; Harris 1998;
As the two valleys became more populated and good farmland increasingly
scarce, a small number of families were drawn to the few locations on
the Shawangunk Ridge where the soils could support agriculture. By the
end of the 18th century, there were three communities on the ridge:
Hamlet, within what is now the Mohonk Preserve; and the Mance and
Settlements, near what is now Cragsmoor (Larsen and Fagan 1999;
1977: 6). The lack of roads leading to the valleys meant that the
living here were largely self-sufficient. Accounts from this period
that mountain residents raised sheep and grew flax to provide linen and
wool. They raised cattle to provide leather for their clothing and
equipment. Rye, barley and wheat were ground into flour at the nearest
Hunting and trapping were pursued for both sustenance and currency
1907: 397-8). In time, mountain residents would come to
forest-related industries for much of their livelihood. This would not
occur, however, until the early 19th century, when markets for these
Times of Conflict: The French and Indian War, the American Revolution
Due to reasons of topography and geography, portions of the region
suffered significant casualties during both the French and Indian War
(1754 to 1763) and the American Revolution (1775 to 1783). During these
conflicts, the Shawangunk Ridge and its two adjoining river valleys lay
along the frontier demarcating the division between wilderness and
settlement. The isolated communities located here were thus very
vulnerable to attack. Entering from the west, through the Catskill
foothills, were a series of streams that provided access for various
enemies based in western New York State and Pennsylvania. Running down
the middle of the Rondout Valley was the strategically important Old
Mine Road connecting the Hudson River to Pennsylvania. A line of
blockhouses was constructed along this route during the French Indian
War in order to protect the besieged settlers. Guerilla warfare,
resulting in civilian deaths, became a feature of both conflicts
(Anonymous 1907b: 103-113; Terwilliger 1977: 11-43).
Although there were no engagements here between the warring armies,
sections of what is now the Town of Wawarsing became a Revolutionary
War battleground of sorts—the site of several bloody skirmishes and
raids. The presence of Continental Army regiments quartered at Fort
Honk, near Napanoch, and of local militia stationed in Leurenkill,
Napanoch, and Wawarsing, did little to deter attacks led by a force of
Tories, Hessians, and Iroquois led by the famed Mohawk leader Joseph
Brant. The deadliest raid was upon the settlement at Fantinekill, near
present day Ellenville, in the spring of 1779. Those killed were mostly
women and children. According to at least one chronicler of the
incident, the Shawangunk Ridge played a major role in the
event. Immediately following the attack, an alarm sent out to
the surrounding communities resulted in terrified settlers scrambling
up the ridge's western slope. Some managed to reach the Wallkill
Valley. Others got as far as "Louis's Ravine" (also known as the
Witch's Hole). Many were forced to spend the night on the
mountain "which was full of
people from both sides, with horns, hunting for them" (Bevier 1846:
Before the war's end, the region would suffer more attacks. These
murders and raids in Dwarkill in the Town of Shawangunk and on the
in 1780, as well as the destruction of the village of Warwarsing in
(Bevier 1846: 38-42; Mauritz 1988: 100-102; Ruttenber 1872:
Some researchers speculate that the experience of the local settlers
the Esopus War led to the retention of stone construction, thereby
many lives that might have lost during the Revolution (Junior League
General George Washington did
indeed sleep here. On November 15, 1782 he stopped for the night in
Stone Ridge at
the Wynkoop-Lounsbery House on his way to Kingston. His troops spent
evening at the Tack Tavern. Both structures are still standing (Hansen
1988: 17). Elsewhere in the region, a certain amount of mythology has
accumulated concerning the Revolutionary War. One particularly
piece of local folklore combines two local legends. For many years it
widely believed that a Shawangunk Ridge lead mine supplied the
Army with ammunition. The mine in question was said to be the "Old
Tunnel" reputedly excavated by Ponce de Leon's men during their search
for the Fountain of Youth. The documentary record, however, indicates
government engineers worked the mine during the Revolution, but
it upon concluding that the ore would be too difficult to
extract (Heusser 1976a: 11-16; Terwilliger 1977:
120-121). Stories of lost
mines, buried treasure, and caves filled with magical healing crystals
part of the Shawangunks' cultural history to this day (LaBudde 1998a:
1998b: 7; Harris 1998; Heusser 1976b;
ERA OF THE CANAL AND RAILROAD (The 19th Century)
As sparsely settled and remote as the region may have been at the
opening of the 19th century, its story was about to become interwoven
with the story of the nation's industrialization. Beginning in the
the history of the region would be largely determined by the direct and
indirect consequences of the American industrial revolution. Technical
innovations in the forms of a canal and two railway lines reduced the
time and increased the predictability of transporting products from the
region to formerly distant urban marketplaces, especially New York
The Shawangunk Ridge became the source of a seemingly inexhaustible
of natural resources. Foremost among these were commodities related to
the forests—hemlock bark, shingles, charcoal, cordwood and hoop poles.
Even the very substance of the mountain—known as "Shawangunk grit" or
"Shawangunk conglomerate"—was quarried, hewn into millstones, and
shipped by railroad and canal. Limestone outcroppings from the ridge's
were mined and processed into cement. Agricultural practices
the valleys also changed. Milk, butter, fruit and berries shipped from
local railroad depots arrived at New York City docks that very day.
the latter part of the 19th century, when industrialization and
had transformed American cities, thousands of New York City residents
traveled by railroad to the region's summer resorts, seeking
and renewal in what they perceived to be a pristine rural environment.
The Delaware and Hudson Canal
The event that marked the region's entry into the industrializing world
of the 19th century was the completion of the Delaware and Hudson Canal
(the D&H) in 1828. Constructed to carry anthracite coal from
the coalfields of northeastern Pennsylvania to New York City, the
represented an important phase in the history of American
For the first time, technical advances made it possible to create
waterways by engineering existing rivers or constructing artificial
such as canals. The choice for the D&H's route was determined
fact that the Kittitinny Mountains and the Shawangunks impeded access
the Hudson River from the western interior. Just as the Old Mine Road
followed the Rondout Valley north to the Hudson at Kingston, so too did
the canal. Once again, due to its geographic setting, the Rondout
succeeded in "capturing" trade and commerce that logically should have
elsewhere (Lowenthal 1997). As a result, portions of the region lying
the Rondout Valley were affected by the combined forces of modern
and industry at least a generation earlier than those located within
Wallkill Valley. The latter remained overwhelmingly agricultural until
advent of railroads, a development that did not occur until the second
of the 19th century.
Although initiated as a means to transport anthracite to New York City,
the canal presented what seemed to be limitless economic opportunities
to many rural communities. Villages lucky enough to be located along
the canal’s route thrived, their economies growing completely dependent
upon the canal. Others sprang up almost overnight, owing their
existences to the canal. Within the region, these self-described “canal
towns” included Ellenville, Napanoch, Port Hixon, Port Ben (East
(Kerhonkson), Port Jackson (Accord), Alligerville, High Falls,
and Rosendale. Prior to the canal's arrival, many of these villages had
little more than crossroads carved out of the wilderness. Suddenly
transportation was available, opening markets for a wide range of local
and resources. From the slopes of the Shawangunks came lumber,
charcoal, shingles, hoop poles, and millstones. Agricultural products
fruit, grain, and flour. New factories opened along the
Ellenville and Napanoch were transformed into industrial centers. Their
included pottery, axes, glass, iron, leather, paper, and
Support services for the canal included stores, hotels, boarding
taverns, and harness and blacksmith shops. A number of communities,
Ellenville, developed boat-building facilities (Lowenthal 1997: 277;
1974; Wakefield 1964; Zimm 1946: 53).
Population growth along the canal was—in the words of one
historian—"astonishing" Lowenthal (1997: 213). Local industries, rather
than the canal itself, drove this growth.
Industry and Development during the Canal Era
Perhaps the most significant industry associated with the canal
was the manufacture of hydraulic cement, also known as Rosendale
Hydraulic cement was critical to the canal's construction because it
was non-soluble in water. Initial construction plans for the canal
for transporting this product from Madison County in western New York
State, the nearest known source of coralline limestone. The historical
record remains vague, but due either to luck or the intervention of a
geologist employed by the canal company, limestone beds discovered in
the vicinity of High Falls and Rosendale in 1825 were found to produce
superior quality hydraulic cement. For the duration of the canal's
cement was supplied by works established in High Falls. In the
decades, a cement manufacturing district developed centered around
and High Falls. The various communities supported by the industry
to cluster along the canal's route and near limestone outcroppings.
dominated by the industry, villages such as Rosendale, High Falls,
Binnewater, Creek Locks, LeFevre Falls, Bruceville, Whiteport, Hickory
Bush, and Eddyville became both populous and prosperous. The
cement manufacturing factories went into a decline in the 1890s,
eclipsed by the manufacture of the faster setting Portland cement.
the peak years, locally produced cement was used in the construction of
the Brooklyn Bridge, the dry dock at the Brooklyn Navy York, the Croton
Aqueduct, and the Capitol and Treasury Buildings in Washington, D.C
(Gilchrist 1976; Hartgen Archaeological Associates 1981: 10-13;
Lowenthal 1997: 58;
Roberts 1977a: 5-8; Zim
Like the cement industry, the quarrying of millstones from Shawangunk
conglomerate also developed as a result of the ridge's geological
properties. The quarries were located on the northwestern slope of the
Ridge, concentrated in a strip about ten miles long that extended from
Kerhonkson to High Falls. The stone was brought of f the mountain on
known as “stone boats.” Along the D&H canal, the main
centers were Kerhonkson, Accord, and Kyserike. Millstones were also
from the Wallkill Valley Railroad in Rosendale. Approximately 350 tons
of millstones were exported from these towns each year. During the 19th
century, most of the nation’s millstones came from the region (LaBudde
2002: 2-3; Snyder and Beard 1981: 21-23).
Owing their existence to the canal, as well as to Hudson River shipping
(and later to the railroad) were a series of industries that entailed
the exploitation of the region's forests. Perhaps the most widely
dispersed across the region was the tanning industry, based upon the
and processing of hemlock bark. During the 19th century, thousands of
acres of hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) were destroyed. Ironically it was
the bark that was sought, not the tree. Hemlock bark contained tannic
a substance used in the process of treating animal hides to create
leather. Once the bark was removed, the trees were left to die (Snyder
1981:20). A booming tanning industry had emerged in the Greene County
as early as the 1820s. By the 1840s, having exhausted the hemlock
that fueled it, the industry shifted its focus to the south, towards
County's Catskill foothills and the slopes of the Shawangunk Ridge
1982:336; Haring 1931: 90).
Tanneries required enormous amounts of pure water to fill the countless
tanning vats that were used in the process. By the 1850s almost every
creek in the Rondout Valley hosted a tannery. There were
at Wawarsing, Honk Hill, Samsonville, Lackawack, Napanoch and
Ellenville. Walker Valley tanneries included those located near
Jenkinstown on the Plattekill Creek, on the Shawangunk Kill near Pine
Bush, on the Verkerderkill near present day Walker Valley, and another
on the Wallkill River, opposite Springtown. Initially these facilities
shipped leather from Hudson River landings. Later in the century, they
were serviced by the Walker Valley Railroad or the Crawford Branch of
the O&W. Although tanning ceased in the Greene County Catskills
by the end of the Civil War, it continued in our region through the
1880s (Benedict 1907:399; Evers 1982:391; Hasbrouck 1953: 24, 30; 1959:
61; Ruttenber 1881: 419; Sylvester 1880:270-271; Town of Crawford
The tanneries attracted a new labor force to the region composed of
German and Irish immigrants. The industry also opened up an entirely
new source of income for residents of the ridge. In the spring and
summer months many worked as “bark peelers.” Winter and
autumn work consisted of hauling bark by sled to the tanneries, cutting
new roads through the wilderness, and constructing housing and
outbuildings to support the industry during the upcoming season (Haring
Canal records from the mid-19th century provide a glimpse of several
other commodities harvested on the ridge, including charcoal, shingles,
and cordwood (Lowenthal 1997: 277). Charcoal was used by blacksmiths
and for the production of pig iron (Evers 1982: 237). Traces of
19th-century charcoal pits may still be seen in the woods at Mohonk
Preserve and Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Early settlers at the
Trapps Hamlet are known to have engaged in its production
(Historical Perspectives 1991: 24; O'Neill and Larsen 2000: 2; Snyder
and Beard 1991: 21). Shingle making (or "weaving") was also an
important local industry. The place name “Shingle Gully,”
given to a ravine located on the mountain's western slope just above
Ellenville, suggests that local residents were engaged in this
weavers were often hermits or farmers who worked on a seasonal
They fashioned shingles from white pine and hemlock. Shingles from the
mountain were probably sold commercially to dealers in the Rondout
Valley. Saegers Flats, located on the Verkerderkill in the Sam's Point
its name to John Saeger, a local shingle weaver active in the mid-19th
century (Botsford n.d). Cordwood was another commodity harvested on the
ridge. Much of this was probably marketed to Hudson River
(Evers 1982: 562; Wakefield 1964: 48).
Hoop pole production and sawmilling are two local industries that
developed in the wake of the destruction brought about by the
tanneries. As one local historian observed, “the sawmill followed the
barkpeelers” (Benedict 1907: 399). Numerous water-powered sawmills soon
appeared along the mountain streams, processing not only the discarded
hemlocks but also spruce, pine, and hardwoods (Evers 1982: 441). The
hemlock lumber was
coarse and not easily worked. There was a market for it, however, in
construction of wharves, barns, outbuildings, plank roads, and ice
(Evers 1982:441; Haring 1931: 76-77, 94-95). An immense
milled lumber and timber was shipped on the canal between 1836 and 1866
(Lowenthal 1997: 277). The sawmills of the Rondout and Wallkill Valleys
were so ubiquitous that local historians seldom bother mentioning them.
Other sawmills were located on the ridge, close to the
The stands of hemlocks did not always replace themselves in the
newly sun-filled clearings left by the tanning industry. Instead,
saplings often appeared in their place. This became the impetus of a
hoop manufacturing industry. Wooden hoops were fashioned from saplings
and used to bind kegs, casks, and barrels. Beginning in the 1840s and
and reaching its peak in the late 1880s and early 90s, the industry is
said to have shipped 50 to 60 millions hoops out of the region
At one time, the largest dealer of hoops in the country was located in
shipping hoops all over the world (Ellenville Journal 1939; Evers 1982:
Haring 1931:110). On the eastern face of the ridge, hoop poles were
by the residents of Trapps Hamlet for use by the Rosendale Cement
or brought to Gardiner to be bartered in exchange for clothing and
goods (Hasbrouck 1953: 39; O'Neill and Larsen 2000:2). The
of Kripplebush, in the Town of Marbletown, was another important center
for hoop making. Towards the end of the 19th century, hoop making and
weaving collapsed as new technologies rendered these livelihoods
(Evers 1982:441; Hansen 1994; Haring 1931:110).
Areas of the region that lay beyond the canal's influence remained
largely agricultural. This was especially true in the Wallkill Valley
where the few existing local industries flourished as result of
hydropower availability rather than access to markets. New Paltz, which
little industrial development during much of the 19th century, was
by Springtown, its neighbor to the northwest. In the early part of the
the main route south from Kingston was routed through Springtown rather
than New Paltz (present day Springtown Road). Springtown became an
stage stop. Herds of cattle and sheep passed through on their way to
at New York City and Philadelphia. The village was also the center of a
long established dairying industry (Halpern 1979:20; Hasbrouck et al.
79-80; LeFevre 1909: 203). Gardiner would not come into existence until
the arrival of the Wallkill Valley railroad in the early 1870s
1953:42-46). The region's only other population center in the
Valley was the village now known as Wallkill (previously known as the
Bruyn's Mills, Reeveton, and Shawangunk). Hydropower supplied by the
River supported grist and saw mills, a paper mill, a distillery, and a
factory. Significant industrial development in the village, however,
the coming of the railroad (Mabee 1995: 21)
Growth in the Wallkill Valley portion of the region would be slow until
the local road system was improved. The closest Hudson River landings
lay at least ten to fifteen miles away. In the pre-railroad era, the
only transportation options for access to shipping points such as New
Paltz Landing, Milton, and Newburgh, were stagecoach or wagon travel
over deeply rutted dirt roads. The main route westwards was the
Newburgh and Cochecton Turnpike (also known as the Cochecton-Cahoonzie
Turnpike), chartered in 1801 (corresponding to present day Route 17K).
Transecting the southern margin of the region, it linked the Hudson
River landing at Newburgh with the mountainous interior of Sullivan
County before terminating at Cochecton on the Delaware River. A
superior roadway in its time, its traffic supported a number of the
region's communities, including Bullville in the Town of Crawford
(Ruttenber 1881: 112; Town of Crawford 2001). The Lucas Turnpike,
originally called the Neversink Turnpike, was also conceived as a route
would open up the wilderness of Sullivan County. Promoted by Judge
Elmendorf of Kingston, it was chartered in 1807 and never fully
completed (Schoonmaker 1888: 408-410; Zim 1946:75).
Crossing the ridge remained a difficult undertaking until the middle of
the 19th century. Traveling from the Wallkill Valley to the Rondout
Valley entailed threading one's way via a network of connecting
roadways and footpaths. After about 1824, travelers from the Town of
follow a series of roads to the various mountain top settlements. From
here, the North Gully Road led precipitously down to Ellenville (Hakam
Houghtaling 1983: 11). Historic maps indicate that by 1799 a roadway or
series of roadways connected the Wallkill Valley to the vicinity of the
Trapps and Clove Valley (Larsen 1999:18). Further north,
built in 1825, corresponding in part to present day Mountain Rest Road,
crossed the ridge linking the communities of Canaan and Butterville to
Routes across the mountain, linking Ellenville to Newburgh and New
Paltz to present day Kerhonkson, were finally completed by the 1850s.
Initial construction of the Newburgh-Ellenville Plank Road began in
1849. Running along an alignment that would later become Route 52, it
through Pine Bush and was largely responsible for the initial growth of
that community. The road was built of rough hemlock planks nailed to
that were laid on the ground. It was thirty-two miles long, with five
In 1869, maintenance of the now rotting planks stopped and the road was
allowed to revert to mud and dirt (Ellenville Sesquicentennial Files
a; Ruttenber 1881: 419; Terwilliger 1977: 76-76). The New Paltz
Turnpike, which crossed the mountain between New Paltz and Kerhonkson,
completed in 1856. It was a toll road, running from the bridge over the
Wallkill at New Paltz, past the present Smiley Gate House, westwards
Trapps Hamlet, and finally terminating in Kerhonkson at the D&H
During the 1850s it was filled with farmers and drovers taking their
and cattle to Hudson River landings. Anyone wishing a night's lodging
stay at Ben Fowler's hotel and tavern, located just south of Trapps
The Turnpike's backers hoped that by connecting it with roads extending
into the Catskill foothills, such as the Lackawack Turnpike and the
Plank Road, the New Paltz-Wawarsing Turnpike would draw business away
the D&H Canal. This, evidently, was not to be as the Turnpike
went bankrupt in 1861 (Larsen and Fagan 1999: 8; Elting Memorial
Vertical Files n.d.).
The Arrival of Railroads
The Wallkill Valley Railroad was completed as far as New
Paltz by 1870. The New York and Oswego Midland Railroad
(afterwards the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad or
"O&W") also reached the region at this time—one branch
extending as far as Pine Bush by 1868 and another branch arriving in
Ellenville in 1871. A new era in the region's history had begun. To
say, however, that the railroads "replaced" the canal simplifies a
lengthy and complex process. The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company had
not only availed itself of the new technology represented by the
railroads but was a leader in incorporating steam locomotives into the
business of transporting anthracite coal. The advantages of railroad
inescapable and by the late 1850s the D&H had begun investing
lines that serviced its Pennsylvania coalfields. Yet the D&H
canal in operation, possibly as a means to regulate railroad rates.
the 1880s and 1890s maintenance was minimal, representing, in effect,
canal's death sentence. Finally, in 1898, the D&H signed an
with the Erie Railroad to transport its entire output of coal. In that
year, the last canal boat carrying coal to the Hudson passed through
region. Local communities attempted to keep the canal viable but in
the last operating segment (High Falls to Eddyville) was
(Lowenthal 1997: 225-276).
Although the region's
railroads represented yet another 19th-century technological
breakthrough, they did not truly belong to the same category of
transportation as the D&H. The D&H Canal
Company recognized and exploited the region's economic potential but
its primary objective was carrying a single commodity—anthracite
coal—from the Pennsylvania mines to tidewater. The cost/benefit
calculations of that era suggested that the region could not have
supported a canal on its
own. Geographic expediency, rather than economic considerations,
brought the canal to the Rondout Valley (Lowenthal 1997: 84). The
impetus for the railroads, however, came from the communities
themselves, inspired by the
success of railroads elsewhere, and "clamor[ing] for a direct link to
great metropolis to the south" (Helmer 1959: 1).
Just as the canal had spurred the development in the Rondout Valley and
along the western slopes of the Shawangunks, the Wallkill Valley
Railroad brought new industries and livelihoods to the Wallkill Valley
and to the Shawangunks' eastern slopes. Foremost among these were
fruit growing, and tourism. Because it was the first railroad in Ulster
County, its route assumed special significance. The promoters of the
Valley Railroad were local politicians and businessmen—led by some of
leading citizens of the Towns of New Paltz and Gardiner—and the
reflected their aspirations for the region. Many of the towns along the
route issued bonds thus assisting in the railroad's capitalization. The
line began in Orange County, at Montgomery, the northern terminus of an
Erie Railroad branch line that extended from Goshen. From this
trains traveled south to Jersey City where ferries crossed the Hudson
Manhattan. Extending north from Montgomery, the railroad followed a
that took it through the villages of Walden, Wallkill, Gardiner (which
into existence only with the advent of the railroad), Forest Glen, and
Paltz. After some debate, it had been decided to route the train along
east side of the Wallkill River at New Paltz, which was the center of
and business. On December 20, 1870, an all day celebration was held at
Paltz in honor of the railroad's opening. Two years later, on April 6,
1872, another celebration was held in Rosendale, marking the opening of
the enormous bridge that carried the railroad over the Rondout River,
its terminus in Kingston. At Kingston there were connections to Hudson
River shipping, and finally in 1883, to the newly completed West Shore
Railroad, which provided a direct link to Manhattan via the ferries
Weehawken, New Jersey (Mabee 1995: 9-26).
The New York Ontario and Western Railroad (the O&W), the line
that serviced the Rondout Valley, was constructed as an Ulster County
branch line of the New York and Oswego Midland. The latter was
as an outlet for a vast area that included Orange County, portions of
Catskill Mountains in Sullivan and Delaware Counties, as well as areas
to the north and west of Catskills. As constructed, the railroad
from its terminus at Oswego on Lake Ontario, to Weehawken on the Hudson
opposite New York City. Emblematic of this railroad's ambitions and of
technological advances that had occurred since the construction of the
D&H Canal, was the completion in 1871 of a tunnel drilled
base of the Shawangunks near Wurtsboro. The railroad's mainline crossed
the Rondout Valley in Summitville and headed west into Sullivan County.
One branch line, terminating in Pine Bush, was completed in 1868, and
to Ellenville was completed in 1871. By 1902, the O&W had built
extending between Port Jervis on the Delaware River to Kingston on the
River, thus duplicating the route of the nearly extinct D&H
(Helmer 1959: 1-85; Ruttenber 1881: 122).
The Rise of Tourism
Since at least the 1820s, affluent city dwellers sought escape from the
discomforts of summer by retreating to country resorts. As the
population of urban centers swelled during the 19th century, the
public's perception of nature underwent a transformation. The
wilderness ceased to
be a source of dread and was now considered picturesque. These
took on a spiritual aspect evident in the literature and painting of
period. This new American romanticism found its fullest expression in
the paintings of the Hudson River School. Although the Catskills were
a favorite subject of such painters as Thomas Cole and Asher Durand,
Shawangunks too became a focus of aesthetic and spiritual
Durand and other well-known artists including Stanford Gifford, Jasper
Cropsey, and Jervis McEntee, traveled in the Shawangunks during the
and 50s, producing paintings and drawings here (Buff 1982: 3-5; Novak
1988; Weiss 1987). In time, an artists' colony—Cragsmoor— would develop
on the top of the ridge near Sam's Point and the community of
S. R Gifford -
The Shawangunk Mountains - painted in 1864
As would be expected, the initial appearance of resorts for summer
guests in the Shawangunks coincides almost exactly with the arrival of
the railroads. The region was ideally situated for tourism—close to New
York, serviced by two railroad lines, with the dramatic and scenic
at its heart. The first hotels to open here during this era—the Mohonk
Mountain House in 1870, the Mountain House at Sam's Point in 1871, the
Mountain House at Lake Minnewaska in 1878, and the Mt. Meenahga House
the ridge overlooking Ellenville in 1883—catered to guests who valued
Shawangunks' scenic beauty. Although forests directly adjoining the
were being clear-cut for tannin bark and timber, landscaping at the
featured meandering carriage roads and vistas opened to create
views of the valleys and the distant Hudson. Also reflecting a newly
romantic response to the Shawangunks was the architecture and setting
of the hotels as well as their Native American names (not necessarily
indigenous to the region).
The main buildings at Mohonk and Minnewaska were perched at the edge of
cliffs overlooking the lakes. At Sam's Point, the rear wall of the
building was composed of the cliff face itself. In
an effort to preserve a wilderness landscape and to become
self-sufficient, the Smiley family, owners of the Lake Mohonk and Lake
Minnewaska's Cliff House and Wildemere, embarked upon an ambitious
program of land acquisition. The more than 17,000 acres they purchased
included agricultural lands
and hemlock forests, as well as remote ravines and ridge tops
inhabited by only moonshiners and fugitives (Botsford n.d; Burgess
15-23; Child 1871; Historical Perspectives 1991: 25; Snyder and Beard
26-31; Terwilliger 1977: 94-97).
The entire region benefited from the development of tourism in the 19th
century. In the Rondout Valley, the relationship between the railroads
and the growth of the resort industry went beyond service and
schedules. Trains were named after well-known mountain destinations.
Construction materials for hotels were hauled for free. Beginning in
1880, realizing the enormous potential of passenger service of summer
O&W started publishing "Summer Homes," a promotional guide to
hotels and boarding houses (Helmer 1959:51, 67). Providing some sense
the scope of local tourism, 1901 listings for the Ellenville-Cragsmoor
alone contained approximately forty establishments (Terwilliger 1977:
285-286). Mohonk Mountain House and the hotels at Lake Minnewaska
hotel trade in the Wallkill Valley throughout the second half of the
In the 1880s, stagecoaches operated by the hotels crowded the depots to
await arriving trains. During the summer months special trains carried
passengers up the Hudson River to Kingston on the West Shore line,
where they could transfer to non-stop Wallkill Valley Railroad trains
to New Paltz. In 1887, an extra siding was installed at the New Paltz
depot to accommodate travel to the hotels. Local newspapers reported
that the depot's business was "immense" due to the mountain houses.
Guests seeking more humble accommodations
also arrived by train. Smaller hotels and boarding houses were located
in almost every village along the Wallkill Valley line (Mabee 1995:
The Shawangunk Ridge
The popularity of the Shawangunks as a summer retreat also affected
ridge top communities such as Trapps Hamlet and the settlements above
Ellenville. After the construction of the New Paltz-Wawarsing Turnpike,
the Trapps Hamlet had become a small but thriving community with a
store, schoolhouse, and chapel (Larsen n.d.: 2). For much of the 19th
century, its residents gained their livelihoods by pursuing a seasonal
array of occupations. As itemized by Larsen (n.d.: 2) these included:
"…blueberry and huckleberry picking; nut gathering; charcoal making;
moonshine making; maple sugaring; forest-fire fighting and fire
look-out; hunting; guiding and trapping; subsistence farming; hoop pole
making for barrels carrying Rosendale cement; tan bark cutting; logging
and sawmilling; and stone cutting and millstone quarrying..."
After the 1870s, jobs at the Minnewaska and Mohonk resorts became
available. Trapps residents built many of the carriage roads
surrounding the hotels. Towards the end of the century, most sold their
land to the Smileys and left the mountain forever (Larsen n.d.: 2).
The collection of settlements on the ridge above Ellenville (the Mance
and Goldsmith Settlements and Evansville) had become less isolated
during the first half of the 19th century. The Old Gully Road was
completed in 1824. By the 1850s, the Ellenville-Newburgh Plank Road
crossed the mountain at Evansville. As at Trapps Hamlet, forest-related
a major place in the local economy. In 1834, an establishment known as
"the Mountain Hotel" had been built in what was to become Cragsmoor. It
serviced the lumbering trade. Textile production was also important.
Farm families kept flocks of sheep and grew flax. Women used looms to
weave a variety
of wool and linen products. At least one local barn devoted its upper
floors to a weaving room where carpets were made. Local residents were
also furriers, hatmakers, and beekeepers. The mountain was famous for
its potatoes and
maple sugar. As described above, with the advent of a summer community
Cragsmoor composed of artists and wealthy city dwellers, many local
sold their land or turned to supplying the newcomers with produce and
(Botsford n.d.; Hakam and Houghtaling 1983; McCausland 1945:
Agriculture in the Age of Railroads
For farmers on both sides of the mountain, accessibility to railroads
was a virtual guarantee that their dairy products and produce would
reach the New York City market without spoiling. The railroad had
arrived just in time. In a region dependent upon the canal and ten to
trips over dirt roads to Hudson River landings, competition from the
had begun to take its toll (Mabee 1995: 9). An 1862 report from the New
York State Agricultural Society noted that:
"Pork, beef, and grain were formerly exported to a great extent; our
farmers have become convinced, however, that we cannot successfully
compete with the fertile west, except in the production of such
articles as cannot be transported by railroad" (LeFevre 1862: 403).
Several years into the railroad's operation, however, agricultural
production in Ulster County had been transformed. The fields
surrounding New Paltz were filled with new orchards. Visitors reported
peach, pear and cherry trees, vineyards, and acres of berries including
currants, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. New Paltz was
now "a great fruit producing town" (New Paltz Independent
1883). The village of Gardiner, a community born with the
railroad, was now the preferred shipping depot for about 30 local
growers. Ancillary industries such as cold storage and fruit drying
facilities were in operation, providing employment as well as
protection from the growing season's vicissitudes (New Paltz
Independent 1878). As noted by historian Carleton Mabee (1995:22), the
railroad promised more than
a speedy delivery to the market, it also provided protection for
produce in the form of daily ice-cooled railway cars that delivered the
fruit direct to waiting New York City dealers.
On both sides of the ridge, railroads and their promise of year
round access to New York City markets, drew many local farmers into
dairying. As with fruit growing, a milk production infrastructure grew
up paralleling the railroad lines. Creameries were established adjacent
to the depots
at Bullville, Thompson Ridge, Pine Bush, Wallkill, Gardiner, New Paltz,
and other smaller communities. Not only was milk processed and shipped
from these plants, but butter and cheese were also produced. On the
Valley Railroad line, "milk trains" traveled north to Kingston. Here,
milk was transferred to the West Shore line for shipment to Weehawken,
Jersey, where it traveled to Manhattan docks by ferry. Milk shipped in
afternoon in the Wallkill Valley was in New York City households by the
morning (Mabee 1995: 90-94). The most famous dairying enterprise in the
was the Borden Farm, located in Wallkill. In 1881, members of the
family (owners of the Borden Milk Company) chose the village as the
of their 2000-acre home farm and condensed milk factory (Mauritz
On the ridge, harvesting of certain vegetation was an integral
component of many residents' livelihoods. The gathering and distilling
of wintergreen and huckleberry picking were two of the more important
occupations. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), which grows in the
mountain's many shaded and moist ravines, was used for flavoring and
for medicinal purposes. Its leaves were gathered and brought to local
"stills" where it was converted into oil. Stills are documented during
the second half of the 19th century near Trapps Hamlet "on the Peters
Kill Road" and in Ellenville near the base
of the mountain (Ellenville Sesquicentennial Files n.d.b; Historical
Perspectives: 1991: 24; Kiviat 1988: 26; Sanderson 1968: 38-39)
While wintergreen oil production remained largely locally oriented, by
1871 huckleberries became one of the Shawangunk Region's major items of
export (Child 1871: 139). Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
and low-sweet blueberry (Vaccinium augustifolium) are among the species
prevalent in the high elevation, fire-adapted vegetative communities
of the Shawangunks (Lougee 2000: 9-12). As discussed above,
of this resource may have been common among Native American cultures.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, local valley families probably
visited the mountain to harvest berries for home consumption.
Market-oriented huckleberry picking (the word "blueberry" being
reserved for cultivated varieties) most likely originated in the 1850s
when turnpike linking the mountain to communities in the valleys were
constructed (Fried 1995: 146, 113-114). Harvesting for the local market
began as early as the 1860s (Fried 1995: 113). The railroads, though,
created a much larger market than had ever before existed. "The Patch"
extended from Lake Mohonk to Sam's Point and was "especially prolific
by the shores of the lakes." Huckleberries found their way to New York
City on the Wallkill Valley Railroad (and then down the Hudson on "the
Rondout Boats") or on the Rondout Valley's Midland Line (later the
O&W) (New Paltz Independent 1877). By 1879, mid-July
"huckleberry trains" had been introduced and pickers could sell through
agents directly to the New York City markets (New Paltz Independent
At some point in the late 19th century, semi-permanent encampments
developed in the vicinity of Sam's point. An 1899 map shows at least
three separate huckleberry picker camps immediately west of Lake
Maratanza (Smiley 1899). Like the Native Americans before them, the
manipulated the local ecology by setting fires in order to increase
This particular Shawangunk Ridge lifeway continued—complete with yearly
fires—well into the 20th century.
THE REGION IN THE 20TH CENTURY
During the first half of the 20th century, the region's economy
followed patterns established by the end of the previous
Although many of the livelihoods based upon the natural resources of
Shawangunks slowly disappeared, agriculture and tourism remained
of the local economy. Wallkill and Ellenville were the region's
centers, Napanoch the site of a large state prison, and New Paltz the
of a college for training teachers.
The mountain resorts that had opened for business in the 19th century
continued to prosper. These included the Mohonk Mountain House, Lake
Minnewaska's Wildmere and Cliff House, Yama Farms, Mount Meenahga, and
the various boarding houses and inns at Cragsmoor. Hotels catering to
Jewish families had begun to appear in the Rondout Valley in the first
decade of the 20th century. These were owned and operated by immigrants
from Eastern Europe and Russia who had come to Ulster and Sullivan
drawn by the belief that farming was a viable alternative to urban
Because much of the land that they had purchased was unproductive, the
practice soon developed of taking in paying boarders during the summer
months. Some of these small boarding houses eventually grew into the
"borsht belt" hotels of the region, such as the Nevele and Fallsview
in Ellenville. Along side them were countless small bungalow colonies.
of the villages along the ridge's western slope soon developed sizeable
Jewish populations (Terwilliger 1977: 90-119).
Farmers in both the Rondout and the Wallkill Valleys pursued fruit
growing and dairying. In both valleys, however, farm populations were
declining. Especially hard hit were the Towns of Shawangunk and
Gardiner (Mabee 1995: 109). Beginning in the 1920s, apples would begin
to supplant other fruit as the county's dominant crop. After
World War II, the floodplains of the Rondout and Wallkill came to be
devoted almost entirely to the cultivation of sweet corn (Dowaliby
1977; Kelly 1981). Local dairy farmers, however, were finding it
difficult to operate in the face of low milk prices. This trend began
in the 1920s and 30s and was marked by the closures of many creameries
(Mabee 1995: 95).
The Automobile Age
Beginning at the turn of the century, New York State began a program of
road development in the region. This entailed the construction of
entirely new roads and the modification of existing roads. The effort
marked the initiation of a statewide policy that would create a
transportation infrastructure benefiting automobiles, buses and trucks
(Mabee 1995: 109). Newspaper accounts from the years 1906 to 1907
indicate that much of this activity focused upon more populated areas
such as New Paltz and Ellenville. Improvements to the
Ellenville-Kingston Road (today's Route 209) were underway in 1921 (New
Paltz Independent 1921). In the same year, the New Paltz-Highland Road
became the first concrete road in Ulster County (Mabee 1995:
109). The Minnewaska Trail, today's Route 44/55, was built over the
ridge, connecting New Paltz and Kerhonkson in 1930, replacing the old
New Paltz-Wawarsing Turnpike with a more direct paved route. Much of
the original turnpike alignment and many of the Trapps Hamlet
homesteads were destroyed during its construction (Larsen and
Fagan 1999: 17). Route 52, the other main highway crossing the ridge,
was completed in 1936, replacing what remained
of the Newburgh-Ellenville Plank Road (Terwilliger 1977: 85).
By the 1920s, automobiles had become so popular that the railroads
began to falter. Families that had previously traveled throughout the
region by wagon and train began to use private automobiles and buses.
The first serious losses on the O&W occurred in 1925 (Helmer
1959: 121). It was only on the Catskill and Shawangunk segments of the
O&W system, however, that ridership remained strong. Apparently
the dangerous mountain roadways discouraged tourists from driving
(Helmer 1959: 125). Between 1893 and 1931, the number of passenger
riding on the Wallkill line declined from 500 to 35. In 1937, passenger
service was discontinued (Mabee 1995: 108-112). The
O&W held out until 1952 before turning exclusively to freight
(Helmer 1959: 160-162). The O&W ceased operations in 1957
(Helmer 1959:166). Conrail, which now owned the Wallkill line, cut all
service north of Walden in 1977 (Mabee 1995: 135).
Although automobiles completely changed the character of American
society, it was the roadways that carried them that transformed the
landscape and the built environment. The completion of the New York
State Thruway initiated yet another phase in the region's
development. In 1942, New York State, decided to build a toll
superhighway from New York City to Buffalo which would be called the
"Thruway." Interrupted by World War II, the project was finally
completed in 1955 (Schwartz 2001: 627). By
1957, the Thruway had been incorporated into the vast Interstate
System, its New York to Albany section becoming Interstate 87 (Lewis
137). One of its 52 interchanges was located immediately east
Paltz. The routing for the Thruway took it north through the Hudson
midway between the Hudson River and the Shawangunks. With the exception
of New Paltz and Kingston, it bypassed the communities that had been
by the Wallkill Valley Railroad during the 19th and early 20th
For the first time in history, the state's major transportation
had been shifted away from the Hudson River. The new alignment put this
corridor at the eastern edge of the region. It also put the region
two hours driving distance of New York City.
Rapid industrial growth in the region during the 1950s was offset
towards the end of the century by a series of economic setbacks.
Between 1992 and the end of 1994, Ulster County lost nearly 40% of its
manufacturing jobs (Lougee 2000: 6; Terwilliger 1977: 65; Ulster County
Planning Commission 1966: 40).
In the 1990s, Ulster County was still the state's leading producer of
sweet corn and apples. A noticeable shift, however, was gradually
occurring from agricultural to residential land use (Ulster County
Planning Commission 1995). These trends, although they were changing
the character of the region, were similar to those that were occurring
throughout the United States.
Another late 20th-century phenomenon affecting the region for the first
time were a series of environmental threats to the Shawangunk Ridge's
fragile ecosystem. These included a skyline drive spanning the entire
ridge, natural gas exploration, a wind energy generating facility,
by the Marriott Corporation to build a large hotel complex, and a
nuclear accelerator and radioactive waste dump (LaBudde 1991:1; Lougee
2000:5; Snel 1990:18). Ironically, additional environmental
came from groups that valued the ridge's scenic qualities. The nation's
growing affluence and increased mobility created a demand for
opportunities. The Shawangunks, because of their topography, their
state, and their proximity to New York City, provided a perfect space
pursue such activities as hiking, rock climbing and hang-gliding. By
end of the 20th century, the Shawangunks became a tourist destination
never before. It is estimated that over 500,000 people visit the ridge
(Batcher 2000: 5).
In response to these threats, environmental advocacy and land trust
movements emerged in the Shawangunks during the 1960s. Over the next
three decades, several groups including the Mohonk Trust, the Open
Institute, the Nature Conservancy, Friends of the Shawangunks, the
Valley Land Trust and the Rondout Esopus Land Conservancy worked
the common goal of setting aside land within and adjoining the
that would be forever protected from development (Friends of the
2001: 1, LaBudde 1991:1; Lougee 2000: 2-5; Martin 1987: 3-5; Snyder and
Beard 1981:39). The ultimate result was a series of preserves spanning
length of the Northern Shawangunks including the Sam's Point Preserve,
State Park Preserve, and the Mohonk Preserve. Recently, another
(the former Lundy's Estate) was created in the Rondout Valley to link
Shawangunks to the Catskill Forest Preserve. In 1994, a consortium of
groups, plus the various institutional landowners, came together to
the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership. Their mission is to
scientific research and biodiversity conservation efforts in the
(Batcher 2000: 5). By the close of the 20th century, 38,000 acres of
Northern Shawangunks' nearly 85,000 acres of land were held by private
public land holding institutions (Hu 2001: B1, B6). In the words of the
Conservancy, the Shawangunks had become a "Last Great Place."
CONCLUSION: INTO THE 21ST CENTURY
At the beginning of the 21st century, the region still retains its
rural character. Located on the western margins of the Hudson River
Valley, it is threatened but not yet engulfed by the sprawl associated
with suburbanization. Adjoining the region are communities that have
been greatly affected by demographic shifts that are changing the face
of the northeast. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the
American Farmland Trust have listed the Hudson River Valley as "one of
America's most endangered places." Immediately to the
region's south lies an area of Orange County that the United States
Census Bureau has designated the Newburgh-Middletown Standard
Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA). It is a "suburb of suburbs," a
portion of a vast "outer city" surrounding the New York City
Metropolitan Area. With a population of 260,000,
the Newburgh-Middletown SMSA is linked
together by interstates and other roadways that enclose a landscape
of shopping centers, subdivisions, and corporate headquarters (Schwartz
Within the region, there is cause for concern. Open land in the
valleys flanking the Shawangunks is rapidly disappearing. The orchards
of the Wallkill Valley, many of which have been held by single families
for several generations, are threatened by subdivisions. In 1975,
County apple orchards totaled 12,294 acres. By 2001, only 1,500 acres
of apple orchards remained in the county (Brainard 1989: 3; Foderaro
B1, B6). Dairy farming, long a feature of both valleys, is also
In 1978 there were 124 dairy farms in Ulster County. By 2002, there are
only eight that survive. In the Town of Crawford (Orange County), the
of dairy farms has declined from 56 in 1950 to less than 10 today (Town
of Crawford: 2001). It is doubtful that the region's abandoned farmland
will stay empty for long (Horrigan 2002).
Local geologic, natural, and cultural history, however, suggest
that the region may escape the fate of its neighbors. The presence of
a vast tract of mountainous wilderness at the region's core has made
it unique throughout its long history. Although the region's
exploited the Shawangunks' scenic and natural resources, the ridge
remained devoid of any substantial settlement. Due to the foresight of
various institutions and organizations, these lands have been preserved
in an unspoiled state. As a result, the region's communities are today
in possession of a priceless resource. The naturalist Dan Smiley
today's Northern Shawangunks as a "sky island"—a unique, coherent, yet
vulnerable ecosystem suspended above increasingly urbanized lowlands
As this study of the region's past has shown, the communities bordering
the ridge, as well as those that lie within its sight, share historic
ties to the ridge and to one another. The nature of these ties varies.
Some are associated with the routes of long vanished modes of
transportation or livelihoods that have ceased to be viable. Other ties
are genealogically based or reflect some other aspect of a common
heritage. This heritage is evident in the region's built environment,
especially in the villages of New Paltz and Stone Ridge and in rural
neighborhoods such as Kripplebush and Rest Plaus. A number of
communities, especially those lying immediately adjacent to the ridge,
retain economic ties to the ridge. These are for the most part
associated with recreation and tourism. Within the region, there is now
a tremendous interest in a landscape that has come to be identified
with its most prominent feature—the Shawangunk Ridge. The key question
facing the region at the beginning of the 21st century is whether it
sustain its distinctiveness in the face of forces that tend to make all
places and spaces interchangeable.
In a sense, what is happening today resembles previous eras in the
region's history. For the Esopus and the early settlers, the ridge was
a landmark in a roadless world, a barrier to travel, as well as a
source of possible livelihoods. It loomed large in their imaginations.
For workers of the Canal and railroad eras, the forested slopes of the
Shawangunks represented wages for a season's labor. At a time when
urbanism was a new and frightening experience for a nation more
accustomed to rural ways of life, the ridge offered the possibility of
peace in a rustic setting. Whether you were an inhabitant of the
Rondout Valley or Wallkill Valley, or simply a traveler gazing at the
distant silhouette of Sky Top or Sam's Point, the ridge's significance
was at once physical, economic, and symbolic. Now, when
the region's future direction in uncertain, nine towns and two villages
on all sides of the ridge have come together to develop plans for
growth and protecting resources. Once again these communities
turned to the Shawangunks, making the ridge the centerpiece of their
the feature of the landscape that evokes, most powerfully, a "sense of
and expresses the region's identity as a singular geographic unit.
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