MTHS Blog

On Saturday, October 12, 2019 The Mountain Top Historical Society’s Haines Falls campus will be the place to begin your Columbus Day Weekend. Starting in the KRT parking lot behind the Visitors' Center on Route 23A, there will be 4 hikes to choose from varying in difficulty and points of interest around the area. The day will finish with a BBQ lunch from 1-3 pm at the MTHS’s historic U&D Train Station. Hikes are free, pre-registration required. $10 per person for BBQ lunch, all proceeds to MTHS.
 
  • Hike # 1: Rip Van Winkle Hike – Join geologist Bob Titus in a moderate, 2 mile hike to Sunset Rock above North Lake. Along the way he will point out Devonian stratigraphy and Ice Age history while telling the tale of Rip Van Winkle, stopping at sites that closely match those described by Washington Irving. Meet at KRT Parking Lot at 9 am to car pool to North Lake
  • Hike # 2: Historic Survey of North-South Lake – The area of North-South Lake has been home to various business, railroad, and recreational sites. Pete Senterman and Paul LaPierre will lead this easy 2 mile journey with possible side trip to the Catskill Mountain House Site. Meet at KRT Parking Lot at 9 am to car pool to North Lake.
  • Hiike # 3: Elka Park Colosseum: Join Nancy Allen on this easy to moderate 3 ½ mile hike through the historic community of Elka Park along a dirt road to the Park’s Colosseum (reservoir). Meet at the KRT Parking Lot at 9 am to car pool to Elka Park.
  • Hike # 4: Sphinx Rock and the Sofa on Prospect Mountain Bob Gildersleeve will lead this approximately 2.5 mile easy to moderate hike starting from MTHS’ s U&D train station partially following along the Kaaterskill Rail Trail and using old woods roads and a short bushwhack to the ledge above Molly Smith’s parking area. Here we will look down on the location of Sphinx Rock. Nearby is a natural bench once called the sofa, and a unique view taking in Kaaterskill Clove, Kaaterskill Falls, and across the clove, Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top. A natural ramp can take us to the ledge on which the Sphinx rests for a close-up view. If hikers wish, we may also have time to visit the platform at Kaaterskill Falls and be back for the BBQ at 1:00. Meet at the MTHS’s U&D Train Station at 9 am.

Registration Required by Weds. October 9. For questions and registration, Email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (518) 589-6657. Please leave your name, phone number, number of participants in your party, which hike you’d like to join and if you intend to stay for the BBQ lunch.

Bring: something to drink, good hiking shoes.

All hikes limited to 12 so register early.

Fee: Optional donation/membership encouraged for hike participants

$ 10/person for lunch

Dogs allowed: No

Questions about this event may be directed to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (518) 589-6657

Directions: From the North – Exit 21, I-87 NYS Thruway. Make left onto Rt 23B, follow signs to Route 23. Travel 5.5 miles, left at McDonald’s onto Route 32S. Take Route 32 seen miles to traffic light at Route 23A. Right onto Rt. 23A, go 4.5 miles up the mountain. MTHS Campus on right, KRT parking lot directly behind the Visitor’s Center.

From the South – Exit 20, I-87 NYS Thruway. Left at exit then right onto Rt. 32 for six miles. Bear left at NY 32A (blinking light) then left onto Rt. 23A (at the light). 4.5 miles up the mountain. MTHS Campus on right, KRT parking lot directly behind the Visitor’s Center.

 

 

The Direct path to South Mountain
Prepared for the Mountain Top Historical Society hike of June 8, 2019

The history of trails near the Catskill Mountain House is complex. The trails grew and changed over time, and over time some were forgotten. . Paths to new destinations were developed, and as tastes changed, some paths were abandoned. During the romantic era on the mid to late 19th century the quest for the picturesque made certain sites popular. Among the most liked were the second ledge on South Mountain, Puddingstone Hall, Druid Rocks, Fairy Spring and Elvin Pass all evocative of the myths and legends so popular in the literature of the day

None of those sites are now on marked trails, yet they are reasonably easy to get to, though not necessarily easy to find. Our goal is to go off-trail to some, perhaps all, of these sites as well as sites like The Sphinx, Eagle Rock, and Boulder Rock along the existing trail. At times we may experience a sense of the picturesque and perhaps the sublime. (see: https://artmuseum.arizona.edu/events/event/19th-century-landscape-the-pastoral-the-picturesque-and-the-sublime)

From Pine Orchard, the site of the Catskill Mountain House, we will ascend through the woods, itself picturesque, to three picturesque highlights.

Right click on images enlarge them.

The Second Ledge which was called “The Lemon Squeezer” by stereographer J. Loeffler. We don’t know for sure whether the trail approached from the west requiring hikers to pass through one of two narrow passages, or from the east to a view emphasizing the path up the ledge they were about to climb. Most views are from the east. The 200 year history of the Kaaterskill region as a vacation destination has generated many names for area locations. The same location in different guidebooks, stereographs, souvenir booklets, and worse of all, postcards can have different names, and the same name can be given to different locations. The name Lemon Squeezer was used in guidebooks by Walton Van Loan and Samuel Rusk for a crevice near Fairy Spring at the top of South Mountain which they also called Elvin Pass.  Whatever it was called, the site is virtually unchanged. The imaginative hike can seem to be accompanied by 19th century Mountain House guests.

The foggy conditions on the day of this photograph taken in late May of 2019 may give us a sense of the picturesque. Climbing up what seems to be a natural route, we will have to exert a bit of effort to reach the top of the second ledge. From here, after fighting our way through a tangle of branches we will see what certainly was the original 19th century to the next ledge.

Here in front of us is Puddingstone Hall. Puddingstone is a colloquial name for conglomerate, a rock made of pebbles held together in a sandy matrix. The rock, and the others on South Mountain, are sedimentary this one formed in flowing water able to carry the larger pebbles which ultimately mixed with sand and minerals cementing them into rock.

This photo pf Puddingstone Hall, taken on the same day as the previous one is another reason to not let rain or fog keep you out of the woods. Before we come back and climb through this crevice,we will walk along the bottom of the ledge and explore our next stop.

Druid Rocks are a short distance west of Puddingstone Hall. An 1863 “Guide to Rambles from the Catskill Mountain House” makes no mention of this site, but by 1879 they are prominently mentioned in Van Loan’s Catskill Mountain Guide. Here Walton Van Loan tells us we will see “several detached rocks of conglomerate, one of which resembles a gigantic toad or rabbit, according to the position from which you observe it. The Harry Fenn illustration depicts the area.

The remainder of our hike will be on the state trail. We will see The Sphinx, a ledge on South Mountain, "Bowlder Rock" and imagine a time when there were steps that made climbing it easier, perhaps descend through Fat Man's Delight to The Natural Bridge, and consider the traces of a glacier that helped shape the area over 20,000 years ago.  Options to see Fairy Spring, Elvin Pass and Star Rock at the top of South Mountain are also possible.

 

By Bob Gildersleeve

In 1883, Hotel Kaaterskill builder, owner and well-known Philadelphia lawyer, George Harding, commissioned Hexamer and Sons of Philadelphia, to conduct a fire safety survey of his then 3-year old hotel. This stunningly precise and detailed survey has escaped the view of the many historians and collectors who are avid about the Hotel's history, but was discovered this past winter by MTHS member Scott Koster in The Philadelphia Free Library. Scott shared his finding with us and it has proved to be a gold mine of data about the Hotel. The on-line images of the survey from the Philadelphia library only hinted at the precision of the document so we contacted the Free Library of Philadelphia’s map department. We thank them for providing the Mountain Top Historical Society a beautiful high resolution scan of the document. It joins the nearly 50 photographs taken in about 1920 just prior to the Harding family’s sale of the property given to us by George M. Harding, great great grandson of the Hotel’s builder.

Taken together, the Hexamer survey and the Harding photos, provide us with a key to deciphering the the layout and many of the operations of the enormous hotel. They also have become the spring board for new questions. The spectacular fire of September 8, 1924 destroyed the hotel leaving a jumble of footings and other remains now largely hidden among the trees that have grown in the 95 years since the hotel’s destruction.

On April 25th, in preparation for the upcoming May 11th MTHS hike to the Hotel Kaaterskill site, Pete Senterman, Bob Titus, Mike Kudish, John O'Grady, Jonathan Palmer and I with the Hexamer Survey, copies of the Harding photos, and tape measures in hand, walked around the Hotel site to make more precise determinations about many aspects of the Hotel's layout. The Hotel came into view more clearly than ever. The details of what we saw and learned follow, but I invite you to join us on Saturday May 11 to explore the site of the Hotel with us and to share in the excitement of this new find." Registration information can be found at: http://mths.org/events.html for information about registering.

The survey features accurate measurements of each part of the building allowing us to locate with certainty the footings of the ice house, and the helps’ quarters and water closet (toilets) – locations we’ve only speculated about before. We stood among the stone footings facing what had been the cartway to the courtyard and held up a Harding photo – they fit together perfectly. But, despite the accuracy of the document there are discrepancies with the Harding photos or the current condition of the site. Some of the discrepancies are clearly minor oversights and some cause confusion or raise questions that and need to be resolved. What can we make of the 6 ft. high stone ledge running through the courtyard? It doesn’t show on the plan or appear in the Harding photos and it certainly didn’t result from a major geological upheaval in the past 95 years. Such discrepancies lead to discoveries and the document promises to open many new discoveries.

There are significant hints about the infrastructure for electric and gas lighting used at the hotel. The electric lighting was powered by “Arnoux’s and Hotchhausen’s electric arc lights.” The firm was a competitor of Edison. The electric dynamo was a mile from the hotel. [An 1890 Windham Journal article about the fire at the Laundry mentions that "...the force pumps that supply the hotel with water, and the electric light plant..." were located there] The gas for gas lighting was manufactured by a “Maxim Gasoline Machine...housed in a stone building 119’ from the nearest building.” The gasoline was vaporized and mixed with air – like a giant Coleman lantern and piped to the hotel. Our research indicates that Maxim was Hiram Maxim, best known as inventor of the first fully automatic machine gun. Our challenge is to use these hints to discover more about the Hotel and its operation.

 KRT Rail Trail Is Open

In 2005 I wrote about trails and sites on Prospect Mountain in the afterword for Catskill Mountain House Trail Guide:


A path across this mountain that lies west of South Mountain between the Laurel House and the Hamlet of Haines Falls was among the earliest trails in the region.  It became the route of the two railways that served the hotels. Three important locations once accessible from that path deserve special mention.  One, the Sphinx, well known to post card collectors, stands guard over the upper clove above Molly Smith’s parking area.  As best I can determine, it is on state land.  Access to it, however, is either an extremely difficult climb, or a relatively easy approach that requires crossing private property.  Very near the Sphinx, is a clearing that takes in the upper portion of Kaaterskill Falls, a beautiful view of the Clove, and the peaks of Round Top and High Peak.  No other spot allows all three to be seen at the same time.  Also formerly accessible from this path is viewpoint named (like the ledge on North Mountain) Prospect Rock.  This Prospect Rock is perhaps the best place from which to see, in a single view, both upper and lower portions of Kaaterskill Falls, but it too is virtually inaccessible except by crossing private land.

Opening these areas could be a real benefit to visitors, and to the Mountain Top community.  Recently, there has been renewed interest in a rail trail between the hamlet of Haines Falls and Laurel House Road following the rail corridor and near the trail that was discussed by both Van Loan and Rusk [authors of 19th century trail guides].  Reopening that trail would provide a link between the local community and the beautiful facilities at North-South Lake. -- [Note that at this time, the area of Sphinx Rock is not accessible from the KRT.]

Now, twelve years after I wrote these words and thanks to the efforts of many people and organizations, the KRT is open and NYSDEC has placed a trail sign at the junction of the state trail to the Kaaterskill Falls viewing platform and the Kaaterskill Rail Trail pointing the way to the Historical Society's campus and station. I am very pleased that this has been accomplished and, based on the large attendance at the opening ceremony on May 20, the community is too. Thanks again to all. - RG