Justine Hommel and the Haines Falls Free Library Bookmobile in 1950
A librarian, historian, educator, author, expert on the high peaks region of the Catskills and Mountain Top, and Bookmobile director extraordinaire, Justine Legg Hommel (1926-2016) was, as Deb Allen puts it, a “force of nature.” Her memory deserves celebration not only for her boundless compassion and activism that shaped much of the cultural vitality of our mountain top, but also to help address the lack of attention afforded the history of rural women.
While serving as an assistant librarian for the Haines Falls Free Library, Justine was instrumental in coordinating the Bookmobile, a service that provided books and reading materials to mountain top residents who otherwise lacked access or transportation. In 1957, Justine became the librarian and held that position until 1988.
Justine worked to preserve the scenic beauty of our area, in particular the Kaaterskill Clove, many years before advocacy for natural landscapes and the high peaks region was popular. She fought tirelessly to ensure that the Kaaterskill clove road would be complemented with natural stone walls rather than the steel originally intended by the Department of Transportation.
She was a co-founder and dedicated President of the Mountain Top Historical Society (MTHS) for more than thirty years. During her tenure, the MTHS acquired a campus and the historic Ulster & Delaware Train Station.
Her scholarship on the history of the Mountain Top garnered local and national media, including the Smithsonian, National Geographic Magazine, and the New York Times. She was a recognized expert on the high peaks, and served as an advisor on a PBS documentary on the Hudson Valley, was honored by the New York Historical Society, and received the first Jessie Van Vecten Vedder Award from the Greene County Historical Society.
The Justine L. Hommel memorial highway extends from Palenville to Haines Falls, through the beautiful Kaaterskill Clove. Think of her every time you pass the beautiful stone walls.
Note: This post is based on the recent presentation on Justine's life by Deboah Allen. View the presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWB_oBkl7KY&t=1563s