August 19th, 2013 by Bob Gildersleeve
To someone interested in the history of the trails around North-South Lake State Campground, one of the oldest recreational trail systems in America, the long and varied history can be confusing. In the heyday of the Mountain House, each trail led past many well-known and named locations. The trouble is that the names of the locations changed, and often the same name was used for different locations. It may be that different hotels or boarding houses assigned names to spots on their trails without regard for the names used by other resorts. Hence, there was a Sunset Rock near the Mountain House, and one near the Laurel House. There were two Prospect Rocks as well as two different locations one named Glen Mary and and the other Mary’s Glen. There was also an elusive location north of the Mountain House named Artist’s Rock–elusive because there are no common images that clearly identify it and the trail descriptions are vague and somewhat inconsistent.
Trying to pinpoint the location that was known as Artist’s Rock to artists such as Thomas Cole, Fredrick Church, B. B. G. Stone and to the 19th-century vacationers who were their contemporaries continues to be difficult. The Fall 2013 issue of the Society’s newsletter “The Hemlock” presents evidence of one possible location for Artist’s Rock on North Mountain.
One of the few photographs labeled Artist’s Rock is an image of a gazebo by Windham, NY photographer W. A. Jenne (William Albert Jenne (1867-1897)). The photo was used as a postcard and MTHS has a mounted photographic print of it. Whether or not it depicted the Artist’s Rock on North Mountain was an open question (at least to me) until very recently. It turns out that this is yet another Artist’s Rock–nowhere near the site north of the Mountain House. The gazebo may have been built by the Hotel Kaaterskill which, in its well-known rivalry with the Mountain House, renamed locations and built trails and roads challenging the long-established sites known to guests of the old hotel. We now know the gazebo depicted in the photograph was on South Mountain near the road from Palenville to the Hotel Kaaterskill and on the trail above Kaaterskill Clove. The mystery of this second Artist’s Rock was solved when Scott Koster of Michigan sent me a picture of second postcard of the gazebo and graciously allowed me to purchase it from the dealer who had it for sale. Even though the image shows the gazebo to be on the blue trail above the clove, the area is grown up and the view is obscured. It took me two afternoons, trying to match the ledges as they are today to those in the photo, to locate the exact spot [N 42º 11.078’ W 074 º 02.767’].
I returned to the spot in April 2014 in hope of getting a view similar to the newly discovered postcard. Even with no leaves on the trees, the density of the branches made it difficult to match the postcard image. The best I could do is seen to the right. High Peak and Round Top are almost obscured by the trees and seem farther away due to the difference in focal length of my camera lens and the one used for the original shot. Had I been able to step back and use a longer focal length, the relative size of the mountains with respect to the foreground area would more closely match the earlier photos. Again the density of forest growth did not allow taking the photos from a distance. I was, however, able to photograph (above left) the ledge from almost the exact angle used by Jenne when he captured his image a century ago. The ledge has barely changed.