History of the Mountain Top Historical Society
The Mountain Top Historical Society (MTHS) first took shape in 1972, thanks to the efforts of a group of likeminded individuals led by Justine L. Hommel and Ron Fleming. They were concerned that a great deal of the material culture and stories of Mountain Top history were being lost. Preservation was their driving motivation and it continues today. In 1974, the MTHS was chartered by the New York Department of Education in 1974 and became a 501c3 nonprofit.
In the intervening years, we have evolved, expanded and grown in size and scope. For the first 24 years, the MTHS had no official home, however we served residents and visitors with an annual lecture series, provided scholarly resources to researchers, collected and maintained archival materials, hosted workshops, led guided hikes and conducted local history programs in the schools. In 1996, a generous donation enabled the MTHS to acquire about 20 acres at the top of Kaaterskill Clove in Haines Falls. The first stage of the acquisition was the purchase of the historic Ulster & Delaware Railroad Station, which was followed by the addition of the former Hunter Mountain Resort Ranch buildings and property. Our past had acquired a home in the present.
Work began immediately on the Train Station and on the former ranch property. In 1999, MTHS volunteers and contractors completed the restoration of the railroad station. Built in 1913, the station is now on the NYS and National Registers of Historic Places. (The passage of time took its toll and over the past two years we replaced the Train Station roof, installed ridge vents to reduce the buildup of heat in the attic space and painted the exterior. Restoration of the original windows is now underway.)
The Loxhurst Hotel
The MTHS campus is also the site of the old Loxhurst Hotel (above) built in the late 19th century. The main hotel building later housed La Cascade restaurant, aptly named for the nearby Falls. In 2005, through state and federal grant funding, we were able to move part of the building to the front of the property, restore and open it as the headquarters of the Society directly adjacent to NYS Rt.23A. This structure became our Visitors’ Center with office space and an information center for visitors entering the Mountain Top region through the dramatic Kaaterskill Clove.
The Visitors' Center
In 2006, the Visitors' Center added a third function when it became a stop on the Hudson River School Art Trail, joining the Thomas Cole Historic Site, Olana and the National Park Service to promote the region’s natural and cultural resources. In 2012, we added the Justine L. Hommel Archives Room on the north side, providing approximately 140 square feet of secure, climate-controlled storage space for the MTHS’s archival collection.
The Visitor and Art Trail Center’s porch and decorative features are reminiscent of the late 19th century Victorian style when traveling to the Mountain Top was both popular and fashionable.
The latest addition to the Mountain Top Historical Society campus has been the extension of the Kaaterskill Rail Trail to the rail bed that passes in front of the historic Ulster & Delaware Train Station. Thanks to a partnership with the Open Space Institute, the NY/NJ Trail Conference, the Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Town of Hunter, hikers may now enter the trail on the MTHS’s campus and walk 1.5 miles to the Viewing Platform overlooking the Kaaterskill Falls and to the NYSDEC trails along the escarpment.
The Entrance to the Kaaterskill Rail Trail (KRT)
NY State Senate Honors our 40th
Fire and Recovery
On Saturday, June 16, 2007 a strong thunderstorm struck the Eastern Escarpment of the Catskills. Our new Visitors' Center located in a beautiful clearing at the top of Kaaterskill Clove was the perfect target for nature's violence. A single stroke of lightning hit the northeast corner of the building and started a fire. A fortunate set of events allowed for the quick response of the Haines Falls Volunteer Fire Company and prevented the loss of our building and our historic collection. A passerby saw the fire and stopped at the firehouse just as the firefighters were returning from another call.
Thanks to the firefighters the damage was minimal and, after much assistance from our members and friends, the water damage to some of our collection was minimized. The event sparked two actions from the Society. Lightning Rods were installed on the building, and we accelerated our plans and fund raising for a a new and more secure home for our collection.