An Unforgiving Land: The Trapps Mountain Hamlet

At first glance, the quiet, forested lands of the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park belie the presence of a once active community. However, traces of the Trapps mountain hamlet, a community located in the in the towns of Gardiner and Rochester in Ulster County that dates back to the late 1700s, still survive in the Shawangunk Mountains. Residents of the Trapps lived a “hardscrabble” existence, getting by through subsistence farming and mountain trades such as milling wood and grain, carving millstones, charcoal-making and shaving barrel hoops.

Courtesy of Robi Josephson.

According to researchers Robi Josephson and Bob Larsen, most of the area that formed the Trapps hamlet is now reforested and protected by the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park Preserve, or privately owned. Hints of the former community can be found in “cellar holes (stone foundations) of former buildings, water-powered sawmills, bridge abutments, stone walls, stone quarries, charcoal pits, and burying grounds (cemeteries)” that have been identified throughout the area. Even more telling than those structures, however, are the stories of those who once made the Trapps Mountain hamlet their home. Larsen and Josephson capture the spirit of the former hamlet in their recently published book, An Unforgiving Land: Hardscrabble Life in the Trapps, a Vanished Mountain Hamlet (Black Dome Press), where they explore the community, businesses and everyday lives of those who called the mountain hamlet their home.

An Unforgiving Land was a book decades in the making. According to Josephson, Bob Larsen “found much evidence in the Shawangunks of former human occupation, such as building foundations, burying grounds, and stone walls” while working as a ranger for the Mohonk Preserve. Upon finding such unexpected hints of community life on the mountain, Larsen began researching the cultural history of the area. Josephson also notes that Larsen played an integral role in preserving remnants of the Trapps hamlet. Most notably, he was involved in the Preserve’s restoration of the Van Leuven Cabin, the last remaining structure of the Trapps on Preserve lands, and in facilitating the placement of the former hamlet on the Federal and State Registers of Historic Places. This designation marked the first time New York State officially recognized the historic importance of a vanished, hardscrabble community.

Josephson has also been actively involved with the Mohonk Preserve. She began working as the publications editor for the Preserve in the mid-1990s. In 2012, she published the book Images of America: Mohonk Mountain House and Preserve (Arcadia Publishing). In addition, she has spent years researching the history of the Hudson Valley, with a special focus on naturalist John Burroughs.

Robi Josephson and Bob Larsen, authors of An Unforgiving Land: Hardscrabble Life in the Trapps, a Vanished Mountain Hamlet. Courtesy of Robi Josephson.

Larsen and Robison have collaborated on various projects for the Mohonk Preserve, including articles for the Preserve’s newsletters and the creation of an interpretive guide for a trail to the Eli Van Leuven Cabin that Larsen had designed and installed. As their research continued, the duo realized that they had enough information on the Trapps hamlet for a book. An Unforgiving Land, which features previously unpublished images of the hamlet as well as a detailed look at its extensive history, was released in the fall of 2013.

Larsen retired in 2013 after a 40-year career with the Mohonk Preserve. This year, he celebrated his 90th birthday and is enjoying his retirement. Josephson is currently researching the life of John F. Stokes, who established the mountain tradition at Lake Mohonk more than 150 years ago, and volunteers for the history collection at Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz. She and Larsen continue to be guest speakers at many area historical sites, where they present a digital slide show and virtual walk through the Trapps.

For those wishing to explore the former Trapps hamlet, Josephson recommends starting with two places that she and Larsen list among their favorites: the West Trapps Trailhead and the Coxing Trailhead. From the West Trapps Trailhead, a moderate trail (not handicapped accessible) leads 1.5 miles past an abandoned millstone quarry and burying ground to the Van Leuven Cabin. Visitors can pick up the interpretive brochure (described above) at the trailhead or at the Preserve Visitor Center and explore the area on their own, but Larsen and Josephson encourage guests to “take a walk back in time” by contacting the Mohonk Preserve to sign up for an interpretive walk and/or tour of the Van Leuven Cabin. From the Coxing Trailhead, the former farm and sawmill site of the Enderly family can be viewed. (Today, this area is popularly known as Split Rock.) The Enderly family burying ground is located a few steps behind the trailhead. (Contact the Mohonk Preserve for directions and parking. Day passes or annual memberships are available.)

An Unforgiving Land: Hardscrabble Life in the Trapps, a Vanished Mountain Hamlet is available for purchase at the Mohonk Preserve, the Mohonk Mountain House, online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and at a number of Hudson Valley bookstores. More information on author Robi Josephson, including a number of articles on the Trapps and the Mohonk Preserve, as well as upcoming speaking dates, can be found on her website: Additional information about the Trapps Hamlet can be found on Josephson and Larsen’s “Trapps Mountain Hamlet” Facebook page.

Posted in Appalachian Mountains, Cemeteries, Historic Sites, Landmarks, Shawangunk Mountains, Town of Gardiner, Town of Rochester, Ulster County | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

History Happens When You Least Expect It

Washington's Headquarters Postcard-A.J. Schenkman

Alfred Goodrich and animals-A.J. Schenkman

It is late August in the Mid-Hudson Valley and one of my favorite times of the year. There is a feel to it as the cicadas sing all day, and the peepers take the night. Hot days give way to cooler nights. I can hear the gentle hum, in the distance, of a farmer harvesting corn from a field. A scene that plays itself out as it has in this valley for hundreds of years.

I am glad that this morning as I write this article that I have time to reflect on this moment. It has been a whirlwind for me this year as a new father. It is easy to get lost in the day to day haze of sleep deprivation, work, and caring for this new soul. Inevitably other parts of your life suffer such as visiting friends, and family. My extended family, the firehouse, has also taken a back seat of which there is sadness. However, part of being a family is taking the good with the bad with an extended hand when times are difficult, and hence the reason behind this article.

The other day I was out walking with my wife and son around the neighborhood when a familiar car pulled up on the opposite side of the road. A fellow firefighter’s head popped out to chat. He had some presents for my son that he had neglected to drop off to us. He casually stated that there was a card in the bag from another firefighter.

When we got home we opened the presents. There at the bottom of the bag was an unassuming manila envelope. I picked it up slowly while opening it. What I saw was an old picture of Washington’s Headquarters. It was a piece of history in my hands. I believe the picture on the postcard to be from the 1880s. Color had been added, by hand, to give an even more life-like appearance. I studied the people’s faces in the picture. The postcard is adorned with smiling children, young men lounging in the grass, a child talking to her mother on benches long gone.

A snap shot in time. I found myself transformed back into those people’s lives, where they lived again. Hence the reason I love writing as well as studying history to the degree I do. It allows me, like in the movie Back to the Future, to gaze into people’s lives where in my writing and reading they once again live. This is no more evident to me than in a postcard.

Washington's Headquarters-A.J.Schenkman

This postcard and accompanying stereoscopic cards tell a history of the evolution of a structure, in this case Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, it surroundings, plantings, style of dress, and even people. If we take the stereoscopic picture of the man posing on the lawn with his dog and cat as an example (see above). It is believed that the man is Alfred Goodrich who was Newburgh’s Police Chief from 1870-71. Still later, he would become superintendent of Washington’s Headquarters after it became an historic site. Shortly after this photo was taken, I was told, Goodrich died from a stroke.

Perhaps the reason I am so drawn to postcards, such as these, is because they really do “paint a 1,000 words.” It is why, frequently, I use images as prompts for my students when I want them to write. In my own life as a writer, they many times inspire me.

Posted in City of Newburgh, Education, Hudson River, Landmarks, Museums, Orange County, Revolutionary War | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Local History Event: “The Tanning Industry of Ulster County”

(Marbletown, NY) – If the Delaware & Hudson Canal helped shape the Rondout Valley, the tanning industry of the 19th century had an even greater impact on the Catskill Mountains. The huge influence of that industry on the people, the economy and the environment of the Hudson Valley is the subject of a compelling lecture offered by the Ulster County Historical Society.
The lecture by Philip Ryan, titled “The Tanning Industry of Ulster County,” will take place on Saturday, August 23rd at 3:00 pm at the Bevier House Museum. The cost is $7, free to members of the Ulster County Historical Society (UCHS). Bevier House Museum, headquarters of the Ulster County Historical Society, is located at 2682 Route 209 in Marbletown. This special event is sponsored by UCHS. For more information call 845-338-5614 or
Mr. Ryan’s lecture will explore the reasons why the industrialization of tanning took hold in the Catskills. He will explain who the tanning workers were and why the industry ultimately proved an enormous environmental disaster to the Valley ecosystem. At the outset of the 19th century, the Catskills were canopied over with hemlock and virtually uninhabited; neither the Native Americans not the Dutch were interested in this vast first growth forest.
Beginning shortly after the War of 1812, enterprising men such as William Edwards and Zadoch Pratt went deep into the Catskills in order to harvest the seemingly endless supply of hemlock bark which was used to tan hides, much of it brought all the way from South America on clipper ships.
For fifty years the tanners and bark peelers were at work cutting down the hemlock, taking the bark and leaving most of the wood to rot. By the end of the century, the mountains were crisscrossed with roads and home to innumerable churches and hamlets. The hemlocks were nearly all gone, replaced by the diverse deciduous forest we know today.
 Philip Ryan, who served as the former president of UCHS, is an adjunct professor of City College of New York. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, Ryan has delivered lectures on the Hudson Valley tanning industry for more than a decade. He possesses the largest private collection of Hudson Valley historic maps in the state.
The Ulster County Historical Society (UCHS) was established in 1859 and thrived until 1862 until its founder, State Senator George C. Pratt, was mortally wounded 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run. It was revived in 1930 by Judge G.V.D. Hasbrouck. The mission of the UCHS is twofold: To act as curator and collector of significant Hudson Valley artifacts, documents and cultural items and to educate the public on the pivotal role that Ulster County has played in the formation of nation. The Bevier House on Route 209 in Stone Ridge serves as the UCHS museum space. UCHS sponsors numerous educational and cultural events from May 1 through the end of December.
For information on future UCHS events, visit

Posted in Catskill Mountains, Education, Museums | Leave a comment

Local Authors event at the Ulster County Historical Society

Ulster County Historical Society-Library of Congres

Marbletown, NY-The Ulster County Historical Society will be hosting an author’s event on August 24, 2014, from 1-3 PM.  They have brought together authors who have written novels or non-fiction historic material, pertaining to the history of the Hudson Valley and particularly Ulster County. Authors will be giving brief readings of their chosen titles and an opportunity to talk with them afterwards. Books will be available for sale throughout the event.

Vernon Benjamin’s new book, The History of the Hudson Valley, Wilderness to the Civil War

Carol Goodman, several literary mysteries involving the HV, Blithewood, The Drowning Tree, The Seduction of Water

Richard Heppner, Legendary Locals of Woodstock

Janine Fallon-Mower, Woodstock, Woodstock Revisited

Will Nixon, Walking Woodstock

William Rhoads, two guides to historic architecture in Kingston & Ulster County

Hudson Talbott, children’s books, River of Dreams

Christine Wade, Seven Locks, a Dutch-American woman fights her own war of independence as the American Revolution approaches the Hudson Valley.

Elizabeth Werlau and A.J. Schenkman,  Murder & Mayhem, Wicked Ulster

Books will be available for purchase.

Free to all.

Bevier House Museum 2682 Route 209, Marbletown

338-5614 or for more information

Posted in Bringing the Wicked to Justice, Catskill Mountains, Education, Historic Sites, Museums, Strange Stories, Ulster County, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Historic Cemetery Clean Up Dates Announced


Gumaer Cemetery-Judy Gumaer Testa

The families of Peenpack and interested community members are cordially invited to help care for Gumaer Cemetery/Pioneer Knoll Cemetery on Saturdays,  September 20th  and October 18th, 2014. 11 AM to 3 PM. Rain or Shine.

We will have brief informative programs during the day. There will also be a family and local historians available on site. Family members are welcome and encouraged to visit their American Homestead at any time to assist us in this endeavor and pay their respects to their ancestors. 

The site is mildly remote in a rustic setting. Please wear appropriate clothing and shoes. Tools are limited onsite; please bring hand tools, lawn rakes, mid-sized plastic drop-cloths, tree pruners, work gloves, tick/bug spray & cameras. Pack a light lunch & join us! Be mindful the old Ontario & Western railroad Valley Line right-of-way runs straight down the side of the cemetery property.  It’s the roadbed you drove in on.  The line operated from 1906 to 1957, and one of its founders is buried in the cemetery.  The area is inundated by history. 

The Gumaer Cemetery/Pioneer Knoll Cemetery Fund was created through the generosity and foresight the late Kenneth Gumaer, DVM. The fund awards an annual grant to the Minisink Valley Historical Society to oversee the perpetual maintenance of Gumaer Cemetery/Pioneer Knoll Cemetery in Godeffroy. The funds are administered by the Minisink Valley Historical Society through a committee consisting of a representative of the Deerpark Reformed Church, Minisink Valley Historical Society and of the Gumaer Family via the Community Foundation of Orange & Sullivan Counties.

Directions From 84: Take Route 84 to exit 1 (Port Jervis).At the end of the exit ramp, turn onto Route 6 West. Follow Route 6 to Route 209 North.  Make a right turn onto Route 209 and north for approximately 6.3 miles to Guymard Turnpike. Make a right turn onto Guymard Turnpike, and follow it approximately 0.2 miles to the cemetery driveway on the right. The entrance is marked Nature Conservancy: Neversink Preserve. Drive slowly towards the kiosk. Look for the parked cars along the left side of the road, and park.  There’s a short path from there to the cemeteries.

From Route 17 West: From Route 17 west, take exit 113 (Rt. 209) south. Travel for about 8.5 miles, and after crossing the Cuddebackville Neversink bridge, take your second left onto Canal Drive.  Go to the end of Canal Drive (bearing left at forks) to a T-intersection. Turn left onto Guymard Turnpike; The cemetery entrance is a gravel drive on the right with a sign marked Nature Conservancy: Neversink Preserve. Drive slowly towards the kiosk. Look for the parked cars along the left side of the road, and park, a short path from there to the cemeteries.

For further information please contact Nancy Conod, Executive Director of the Minisink Valley Historical Society, at or Judy Gumaer Testa, Coordinator of Volunteers, at

Posted in Cemeteries, Education, Sullivan County, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kingston’s Buried Treasures: “From Dutch to English – The Conquest of Kingston”

“Kingston’s Buried Treasures” is a monthly series featuring a different individual or subject of local historical interest and significance in our community.

Friday, August 15, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.
“From Dutch to English – The Conquest of Kingston,” by Ulster County Historian Anne Gordon. Beginning with the first settlers in 1652-1653, early Kingston was dominated by Dutch influence. This changed, however, with the arrival of an English invasion force under the command of Col. Richard Nicolls, sent by the Duke of York to secure possession of the colony of New Amsterdam. Facing overwhelming odds, Governor-General Peter Stuyvesant and the Dutch troops surrendered the colony to the English without firing a shot. The bloodless coup initiated a period of English domination of the now renamed New York, lasting until the independence of a new American nation. This transition, however, was often turbulent in Kingston. Come learn about the “Conquest of Kingston” as we commemorate the 350th anniversary of the English takeover of New York from the Dutch.

The mission of the “Kingston’s Buried Treasures” Lecture Series is to awaken and reignite an interest in the rich historical tradition and invaluable contributions of our community to both New York State and the nation as a whole. Through a lecture series featuring a different historical subject each month, we strive to foster an appreciation of the exceptional nature of our community while recognizing and honoring the vast, though often forgotten, contributions of our forebears.

The presentations will take place on the third Friday of each month, unless noted differently, at the Vanderlyn Gallery of the Senate House Museum located at 296 Fair Street in Kingston, New York. Presentations are free and open to the public. Call (845) 340-3055 for more information or visit

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Frederika Charlotte Louise von Massow, Baroness (Freifrau) Riedesel -Wikipedia

I love a good story whether it is true to not. There are many out there that are flat out lies such as Washington’s wooden teeth. However, stories still serve a purpose in history. One of my favorite stories involves the Baron and Baroness von Riedesel. It is believed that after the Battle of Saratoga they spent a week at the Hasbrouck House.

With the surrender of the British Army on October 17, 1777, at Saratoga, the terms of peace had to be drawn up as well as the terms of parole. Those troops that were considered prisoners of war were deemed The Convention Army. These included not just British soldiers and officers, but also Hessian mercenaries. It took some time for the terms of release for the prisoners of war to be worked out. Ultimately the goal was for them to set sail for Europe never to return or take up arms against the United States. One of many prisoners taken was the Baron von Reidesel who was at Saratoga with him family, and servants.

Hasbrouck Parlor-HABS/HAER

Eventually the von Reidesel Family were allowed, by General Horatio  Gates, to head South. Their ultimate destination was supposed to be Virginia where they were to set sail for Europe as terms of their parole. It was on their journey south that they were quartered at the Hasbrouck House in December 1778.

The Reidesel’s arrived, according to Washington’s Headquarters Historic Structure Report, on December 19, 1778. They were accompanied by, the baroness wrote in her diary, “my children, and my two maid servents, and at dinner and supper, the general’s aide-de-camps.” Whether they stayed at the Hasbrouck’s has been , in the past, controversial. One of the main sources documenting their stay is the diary of the baroness. In her diary the name of where they stayed is written as “Osborn, ” not Hasbrouck.  However, in the papers of George Clinton in a letter to Robert Boyd, Jr., Boyd wrote that the Reidesel Family was in Fishkill in December 1778, and before arriving in Fishkill were at the house of “Colonel Hasbrouck.”

Assuming that they did stay at the Hasbrouck home, according to the baroness, the trip across the Hudson to Newburgh took 5 hours. She was afraid that the boat would sink and noted that the tiny vessel had but 1 mast. Once the party arrived at the shore, she recorded, “we had to wade through mire, before we arrived at the house of Colonel Osborn, a rich gentleman, where we were to lodge.”

Hasbrouck Kitchen-AJ Schenkman

When the baron and baroness arrived at the Hasbrouck’s, Jonathan had recently resigned as Colonel of the 4th Ulster County Militia. He was also still recovering from what was believed to be pneumonia. The Riedesel’s were quartered in the new part of the house which is today known as the parlor. According Walter C. Anthony’s book about the home, Jonathan first encountered his new guests when he walked into the house stopping in the kitchen.  He became infuriated when he viewed some Hessian officers warming themselves by the fire. Jonathan, it is reported in several sources, including a translation by Wallenstein of the baroness’s diary, flew into a rage, grabbed at least two  of the officers by the arms while yelling at them, “is it not enough that I give you shelter, ye wretched roylaists!” How did the baroness feel about Jonathan?

His behavior, at first, was anything but cordial even towards the baroness. As every school child has learned when studying the American Revolution, Patriots had a particular distain for the hired Hessians of Kings George III. When the baroness saw Jonathan again, she noted he had changed into nicer clothing and was no longer wearing his coarse work clothes. In addition he had shaven.

The following day on December 20, Tryntje invited the baroness to have some coffee with her in the parlor. In her diary, she wrote that Tryntje was “more amiable.” Shortly into their coffee drinking, Jonathan burst into the room. Remembering her host’s tirade the day before, she decided to excuse herself, but before she could exit, Jonathan shut the door blocking her exit. The following exchange transpired between Jonathan and the baroness:

“Are you afraid of me?”

“No, sir, I fear nobody, not even a figure as ugly as you were yesterday.”

“Do I not look better to-day?”

“Yes, sir; but I wish to avoid new incivilities.”

“I am not so rude as you imagine. I like you, and if I were not married, I cannot tell but I might fall in love withyou.”

“Do you believe that I would encourage your affection ?”

“As for that, we should see : I am very rich ; this whole estate is mine ; my wife, you see is old : you will do well, therefore, to remain here.”

Washington's Headquarters, Newburgh lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1837-Public Domain

This is the last interaction recorded between the baroness and Jonathan Hasbrouck. The Riedesel’s stayed at the Hasbrouck home for one week. However, Robert Boyd, Jr., in a letter to Governor Clinton stated they had been at the home for over a week. Baron von Riedesel asked to remain at the Hasbrouck’s for the winter.  No doubt Jonathan too, wanted the family to stay at the Hasbrouck home for the winter, or at least the baroness. The baron was told no. Governor Clinton at the urging of Boyd wanted the baron to move on as quickly as possible. Clinton and Boyd feared the baron was trying to stir up Tories in the area. Boyd wrote that the baron ended up “over the Wallkill…To engage Winter Quarters among the High Ducthers; from what I have been inform’d concerning this Gentleman’s conversation, since in those neighborhoods I think him a dangerous Man.”

This would not be the last baron to stay at the Hasbrouck’s home. The next guest, the following year, July 1779, would be a Prussian named Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben or as most American’s know him as simply Baron von Steuben. He would be followed by Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering and of course in 1782, General George Washington.

"Baron Steuben by Peale, 1780" by Charles Willson Peale - PafA-Public Domain



Posted in City of Newburgh, Education, Historic Sites, Hudson River, Museums, Orange County, Revolutionary War, Strange Stories, Ulster County, Wars | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Observatories of Slide Mountain

In an earlier entry, I wrote about the Belleayre Fire Tower, which served as a fire observation tower for more than 60 years before its closure and eventual removal. The service of another nearby tower fire observation tower, however, was much shorter – less than a full year to be exact.

With the advent of fire towers in the Catskills and Adirondacks during the early 1900s, a logical choice for placement of one such tower seemed to be Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskill range. In the decades prior, Slide Mountain had garnered much attention. Discovered to be the highest peak in the Catskills as part of a survey conducted in the late 1870s, by the early 1880s the mountain had become a choice destination for hikers. Hiking parties took on the challenge of ascending the mountain and spending time at the summit picnicking and camping.

Another early view of the observatory at Slide Mountain. Author's collection.

The young women of Vassar College were frequent visitors to the mountain, and their visits were often the subject of humorous articles in the local newspapers. One account in 1909 described the ladies gathering wet green sticks for a fire because they were cleaner than dry brown wood, stopping frequently to ask for directions to the top and eating hearty lunches of cucumber sandwiches that had been cut into fancy shapes…nevertheless, newspaper correspondents also noted that local residents welcomed the women warmly whenever they arrived for a day trip to Slide.

James Dutcher, of Big Indian in the town of Shandaken, played an important role in Slide Mountain’s growing fame. The Slide Mountain postmaster and owner of the Panther Mountain House resort near Slide capitalized on the mountain’s popularity by designing trails for guests that led to the summit and serving as a trail guide. Dutcher knew the land well from his work as a fire warden and fish and game protector for Big Indian, and, according to his biographical sketch in the Ulster County Biographical Record, was “the best known and most reliable guide in this section of the Catskills.” He also built a succession of observation towers at the summit for guests to use and created a path to the top that include resting benches and stone steps to make the climb easier for those not accustomed to such an ascent.

One of the observatories as captured by Richard Lionel De LIsser in Picturesque Ulster. Image in the public domain.

The New York State Legislature aided Dutcher’s efforts in 1891 by voting to provide the first public funds for Forest Preserve trail development. The funds were allocated to the lands of the Slide Mountain Wilderness so that a public trail to the summit could be constructed. More and more visitors took advantage of the growing network of trails, including noted naturalist John Burroughs, who wrote of the sights in his 1910 book In the Catskills as well as in other publications:

The low, stunted growth of spruce and fir which clothes the top of Slide has been cut away over a small space on the highest point, laying open the view on nearly all sides. Here we sat down and enjoyed our triumph. We saw the world as the hawk or the balloonist sees it when he is three thousand feet in the air… To the east we looked over the near-by Wittenberg range to the Hudson and beyond; to the south, Peak-o’-Moose, with its sharp crest, and Table Mountain, with its long level top, were the two conspicuous objects; in the west, Mt. Graham and Double Top, about three thousand eight hundred feet each, arrested the eye; while in our front to the north we looked over the top of Panther Mountain to the multitudinous peaks of the northern Catskills. All was mountain and forest on every hand. Civilization seemed to have done little more than to have scratched this rough, shaggy surface of the earth here and there. In any such view, the wild, the aboriginal, the geographical greatly predominate. The works of man dwindle, and the original features of the huge globe come out. Every single object or point is dwarfed; the valley of the Hudson is only a wrinkle in the earth’s surface. You discover with a feeling of surprise that the great thing is the earth itself, which stretches away on every hand so far beyond your ken.

In 1911, the state’s Conservation Commission took advantage of the unobstructed views from Slide to construct a fire observation tower at the summit, along with a cabin for the fire observer. Eben Chase of Slide Mountain was hired in May of 1912 as the fire observer, and remained on site until November of that year.

What had not been accounted for was the fog that often covered Slide. The fog drastically reduced visibility, rendering the fire observation tower nearly useless at times. By the end of the first year, the decision was made to close the fire observation tower and to take advantage of other nearby locations instead. The tower was officially closed in the fall of 1912 and removed from the site by 1916.

In 1936, the state’s Conservation Department brought another tower to the summit, this time a steel structure erected purely as an observatory for the hikers who continued to flock to the mountain. Efforts were made in 1948 to create a highway that would lead to the observatory. Senator Arthur A. Wicks of Kingston and Assemblyman John F. Wadlin of Lloyd proposed the creation of a state monument dedicated to the men and women who had served in World War II. The monument would be situated at Slide’s summit. The design would be similar to a monument and observatory dedicated to those who served during World War I, which had been constructed previously on Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. The resolution ultimately was not adopted, and though other plans were made to enhance the observatory at Slide over the years, little action was taken. By 1968, the tower had been vandalized so severely that the decision was made to remove it.

By the 1990s, a wilderness plan for the Slide Mountain region had been developed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Part of the plan determined that the region should remain as undisturbed as possible, thereby ensuring that no further development, including any future observation towers, would take place at the summit.

A hike to the summit of Slide Mountain is still possible today, and thanks to conservation efforts in the region, the views are much the same as they were in the late 1800s, as described by Richard Lionel De Lisser in his Picturesque Ulster:

The view from Slide Mountain must be seen, and that more than once, to be comprehended. What one sees today, he may never see again. The atmosphere, clouds and light ever changing wipe out the picture of the moment to substitute another….the view obtained will never be forgotten.

Additional information on the Slide Mountain Wilderness lands, including hiking maps and camping information, can be found on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Forest Preserve Unit website:

Another early view of the observatory at Slide Mountain. Author's collection.

Posted in Catskill Mountains, City of Kingston, Firefighting, Landmarks, Lost Landmarks, Town of Lloyd, Town of Shandaken, Ulster County | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ulster County Fair: A Look Back

In celebration of the Ulster County Fair, which runs through this Sunday, here are a few highlights from the fair’s lengthy history.

A 1910 Ulster County Fair postcard. Author's collection.

The first Ulster County Fair was held in 1886 in Ellenville, thanks to the planning of the newly formed Southern Ulster Agricultural Society. The fair was held at the Ellenville Driving Park, the grounds of which were part of an estate owned by John W. Rode. (Today the Ellenville Elementary, Middle and High Schools stand on that site.) It ran for three days.

According to the booklet “A History of the Ulster County Fair: The First 100 Years,” by Carol Wills Laurito, “Admission to the [first] Fair was reasonable, too – a single ticket cost only 25 cents; a one-horse carriage ticket cost 10 cents while a two-horse carriage ticket was 25 cents.” In later years, admission to the Ulster County Fair was free; admission was once again charged beginning in 1975. At that point, the entrance fee was $1.00.

In its early history, the Society offered “Schoolchildren Day,” with free admission to the Ulster County Fair for students. Some schools in the area closed for all or part of the day in order for children to attend the fair. (At that time, the Fair was held in the early fall.)

Some of the competitions at the early fairs included bicycle racing contests, baseball games and decorated wagon parades in which the participants were awarded prizes. Meals could be purchased at the fairgrounds, in what the Agricultural Society described as “a first class restaurant.”

By 1895, the Ulster County Fair had become a well-respected agricultural event. A notice in the August 24 issue of the Rockland County Journal announced “The fairs of this Society are now recognized to be among the most interesting held in this part of the State.” The same notice announced more than $8,800 in purses to be awarded for the various horse racing events held at the fair.

Trips in hot-air balloons were a popular attraction at the fair in the early 1900s.

The Kingston Daily Freeman ran a story in 1902 about brothers who had not seen each other in more than 20 years reuniting unexpectedly at the Ulster County Fair. Emil and Adolph Reiss met by chance at the poultry exhibit – both men were supposedly drawn there by their memories of raising and exhibiting pigeons as young men in New York City.

A 1906 notice in local newspapers announced the schedule for the three-day fair: athletic events on Day 1, floral parade and competition on Day 2 and horse-racing on Day 3, with exhibits and music provided by the Clayton Military Band on all three days.

In 1923, lights provided by the U.S. Army allowed the Ulster County Fair to remain open into the late evening.

The fairgrounds in Ellenville were purchased in 1932 by the Ellenville School District and the Ulster County moved to Kingston that year. It was first held at Forsyth Park in that city, and later the State Armory building, before returning to the park. Following its move to Kingston, the Ulster County Fair became a single day event for over 30 years.

In 1967, the Ulster County Fair moved to Libertyville Road in New Paltz, on the site of the former Ulster County Home and Farm, where it has remained ever since. By the 1970s, the fair featured a dozen commercial and educational tents, 4-H booths with more than 4,000 items and livestock displays, Grange displays, square dancing, band concerts and numerous other shows over four days.

A special fair theme was announced in 1976 in honor of the country’s bicentennial: “We Are Proud to Be Americans.”

The 100th Anniversary of the Ulster County Fair was celebrated in 1987. Today, Ulster County Agricultural Society’s annual Ulster County Fair is a six-day event.

The Ellenville Public Library and Museum is currently hosting “Early Days of the Ulster County Fair,” an exhibit of postcards, photos and ephemera from its archives. The exhibit will be on display through August 30, 2014. For more information, call (845) 647-5330 or visit the library’s website:

A 1902 picture of firefighters on parade at the Ulster County Fair in Ellenville. Author's collection.

Posted in City of Kingston, Town of Wawarsing, Town/Village of New Paltz, Ulster County | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Death of Colonel Hasbrouck

Possible Room where Jonathan Hasbrouck died on July 31, 1780-HABS/HAER

During my twenty years of research, two books, and many articles about Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck, there seems to finally be a renewed interest in his life. Sometimes while I am lecturing, individuals want to talk to find out more information about him. The most frequently asked questions are what he looked liked? Are there any surviving portraits?  How did he die? What better day to address this then on the 234th anniversary of his death.

What we know about Jonathan Hasbrouck’s physical characteristics and death come by way of his brother Abraham Hasbrouck who lived in Kingston, New York. Abraham for most of his life kept a diary of important events. Some of these events were related to the weather, family history, and deaths.  It would seem from reading the diary, of which there are many copies, that Abraham was present at the deaths of all his brothers and sisters. One of those was his youngest brother Jonathan.

Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck lived in the present day City of Newburgh with his wife Tryntje, as well as his surviving children; Isaac, Mary, Jonathan, Jr., Cornelius, and Rachel. His field stone home is still standing and later became Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh in 1782. Today it is a state historic site and is located on 84 Liberty Street in Newburgh. It is important to point out that Jonathan did not survive to see his home become a military headquarters for Washington.

In the summer of 1780, Jonathan was 58 years old. He was a successful merchant, slave owner, a former militia colonel, as well as owning extensive properties, and mills on Quassaick Creek . His mills were used by the army, and he made a lot of money because Newburgh had become a depot for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. His brother recorded that Jonathan was 6’4” “well shapen and proportioned of body, good features, full visage or face but brown of complexion, dark blue eyes, black hair, with a small curl.” He continued that his brother was strong and tended, when he was younger, to be “corpulent and fat,” but because of “many sicknesses or disorders” the last 30 years he was not so anymore. The most recent illness occurring in 1777.

Abraham is silent about these sicknesses other than in 1777, when he had “great issue flowing from his breast.” Some have speculated that exposure to the elements, while stationed at Fort Montgomery the year before, contributed to him developing pneumonia. It is evident from his correspondence with George Clinton, in the early summer of 1777, that he was in poor health. He concluded his letter with, “ I should see you myself , but as my state of health is at present I am entirely unable.” He eventually recovered until the summer of 1780.

When Jonathan actually became ill, in 1780, is open to conjecture because in various transcriptions of his brother’s diary the time period varies. The original diary is considered lost at this time. However, the version in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society’s collections(NYG&B) states that the illness lasted three weeks starting on a Sabbath. This would have placed the beginning of Jonathan’s illness on either July 9 or 16. The onset of the illness was a sudden stoppage of water (urine). He was in dreadful pain and Doctors Osburn(Osborne) and Bard were summoned to the Hasbrouck’s home which was considered quite out of town. The passage describing the procedure to gain some relief for Jonathan is omitted from the NYG&B transcription, but is included in Kenneth E. Hasbrouck’s which he copied from Joseph E. Hasbrouck.

The doctors did draw his water or urine from him with an instrument called “the catheter and repeated it several times or frequently during his illness.”   However, by July 29, even with the catheter, urine,”would not run from him.” Abraham reported that, “his urine or water was so thick of gravel and matter or corruption that it could not be drawn from him by said instrument.”  What he was diagnosed with was “the gravel and an ulcer in the neck of his bladder.” Although Jonathan suffered terribly his brother recorded that he “retained his sense or judgment until his last dying hour,” which came at 12:30 am on July 31, 1780.

After a short service Jonathan was buried on Tuesday, “upon the burying place on his own land, lying alongside two of his sons” (Abraham and Joseph died in 1772).  This burying ground was located between “his house and the North River.” During the early 19th century the Hasbrouck Burying Ground was moved.

According to, the late City of Newburgh Historian, A. Elwood Corning, the Hasbrouck burying ground was torn up during construction on Colden Street. Efforts were made to remove as many remains as possible. However, the remains of Jonathan and his wife Tryntje were never located. During road work, a skeleton was found and by some proclaimed as those of Jonathan Hasbrouck.

An article written in the Sunday Telegraph in 1899, reported that George W. Shaw remembered, as a boy, men working in the area of the Old Hasbrouck property where it was known the family burying ground had been located. The workmen found a full skeleton, which again it was believed to be the skeleton of Col. Hasbrouck. This is because the other family remains had been found in the same area and removed to the Old Town Cemetery. Charles H. Hasbrouck, a great-grandson of Colonel Hasbrouck’s stated, in the same paper, that neither Jonathan nor the remains of his wife were ever found creating doubt in his mind as to what name should be attached to the remains. These remains, which were never identified, were buried in St. George’s Cemetery under an old Sycamore Tree which was still standing as of six years ago when I last looked.

Posted in Cemeteries, City of Kingston, City of Newburgh, Historic Sites, Hudson River, Landmarks, Monuments, Museums, Orange County, Strange Stories, Ulster County, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
  • Blog Author

    AJ Schenkman

    A.J. Schenkman teaches history in the Lower Hudson Valley. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His most recent books Include Murder and Mayhem in Ulster County and Wicked Ulster County: Tales of Desperadoes, Gangs & More, and ... Read Full

    Elizabeth Werlau

    Elizabeth Werlau is an English teacher in the Hudson Valley and is the historian for the Town of Plattekill in Ulster County. She has authored and contributed to several books on regional history, including her most recent publication, Murder and ... Read Full
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