Letter to the Editor: Working in The Catskills, Chapter One

Dear Editor:

Working in the Catskills
chapter one

Life in the 19th century in the Catskill mountains
was mostly poor and primitive.
Beside farming and a small amount of trade,
there was very little industrial activity,
mostly Quarrying and Logging,
followed later by Trapping,Tanning,
Sawmills and construction.

Bluestone was beginning to be used for sidewalks.
but stone is very heavy
and wagon transport was difficult and expensive,
but Ulster County had the Hudson river,
and ships could deliver the bluestone to cities
in the eastern US and Cuba.

Soon the ships brought animal hides,
and, using the bark of hemlock trees,
tanning leather began, slowly at first,
and by 1840  Prattsville had
the largest tannery in the world!

Leather being an important resource,
was especially needed during the Civil War,
when they denuded the Catskills
of an ancient hemlock forest
to tan leather for the war,
leaving millions of prime trees to rot and burn,
well into the 20th century.

Later, when the war ended,
the country started to industrialize,
people left the farms, for jobs in
the new water powered factories and sawmills
that were being built everywhere.
the transcontinental rail was completed in 1869,

and two years later
the trains were coming to Arkville
for dairy products and stone,
and beginning a new industry…..tourism,
and the demise of the dairys.

In those days the Catskills
were two days from New York
by coach or horseback,
but when the trains came in 1871,
people could escape the heat
of the cities in a few hours,
bringing new prosperity
to places with railroad stations.

Griffins corners, later renamed Fleischmanns,
soon had 54 hotels and boarding houses
and a thriving business district,
all depending on the railroad,

which brought great crowds of people
who were met at the station
by the wagons and coaches
of the local hostelry.

The coaches also served to
fill the restaurants and shops,
and the historic ball park and later, the theater.
...and prosperity prospered in Griffins Corners.

but with the arrival of automobiles around 1913,
modern people could go anywhere!
and the 19th century towns and villages
had narrow streets, with very little parking,
and old fashioned everything else,
so places that had been doing well,
fell into decline.

shops, hotels, businesses and jobs
soon dissapeared.
With empty buildings and stores,
poverty and dilapidation continued
for another hundred years.......

Later, During the 20th century
some villages widened the narrow streets
creating two side parking.
some created parking areas,
and as time went on,
jobs and businesses came to those places.

But some villages thought
that the quiet stores and streets meant
they didn't need more parking,
and decided to "wait"
until the  crowds returned
and the need would be evident.

and now, a hundred years later,
some empty stores and streets
are still "waiting."
unemployment and poverty are
still rampant in those communities
And the people go where
businesses can handle the crowds.

Bud Sife