This Weekend: Headwaters History Days

Above: A mural in the Delhi post office that depicts a scene from the Anti-Rent Wars of the mid-19th century. The mural was painted by Mary Earley in the 1940s and was funded by the Section of Fine Arts of the U.S. Treasury Department. Photo of mural by Jimmy Emerson, via Flickr

Many historical societies of the Catskills -- it seems that there's one for each town -- are teaming up for the next two weekends to offer a smorgasbord of historical events, exhibits, tours and lectures about the history of the central Catskills called "Headwaters History Days.

The events are concentrated in western Ulster County and eastern Delaware County, and focus on a few highlights of Catskills history there: the building of the NYC reservoirs in the early 20th century, the life and times of 19th-century nature writer and Roxbury native John Burroughs, the history of the railroads and homesteaders of the 19th centuries, and the hair-raising 19th-century armed populist fights between landlords and their tenant farmers that are known as the "Anti-Rent Wars."

This weekend, catch an exhibit about the building of the Ashokan Reservoir (dramatically titled "Watery Graves") at the Olive Free Library in West Shokan; watch an antique sawmill demonstration at the Hubbell Homestead in Kelly Corners; climb up into the clocktower of the Methodist church in Roxbury; and attend two history lectures: “Objects and Memory,” a talk by Jonathan Fein at the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown in Margaretville and “Lost Towns of the Pepacton Reservoir and the Rail Road that Served Them,” a talk by John Duda at the Skene Memorial Library in Fleischmanns. 

One historical site that isn't on the formal tour but that is always open to visitors (during normal business hours, that is) is a vibrant and somewhat shocking Anti-Rent War mural on the wall of the post office in Delhi, which depicts the so-called Calico Indians -- really tenant farmers in fake "Indian" disguises -- formenting rebellion against their landlords in 1845. The mural was one of the many New Deal art projects funded by FDR's administration in the 1940s, and is itself another kind of historical artifact. 

Headwaters History Days. May 30 and 31 and June 6 and 7. Various locations. For a map, schedule and list of events, go to