The History of New York State
Book III, Chapter X

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

CHAPTER X

GREENE COUNTY #1

Formed from Albany and Ulster March 25, 1800, Greene County comprises the most of that famous mountain resort area, known as the Catskills. It is on the west bank of the Hudson, about thirty miles south of Albany, and has an area of 686 square miles, the relatively low bank of the river rises through a set of hills with an abrupt ascent to the mountains. Here the Catskills reach heights of 3,000 to nearly 4,000 feet above the sea level, and on their east and north sides are almost precipitous and cliff-like in their descents. The western slopes are more gentle in their rolling uplands, and it sin this part of the county that agriculture has attained some importance. Much of the soil is so rocky that when Horace Greeley was addressing the farmers of the county, and was interrupted with a question as to what one could do on the land in which a plow could not be used, he answered simply, "Raise sheep."

The mountains have clefts through which the streams make their ways, known as "cloves," many of them having cliffs a thousand feet high, with a swirling brook or creek racing it sway down the mountainside in splendid cascades. These "cloves," were the original roads of the Indians through the Onteoras, the "Mountains of the Sky," as they called the Catskills. And it was through these same gaps that the pioneers of the region made their way. Today the various cloves are one of the most interesting features of the mountains, and the attraction to thousand who every summer flock to the hills.

Besides agriculture, which in Greene takes the form of hay, milk, fruit and vegetable growing, there are few industries. Probably there is no county in the State that has had more disruptions of its industrial life. Before the opening of the Erie Canal a great part of the commerce of the western part of the State poured through Greene. The old Indian trails became the thoroughfares by which the products of the region reaching even to Lake Erie were brought to the Hudson. Catskill village was not only a great grain market, but the flour mills at the falls of the Catskill Creek were the most important in New York. Canals and railroads confined the trade of Greene county to those living in it. When new methods of tanning were put into use, just after the War of 1812, tanners bought great tracts of hemlock in the Catskills and built extensive leather making plants. It is said that Greene County made more leather in the few years before 1835 than was produced by all the rest of the State. But the trees were destroyed and when the needed bark was no longer to be gotten, tanning moved into adjoining counties or went West. The busy, well-planned villages of that day dwindled in size almost as rapidly as they grew. Only the influx of tourists and summer visitors of recent times have kept many of the hamlets from utterly disappearing. One great benefit came from the tanning and lumbering operations of the early days. The land denuded of its forest growth was to a greater extend than usual put under cultivation, so that even where the soil has been abandoned to a second growth of trees, the new forests are the better for the period of farming.

When the region now enclosed by the boundaries of Greene County had its first settler is not surely known. Areas of its surface were bought by the Dutchmen from the Indians from time to time, but there was little effort on their part to people the tracts. A statement by Jonathan W. Hasbrouk says that Brandt Van Shechtenhorst purchased from an Indian squaw chief a piece of land at Katskill April 19, 1649, and shortly after induced families to locate on it. There are evidences that there were a number of residents of the county, principally Ditch, before the Revolution, but that disturbances also disturbed them, and there seems to have been a general exodus at that time. The "Hardenburgh Patent," granted by Queen Anne in 1708, covered almost all of the county west of the mountains, and litigation over its lines did much to retard immigration into the region. Stephen Day, of Connecticut, secured a large tract of the Hardenburgh land at some early date, which led to the coming of quite a group from this State, who in a measure took the place of the displace Dutch. But the question of settlement will be gone into more fully under the story of each town.

Lack of the means of traveling about the region naturally held the growth of the district in check. Fortunately there were enough private individuals with faith enough in the section to form companies and build roads, or "turnpikes,' and it was the private turnpike, rather then the State road, that opened up this hilly area. The Susquehanna, Little Delaware, Coxsackie, and a dozen others, were all put into commission is the third of a century following the year 1811. Stage routes were established, and one of these, started by Erastus Beach, in 1823, was the first to make it easy for the tourist to enter the Catskills. Of railroads there have always been plenty in Greene--upon paper--but the actual length of tracks in the county is probably not seventy-five miles.

At the organization of the county in 1800, there were only four towns included within its bounds: Catskill, Coxsackie, Freehold and Windham. These four have been divided at various time, until now there are fourteen. 

 

These, with their populations in 1900, 1910, and 1920, are:

Greene County

1900

1910

1920

Ashland town

560

640

692

Athens town, including Athens village

2,361

2,720

2,891

Cairo town

1,487

1,841

2,176

Catskill town, including Catskill village

7,670

9,066

8,566

Coxsackie town, including Coxsackie village

2,994

3,620

4,102

Durham town

1,211

1,475

1,636

Greenville town

1,362

1,556

1,651

Halcott town

272

331

350

Hunter town, including Hunter and Tannersville villages

2,309

2,699

2,788

Jewett town

883

1,057

1,028

Lexington town

1,075

1,054

1,153

New Baltimore town

1,536

1,936

2,283

Prattsville town

830

781

775

Windham town

1,240

1,438

1,387

Totals

25,796

30,214

31,478

 

TOWNS

Ashland, formed from Windham and Prattsville, march 23, 1848, was named after the home of Henry Clay. It has an area of only 21 square miles and is one of the less populous. It is one of the northwestern districts, has many good farms, raises fine potatoes and cattle and apples, but is rather difficult to access. Settlements were made in the valley of the Batavia Kil, the principal stream of the town, by the Dutch, before the Revolution. During the war they were harassed by both Indian and Tory until they returned to their homes in Schoharie County. In 1788 Elisha Strong came to the region and established the first of the permanent settlements. A tannery was one of the main industrial plants within ten years. the village of Ashland, or Scienceville, as it was first called, is the only place of size in the district. It is located in the very deep valley of the Batavia.

Athens, formed from Catskill and Coxsackie, is located on the Hudson near the center of the county. Although below the main ridge of the Catskills, there is limestone rock in sufficient quantities to be quarried and burned for building purposes. The banks of the Hudson are rich in a tenacious clay from which building brick is made, this latter industry being the main one of the town. Athens village, incorporated April 2, 1805, the only settlement of any size, had a population, in 1920 of 1,844. The place was, until 1800, a large farm with two houses.

Cairo, formed from Catskill, Coxsackie and Freehold, or Durham, March 26, 1803, lies at the foot of the Catskills, the mountains forming the west boundary. Patents had been issued for all of the lands of this town before the Revolution, but is doubtful whether any of these had been occupied by actual settlers before James Barker, who cam in 1772. With the end of strife there was quite a migration to this district, principally by those who were after hemlock bark for tanneries. Curiously out of the destruction of so many trees for their bark, grew a new industry, which has left its name forever on one of the streams of the neighborhood--single making. The only sizable settlement in the town is t village of Cairo.

Catskill, formed March 7, 1788, a part of Albany County, was annexed by Ulster April 5, 1798. A part of Woodstock was added March 25, 1800; a part of Cairo taken off in 1803, and a part of Athens in 1815. The town occupies the southeastern part of the county, is a fine farm and fruit section, and with its location on the Hudson at the mouth of Catskill Creek, was not only the first settled place in the county, but has been from the beginning the industrial and merchants center of the county. The "Flats," in the valley of the Catskill, near Leeds, were settled by Martin ( or Marte) G. Van Bergen and Sylvester Salisbury, who purchased from the Indians a large tract of land in 1678. The title of the land on which the larger part of the village of Catskill is built was secured in May, 1684, for the sum of a gun, a kettle, two shirts, a keg of beer and a little rum.

Catskill village, the county seat and principal place in Greene, was incorporated May 14, 1806. It had made little growth until after the Revolution, being until then only a convenient port from which to ship the "planks" and potash which were made in the mountains. In 1792 ten houses comprised the whole hamlet, but by 1803 there were thirteen warehouses and thirty-one stores, with a population of 2,000. The village today has few industries, although there are twenty-five manufacturing concerns. Brick, paving blocks, or other articles made from the clay which is found in this part of the county; knot goods and cut glass , make up the list of the more important products. It is as an entry port to the Catskills that the place is best known, and it has a beauty of its own which holds many a visitor, and even more, holds from generation to generation the residents of Catskill. The population, according to the census of 1920, was 4,728.

Coxsackie, formed as a district March 24, 1772, as a town March 7, 1788, lost in the making of Durham in 1790, Cairo and Greenville in 1803, New Baltimore in 1811, and Athens in 1815. It is one of the Hudson towns, second from the northern corner. The Dutch were the pioneers of the section, coming in as early as 1652, and settling on a tract six miles square, purchased from the Indians. The two main settlements of the present day are: Coxsackie and Jacksonville. The former is the larger, having a population of 2,121. It is also foremost in its industries having 10 factories turning out a variety of products. Jacksonville is the only hamlet in the western part of the town, and was in the lumber days a bustling village.

Durham, formed from Coxsackie, as Freehold, march 8, 1790, changed to the present title in 1805. Parts of Cairo, Windham and Greenville were taken off in 1803. It lies on the northern border line, is one of the best of the agricultural regions and, while not among the mountains, it has a large number of summer residents. There were probably settlers on the lands of the town at an early date, but there was nothing permanent in the way of a settlement until 1782, when a number returned to their former clearings and again took up the work of development. The principal hamlets of this section are: Oak Hills, Durham, Cornwallville, and south and East Durham.

Greenville, formed from Coxsackie and Freehold, March 26, 1803, is one of the hilly towns at the end of the Heidelbergh mountains. The original title of the town was Greenfield until 1808, when it was changed to Freehold, and became again Greenville not until 1809. The heavy soils of the section are fitted for dairying, or the raising of hay, although apples have become of increasing value. The region was in former years one of the busiest tannery sections in the county. In 1768 the British authorities granted two tracts of 2,00 and 5,000 acres in the western part of the town to Maj. Augustine Provost, a survivor of the French war, who erected a find mansion on his domain. Godfrey Brendow, who settled near the site of the village of Freehold, in 1774, is usually credited with being the first settler of Greenville. The main hamlets of the area are: Freehold, Greenville and Norton.

Halcott, formed from Lexington November 19, 1851, is situated in the southwest corner of Greene, in a rather isolated mountain section. The modern bus has given some measure of accessibility and more of the land has been cleared in the last few years. It had its first settler in 1790, but none permanent until after the War of 1812.

Hunter, taken from Windham, as Greenland, January 27, 1813, changed to the present title in 1814. A part of Saugerties was lost in 1814, and apart of Jewett, in 1849. The town contains some of the highest peaks of the Catskills, and is probably the most popular among the thousands who yearly visit its scenic wonders. The pioneers of the regions were Troy "cow boys," who located their shacks in the narrow valleys during the Revolution. The area was confiscated by the Tories and, although driven out later, there was little interest take in this rugged mountainous area until Col. William W. Edwards, and his son came from Northampton, Massachusetts, in July of 1817, and began the erection of the first of the many tanneries of the Catskills. This was the found of the village of Tannersville, which is remembered by so many for the glory of its locations and hotels. Hunter is the other large village of this region, another former tannery hamlet, but with the advent of the railroad and the depletion of the hemlock, made its greatest growth as a tourist section.

Jewett, formed from Lexington and Hunter November 14, 1849, is one of the central towns in the west. On an elevated plateau, much driven by glacial valleys, it contains much arable land, which is farmed to a wide variety of grains, grasses, vegetables and fruits. The first permanent settlement in the town was made by William Gass, an Englishman, who located neat Schoharie Creek in 1784. The hamlets of the section are: Jewett, East Jewett and Jewett Center.

Lexington, formed from Windham as New Goshen, January 27, 1813, changed its name to the present title a month later in the same year. The hills of this west border county have to a large extent never been brought under cultivation. It is a region for the summer visitor, rather then for him who would make his living from the soil. The first settlement was made in 1788 on the flats of the Schoharie Kill, near the present hamlet of Lexington Flats. The other modern settlements of the town are: Beach Ridge and West Kill.

New Baltimore, formed from Coxsackie March 15, 1811, annexed Scutters, Little and Willow Islands from Kinderhook in 1823. It is located on the Hudson in the northeast corner of the county, is a good farming section, and famous for its apples. Settlement began relatively early because of its proximity to Albany. The Vande Zees, the Van Slykes, as well as others were in the region before 1700. Milling, tanning, boat building and ice harvesting have, in turn, been important steps in the industrial development of the town. Agriculture is now the main occupation. New Baltimore and Medway are the principal hamlets.

Prattsville, formed from Windham March 6, 1836, lost to found Ashland in 1848. The town is situated in the western part of the county in one of the better of the agricultural sections. Settlements were started in the region by the Dutch a few years after the French War, 1763. During the Revolution they were attacked by a body of Indians and Tories, under British officers, who tried to drive the settlers from their homes. A pitched battle was fought with the routing of the invading forces. These settlements were near the present important village of Prattsville, incorporated in 1883. Pratts' Rock, at the eastern end of the village, is one of the interesting places in the community. Red Falls, formerly a cotton factory hamlet, is the only other of the larger settlements.

Windham, formed from Woodstock as a part of Ulster county, March 23, 1798, lost territory in the making of Hunter and Lexington in 1813, Prattsville in 1833, and a part of Ashland in 1848. The town lies on the western slopes of the Catskills and is notable rather as a tourist section than for its agriculture. The first settlement in the town was begun in 1790, by George Simpson, Abijah Stone and Increase Claffin. The hamlets of the section are for the most part summer resorts, the best known of which are: Windham, Hensonville, Big Hollow, East Windham, and Brook Lynne.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

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