LOST VILLAGES: HISTORIC|
DRIVING TOURS IN THE CATSKILLS
Mary Robinson Sive
Delhi, NY: Delaware County Historical Association.
2nd printing, 2002. 176pp. $15.95
Excerpts reprinted by permission
Nine villages in Delaware County were lost to reservoirs, but many others also disappeared, often because of better transportation. Their cemeteries may be the only markers left. Now that tourism and second homes are becoming predominant, LOST VILLAGES pays tribute to Delaware County's history as one of the top dairy-producing counties in the nation, and its even earlier industries based on local forest and water resources.
The book takes readers on scenic driving tours through each town that stop at over 100 burial grounds and tell the story of the communities they once served. "Delaware County's First 100 Years" and "Delaware County in the 20th Century" summarize the history of Delaware county, and a history of each town introduces each of the 19 chapters. Excerpts from the Introduction follow:
Driving in beautiful countryside is a popular pastime and can provide much pleasure. It can do much more for those who know what to look for and how to read the landscape. They can derive added enjoyment from learning the human story. That story is seen in the "built environment" - the houses, civic and other buildings, roads, and other structures added by human hands. It is seen, too, in structures that were once built and have since crumbled or become overgrown. In upstate New York, these structures are not hard to find for those who have learned to look for them....
Tourists and vacationers flocking to Delaware County for its quiet natural beauty would not recognize the county of 100 or 150 years ago. Even to young people growing up locally, the county's nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century economy is remote in time and understanding. Then most of its valleys were closely settled and its hillsides dotted with pasture land, dairy cows, and sheep. Factories producing chemicals from wood. saw mills, grist mills, and textile mills stood along its rivers and streams. Industry was dependent on water power, and Delaware County has plenty of that. Its equally plentiful forests supplied lumber for nearby cities and chemicals for the tanning of leather and other industrial uses. Its fields and pastures supplied milk and vegetables for those cities.
The dairy industry - Delaware County once was one of the counties with the largest milk production in the United States - and forest-based industries sustained many viable and lively communities, supporting schools, stores, churches, post offices, and many other services....
Hillsides have returned to woods, but rock wall remain and testify to the heroic labor that went into harvesting logs and clearing fields and pastures. Roads that formerly connected settlements or served mountainside farms and barking operations are today's hiking trails or can no longer be traced. The hiker comes across an occasional foundation, often flanked by a still persisting lilac bush or apple tree. That is what remains.
But there is more. One notices a large cemetery in an uninhabited area or one sparsely inhabited. It gives a poignant message: once there was a large community here. It may still be identified by a remaining church or fire department or small post office. One finds smaller burial grounds hidden away in odd corners. They are what is left of once flourishing settlements, now inhabited only by the dead ....
Not all the former village sites are marked by now abandoned cemeteries. Some nine communities were flooded out of existence in the 1950s and 1960s to provide water for a thirsty metropolis. Almost a thousand of their residents had to move, and over two thousand of their dead now rest in distant placed to which their remains were transferred . . . .
The burial grounds themselves invite reflection and respect for a hardy group of people who settled these hills and valleys. The experience is sobering also as we contemplate now empty countryside that once teemed with life .... A patch of green on a hillside when the hardwoods are in their fall color or are bare may be a former pasture now planted to spruce. Try to locate what look like straight lines in the woods high up on the hillsides. They mark the edges of what was once cleared land and the resulting differential in the height of the trees. These signs help us realize what the hillsides looked like before the forest reclaimed them. For almost one hundred years after the trees had been harvested, pastures ranged high up the mountains. Old railroad beds, too, become visible in fall and early spring.
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Available from the Association, Route 10, Delhi