Mountaintop Historical Society Holds Archives Day

One of the older buildings on the MTHS campus in Haines Falls

The Balladeers were delightful to hear.

The weather for this year’s Mountaintop Historical Society’s Open House–called Archives Day this year–could hardly have been more different from 2011, when the lashing rains of Hurricane Irene arrived right in the middle of the events. Now, Saturday August 25 was bright and sunny, perfect weather for this annual outdoor event. The 77th New York Regimental Balladeers gave stirring and thoroughly enjoyable renditions of Civil War-era songs, the MTHS archives were on display in the Visitors Center for all to see, and well-known local geologist Dr.

Local historian and author John M. Ham poses with his latest book. The quality of the B&W photos in this one is amazing.

Robert Titus presented a highly informative (and illustrated) lecture on the geological aspects of Hurricane Irene. Far from being information for information’s sake, what Dr. Titus had to say was vital knowledge for town planners if similar disasters are to be avoided in future.

I encourage you to check out the MTHS by visiting their website. Located in Haines Falls along Route 23A, the MTHS campus is easy to find and a delight to visit. They frequently offer interesting programs, including hikes. If you live near the area or enjoy driving

Cheerful, dedicated volunteers serve food!

through Kaaterskill Clove (or up the scenic Route 214 to the west), I think you’ll enjoy the MTHS. Why not become a member?

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Margaretville Stages a Comeback

You have to say this for the intrepid people of the Western Catskills: When first Hurricane Irene and then the October snowstorm struck the area like a one-two punch in 2011, they weren’t content to sit around wallowing in self-pity, waiting for folks from the outside to come in and rescue them from the devastation. No, they immediately set to work organizing their own relief efforts, collecting food, clothes, and money, and working with whatever agencies were in place to assist.

What a difference a few short weeks make. When I visited on Easter Sunday, April 8, the Freshtown Supermarket, which had been completely inundated with water so that even the CVS right next to it completely collapsed and left a gaping hole, had not yet reopened. The Cheese Barrel, a popular restaurant and food store, had relocated to temporary premises in the old Galli-Curci Theater across Main Street; the owners were hoping to be back in their original home by Memorial Day Weekend or in early June at the latest. And in Arkville to the east, the Delaware and Ulster tourist railroad was still busy reconstructing in hopes of being open in time for the summer season.

Fast forward to mid-June and here’s what I found. The Freshtown Supermarket, looking all bright and new, reopened on May 23! The Cheese Barrel is indeed back in its original home. And the Delaware and Ulster tourist railroad is back in business, taking people for rides along the historic railway tracks on Saturdays and Sundays.

The CVS, which relocated to new premises following the complete collapse of their original building next to Freshtown after Hurricane Irene, is still in those premises. Whether they intend to stay there or to rebuild on the original site, I don’t know; perhaps someone reading this blog can tell me.

This report wouldn’t be complete without a big thank-you as well for New York State’s Governor Andrew Cuomo for being right in the thick of things, visiting these devastated sites and galvanizing all the agencies to do everything possible, ASAP, to help these brave and resourceful people to help themselves. Kudos to the people of Margaretville and Arkville and to Governor Cuomo. And did I mention that the main bridge into picturesque little Phoenicia is now reopened?

Boiceville Rises Again

ImageThe entreaty that we read in more than one of the Psalms, “God, save me, pull me free from the raging waters,” could all too easily be applied to several towns and villages along Ulster County’s Route 28. Boiceville is one of those towns. In the early twentieth century, the original site of Boiceville was one of several in the Esopus Valley that were moved or destroyed in order to make room for the Ashokan Reservoir. The valley would be flooded to create a water supply for the burgeoning population of New York City, 120 miles to the south. A meticulously researched film by area resident and professional filmmaker Tobe Carey documents this event in heartbreaking detail.

ImageIn a sense, Boiceville was one of the fortunate towns. It was relocated, while several of the others were demolished without a trace. Today when you drive along Route 28, you can see signs indicating the former sites of the Esopus Valley towns that either disappeared or were displaced.

The flooding of the Esopus Valley for the AshokanImage Reservoir was not the last water threat to ravage this Ulster County area. In August 2011 Hurricane Irene devastated towns from Phoenicia to as far west as Margaretville and Prattsville. The recovery still goes on.

Last week I drove out to Boiceville, chiefly in search of the viewpoint from which the nineteenth-century landscape artist Asher B. Durand painted his masterpiece High Point: Shandaken Mountains. We had located it at approximately the point at which Routes 28 and 28A meet, which happens to be where Boiceville begins.

I’m not certain whether I found the exact spot for Durand’s painting, but I did find a Boiceville recently risen from the effects of Irene. Why, I wondered, did the local florist display a sign that so insistently proclaimed that he was open?  Then when I pulled up to the parking lot for the Boiceville IGA Market and other businesses and saw the huge signs thanking the community and the volunteers, the light bulb went off in my head. Wanting to support the local economy, I went into the market, bought some delicious rolls and deli meats, and began chatting with the locals. Sure enough, the supermarket had been closed for eight weeks until the Irene waters that had flooded the store’s basement and main floor could be cleared. And the florist–he had only just reopened after the hurricane had taken its toll. The Rotary Club helped to coordinate massive relief and fundraising efforts, to the extent that $12,000 still remains to be distributed, in 2012, to people who still need it.

ImageThe need still persists.  And so does the existence of these amazing communities who rally, coordinate, and cooperate in order, with God’s help, to pull themselves from the raging waters.

My collection of Favorite Photos of 2011 is now up on my website in its own gallery, Several of the photos, of course, are from the Hudson Valley. I invite you to visit my website to check them out. If you wish to purchase any prints, I’m offering a 10% discount on all purchase with a minimum order of $10.00.  Just use Coupon Code NYSP12; valid until January 31, 2012.

Flood-drenched Hudson Valley needs help

TrailThese aren’t pretty pictures. They’re not meant to be. I took them yesterday during a trip to photograph the Saugerties Lighthouse, after which I drove to Highland and walked the Walkway Over the Hudson.

As I was driving from central Saugerties toward the trailhead for the lighthouse, I became dimly aware of what seemed to be brown water below and parallel to the road. Later, as I drove over a bridge that had a sign identifying this water, I learned, to my shock, that this brown water was the Esopus Creek. The Esopus Creek! — usually a picturesque stream, sporting ground for many who enjoy the sport of tubing, now a muddy brown assailant that has been the subject of many an official New York State Flooding Alert in recent days, inundated the pretty, historic village of Phoenicia, and wreaked damage elsewhere in Ulster County, one of three New York counties hardest-hit by Irene.

Stopping on the Thruway north at Plattekill, I made my usual purchase from the Grey Mouse Farm stand there and asked them how they fared after the storm. Not great, they said, but they do the best they can. Grey Mouse Farm is located off Route 32 near Saugerties. More heroic people carrying on after this disaster.At Lighthouse

While photographing Saugerties Lighthouse I met and spoke with the lighthouse keeper.  They now have their power back but the half-mile trail leading to the lighthouse is a disaster area, as you can see from this photo.  The wooden plank boardwalks are buckled and covered with trash that floated in from the flooded river. He asked me to get the word out: If anyone lives nearby and is willing to bring some trash bags and help clear the debris, your help is urgently needed and he would be most grateful. And please–wear waterproof boots.

MargaretvilleOne of the fellow hikers I spoke with had been out the previous day to help at Margaretville, that beautiful Western Catskill town where I recently made some vintage images of the Main Street stores. When I asked him how it was there he just shook his head: All gone, it’s completely gone, there is nothing.  They’re waiting for FEMA to come in and assess the damage. My memory is haunted by the friendly Irish face of the nice man who had recently moved into the area with his wife and children to start up the Bed and Bath Shoppe, where we bought some lovely towels and things. Down the road, a shop where a woman sold me a hand-knitted pair of special gloves to wear when I photograph in the winter: the tops unbutton to free my fingers to work the camera controls. The only supermarket in town, where on a rainy Sunday we bought a few things for a pre-dinner beer party in one of our rooms at the nearby Hanah Mountain Resort–“Half of the supermarket is completely washed away,” my fellow hiker told me.

These pictures were taken from the Walkway over the Hudson, the newest of New York’s State Parks. At 1.28 miles long, it offers a hefty walk as well as memorable views of the Hudson. Right now it also offers views of the results of Hurricane Irene: Here you see the damage and the garbage piled up on the shore near the village of Highland, and the other photo shows the “Lordly Hudson,” now brown and with lots of this green debris floating in it.

If you wish to help but can neither grab your tools or trash bags and offer physical help nor live close enough to donate household items and food at one of the many collection stations, here is a website with suggestions for sending monetary donations.  For the Western Catskills, here is another site with updates on the situation and places to donate.

Stopped at a traffic light on my way out of Saugerties yesterday I was glad to note that the Saugerties Reformed Church was holding a worship service today for the victims of 9/11 and of Hurricane Irene. While no one will ever forget the pain and suffering inflicted literally out of the clear blue sky on that infamous day ten years ago, please let’s remember that our neighbors in rural New York who struggle to earn a living by serving people through their farms and their shops and motels also need our prayers and concern and our help.