What’s distinctive about GreeneLand? A documentary film-maker, Jonathan Donald, addressed that question in connection with planning a television mini-series. As reported last September in Seeing Greene, Mr Donald (www.jonathandonaldproductions.com ) plans to tap “notable speakers; heirs of the earliest families; live action photography of popular entertainments; old photographs; period drawings and engravings; and famous paintings” in depicting “the unique history of Greene County and events that shaped the commercial and artistic history of the early nation.” For this project Mr Donald compiled an inventory of distinctions. With his permission we have adapted that outline to shape an overview of the GreeneLand’s historical significance.
►Active agent in Hudson River history and witness to its great events, including passage of the Half Moon and its fateful encounter with Indians followed by centuries of river trade and a 150-year-long parade of day and night liners bearing tourists to Catskill Point and the mountains beyond.
►Archaeology, pre-dating by 10,000 years the arrival of Henry Hudson.
Principal source of flint for spear points used by Paleo-Indians in Eastern North America to hunt mastodons and other giant prehistoric animals.
►Literary setting for James Fenimore Cooper stories of the fabled Mohican tribe and for Rip Van Winkle and other stories by Washington Irving, America’s first great writer in the Romantic tradition.
►One of few areas to be granted a patent (the Bronck patent, 1662)), after settlement of Fort Orange and New Amsterdam. Some Dutch pioneered in the area without benefit of a patent by 1649 and, even earlier, agents of the powerful Rensselaerwyck patroonship attempted to settle Catskill illegally.
►Bronck House (Coxsackie, 1663) is oldest New York State house still standing.
►Catskill, as county seat and river port, became New York’s most important commercial center outside Albany and New York City when, by1810, the Susquehanna Turnpike became the first east-west road connecting its mills and shipping, with the Susquehanna River and wheat-producing regions of central New York. Continuing across the Hudson to Connecticut, the turnpike also sent wheat to New England’s interior.
►Art Mecca. Center of America’s first native school of art. Thomas Cole, founder in the 1830s of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, lived and worked here and was patronized by Lumen Reed, patriarch of a Coxsackie family of merchants.
►Tourist Mecca. With construction of the enormous, architecturally fine Catskill Mountain House, GreeneLand became, in the first third of the 19th century, America’s first tourist destination. Other big hotels (the Kaaterskill, Laurel House) arose later, accommodating European royalty, presidents, artists, merchant princes, and lesser escapees from the lowland summer’s heat and humidity. River boats, coaches, steam trains and an ingenious cog railway provided access to the heights. Elsewhere in the county, smaller hotels and boarding houses flourished until World War II.
►Commerce and industry. Exemplifying the vaunted American “can do” spirit, GreeneLanders plunged into logging, grain mills, paper mills, sawmills, the nation’s largest tannery, the country’s first malleable iron works, shipping and ship-building, commercial fishing, agricultural lime production, brick making, gas manufacturing…. The Winter ice industry on the Hudson was at one time rural New York State’s biggest money maker.
►Genealogy. Descendants of pioneering old families (Lampman, Houghtaling, VanSlyke, Van Loan, Rappelyea, O’Hara, Du Bois, Overbaugh….) make GreeneLand a time capsule of early America.
►Famous lawsuit. Aaron Burr helped Catskill resident Augustine Prevost in his dispute with William Cooper, who was represented by Alexander Hamilton. Their clash was one of several encounters that led to the fateful duel…
►Architecture. A great array of styles: Dutch/Medieval, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, Queene Anne, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, Craftsman….
►Migration waves. African-American slaves became “half free” and their families multiplied during Dutch period, but free black population shrank under the English, who had fewer scruples about slavery. Influx of Connecticut Yankees after Revolutionary War; then of Irish with the building of Erie Canal, then, around 1910, of Italians, followed by Germans and more Irish. (Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural Centre named after former chief of New York City transit workers’ union).
To illuminate these matters Mr Donald aims to interview a Mohican who wilI describe the tribe’s storied ancestors and the world that was altered so dramatically by arrival of Henry Hudson and the Dutch. County Historian Ray Beecher will describe the great scope of the County’s attempt to trump the economic clout of the Erie Canal. Bob Hallock, president of the Greene County Historical Society, will tell us how the County came by its name (for one of General George Washington’s best fighting generals, who may not have ever seen this part of New York). Charles Gehring of the NY State Library and an uthority on 17th century Dutch language, and author Russell Shorto (The Island at the Center of the World ) telling about the Danish Broncks and the early Dutch settlers in Coxsackie. Carrie Feder and Randy Evans, professional restoration architects, telling how the 1710 Van Loon house in Athens, through alterations made over nine generations, reveals the county’s changing history. John Bonafide of the New York State Historic Trust, an authority on New York State architecture, will show us the building styles that span two hundred years. Historian Ted Hilscher, on the county’s sturdy and beautiful Dutch and English barns. Betsy Jacks, director of The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, on the Hudson River School of Art and sites where Cole, Frederick Church, Asher Durand and others painted their great landscapes. David Barnes, docent of the New-York Historical Society, will recall the world in and around Catskill where America’s first novelists, along with poet William Cullen Bryant and painter Thomas Cole, gathered to exchange ideas. “Old Timers” like Cliff Baldwin who remember ice harvesting and ship building in New Baltimore, Athens and Catskill, and farms, tanneries, brick works, paper mills and saw mills in the interior towns of Greenville, Prattsville and the countryside. In this connection we will meet other historically connected people with long memories.