There is something special about taking a walk back in time. Uncovering the Catskills’ abundant history will take you on foot through the streets of the state’s first capital, it will land you on the doorstep of gracious homes that harbor accounts of events within their walls, or find you cycling or walking along a trail that honors, at every sign, the memory of small towns, once bustling, now gone. Immersing yourself in the history of this region is an experience that will make your visit or permanent stay even richer.
Along the way, you’ll follow in the footsteps of the region’s first settlers – the Iroquois, Delaware and Mohican Indians. Many towns, streets and creeks in the Catskill area carry American Indian names. You’ll also take in the beauty that inspired both painters and novelists in the 1800s, including Washington Irving, who set his famous folktale, “Rip Van Winkle” in the Catskills.
To get started, don your “comfy” walking shoes and visit these sites where history unfolds on foot. You’ll embark on a journey that has left its imprint on today.
Historical Huguenot Street
88 Huguenot Street,
New Paltz; 845.255.1660
Recognized as the oldest authentic street in America, the seven stone houses on Huguenot Street - part of New Paltz’s 10-acre National Historic Landmark District - span over 300 years of history. They were the homes of the Huguenots-- Calvinist Protestants who fled religious persecution in France and what is now southern Belgium, during the 17th century. At first, they built small wood houses, which were replaced in the 1700s with sturdier stone dwellings.
Today, you can visit all seven stone houses in their original village setting. Start at the DuBois Visitor Center, housed in a historic home that once served as a fort. You can purchase tour tickets at the center, browse special exhibitions and visit the museum shop.
Your walking tour of historic Huguenot Street will take you to the oldest surviving stone house, the original burial ground of the Huguenots, a reconstructed 1717 French church, and a house that is considered one of the best examples of Dutch stone architecture in the United States. Children will enjoy the replica of a wigwam that honors the area’s Esopus and Munsee Indian cultures.
Historic Huguenot Street is open through October. Check the website for information on guided and private tours. The website lists events, special programming and gives updated Covid 19 guidelines. Download the Historic Huguenot Street walking tour app – a must if you are visiting the street on your own. It provides a wealth of historical narrative on each site.
National Historic District
Friends of Historic Kingston
Corner of Wall and Main Streets
The Senate House
State Historic Site
296 Fair Street
Friends of the Senate House
The stockade walls are long gone, but the streets, as planned by Peter Stuyvesant, are just as they were in 1658. The historic Stockade section of Kingston was once home to a group of Dutch settlers who built its walls as protection from the Esopus Indians during a time of discord. Over 100 years later, the colony of New Netherland would become the first capital of New York state.
A walking tour of Kingston’s Stockade area will take you to some 22 sites, of which 15 are historic stone houses that replaced the early settlers’ wooden houses. At John and Crown streets, you will come to the only intersection in the U.S. where 18th century stone houses stand on all four corners.
To become oriented, visit the Friends of Historic Kingston’s headquarters in the Federal style - Fred J. Johnston House, 63 Main Street. Open May through October, the house has eight rooms of 18th and 19th century furnishings and decorative arts. Johnston was a collector of antiques and many are on display. Adjacent is a gallery presenting exhibits, lectures and programs related to local history.
Your walking tour of the Stockade will lead you to the Wessel Broeck House on Fair Street, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Stand in the room where the first elected Senate met. History was made here as colonists shaped a newly created government. Originally owned by Broeck, who emigrated from Westphalia, Germany in the 1600s, the house features colonial-era articles, furniture and portraits. Friends of the Historic Senate House maintain a website that lists hours, admission prices, tours and special events.
Continue on to Wall Street and the Ulster County Courthouse where the New York State Constitution was adopted in 1777. In the present courthouse, rebuilt in 1818, Chief Justice John Jay administered the oath of office to New York state’s first elected governor, George Clinton, whose gravesite you can visit just a few steps away in the Old Dutch Church’s cemetery.
Visit Friends of Historic Kingston’s website for information on tours of its Johnston House and gallery. Print out a must-have brochure from the website, listing all of the Stockade’s stone houses and historic buildings you will want to see.
Thomas Cole National History Site and The Hudson River School Art Trail
From the moment artist Thomas Cole sailed up the Hudson River in 1828 and saw the village of Catskill with its unspoiled Catskill Mountains landscape, he fell in love. Cole, then living in New York City, returned again and again to create paintings that would become the foundation for a whole new, uniquely American art movement – the Hudson River School of Art.
Today, you can enjoy the very same views that inspired Cole and his fellow landscape artists on a walk along the Hudson River Art Trail – a not-to-be-missed experience. You’ll discover the places in nature that are in paintings hanging today in major museums. The trail starts at Cole’s Cedar Grove house in the town of Catskill, where he lived with his wife from 1801-to 1848.
The main house and studio, now a national historic site, are open to the public with guided and self-guided tours offered Tuesday through Sunday from May through October. The minute you take in the breathtaking mountain views from the porch, you’ll understand why Cole devoted his career to landscape painting. The historic grounds and visitor center are open and free to the public every day from dawn to dusk. Year round, you can experience outdoor public artwork designed by two internationally renowned artists.
From Cedar Grove, one can explore over a dozen sites that connect you with the places in nature that Cole and Hudson River artists, among them Cole’s accomplished pupil, Frederic Church, made famous in their paintings. Be prepared to be inspired. Special markers are located at key sites so that visitors know which artist stopped to immortalize the view.
Before you visit, be sure you visit www.hudsonriverschool.org, where you will find a wealth of information, including suggested itineraries from which you can select a walk that will be just right for you. The website’s opening images will give you a taste of the experience to come, inviting you to step into a landscape.
90 County Route 42, Coxsackie;
Greene County is also home to the oldest house in Upstate New York. The 358-year-old house in Coxsackie was built in 1663 as a one-room stone structure by Swedish immigrant Pieter Bronck for his family. It was expanded by Bronck’s grandson in 1738 who built a brick house, connected to the original stone cottage by a hallway.
Eight generations of the Bronck family worked the land, until the last family owners gifted the house and farm with its outbuildings to the Greene County Historical Society, who have since maintained it as a museum. Both the original house and its 1738 addition are National Historic Landmark structures filled with 18th and 19th century art and furniture.
A walking tour of the museum’s buildings includes a visit to the Bronck barns, which are filled with Greene County and Catskill Mountain memorabilia. The barns, representing 276 years of changing agricultural practices, include a typical New World Dutch barn and the oldest multi-sided barn in New York. The visitor center gallery and a museum gift shop are located in one of the farm’s smaller agricultural buildings.
For additional information and to arrange a tour, visit the museum’s website: www.gchistory.org. Reservations and admission payment are made online.
From the moment you set foot along the Ashokan Rail Trail or cycle its 11.5 mile length through a corridor of tall trees, you have entered a different world – one that is surrounded by history. You can imagine hearing the echo of Native American footsteps as they hunted along the trail, or the click - clacking of train wheels as the Ulster & Delaware Railroad headed from Kingston’s Roundout, carrying passengers and goods to Oneonta.
Then, picture the small towns and villages with their railroad stations, churches and stores that were removed in the early 1900s to make way for the construction of a reservoir that would bring much-needed, clean drinking water to the population of a growing New York City, and the men, many of them immigrants, who labored to complete this massive engineering feat.
The Ashokan Rail Trail which opened in the Fall of 2019 is an experience like none other. The trail runs from West Hurley to Boiceville, along what was once the railroad right-of-way, providing spectacular views of the Ashokan Reservoir, against a background of the Catskills Mountains. You’ll be cycling or walking on a crushed-stone path, wider than most trails, that abounds with red maples, birch and eastern white pine trees on both sides.
You will travel through protected wetlands and onto a 525-foot boardwalk. The route crosses the historic 2,850-foot long, 60-foot tall Glenford Dike that enabled the passage of trains. Enter on the west end at the Woodstock Dike Trailhead in West Hurley. The trail runs all the way to Boiceville, where you can exit or access it at the Boiceville Bridge Trailhead. A third trailhead - the Ashokan Station Trailhead - is located in the center of the trail at Shokan. Those walking can opt to take in all or just one of the stretches between trailheads. There is ample parking at all three trailheads, and portable toilets.
Along the way, history unfolds. Historic plaques along the trail open windows to both train and reservoir history. As you take in the breathtaking views of the reservoir, you’ll learn about the communities lost to the building of the reservoir. Stone walls and foundations are still visible along the reservoir - reminders of the towns and villages that were displaced.
The Ashokan Rail Trail is open all year long from dawn to dusk. For more information visit www.ashokanrailtrail.com.
For another glorious view of the reservoir and the surrounding Catskill Mountains, don’t miss taking in the nearby Ashokan Promenade. There is no direct connection from the trail, so take route 28 to the Reservoir Bridge Road, which will lead you to the parking lot. Walk or cycle the two and a half mile stretch of promenade over the southern edge of the reservoir. Enjoy this impressive, peaceful setting and the absolutely breathtaking scenery.
The Delaware & Honesdale (D & L) Linear Park and Interpretive Center
It was America’s first million-dollar business. The War of 1812 created a shortage of soft coal due to the blockade of shipments from England. The project of building a canal to bring coal from Pennsylvania to New York’s Hudson River ports fell to Maurice and William Wurts (Wurtsboro is named in their honor) and financed by the then mayor of New York City, Philip Hone, (Honesdale, Pa. is named after him).
The Delaware & Honesdale Canal, which opened in 1828, was 108 miles long, stretching from Honesdale to Kingston, with 108 locks, 22 aqueducts, 136 bridges and 22 reservoirs. It closed in 1898, but didn’t entirely disappear. Sullivan County acquired 45 acres of land for a linear park and preserved a stretch of the old canal in the 1960s, filling it with water. Today, you can walk or cycle along the canal’s three-and-a-half-mile towpath and see the remains of the original locks, dry-dock and waste weirs; fish and canoe the waters of the canal.
Access to the park is from two points – the Hornbeck Basin and from Bova Road - both accessible off Route 209. Picnic tables, grills and portable toilets are available at both access points. The park is open all year from 8 a.m. until dusk. The interpretative center opens Memorial Day weekend. For more information visit: www.sullivan.us/Departments/ParkRecreation/DelawareHudson.
and more ...
There is so much history to explore in the Catskills...a historic district that you can walk to exists in almost every village and town.
For those looking for a way to experience the region’s beautiful rail trails, Rail Explorers offer unique pedal powered tours. The Catskills tour embarks four times daily, Thursdays through Mondays from the historic Phoenicia Railway Station, and travels eight miles along the Esopus Creek through the beautiful Catskill woods. An additional tour, called “The Milford Track,” embarks from Cooperstown. Visit www.railexplorers.net for more information.
With so many changes brought about by the pandemic over the past two years, be sure to check the websites listed to confirm days and hours of operation and information on current Covd 19 regulations.
1633 Burroughs Memorial Road
John Burroughs, celebrated naturalist, loved the Catskills. “These hills comfort me as no other place in the world,” he once wrote. An avid traveler, he would return time and again to his summer home in Roxbury - Woodchuck Lodge - a house built by his older brother Curtis in 1866 on the east end of the family farm. The Burroughs’ homestead, where both boys grew up, was just a mile up the road from the lodge. It was here that Burroughs learned the rhythms of nature that were to inspire the more than 27 books and philosophical nature essays he wrote. In retirement, Burroughs made Woodchuck Lodge his permanent home. “These hills fathered and mothered me, why should I not go back to them in my last years?” Today, free guided tours of the lodge are offered the first weekend of the month. You can also explore the grounds around the house on foot, along the Trout Lily Trail just behind Woodchuck Lodge. A second trail, known as the Boyhood Rock, named for the boulder where young John would sit and daydream, is a pleasant walk from the house. It will take you to the John Burroughs Memorial Field State Historic Site, where you will find an outdoor exhibit that recounts highlights of Burroughs’ life and work. A marked path leads you to his burial site – a place to sit and rest while enjoying the view and savoring the silence.
Since 2017, John Burroughs’ Woodchuck Lodge has been holding a series of free events called Wild Saturdays, featuring lectures by guest speakers, as well as musical events. This season’s events, held outdoors at 1 p.m. (bring a lawn chair), starts with a talk by Justin Wexler on the Hidden Native History of the Catskills and ends in October with “rock-solid” information on the region’s geological history by Robert and Johanna Titus. On Aug. 6, locally known Story Laurie will appear on the lodge’s front porch with Catskill Mountain stories and folk music.
For the full schedule of Wild Saturday events and information on touring Woodchuck Lodge, visit www.jbwoodchucklodge.org.
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