The historic village of Catskill
The records of present-day Catskill date from 1649. At that time, Brant Arent van Slichtenhorst and other Dutch colonist agents for the Patroon of Rensselaerwyck (present-day Albany) purchased a parcel of land from Pewsasck, a Mohican woman who was chief of the local tribe, and her son, Supahoof. The recorded price was a coat of beaver, a knife and 17 ½ ells of duffel (a duffel was a type of European cloth, and an ell was a unit of measure equaling three quarters of a yard). Pewsasck and her people lived near the creek on land that included a portion bounded by Main, Greene & Bridge Streets in today’s village. Another purchase in 1684 from the Esopus people (a Lenape tribe) by Gysbert uyt den Bogaert included the land east of the creek and the Hans Vosen Kill, a tributary.
In the late 1700s, farmers, entrepreneurs, laborers, lumbermen, and land developers of English, Irish, German and other descent migrated to the area, fueling a boom. In 1796, there were ten houses in the village. In 1806, just ten years later, there were over 200. That same year, the village of Catskill was incorporated and officially designated.
Catskill Landing, at the East end of present-day Main Street, where the Catskill Creek meets the Hudson River, became a convenient landing harbor for sail and steam-powered vessels supporting local industry and transporting products such as tanned leather, ice, hay, bricks and fabric, supplying buyers in destinations such as New York City. The village was named the seat for surrounding Greene County, a designation that still exists today.
Beyond industry, in the 19th century Catskill also saw a gradual increase of city-weary dwellers seeking fresh air. Landscape painters of the Hudson River School captured the vistas of the area, suggesting the grandeur of America. During that time, Catskill became known as the gateway to the Catskill Mountains. Passengers would land there from Hudson River steamers and board stages that took them up precarious mountain roads to the Catskill Mountain House and other resorts.
In the late 1800s, narrow gauge railways originating in the village took passengers to the Otis Elevating Railway, a funicular that shuttled guests straight up the mountain to the various large resorts atop North and South Mountains.
The rise of the industrial age brought changes and economic challenges to the village. The ice industry declined due to refrigeration technology. Fishing became limited due to to industrial pollution. Train and truck transport replaced commercial river traffic, and driving or flying gave vacationers more travel options, so the mountain resorts declined.
In recent decades, Catskill has experienced a wave of reinvention, driven by local investment and regional tourism. Charming buildings, details and views from Catskill’s past can still be found. In 1982, much of the east side of the village was designated as a Historic District in the National Register. The village’s Main Street remains largely intact, with storefronts at street level and residences above. Traces of the narrow gauge railway still exist throughout the village, and its former prosperity is evidenced by its grand homes.
Main Street is delightful in all seasons, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers who plant and care for its flowers and trees and install seasonal decorations. Many projects are done under the aegis of a local non-profit, Cultivate Catskill. To learn more about recent projects or volunteer to help, see: https://cultivatecatskill.org.
We are continually updating the history of the town, so if you have information or resources to contribute, please get in touch!