Catskill Mountains: Wikis


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Catskill Mountains
Slide Mountain and the peaks around it as seen from Twin Mountain in the northern Catskills.
Country United States
State New York
Region Hudson Valley
Counties Ulster, Greene, Sullivan, Delaware, Schoharie
Borders on Poconos, Shawangunk Ridge
Communities Hunter, Tannersville, Monticello, Liberty
Highest point Slide Mountain
 - elevation 4,180 ft (1,274 m)
 - coordinates 41°59′55″N 74°23′11″W / 41.99861°N 74.38639°W / 41.99861; -74.38639
Length 111 mi (179 km), N/S
Width 102 mi (164 km), E/W
Area 15,259 km2 (5,892 sq mi)
Geology Sedimentary
Period Devonian, Mississippian
Map of the main regions of the northeast Appalachians, with the Catskills as "C".

The Catskill Mountains, an area in New York State northwest of New York City and southwest of Albany, are a mature dissected plateau, an uplifted region that was subsequently eroded into sharp relief. They are an eastward continuation, and the highest representation, of the Allegheny Plateau.[1] They are sometimes considered an extension of the Appalachian Mountains into Upstate New York, although they are not geologically related. The Catskills are west of the Hudson River and lie within the bounds of six counties (Otsego, Delaware, Sullivan, Schoharie, Greene, and Ulster). The Catskill Mountains are also considered a physiographic section of the larger Appalachian Plateau province, which in turn is part of the larger Appalachian physiographic division.[2]



At the eastern end of the range the mountains begin quite dramatically with the Catskill Escarpment rising up suddenly from the Hudson Valley. The western boundary is far less certain, as the mountains gradually decline in height and grade into the rest of the Allegheny Plateau. Nor is there a consensus on where the Catskills end to the north or south, with it being certain only that by the time one reaches either I-88, the Delaware River or the Shawangunk Ridge that one is no longer in the Catskills.

Whether you are in the Catskills or not in these peripheral regions seems to be as much a matter of personal preference as anything else as an old saying in the region — "When you have two rocks for every dirt, you are in the Catskills" — seems to suggest.

Many visitors, including owners of weekend or vacation homes in the region, seem to consider almost anything sufficiently rural west of the Hudson yet within a short drive of New York City to be in the Catskills.

The Poconos, to the immediate southwest in Pennsylvania, are technically a continuation of the Catskills under a different name. The Catskills contain more than thirty peaks above 3,500 feet and parts of six important rivers. The highest mountain, Slide Mountain in Ulster County, has an elevation of 4,180 feet (1,274 m).

Within the range is the Catskill Park, part of New York's Forest Preserve. Not all the land is publicly owned; about 60% remains in private hands, but new sections are added frequently. Most of the park and the preserve are within Ulster County; however Greene County accounts for a significant portion as well and there are areas in Sullivan and Delaware counties too.


Picture of fire tower in the Catskills in the early 1900's

Originally, the mountains' name was spelled "Kaatskil" by the 17th Century Dutch settlers - a spelling still attested in Washington Irving's "Rip van Winkle", taking place in this area and emphasizing the Dutch origin of the earlier European settlers there. The old spelling is still used in various names such as that of the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope at Mount Tremper and the locally-published "Kaatskill Life" magazine.

During the nineteenth century, the region became a destination for wealthy urbanites seeking vacation retreats from New York City. The mountains of the Catskills and the lower Hudson Valley inspired the Hudson River School of painters and drew international attention. At the same time, the region was heavily farmed and logged, losing much of its once-impressive old-growth forest.

In the twentieth century, efforts to preserve the region's character resulted in the creation of the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve. The Catskills' reputation as a vacation destination continued, and by mid-century much of the area was dotted with summer resorts and campgrounds. Many ethnic groups from New York City, including Germans, Czechs, Jews, established summer resorts in the region, in some cases along the nearby Shawangunk ridge near the town of New Paltz. The larger Jewish resorts (such as Kutsher's, Brown's, and Grossinger's) together became known as the "Borscht Belt," where many comics and musicians got their start in show business. (Some facetiously referred to the Catskills as the "Jewish Alps".) Although this ethnic tradition has mostly disappeared since the 1960s, the Borscht Belt reputation is still considered part of the Catskills' heritage, and some of the classic resorts still remain. Farther north, throughout the 20th century, more traditional large-scale resorts, country-style inns and lodges enjoyed success as well. In addition, the Catskills have long been the summer home to thousands of kids and adults attending the area's sleep-away camps, including Camp Ma-Ho-Ge, Anawana, Chipinaw, Ranger, Kennybrook, Swan Lake, Sequoia, Debruce, Timber Lake West, Brookwood, Ta-Go-La, Kennybrook, Roosevelt, Tremper Lutheran, Lakonda, Olympus, Camp Diana-Dalmaqua, Camp Omega, Camp Shane, The Frost Valley YMCA (YMCA Frost Valley) and many more.

In recent years, a few small-scale resorts have begun to return to the area, catering to outdoor adventurers and winter snow-sport enthusiasts.

Kaaterskill Falls on Spruce Creek near Palenville, New York. Highest falls in New York. Two separate falls total 260 feet


The history of the Catskill Mountains is a geologic story come full circle, from erosion, deposition and uplift back to erosion. The Catskill Mountains are more of a dissected plateau than a series of mountain ranges. The sediments that make up the rocks in the Catskills were deposited when the ancient Acadian Mountains in the east were rising and subsequently eroding. The sediments traveled westward and formed a great delta into the sea that was in the area at that time.

The eastern escarpment of the Catskill Mountains are near the former (landward) edge of this delta, as the sediments deposited in the northeastern areas along the escarpment were deposited above sea level by moving rivers and the Acadian Mountains were located roughly where the Taconics are located today (though significantly larger). The further west you travel, the finer the sediment that was deposited and thus the rocks change from gravel conglomerates to sandstones and shales. Even further west, these fresh water deposits intermingle with shallow marine sandstones and shales until the end in deeper water limestones.

The uplift and erosion of the Acadian Mountains was occurring during the Devonian and early Mississippian period (395 to 325 million years ago). Over that time, thousands of feet of these sediments built up, slowly moving the Devonian seashore further and further west. A meteor impact occurred in the shallow sea approximately 375 mya creating a 10 km (6 mi) diameter crater. This crater eventually filled with sediments and became Panther Mountain through the process of uplift and erosion.

By the middle of the Mississippian period, the uplift stopped and the Acadian Mountains had been eroded so much that sediments no longer flowed across the Catskill Delta.

Over time the sediments were buried by more sediments from other areas until the original Devonian and Mississippian sediments were deeply buried and slowly became solid rock. Then the entire area experienced uplift, which caused the sedimentary rocks to begin to erode. Today, those upper sedimentary rocks have been completely removed, allowing the Devonian and Mississippian rocks to be exposed. Today’s Catskills are a result of the continued erosion of these rocks, both by streams and in the recent past by glaciers.

Some traces of the most recent sedimentary layers remain for the discerning eye to discover, however. Even along the glacially-scoured eastern escarpment and in the upper Hudson Valley just below it -- not to mention the glacial till-dumps and occasional terminal moraines of the southern-facing mountain slopes and valleys of the eastern and central Catskills -- fragments of quartzite ranging from bright white, banded orange and tan, to deep red and dark gray are found. Many if not most of these are no more than 6" thick, have two flat sides and are without inclusions of other native rock, e.g., gray or blue sandstone ("bluestone"), most likely indicating the presence of a shallow, wave-beaten sandy delta or beach area at the base of the Acadian ranges in the delta's final stages of sedimentation. That sand layer, mostly free of silt (hence less opaque than older layers formed with higher concentrations of silt and mud under deeper water at more remote reaches of the delta) formed one or more upper layers of the delta. With compression and time, thin layers of sandstone formed of which only the here-mentioned fragments of sandstone remain now though in comparative abundance, if one measures their frequency against those of glacial erratics of similar size and shape which are typically metamorphic in origin (e.g., feldspars, granites, basalts), which most likely originated in the geologically complex region of the Adirondacks to the north. Such sandstones and erratics are frequently found collocated in cairns and other anomalous rock arrangements of the Eastern Catskills.

Platte Clove, a break in the Escarpment created by glacial action.

In successive Ice Ages, both valley and continental glaciers have widened the valleys and the notches of the Catskills and rounded the mountains. Grooves and scratches in exposed bedrock provides evidence of the great sheets of ice that once traversed through the region. Even today the erosion of the mountains continue, with the region’s rivers and streams deepening and widening the mountains’ valleys and cloves.


Views of the Catskills from the Hudson like this led to the name "Blue Mountains" for a time.

The name "Catskills" did not come into wide popular use for the mountains until the mid-19th century — in fact, that name was disparaged by purists as too plebeian, too reminiscent of the area's Dutch colonial past, especially since it was used by the local farming population. It may also have been a continuation of the British practice, after taking possession of the colony in the late 17th century, of trying to replace most Dutch Knickerbocker toponyms in present-day New York with their English alternatives. The locals preferred to call them the Blue Mountains, to harmonize with Vermont's Green Mountains and New Hampshire's White Mountains. It was only after Washington Irving's stories that Catskills won out over Blue Mountains, and several other competitors.

While the meaning of the name ("cat creek" in Dutch) and the namer (early Dutch explorers) are settled matters, exactly how and why the area is named is a mystery. Mountain Lions or "Catamounts" were known to have been in the area when the Dutch arrived in the 1600s[3].

The most common, and easiest, is that bobcats were seen near Catskill creek and the present-day village of Catskill, and the name followed from there. However there is no record of bobcats ever having been seen in significant numbers on the banks of the Hudson, and the name Catskill does not appear on paper until 1655, more than four decades later.

Other theories include:

  • A corruption of kasteel, the Dutch sailors' term for the Indian stockades they saw on the riverbank. According to one Belgian authority, kat occurs in many placed names throughout Flanders and has nothing to do with cats and everything to do with fortifications.[citation needed]
  • It was to honor Dutch poet Jacob Cats, who was also known for his real estate prowess, profiting from speculation in lands reclaimed from the sea.
  • A ship named The Cat had gone up the Hudson shortly before the name was first used. In nautical slang of the era, cat could also mean a piece of equipment, or a particular type of small vessel.
  • It has also been suggested that it refers to lacrosse, which Dutch visitors had seen the Iroquois natives play. Kat can also refer to a tennis racket, which a lacrosse stick resembles, and the first place the Dutch saw this, further down the river in the present-day Town of Saugerties, they gave the name Kaatsbaan, for "tennis court," which is still on maps today.
  • The Mohicans roamed the woods of New England during the 1700s. A Mohican tribe supposedly inhabited the area known as the Catskills today, led by a Mohican chief named Cat.
  • When white men first arrived in the Catskills, an Indian fort was on the banks of the Catskill. In The Netherlands, the term “Kat” refers to a fortification.

The confusion over the exact origins of the name led over the years to variant spellings such as Kaatskill and Kaaterskill, both of which are also still used, the former in the regional magazine Kaatskill Life, the latter as the name of a town, creek, clove, mountain and waterfall.

The supposed Indian name for the range, Onteora or "land in the sky," was actually created by a white man in the mid-19th century to drum up business for a resort. It, too, persists today as the name of a school district and as the name of a Boy Scout summer camp.

In culture

October in the Catskills by Sanford Robinson Gifford.

The Catskills are famous in American cultural history for being the site of the so-called Borscht Belt, a Jewish resort area where many young Jewish stand-up comics got their start.

The Catskill mountains and their inhabitants play an important role in the stories My Side of the Mountain and its sequels by Jean Craighead George and in H. P. Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear" & "Beyond the Wall of Sleep".

The town of Palenville located in the Catskills figures in Washington Irving's story as the home of "Rip Van Winkle".

The Catskills are mentioned in The Band's song "Time to Kill." The Band was also photographed there for their first album, Music from Big Pink The Band in the Catskills.

The Catskills are also mentioned in Beck's song "High Five (Rock the Catskills)" on his 1996 album Odelay.

Mercury Rev's song "Opus 40" on their 1998 album Deserter's Songs contains the line "Catskill mansions buried dreams/ I'm alive she cried but I don't know what it means". The band and their studios are based in the Catskills, and the area is often referred to in interview.

The Catskills are mentioned as well in Pela's song "Rooftops (Moth Song Outro)" on their 2007 album Anytown Graffiti.

Much of the present-day (as of publication) action of Art Spiegelman's award-winning graphic novel Maus is set in the Catskills.

Kid Rock Mentions The Catskills In His Song 'Low Life'

The Catskills is the setting for much of the King of Queens episode "Paint Misbehavin'."

A Home Box Office miniseries is planned that will dramatize the a New York magazine article on natural gas drillers coming to the region. Richard Russo, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is writing a script for the project.[4]


Films set, or filmed in, the Catskills

See also


External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CATSKILL (formerly [[Kaatskil) Mountains]], a group of moderate elevation pertaining to the Alleghany Plateau, and not properly included in the Appalachian system of North America because they lack the internal structures and the general parallelism of topographic features which characterize the Appalachian ranges. The group contains many summits above 3000 ft. elevation and half a dozen approaching 4000, Slide Mountain (4205 ft.), and Hunter Mountain (4025 ft.), being the only ones exceeding that figure. The bottom lands along the creeks which drain the mountains, together with rolling uplands rising to elevations of from 1500 to 2000 ft., are under cultivation, the mountain slopes being forested or devoted to grazing. The pure and cool atmosphere attracts summer visitors, for whose accommodation many hotels have been built, some of which have become celebrated. Stoney Clove and Kaaterskill Clove are picturesque gorges, the former being traversed by a railway, and the latter containing three cascades having a total fall of about 300 ft. The growing need of New York City for an increased watersupply has driven her engineers to the Catskills, where several great reservoirs have been projected to supplement those of the Croton watershed.

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