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Map of Greene County
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Early Greene County History
- Formed from Albany and Ulster March 25, 1800, Greene County comprises the most of that famous mountain resort area, known as the Catskills. It is on the west bank of the Hudson, about thirty miles south of Albany, and has an area of 686 square miles. The relatively low bank of the river rises through a set of hills with an abrupt ascent to the mountains. Here the Catskills reach heights of 3,000 to nearly 4,000 feet above the sea level, and on their east and north sides are almost precipitous and cliff-like in their descents. The western slopes are more gentle in their rolling uplands, and it is in this part of the county that agriculture has attained some importance. Much of the soil is so rocky that when Horace Greeley was addressing the farmers of the county, and was interrupted with a question as to what one could do on land in which a plow could not be used, he answered simply, "Raise sheep."
The mountains have clefts through which the streams make their ways, known as "cloves," many of them having cliffs a thousand feet high, with a swirling brook or creek racing its way down the mountainside in splendid cascades. These "cloves" were the original roads of the Indians through the Onteoras, the "Mountains of the Sky," as they called the Catskills. And it was through these same gaps that the pioneers of the region made their way. Today the various cloves are one of the most interesting features of the mountains, and the attraction to thousands who every summer flock to the hills.
Besides agriculture, which in Greene takes the form of hay, milk, fruit and vegetable growing, there are few industries. Probably there is no county in the State that has had more disruptions of its industrial life. Before the opening of the Erie Canal a great part of the commerce of the western part of the State poured through Greene. The old Indian trails became the thoroughfares by which the products of the region reaching even to Lake Erie were brought to the Hudson. Catskill village was not only a great grain market, but the flour mills at the falls of the Catskill Creek were the most important in New York. Canals and railroads confined the trade of Greene County to those living in it. When new methods of tanning were put into use, just after the War of 1812 tanners bought great tracts of hemlock in the Catskills and built extensive leather making plants. It is said that Greene County made more leather in the few years before 1835 than was produced by all the rest of the State. But the trees were destroyed and when the needed bark was no longer to be gotten, tanning moved into adjoining counties or went West. The busy, well-populated villages of that day dwindled in size almost as rapidly as they grew. Only the influx of tourists and summer visitors of recent times have kept many of the hamlets from utterly disappearing. One great benefit came from the tanning and lumbering operations of the early days. The land denuded of its forest growth was to a greater extent than usual put under cultivation, so that even where the soil has been abandoned to a second growth of trees, the new forests are the better for the period of farming.
When the region now enclosed by the boundaries of Greene County had its first settler is not surely known. Areas of its surface were bought by the Dutchmen from the Indians from time to time, but there was little effort on their part to people the tracts. A statement by Jonathan W. Hasbrouk says that Brandt Van Schechtenhorst purchased from an Indian squaw chief a piece of land at Katskill April 19, 1649, and shortly after induced families to locate on it. There are evidences that there were a number of residents of the county, principally Dutch, before the Revolution, but that disturbance also disturbed them, and there seems to have been a general exodus at that time. The "Hardenburgh Patent," granted by Queen Anne in 1708, covered almost all of the county west of the mountains, and litigation over its lines did much to retard immigration into the region. Stephen Day, of Connecticut, secured a large tract of the Hardenburgh land at some early date, which led to the coming of quite a group from this State, who in a measure took the place of the displaced Dutch.
Lack of the means of traveling about the region naturally held the growth of the district in check. Fortunately there were enough private individuals with faith enough in the section to form companies and build roads, or "turnpikes," and it was the private turnpike, rather than the State road, that opened up this hilly area. The Susquehanna, Little Delaware, Coxsackie, and a dozen others, were all put into commission in the third of a century following the year 1811. Stage routes were established, and one of these, started by Erastus Beach, in 1823, was the first to make it easy for the tourist to enter the Catskills. Of railroads there have always been plenty in Greene-upon paper-but the actual length of tracks in the county is probably not seventy-five miles.
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PLUS -- Each of these sections has different books on the same region:
- Town & County
- Native American
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