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Introductory

From "The Illustration Of The Catskill Mountains" (1881)
By H. Schile

Much has been said in praise of the beautiful Hudson, and her picturesque Highlands. This river is deservedly called the "Rhine of America." But the tourist must not lose sight of the gorgeous Catskills! The overwhelming influence of the beauty one's eye encounters, in descending the Hudson is, for a time, agree ably set to rest by the gentle hills of Newburgh, thus varying the effect produced by the ever-recurring Highlands, but almost leading one to forget that the most impressive scene of the Hudson shores is soon to appear: that the Catskill mountains are nigh! No person who desires to take this trip, should neglect to secure, before reaching Rondout, a good position on the steamer's deck, from which he may obtain a comprehensive view of the splendor and sublimity of these grand old Catskills, which loom up before his eyes! Nature displays her pompous beauty in its fullest grandeur. It matters not how often one has beheld this magnificent picture, at every succeeding view it reveals new charms and new beauties: the form of the mountains remains ever the same, and the impression they convey is engraved on our minds in a manner never to be effaced, never to be forgotten.


On the western shore is seen a beautiful hillocky land, covered with bush and thicket. It extends for a distance of five miles, to the foot of the mountains; so that looking in the direction of Greene County, this large expanse of uneven ground reminds one of the constantly heaving billows of a mighty sea, until at last the view is obstructed by the abruptly-ascending mountains, which, crowned with the green of the forest, rise to majestic heights, and are often veiled by misty clouds. The most delightful picture is here presented; the mountains are clothed in hues most beautifully varied, among which blue is strongly predominant.


On the right bank of the stream are seen the Black Head, and the North Mount, South Mount, the Round Top, and, ascending higher than any of these, the High Peak. A deep and dark opening appears between these last-mentioned mountains. This dark shadow is the Kauterskill Clove, whence the well-known Kauterskill pours forth, and, winding its way through the hills, empties into the Hudson. On the northern side of the South Mount one can, from the greatest distance, discern a little white spot, which looks like a fairy chapel erected by the gods, to enable them to view with ease all the glories of the surrounding country. This little white spot is the Mountain House. It gleams brightly in the sun, as though extending a hearty welcome to the approaching stranger.


On the same mountain, a little-to the south and higher up, we can see the New Hotel, which will soon become one of the landmarks of the Catskills. From this spot I witnessed the grandest spectacle I ever had the good fortune to behold; and that was a thunder storm on the mountains ! Heavy, dark masses of clouds collected together; they looked like gigantic rocks illuminated with electricity, at another point the clouds shot with lightning-like rapidity, first into the heights, then into the depths, as though the heavenly powers were at war among themselves. With such a spectacle before his eyes, one might well ask himself whether he is in heaven or on earth ! At another time, the mountains appear as though asleep ; content with the light and warmth of the sun. On a bright day, the whole contour of the mountains is plainly visible. The hotels built on their steep sides, seem to look down with friendly eyes, and as if by some magnetic charm, one feels himself involuntarily drawn to them. There is yet another aspect of the mountains, which the Indians have so appropriately termed " The Mountain in the Sky." Their body is enveloped by a mist or fog, so that only their crests are visible above this fog. One might imagine that fairies and ghosts were dancing around them.


The Widening Torrent

Whoever desires to behold the wonders of Nature, and has an opportunity to do so from this point, will easily understand the fairy tales and Indian legends related about this place. Nature herself was the origin of those charming stories, for it is beyond the power of expression to describe what gorgeous effects are produced by the illuminated mist, fogs, and clouds.

The Catskills were called by the Dutch, " Kaatsberg," and by the Indians, " Onitaras." They abound in tales and legends, one of which I will relate.


"Once upon a time the children of the red men died away rapidly. They thought some monster had come from the salt waters to kill their children. They also imagined that by the aid of the Great Spirit, some old woman ruled over them for good or for evil, and that her home was on the loftiest peaks of the mountains; that she hid herself in her wigwam, and that according as her humor prompted her, she sent them good or bad weather. They also believed that this old woman created new moons, remolded the old ones, and hung them up in the sky, and that she kept the winds locked up in groves, whence she let them forth at will; that at times she ascended and soared above mist and fog, and seen thus by them, it was considered an ominous foreboding. They thought that in times of dry weather, she used to spin light summer clouds out of cobwebs and morning dew, and permitted them to descend from the mountains and float in the air until dissolved by the rays of the sun.


" They firmly believed that she caused the blades of grass to grow in Spring, and that the fruit ripened and the corn became abundant at her bidding, but that if for some reason she feels that she has been offended, she grows angry, and fairly boiling in her rage, the heavens assume their blackest hue, and, like a spider on her web, she tides upon the summit of the clouds. If these clouds break, Woe ! to you, ye valleys!"


The second. panoramic view of the Catskill mountains is taken from the steeple of the City Hall at Kingston. Viewed from this height, the effect is indeed wonderful.


But my first sight of the Catskills produced the deepest impression on me. This was when the train from Rondout made its first stoppage at Wallkill Valley station. From this point, one can distinguish the mountain chain, which extends in an oblique direction from Overlook to the Catskill Mountain House. Any one who is an admirer of Nature, and wishes to view the Catskills here, but has no opportunity to do so from the steeple, should not neglect to look at this scenery from the station, and, if possible, at sunrise.


An excellent prospect is obtained from the steeple. Here, at the left, rises High Point. From thence a zig-zag mountain chain extends in the direction of Overlook mountain, which is also visible at the left.


The hilly ground in front obstructs the view of the broad expanse of land below these mountain chains.


The mountains lying between the Overlook and the Catskill House, appear to have a very peculiar coloring or tint, entirely different from the others, being of a bluish hue. This is due to the fact that in the summer, inasmuch as the mountains to the left of the Overlook receive the fullest light of the rising sun, the rays are thereby intercepted to a great extent, and thus do not fall upon the mountains lying between. At the Overlook Mountain House, the highest point of the mountain, the sun's rays diverge as if to spread over the entire country. One gazes spellbound from this majestic height.


The Widening Torrent

A Wilderness In The Catskills

Extending towards the right, over the Catskill Mountain House, to the loftiest peaks of the distant mountains, the illumination is inexpressibly grand. The mountains -present a hazy appearance, and owing to their bluish tint, they-scent to dissolve away in the air. At this point the sun's rays fall everywhere with equal intensity on the mountain chain, but from a distance it seems as if the shadow of one fell upon the other, thus causing the bright light of the sun to appear of a bluish tinge, which gives rise to such magical effects.


The contrast between the two great hotels is greatly emphasized by the fact that the Overlook rises directly in front of us, and receives the full benefit of the sun, whereas the hotel on the Catskill, being in the distance, gives the impression of a fairy dwelling hanging in mid air.

 

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