A History of
DELAWARE COUNTY, NEW YORK
A Catskill Land and Its People, 1797-2007
by Tim Duerden
From the Introduction
Delaware County's history has been shaped to a great degree by its geography and topography and by the people who have settled the county's upland terrain. From the hunting bands of Lenni-Lenapé and Iroquois Indians to early European-American settlers and to those who came later in the twentieth century, humans have sought sustenance from the mountains, forests and river valleys of the northwestern Catskills.
European-Americans-disparate groups of people arriving here during different periods in history-have brought their own traditions, ideas and aspirations to the region. So too has each group been possessed of its own particular needs to be derived from the land. This has contrived to leave a landscape molded by humans in very different ways at different times. For the Native Americans and first European-Americans, the main goal of each day was to wrest life-sustaining nourishment from the fields and rivers-to harvest enough crops each season, hunt enough deer and snag enough fish. Later generations of white settlers sought not just the bare essentials, but to actually increase their wealth using the natural resources around them-timber and hides in abundance, newly-opened pastures upon which a burgeoning woolen industry was built and the dairy trade of more modern times. And today, what is our major commodity, but the actual mountain landscape itself: the open vistas, the water and the clean air that "weekenders" hungrily consume to provide the "nutrition" for a week of work ahead in the megalopolis?
Despite these very real experiential differences, the successive generations have shared a common bond with one another in their attachment to and appreciation for the natural landscape of the region. Whether Native American, Scotch-Irish, or more recent arrival ("flatlander"), many of us have experienced a collective feeling of being inextricably linked in some way to the landscape. It is this shared culture-an awareness, if you like, of our place in the ecology of the region-that has so influenced the region's past and its present, and will no doubt continue to affect its future.
Our ever-evolving collective relationship to the land has not, of course, been without contention. Indeed, our county and region are shaped, in part, by our proximity to New York City, a world city with its own very real hunger for life-sustaining sustenance to be found in the Catskills. From the first arrival of urban vacationers in the mid-nineteenth century, to the construction of New York City's modern water supply system in the twentieth and its ever-increasing energy needs of the twenty-first century, the city has placed increasing demands on the landscape of Delaware and other Catskill counties. This situation can be summed up most diplomatically, perhaps, by stating that today there exist divergent visions among numerous groups of people (residents and non-residents alike) as to how this land may best be utilized for current and future generations.
It is these competing visions for the future which shall, no doubt, continue to affect Delaware County and the Catskill Mountains long after current generations have been laid to rest in our soil.
A general history of Delaware County now in the first decade of the twenty-first century is sorely needed. The last attempt at such a history was John D. Monroe's Chapters in the History of Delaware County, published in 1949, and even that book, despite its numerous attributes, does not really discuss much of anything beyond 1900. In 1898 David Murray published his history, Delaware County New York, and further back still is the widely read and oft-referenced Munsell's History of Delaware County, which appeared in 1880. Both of these nineteenth-century volumes are still most certainly very useful tools for the modern historian of the county. They are, of course, also extremely dated and only take us as far as the late-nineteenth century.
There have been numerous books and articles published over the years that have focused on the first European-American settlers in the region during the eighteenth century and others that have concentrated on nineteenth-century history. In recent years we have also seen publication of a variety of works concerning certain themes in local history during the twentieth century, including several very good histories of individual county towns and villages. Still, there is a gap in the literature-no recent history of Delaware County attempting to bring these various strands (and centuries) of our collective experience together in one volume. This book attempts to fill that gap.
Tim Duerden is the director of the Delaware County Historical Association in Delhi, New York.
142 pages, illustrated, 8.5 x 11, index, 2007
$20.00 paperback (The $25 price in our printed catalog is incorrect)--A Purple Mountain Press original
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