The Drake Hotel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the beginning of the 18th century, almost all of Sullivan County was secured by patents, including Hardenberg Patent (or Great Patent) (Quinlan 1873:9-11). Over time, these land holdings were sub-divided into Great Lots, which were in turn divided into smaller lots that were then sold off, but despite the land sales, the area remained only sparsely settled until after the Revolutionary War (Quinlan 1873: 11, 111-114). One of the impediments to settlement was the hostilities between the European settlers and the Native American population, who were at times under the sway of the French, and later the British.

Following the Revolutionary War, the construction of transportation networks, including the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike, which linked Newburgh and the Delaware River at Cochecton, encouraged movement into the area. The Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike, chartered in 1801, was among the first in the state (Wakefield 1970:2-3). It was the brainchild of a group of Newburgh businessmen, who wished to see an increase in the flow of goods between their riverfront stores and the interior. Shortly after the establishment of the turnpike, the increase in population led to the formation of Sullivan County from Ulster County. Settlement focused on areas such as Bloomingburg, Monticello and Liberty, with smaller villages, such as Wurtsboro, growing up along the Delaware & Hudson Canal (referred to as the D & H Canal), which was chartered in 1823. In addition to the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike and the D & H Canal, which brought people and business to the area, there was also a lead mine and smelting facilities, as well as tanneries, a mainstay of the Catskill Mountain economy in the early years of the 19th century. The exploitation of the hemlock, used to tan the leather, led to a collapse of the tanning industry, but at the time of the Civil War it was boasted that over 80 percent of the boots and leather goods used by the Union Army were supplied from the tanneries of Sullivan County (Wakefield 1970:6). The construction of the railroads through Sullivan County, which began along the Delaware River in the 1840s and elsewhere in the 1860s and 1870s, doomed the turnpikes and canals. The railroad provided easy access to markets for many of the farming communities in the county, but it also provided the route by which tourists came to Sullivan County, generating the summer vacation industry that was the mainstay of the county’s economy for many years. The first of the railroads to reach central Sullivan County was the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad, which, upon its bankruptcy in 1880, was acquired by the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad, referred to locally as the “Old & Weary.”

In the western portion of Forestburgh, there is an area that was historically known as Drakestown. Drakestown was settled by Zephaniah, Joseph, Adam, Nathan and Luther Drake, who had originally settled in coastal New Jersey. Joseph came in 1793 or 1794, with the others arriving during the next three years. Ira Drake, whose house was immediately west of the project area on the east bank of the Mongaup River, was a prominent member of his community, acting as a Justice of the Peace between 1837 and 1844. According to the local histories, the Drakes were hardy, industrious, worthy men who were respected at home and abroad. A. Drake owned a hotel to the east of the Mongaup River. To the north of the Drake hotel was a structure shown as belonging to the heirs of S. Drake, the wife of Zephaniah Drake. Child’s Directory lists Alonzo C. Drake as a resident of the Town of Forestburgh. Child’s Directory does not include a listing for the Drake Hotel, so it is likely that the hotel was established sometime between 1873 and 1875.

The Drake hotel remained standing until after 1911. The creation of the Rio Reservoir changed the patterns of traffic in the western portion of Forestburgh and it is likely that the Drake family went out of business. The changing of the economic environment, two wars and the progress of time has erased nearly all evidence of the Drake family hotel. Currently all that remains is a wooden placard nailed to a tree and stone ruins that identify the location of the hotel.

The Transition of Farming in the Hudson River Region

In the early part of the century, prior to 1830, 80 percent of Hudson Valley residents were farmers and engaged in agriculture. These farmers were a mix of English, Dutch, Irish and Italian immigrants.
The immigrants who arrived in the mid 19th Century found a landscape on the cusp of change. In 1827, the Erie Canal was completed. The New York –Albany Rail Road opened in 1831, and commercial products were easily and quickly transported the mid-western portions of the county. The advancements in the movement of goods precipitated the needs of mass produced agricultural products.s as well as the first generation of Americans. Post Revolutionary War immigrations and the industrial age had not yet begun, and quite manor farms were located within the River Valley. These farmers actively worked self-sustaining farms and maintained a bargaining or exchange market system.

By mid-century the number of residents employed by mills or warehouses along the river, or working for the canals or other transport systems, was substantial (Wermuth, 2001). Neither Wermuth (2001) nor Daniels (1990), give figures on how many persons this significant number would include, but undoubtedly the half million people newly arrived in the country were either employed or seeking work. The immigrant labor fed the industrial market and helped bring about a change in the agricultural market systems. The power of industry and the mass populations made the Empire State the leading supplier of finished goods and labor (Wermuth, 2001).

Due to the high demand for labor and workers the mid 19th Century, immigrants tended to monopolize certain labor fields, essentially creating ethnic communal groups within the Hudson River Valley. There was great importance of an individual’s membership in specific cultural groups, and the tendency of generations and ethnic groups to specialize in specific occupations. Towards the middle of the century and into the latter years (1860-1890) there were significant changes in the immigration patterns, “with the influx of ethnic groups primarily from the northwestern portions of Europe” (Daniels 1990 p. 121). This changed the dynamic of the Hudson Valley region and restructured the market system of the Hudson River Valley.

Despite the influx of immigrants, the change in market systems and the blossoming of the industrial age, the Hudson Valley region continued agriculturally. In the years beyond 1850 “most residents of the Hudson Valley earned their livelihoods from agriculture” (Wermuth, 2001 p. 136). However, these farmers and their extended families altered their crops and livestock holdings to meet the market demand. In addition to this change in farm production, many families began to produce market goods on the farm. Hudson Valley farmers altered their production and consumption patterns in response to the transportation and industrial developments of the 19th century (Wermuth, 2001). These economizing farmers were sustained by demands from the Midwest not only for agricultural products but also for farm-produced goods, such as homespun fabrics, tools, shoes and homemade linens such as quilts.

In addition to cultivating their farm to meet market needs, farmers also networked as laborers to neighboring farms or industries, this is especially true for large families who could spare working hands on their own farms (Wermuth, 2001). New families to the region, as well as young family farms, would need the additional help during harvests and planting seasons. Other farms increased their tilled acreage to increase crop production and sell a greater amount at market (Wermuth, 1998). With additional help, farms could specialize to an even greater level, and by doing so control the market on “products such as stave manufacturing and dairying” (Wermuth, 2001 p. 138).

By the late 1840’s, as well as in the generations there after, economic control was no longer in the hands of Hudson Valley farmers, or even the residents. Stockholders, shareholder and owners of the transportation industries, such as the New York Hudson Rail Road and the Delaware and Hudson Canal managed the transportation of goods both entering and exiting the Hudson River region (Wermuth, 2001). They dictated the carrying costs, regulated wages and managed the flow of traffic along the canals and rails (Wermuth, 2001). Generally speaking these stockholders were not residents of the Hudson River region, but resided in New York City or in the western region of the United States; some stockholders as far away as California.

Daniels, Roger. (1990). Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York. Harper Collins.

Wermuth, Thomas (2001). Rip Van Winkle’s Neighbors: The Transformation of Rural Society in the Hudson River Valley, 1720-1850.  State University of New York Press. Albany.

Woodbourne: Off the Beaten Path

Woodbourne, New YorkAt the beginning of the 18th century, almost all of Sullivan County was secured by patents, including Hardenberg Patent (or Great Patent). Over time these land holdings were sub-divided into Great Lots, which were in turn divided into smaller lots that were then sold off, but despite the land sales the area remained only sparsely settled until after the Revolutionary War .). One of the impediments to settlement was the hostilities between the European settlers and the Native American population, who were at times under the sway of the French, and later the British.

Following the Revolutionary War, the construction of transportation networks, including the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike, which linked Newburgh and the Delaware River at Cochecton, encouraged movement into the area.  The Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike, chartered in 1801, was among the first in the state. It was the brain child of a group of Newburgh businessmen, who wished to see an increase in the flow of goods between their riverfront stores and the interior.  Shortly after the establishment of the turnpike, the increase in population by 1809 led to the formation of Sullivan County from Ulster.

The Town of Fallsburg was created from portions of the already existing towns of Thompson and Neversink, and derived its name from the falls located on the Neversink River at Fallsburg.  Woodbourne, which was initially known as Neversink Falls, has been settled in mid 18th century, but, like many communities in Sullivan County, was abandoned during the American Revolution. Following the war the area in which Woodbourne is located was the subject of a dispute between the heirs of Thomas Beekman and the Hardenburghs that led to the forcible removal of some of the settlers, though others relocated voluntarily. According to Quinlan, there was a “particularly violent confrontation over the ownership of a farm and mill at Woodbourne, and the property was later destroyed by fire.  The opening of the Delaware and Hudson canal in 1828, which permitted coal to be shipped from Pennsylvania to the Hudson River, brought significant changes to the area, and Woodbourne, which had been primarily a farming community, became one of the centers for the tanning industry in Sullivan County. Tanneries were a mainstay of the Catskill Mountain economy in the early years of the 19th century, but the exploitation of the hemlock, used to tan the leather, led to a collapse of the tanning industry in the 1870s. However, at the time of the Civil War it was boasted that over 80-percent of the boots and leather goods used by the Union Army were supplied from tanneries of Sullivan County . Gabriel W. Ludlum, a lawyer and resident of Hasbrouck, which was located north of Woodbourne, moved to Woodbourne in 1830 to operate a tannery in the hamlet. He was one of the chief proponents of the turnpike between New Paltz and Woodbounre, which began operations in 1838, and another turnpike between Ellenville and Woodbourne; the New Paltz to Woodbourne turnpike was later extended to Liberty.  Ludlam later left the area, but his place was taken by Austin Strong.  One of the reasons for the decline in tanning industry in Woodbourne was that the supply of hemlock on which the industry depended had been depleted, and when the tannery was destroyed by fire in the 1870’s it was not rebuilt.

The construction of the railroads through Sullivan County, which began along the Delaware River in the 1840s, and elsewhere in the 1860s and 1870s, doomed the turnpikes and canals. The railroad provided easy access to market for many of the farm products of the county, but it also provided the route by which tourists came to SullivanCounty, producing the summer vacation industry that has been the mainstay of the county’s economy for many years. The first of the railroads to reach central Sullivan County was the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad, which, upon its bankruptcy in 1880, was acquired by the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad, referred to locally as the “Old & Weary”. By the 1870’s several railroads had been constructed connecting Monticello with areas to the south and north. The railroads promoted their service, which provided access to the hotels and mountain houses located throughout the Catskills. At that time the promotional efforts were focused on wealthy, predominantly Protestant family from New York City, who could afford to spend weeks in places like Woodbourne, but over time less affluent families joined the summer exodus.  Similar scenes were played out in other areas in the mountains.  Underlying the advertising campaign was the fear of disease in urban areas that was thought to spread rapidly during the hot summer months. Particularly alarming was the epidemic of tuberculosis that ravaged New York at the end of the 19th century.

In the early 20th century Woodbourne became the center of an eastern European Jewish farming community. Many of these families engaged in dairy farming, but poultry farming was also an important industry in the area. To supplement their income, many families began to take in boarders. As reported in the local histories, at first these families engaged in both farming and tourism, but gradually many of these families gave up agriculture all together. Woodbourne lacked a railroad station, but, despite this, there were many resorts in the area that received vacationers who arrived at South Fallsburg and traveled to Woodbourne first by horse drawn vehicles and later by car. By the early 20th century there were twenty-six resorts in Woodbourne and nearby Hasbrouck (Wakefield 1970:147). By the 1930s there were still at least fourteen hotels in operation. Despite the construction of a large state prison at Woodbourne, the resort industry remained vibrant into the 1950s .

Following the Second World War, Jewish families from New York City began to vacation in other areas of the county and the world. The more secular Jews who had been the mainstay of the resort community were replaced by the ultra Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, who began to patronize the local bungalow colonies. Today the business center of Woodbourne is almost entirely owned by Hasidic Jews. The businessmen operate their businesses between July 4th and Labor Day, then close until the next season. A new phenomenon is the purchase of large hotel properties, most of which have been closed for years, these properties are being turned into ultra Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, hotel and conference centers.

Wakefield, Manville B. 1970       To the Mountain by Rail.  Wakefield Press: Grahamsville, NY.

Quinlan, James Eldridge 1873       History of Sullivan County.  Beebe & Morgan, Liberty, NY.