Catskill Escarpment - Human History - 20th Century

20th Century

The state made its first significant purchases along the Escarpment in 1900, with parcels along the ridgetop north of Blackhead. Beach, who had finally dropped his resistance to Jewish guests and electricity, died in 1902 and left his hotel to his sons. The roads up the cloves were paved to accommodate the then-new automobile. Since guests could then more easily reach the newer resorts further into the mountains, the Mountain House continued to suffer. The incline railroad was shut down in 1918. When the Hotel Kaaterskill burned down in 1924, it was not rebuilt.

The next year the state acquired Stoppel Point, complementing its purchase of Kaaterskill High Peak, most of Overlook, Plattekill and Roundtop in 1921, which had capped two decades of acquisitions on the northern Escarpment. It closed in on the Mountain House with the purchase of South Mountain and the former Kaaterskill site as the decade ended, and the son-in-law who now owned the Mountain House had to sell most of the tract to the state to make ends meet.

Despite the onset of the Great Depression, the Mountain House struggled through a few years, closing for a while, then reopening for one final season in 1942 under new ownership. New owners also began building a third Overlook Hotel in 1927 and continued throughout the 1930s; however, their supplies were stolen during World War II and the project was abandoned. Its decaying frame remains near the mountain's summit.

There were some attempts to revive the Mountain House after the war, and preservationists urged that it be restored as an architectural treasure. But the increasingly decrepit building was becoming hazardous to the hikers who explored it, and after the state acquired the building and the lands around it in 1962, the then-Conservation Department burned it down early the next year. Only its stone gateposts remain. Five years later the Laurel House was demolished as well.

The Escarpment's transition from private paradise to public playground was complete, although the last mountaintop parcel, the summit of Overlook, was not fully acquired until 1996. Over the course of the rest of the century, the state developed North-South Lake into the busy campground it is today and cut new trails and marked old roads and paths throughout the range. Today the Forest Preserve along the Escarpment is divided into several different management units and administered according to the Catskill State Land Master Plan.

Read more about this topic:  Catskill Escarpment, Human History

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