Topographical Description of Catskill 1803

A Topographical Description of Catskill
in the State of New York

by Rev. Clark Brown

From the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Societym Vol. IX, Page 111
Published in Boston by: Hall and Hiller, No. 53 Corneill, 1804
Reprointed by T.R. Marvin MDCCCLVII

Transcribed by Sylvia Hasenkopf

CATSKILL is the shire town of the county of Greene.  It is one hundred and twenty-four miles north of the city of New York, and thirty-six south of Albany. It was formerly part of the town of Coxsackie, which was bounded north by Albany, south by Kingston, east by Hudson river, and west by unincorporated lands.

Catskill was incorporated into a town in the year 1786. It then belonged to the county of Albany. In 1797 it was annexed to the county of Ulster. In 1799 the county of Greene was incorporated, and Catskill was made the shire town.


It is bounded north by Coxsackie, south by Sagutyes, east by Hudson river, and west by Canton. It extends along the river thirteen miles. The south part of the town extends to the top of a large mountain, connected with a ridge of mountains generally known by the name of Catskill-mountains.

Soil and Face of the Land.

The soil is principally of a clayey nature. In almost every part of the town there is clay suitable for the making of brick. In the road and streets clay may be digged ged in great abundance. The soil however is somewhat interspersed with sand and loam. The loam in some places lies above the sand, and in other, the sand above the loam.

The land is generally hilly, and in some places mountainous. There are in the town lime and stone ledges; from which lime and slate are taken for building, which renders them valuable.

In 1797 several acres of a large hill, lying on the west of Catskill-creek, slid off all at once, carrying the cattle and sheep, which were on it, several rods, without injuring any of them. This opened a large bed of marl, which has been found to answer a good purpose for manure; within a few rods of the spot, vessels which draw ten feet of water can come with convenience.

Rivers, Streams, &c.

On the east is the Hudson river, which is one of the largest and most commodious rivers in the United States. It is navigable for any ship to Catskill, which ever entered the harbour of the city of New York.

The Catskill river, or creek, rises out of the lake in a swamp, in Scott's Patent, thirty-four miles from where it empties itself into the Hudson. About twenty miles from the mouth, it is intersected by the Canton-kill, which rises in a lake on the height of Catskill mountains, or as sometimes called Blue Mountains, but more properly, the Allegany. To these streams nature has been more liberal, in many respects, than perhaps to any small streams on the continent. At every season of the year they afford sufficiency of water. They abound with falls and dams, formed by nature, far superiour for strength and convenience to any made by art. They require little more than a suitable building and machinery, to set any kind of water works in motion.

At the south-west part of the town, there is a fall of water of two hundred and sixty feet perpendicular.

About four miles from Catskill landing, there is a lake containing between forty and fifty acres, situated on a mountain of considerable magnitude. From this lake issues a stream of water running one hundred feet under a bed of limestone, whose height is thirty feet above the surface face of the lake. After running about half of a mile, it carries a saw, grist, and fulling mill, all of which are erected at the foot of the mountain, on which is the lake.


The principal road is the Turnpike, leading from Catskill-landing to the Susquehannah river, a distance of about. ninety miles; not far from the junction of the Oleout with the Susquehannah.

From the village of Lunenburg, which lies at the north part of the town, there is a turnpike road extending twentyone miles west; at which distance it approaches within a mile and a quarter of the Susquehannah turnpike, and is there intersected by a turnpike from Old Schoharie, running north and south.

There is a company incorporated by the Legislature at the last session, for the purpose of making, agreeably to petition, a turnpike road from Albany to the line of the state of New-Jersey. This road is to pass through the villages of Lunenburg and Catskill-landing. In its whole extent it is to be made as near Hudson river, as the nature of the ground will admit.

There are several other roads of a more private nature, and which are as good, as they are in general in old settled towns in Massachusetts.


The principal timber is the white and black oak, and the yellow and white pine. Of the best kind of timber for ship-building there is plenty. Walnut and maple are also plenteous; particularly the former, which is considered the most valuable on account of the nuts, which it produces in great abundance, and which are much admired for their superiour quality. About a thousand bushels are annually exported from the town.


Wheat, rye, corn, barley, oats, and peas, are raised, more than sufficient for the consumption of the inhabitants. The soil is favourable for wheat. A large quantity is yearly raised and floured for the New-York market. All kinds of fruit, common to the northern states, is raised in abundance. The land produces excellent grass for pasturing and hay. Beef and pork are raised for exportation.

At the south-west part of the town, black spruce grows in abundance, from which a large quantity of the essence is extracted for making beer, the greater part of which is exported.

Number of Inhabitants.

There are between five and six thousand inhabitants in the town, the majority of whom are from the New-England states. There are seven hundred electors. There are numbers of Dutch, and between seven and eight hundred blacks. Nearly two thousand inhabitants are in Catskill landing, living within three quarters of a mile of each other.


There, are seven grist mills, and about the same number of saw mills.

Four miles from the mouth of Catskill creek, in the village of Madison, stands a flouring mill, lately erected, belonging to Ira Day and Company, a few rods west of the Susquehannah turnpike. It was set in motion in February, 1803. It is the most curious and complicated piece of machinery, which perhaps is of the kind in the United States. It daily manufactures between five and six hundred bushels of wheat into flour. It has two water wheels, each of which carries two stoves for the grinding of the wheat, .c. The whole of the wheat, as it is purchased, is poured into a hopper containing fifteen bushels, in which it is weighed, the hopper being erected for the purpose upon a scale fashion. Hence it descends into different bins, according to its quality for goodness, conducted by different spouts. From these bins the wheat is taken by elevators, and is conducted through screws, fanning mills, smut machines, into the hoppers over the stoves for grinding. After having descended into a long trough, it is conducted up into the bolts, and thence to a large cooling room, and there cooled by stirring; after which it is carried into a room for packing. All these various operations, with a packing screw, are performed by water, effected in consequence of different gear by the two large water wheels only. These wheels are turned with rapidity, with not more than half the quantity of water, which is necessary for one of our common grist mills. The flour made in this mill is principally sold in New-York.


There are four villages in the town, viz. Madison, Jefferson, Lunenburg, and Catskill-landing.

Madison is a small village. It consists of nine dwelling houses, newly and neatly built, at the mill before described, of three stores, one publick house, and a few other small buildings. There is kept here a large store of European and West-India goods. This village will send annually, according to present calculation, through Catskill-landing to New-York, between sixty and seventy thousand dollars worth of flour, chiefly belonging to Ira Day and Company. It is a place, which undoubtedly must increase in settlements and business very rapidly.

Jefferson is also a new village. It is situated about two miles north of Catskill-landing, and about the same distance south of Madison. It consists of ten dwelling houses, three stores, and two publick houses. The merchants trade in lumber, which they receive for their goods; the most of which is sent to the landing for sale.

Lunenburg is situated on the west bank of Hudson river, directly opposite to the city of Hudson, commanding a beautiful prospect of its buildings and shipping. It is five miles north of Catskill-landing. It contains near a hundred buildings, including dwelling houses, stores, &c. The south part of this village, which goes by the name of Lower Purchase, is in a very flourishing situation. Between this and the Upper Purchase, or the north part of Lunenburg, there is a small distance without any buildings. They are in fact two separate villages at present, though known both by the name of Lunenburg. It is about two years since they began to build on the lower purchase. It now consists of between twenty and thirty buildings, erected mostly with brick, in a neat and well finished manner. It is already a place of considerable business, and is conveniently situated for navigation. Several wharves have lately been built out into the river. To the upper purchase the inhabitants have given the name of Esperanza. This upper purchase has been settled a long time. Several of the inhabitants are Dutch. They are said to possess a litigious spirit, being inclined to have almost every trivial controversy settled by law. The writer of this has been creditably informed, that in this village, forty judgments have been obtained in the course of one day, before one justice of the peace.

Catskill-landing is the principal and most noted place in the town. It lies on Catskill creek, which forms a safe and convenient harbour for vessels. The creek is narrow and deep; but no vessel, which draws more than ten feet of water, can come into it, by reason of a sand bar near its junction with the Hudson river. The populous part of the village at present is nearly half of a mile from the Great river. There are twelve wharves built into the creek. From the mouth of the creek to the north part of the village the course is north, two points west.

There are nearly two hundred buildings in the village: twelve ware houses, thirty-one mercantile stores, one courthouse and jail for the county, a printing office, and the remainder dwelling houses. The buildings are good; many of them are of brick. The dwelling houses are mostly two stories high. Those, which are not built of brick, are handsomely painted.

The village consists principally of two rows of houses, running nearly parallel with the creek, forming one large and handsome street. On the east of the village there is a large hill, at the foot of which the houses are built. On its eminence stand the court-house and jail. The top of the hill being level and convenient for building, it has been laid out into regular streets and house lots. There is but one dwelling house on this eminence, which was built the present year. This house commands a beautiful prospect of Hudson river, and of all the vessels passing up and down the river, All the other house lots on this eminence afford an equally agreeable prospect. This village is watered by the best of spring water, and is conducted into almost every house by an aqueduct.

From the village there is a romantick prospect of all the blue mountains, and of the little hills upon them. This village is perhaps unequalled, in point of situation for the West-India trade, by any of its bigness on the continent. It affords in great abundance every article for exportation, and almost every article necessary for ship-building. A wharf might be built into Hudson river as far as a small island, which lies about one quarter of a mile from the shore, to accommodate the trade carried on by navigation. A wharf might be built here with little expense, as the ground, from the east bank of the river to the island, is bare at low water, there being a large flat between them. Near the west part of the island is the channel of the river. But notwithstanding these uncommon conveniences for the West-India trade, the inhabitants have never engaged in it; it being a business with which they are wholly unacquainted, and of consequence fearful, that they should not carry it on with success. To gentlemen of property acquainted with the West-India trade, the situation and prospects afford the most ample encouragement to allure them here, and to induce them immediately to engage in the business. The present inhabitants have already had it in contemplation to build a wharf out as far as the island before mentioned. They are generally possessed of a publick and enterprising spirit.

Stages and Mails.

After the first of October next, a stage will start for Albany, and one for New-York, on every Tuesday and Friday, and others from the same places will arrive here on the same days. These will intersect various other lines of stages from the different parts of other states. The mail goes to, and returns from, Hudson, twice a week by water. There is also a mail from this place to Tiogapoint, in the state of Pennsylvania, which is commonly but one fortnight going and coming.

Amount of Exportation.

From the town there is annually exported to the city of New-York, between three and four hundred thousand dollars worth of produce; more than three hundred thousand of which go from Catskill-landing.


The only bridge of any considerable magnitude is that, which is built over Catskill creek. It is two hundred feet in length. It has a draw, through which vessels pass to the north part of the village. It is a place of resort in the warm season of the year for parties of pleasure. It affords a beautiful prospect. It is a toll bridge; over which the New-York and Albany stages pass.

Fishing und Folding.

Shad, bass, herring, sturgeon, pike, trout, perch, &c. are caught in Hudson river. Various kinds of small fish are found in the other streams.

Wild geese and ducks are found very plenteously in the spring and autumn. These and wild pigeons are the chief fowls, which are killed for use. Fishing and fowling are under no restrictions, but free for any one.

Increase of landed Property.

Land, which was sold in Catskill-landing, in the year 1786, for ten dollars an acre, has since been sold at the rate of four thousand dollars an acre. Good building lots, consisting of sixty feet in front, and one hundred in rear, are now selling from three to four hundred dollars, by the acre.

Progression of Population and Business.

In Catskill-landing, there has been a natural progressive increase of business, equal, if not superiour, to any on Hudson river, and perhaps to any in this country.

In the year 1787 the village consisted of but five dwelling houses, and one store ; at which time there were two sloops belonging to the place, which were employed in carrying lumber to New-York. In that year there were but two hundred and fifty-seven bushels of wheat, fifteen thousand feet of lumber, and two thousand nine hundred and eighty pounds of pot ash exported from the place. In 1792 the village consisted of ten buildings; one coasting sloop of between fifty and sixty tons was the only vessel, which was then owned in the place. In that year there were only six hundred and twenty-four bushels of wheat sent from the place, which was the principal article of exportation. In 1802 the village consisted of one hundred and eighty buildings; at which time twelve vessels were owned in the place, which were employed in carrying the produce of the country to New York. Two others were employed in coasting to and from Boston, and one to the southern states. The navigation increases in proportion to the population. In that year ten thousand bushels of wheat were exported. The exportation of pot and pearl ashes has increased in proportion. Between fifteen and sixteen hundred sleighs, containing chiefly wheat and potash, hare been unloaded in the village in one day. In the village shipping to the amount of thirty-seven thousand tons have been built, in one year, for foreign markets.

Taking into consideration the many advantages, which this village enjoys for navigation and trade, and also that the turnpike road from Salisbury in Connecticut to the Susquehannah river, which passes through the village, a distance of an hundred and eleven miles, will be completed this season ; the inhabitants may reasonably expect a still more rapid increase of trade and population.


There are fifteen schools taught in the town; three of which are in the Landing. In one of these are taught the languages.

There is a well regulated library in the Landing, containing six hundred and seventy-two volumes of well chosen books.

There are two clergymen in the town; one at the Landing, an Episcopalian, and the other a Dutch Presbyterian, between two and three miles west of the Landing.

There are eight licensed attornies in the town, and several merchants, who have received a publick education ; two of whom have been regular settled ministers in Connecticut, and another was a licensed candidate preacher from that State. These three are now members of the Presbyterian church in Catskill-landing, and gentlemen of reputable characters.


There are four churches in the town. Two at the Landing; one Episcopalian, of which Rev. Mr. Bradford is the minister; and one Presbyterian, over which there is no settled minister. One is in the village of Lunenburg, which at present is vacant; and one between two and three miles west of the Landing, over which Rev. Mr. Laubaugh is the minister.

Houses of Publick Worship.

There are at present but two in the town, which belong to the two Dutch churches and societies. The Episcopalians are making preparations to build one in the course of the present year. The Presbyterian society intend soon to build them a meeting-house, and to settle a minister. At present they meet in the court-house for publick worship. Several wealthy and publick spirited men belong to this church and society.

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