“To the Indians, the Beaverkill marked a boundary frontier between warring tribes. To the white man, it is a geographic puzzle, charted to enter or leave three different counties and as many townships, all within a little more than twenty-five miles of flow.
Strangely, the choicest pools and eddies are more often concealed from the onlooker by the high precipitous banks of the river. Like seeking the Edelweiss flowers of the Alps, approach to the finest water while rewarding, is both hazardous and difficult.
Hidden also and difficult to bring to light is the Valley History. The legendary past is fading away like the morning mists rising above the rapids of the river. It is an area of practically no documented past. No wonder those who love the valley have decided to preserve the little that remains known of the Beaverkill’s earlier days, before it is erased by the erosions of time.
Headstones in the cemeteries bordering a few hamlets, occasional family plots on old farms and clearings now overgrown and hidden tell of the passing of those whose names are familiar to the ear, but whose lives have grown dim in recollection.
Even the Indians who were still here less than a century ago, are about to have submerged beneath the great Downsville reservoir at Pepacton, the burial mounds of their last earthly happy hunting grounds.
In most localities, Archives of the past, may be hidden away in attics, County Clerk’s offices or in the back files of the Town Clerk, but so far as official record is concerned, the valley has been treated as the proverbial red-headed stepchild with neglect and silence.
To follow an aboriginal history of the valley itself is impossible. The next best course is the borderland history of the Hudson River Valley, some thirty miles east as a bird flies.
In that nearby vicinity the first appearance of the white man was a one night stand. In 1609 the Half Moon of Henry Hudson paused in its upward journey at Newburgh Bay to inquire of the Indians what navigation prospects could be expected Northward. Not until 1652 did the white man appear again. That was when Thomas Chambers came down from Troy, obtained land from the Indians and located his farm on the North side of the Esopus Country about one league inland from the Hudson.
The surrender of the province of New Netherlands to the English in 1664 made little change in public affairs except in the manner of vesting title to real estate. Under Dutch administration, pioneers obtained from the Indians by either gift or purchase, and some time by assignment from the local court. Under the new or English rule, all titles, by whatever authority obtained, were required to be surrendered to the governor.
Purchases from the Indians except by license was forbidden. Presumably the titles of the early settlers were returned to the governor and renewed, and new patents granted. Under this system, the largest proportion of immigrants became tenants, or made purchases from proprietors. Record land papers were then filed in Albany.
Among those filed is the remarkable Hardenburgh Patent granted in three parts by Queen Anne to a syndicate of Dutch traders. It included the Beaverkill valley and covered North Western Ulster and mainly the County of Sullivan and part of Delaware. The patent was granted in 1709.
Even after Nanisinos, an Indian chief of the Lenapes, had sold the valley to Major Johannes Hardenburg and he and his associates had received the patent from Queen Anne, the Indians refused to permit the pale-faced proprietors to visit their property.
But in 1709, geographically, there was still no Sullivan County, Rockland or Hardenburgh townships, where much of the valley today is politically located. A century would pass before Sullivan County came into being after being separated from Ulster. The town of Rockland, so named advisedly, was sliced away from the township of Neversink. The Town of Hardenburgh, with its towering mountain crags and scattered bits of valley, and wildwood and forest primeval, dimpled over with beautiful lakes and thickly threaded with purling streams which abound in trout, was not founded until 1859. It was formed by taking part of two townships of Ulster; Shandaken to the east and Denning to the south and named after Johannes Hardenburgh who was the original patentee of the vast mountain tract.
The settlement in the area commenced at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Even before this, a few sturdy pioneers of the white race were courageous enough to enter the remote valley of the Beaverkill.
To orient the period of time of settlement, our local history begins almost coincidentally when Lieutenant Zebulon Pike reached the front range of the Rocky Mountains and when the Lewis and Clark expedition boated down the Columbia River to reach the Pacific Ocean. One might say that the entry into the Beaverkill Valley in the east, and the exploits of Pike and Lewis and Clark in the West, completed occupation of the United States portion of North America.
The white man who gets credit for making the first trip through the Beaverkill Valley is Jehiel Stewart. Accompanied by his family and his brother, Luther, he made the trip from Warwasing. The brothers cut their way with axes. The family and household goods, drawn on an old ox sled, followed. The journey, about twenty-five miles down the river, took two weeks. Before reaching his destination on the flats at Rockland. Steward was forced to cross and recross the Beaverkill river twenty-five times.
Stewart had approached the valley from Lackawack, fording the Neversink. He avoided the old trail of the Indians, known then as the Sun Trail and later to the white men as the Hunter Road.
In the old days, the Sun Trail was beset with danger. This foot path over which the savages traveled, connected the Esopus tribe with their larger reserve store of maize and beans at Warwasing and the Hudson and Delaware river valley.
Further up the Beaverkill, a trail near Turnwood know as Cross Mountain Trail, branched to the North. To the West was the Mary Smith trail and still further West the Berry Brook Trail running North to Pepacton. In the beginning, the Beaverkill valley had only a few ways leading to it and once in, only a few foot paths out.
Along with Drybrook and Millbrook, the river rises in a pocket guarded by three high mountains, each over 3,300 ft. above tide water area. Waters to the east are sent down to the Hudson. On the west, Graham, Balsam and Eagle mountains form the great divide. The Delaware is their destination.
Up to Stewart’s memorable long and arduous trip, the Beaverkill remaining the last Indian stronghold of the mountains. The tortuous course, through which the river raced from south to north and then turning from east to west at Turnwood, was a natural barrier. To the warring tribes of the great nations of the Algonquin and the Iroquois, it was one and the same time borderland and Happy Hunting ground. Possession of the almost impenetrable mountains for trees was highly prized. A height difficult to assail, assured the possessor of an abundance of wild life on which to subsist to wait out a siege. In its natural state it was a savage paradise.
It was a matter of wonderment how an area such as the Beaverkill valley could be successively first an Indian fortress; then a source of endless supply of soft wood to the saw mills along the river; still later provide untold tons of hemlock bark for the extraction of tannic acid to tan raw hides, at the river tanneries; and today offer the City of New York more than enough sand and gravel to line many miles of tunnel of sixteen-foot concreted aqueduct of the city’s water system. Nor can fly fishermen who wade the white waters of the Beaverkill cease to wonder how it came about that every foot of the river is bedded to great depths with rocks of all sizes, colors and shapes.
Modern geological studies, popularized in current publications, go back a long ways; back to the earliest beginnings, in fact, to account for the area containing Beaverkill Valley’s fantastic terrain, and that of the surrounding Catskills.
Originally up and down the land, when the floods came and the earth cooled, what is now the Beaverkill Valley, during the Devonian Period was part of the bottom of the Paleozoic Sea rimmed by the Taconic mountains. Dried up by the sun, the former sea bottom emerged as a desert of sand and gravel.
Continuing to cool, the surface wrinkled. The outer crust cracked, heaved and sent huge strata of rock up through the surface of the former sea bottom. Some of it stood on end to form mountains. The sand and gravel of the desert slid down the sides into huge crevices, settling there to form valleys.
Then came the glaciers; four of them. Down the west slope, the vast ice masses slowly ground away at impediments in their path.
As the glaciers melted and moved, mountain tops and sides were bulldozed. Large furrows were choked with debris. When finally the ice melted away, the surface beneath had taken a terrible beating. The course of the Beaverkill River, trenched to canyon depth, was filled with tones and tons of alluvial. At some places the sand stone and gravel is over eight hundred feet deep.
The banks and uplands were strewn with rocks; everywhere were outcropping of bluestone.
The land, left in the wake of repeated volcanic upheavals and ice mass cataclysms, had been thus worked by nature to yield huge stands of timber.
The early pioneers of the valley, handy with an axe, supplied saw mill driven by the power of the flowing Beaverkill. Sawn timber was used locally and some drawn overland to the Hudson Valley. At times, small rafts of timber called ponies were floated down river to Callicoon. In spring high water, large rafts were formed of the pony rafts for delivery down the Delaware to Philadelphia. During the Civil War, the large rafts continued the voyage and were towed from the Delaware Capes to the shipyards at Washington.
Shin Creek, (now Lew Beach) became Milltown, the first in the Valley in the epoch of the sawyers.
To man the tanneries later, hamlets started at Turnwood, Beaverkill, Berry Brook and Craigie Clair. Mountain farms had been appearing on hill tops and hillsides. In those days, the scattered flats were pasture land. The river, tame at times, became a raging overflowing deluge at others. The farmers and dwellers of the valley preferred living above flood waters.
Approaching the period of the Napoleonic Wars and the aftermath, commerce over the Atlantic came almost to a standstill. The economic effect was widespread. Of necessity, it helped make the United States an industrial nation. Traffic in raw hides no longer moved to the tanneries of England and the Continent. But since tannic acid was essential to tanning, the tremendous traffic in hides and leather gravitated to where the hemlock was plentiful. A big forest was in Sullivan County, from Wurtsboro to Beaverkill.
The early 1800’s found tanneries established near Bloomingburg and Wurtsboro. As forests were depleted, the industry moved along the ridges northward. By 1860 the Beaverkill Valley, because the most unaccessible and farthest away, became the area last to be tackled. So great had the business become, Sullivan County led the world as a tanning center.
By the turn of the present century, tanneries and most of the owners and workers had disappeared. A number of home owners and farmers remaining took in summer boarders. In the winter time, some were engaged in cutting second growth four foot cord wood for the acid factories between hunting and unsurpassed scenery, brought vacationists from far and wide. Hotels were built and trout clubs were organized. Recreation business now leads farming and lumbering. Visitors were more and more becoming permanent residents. To overcome the damage of the sawyers, the tanners and acid wood cutters, the State of New York has reforested miles of waste land and created flood control areas. Conservation has restored much of the valley to almost the pristine happy hunting grounds of the Indian of the Alleghenies and the Tuscaroras.
The latter, the last of the valleys Red Men, seeking, it is said, Nature’s last sanctuary for the Indian of the Alleghenies, chose the land between the Beaverkill and East Branch of the Delaware, and made the long trek from the mountains of the Carolinas to the Beaverkill to take possession. The last to join a confederacy of tribes to halt the pale face, the Tuscaroras made a last stand in the valley.
Some call the Beaverkill Valley the Land of Tunis, because Tunis, a Tuscarora youth, forms the link between the Red men and the early white settlers.
First, driven away from the white settlement by the frontiersmen for daring to propose marriage to a scout’s daughter and later despised as a symbol of past Indian cruelty, the lad Tunis became a lonesome heart-broken hermit. But when he discovered a lead mine, which he successfully concealed from settlers, his extracted product was much sought after along the valley. Now, instead of being despised, he was courted; and on reacquaintance, found to be a fine neighbor and friend, helpful in teaching his white brother the crafts of his forefathers in forest and stream.”