A new name under Greene History Notes

Contributed photoHarvey Durham and company explore the ruins of the Catskill Mountain House In February Or March of 1963.

It may come as a surprise to many readers familiar with David Dorpfeld’s column that my name now appears with the title of Greene County Historian. As of this month I have taken over the job from Mr. Dorpfeld, and will be offering columns for what I hope will be your continued enjoyment where Dave was once a weekly contributor. For many of you who will surely miss Dave’s regular contributions there is no need to fret — he will continue sending guest columns interspersed with mine.

The following text is something I wrote roughly three weeks ago for the Greene County Historical Society’s “Good-News Letter.” It is an email feature some of us at the Society have published weekly since the beginning of the Pandemic. My most regular contribution to that newsletter is an “Image feature” from the collections of the Vedder Research Library, and for those of you who may not be signed up for the Society’s free e-blasts I’ve included the image and text here:

This week’s image is a photo by the late Harvey Durham showing the ruins of the Catskill Mountain House only a few weeks after its destruction in 1963.

The much lamented loss of the Mountain House, which I’d categorize as something more of a final act of mercy for a structure already destroyed by a decade of neglect, is unfortunately an unlearned lesson here in Greene County. While we are prepared to point to the Mountain House as an archetypal symbol of our regional heritage, its loss has yet to truly galvanize the community as a whole in favor of the policies and protections that guarantee losses like the Mountain House won’t be repeated.

There can be no mistaking that while the Mountain House was certainly emblematic of a golden age of tourism in the Northern Catskills, it was not representative of the tapestry of communities and people that comprised this County in the 19th century. I’m sure many of our readers can think of their own lists of buildings and places lost to time, but in particular I’d point to St. Mary of the Mountain, once the oldest Catholic Church in Greene County, as emblematic of our continued failure to guard the touchstones that connect us with our forebears.

The loss of these places constitutes something akin to a loss of the memories connected with them. Those uprooted memories slowly fade like ghosts without a place to rest in the confines of. Reconciling this loss of place is of course where organizations like the Greene County Historical Society step in attempting to fill the void. Our solution is imperfect at best, and the remedy is a complex one to say the least.

Reach Jonathan Palmer at archivist@gchistory.org.

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