A brief History of Woodstock by Edgar Leacraft, former Woodstock Town Historian:
Woodstock was officially created as a township in 1787. Settlers earlier in the century had moved up the streams and populated that arable land in the mountains. By the time of the American Revolution, there were farms and settlements in Woodstock, Lewis Hollow, Lake Hill, Mount Pleasant, Phoenicia, Pine Hill, to the north at Windham and to the west along both branches of the Delaware River.

By 1787, the population in the mountains and beyond had grown sufficient to warrant the creation of a new town. It was named Woodstock, and Elias Hasbrouck was the first Town Supervisor. The center of the town was at the Lake Hill cross roads and the township stretched from the Kingston, Hurley, Saugerties lines at the foot of the mountains to the west branch of the Delaware River on the west, and to Windham in the north. In 1797, four new towns and a new county, Greene, were created from the northern part of Woodstock because of the population growth. Similarly, in 1803, the land to the west was taken from Woodstock with the creation of the town of Shandaken. With this last separation, Woodstock took on its present shape, with the exception of Zena, which was added in 1883.

Many industries existed in Woodstock, among them the glass factory in Bristol (now Shady) built in 1809. In the 1830's the demand for leather for shoes and many industrial uses (belts for increasingly large mills) reached the point where it was profitable to ship hides from California and South America and tan them in the U.S. Tanning required a plentiful water supply and tannic acid, which could be obtained from hemlock bark. The Catskill Mountains, with many streams and a vast hemlock forest were a natural place to locate the industry, and tanneries sprang up all through the Catskills.

The growth of the cities after the War of 1812 led to the paving of the streets with cobblestones and lying of stone sidewalks. Bluestone, lying at the southern base of the Catskills, made ideal sidewalks because there were not slippery when wet and could be quarried in large flat layers. The opening of the quarries coincided with the advent of heavy immigration from Ireland. The newly arrived Irish were recruited in New York and brought up the Hudson. In Woodstock, a community of Irish families became established in Lewis Hollow to work the California Quarry.

With the expanding economy and increased wealth, many more people sought convenient places to escape hot, smelly cities during the summer. The mountain house era bloomed and Woodstock, in 1875, got one of it's own. The Ulster and Delaware railroad, although it bypassed Woodstock, did make it more accessible. The Overlook Mountain House was originally built in 1875 and patronized by many people including General Grant. However, by the end of the century other resort areas and the Catskill Mountain Houses declined in business, many failing. The one on Overlook, abandoned, burned about 1925 But Woodstock kept a tourist industry with several boarding houses.

So, at the turn of the century Woodstock was a sleepy little town in the mountains, with no industry - a farming community in poor farming country. Life was very quiet with little excitement. Children could roam freely everywhere. The mountainsides were largely cleared in an effort to increase crops; a few boarding houses and the hotel on the green attracted some summer visitors. Water powered sawmills along the Sawkill and other streams did cut lumber, but the glass factories and tannery had left nothing but second growth timber to cut. The gristmill beside Risely's Falls ground wheat for the local farmers.

In 1902, the Arts and Crafts movement came to Woodstock when the beauty of its setting and close proximity to New York City attracted Ralph Whitehead and his partners, Bolton Brown and Hervey White. Woodstock appeared to be an ideal site and Whitehead immediately purchased five farms on Mount Guardian. On these farms the necessary shops, residences and a library were built to Brown's designs, and in 1903 crafts people came as residents and Byrdcliffe was started.

In 1905, Birge Harrison, seeking a location of the Art Students League summer school, visited Woodstock and decided this was the place. The following year the summer school was established attracting further artists to Woodstock. The establishment of this summer school, the intellectual climate created by the Whiteheads, and the inexpensive living in Byrdcliffe, Woodstock and the Maverick firmly established Woodstock as a summer center for arts, crafts and music. This reputation attracted further artists, musicians, and intellectuals.

More recently, the artists and local people have worked together to better the town, joining in efforts to support the library, local planning, local schools, and governments. Woodstock has become truly a melting pot of a tremendously diverse group of people working together for a better way of life.
Woodstock Town Historian
Richard Heppner
Woodstock Town Historian
45 Comeau Drive
Woodstock, NY 12498
Fax: (845) 679-8743
Woodstock, New York: History Page

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