"The scene was disturbingly, hauntingly American, full of pathos and loneliness." (1958)  - Roland Van Zandt

Catskill Mountain House

Catskill Mountain House, 1892

    Here we pay our respects to the most famous ruin to ever grace the Hudson Valley, the Catskill Mountain House. Abandoned after the 1942 season following decades of decline, the Mountain House fell into disrepair and ruin brought on by general neglect. A hurricane in 1950 damaged the famous Corinthian columns of the piazza overlooking the Hudson River. During the twenty-year period of abandonment, the Mountain House was deconstructed, as it had been built, in stages. The crumbling ruin was finally burned to the ground at 6 a.m. on January 25, 1963, by the New York State Department of Conservation.

Site of the Catskill Mountain House, April 28, 2003

    We won't write much here - the Catskill Mountain House has been thoroughly documented already. The Catskill Mountain House, by Roland Van Zandt, tells the tale of "America's Grandest Hotel," from its beginnings in 1823 to its fiery demise 140 years later. The empty Mountain House bled with historic and architectural significance, and commanded a world-famous view. However, like most other Catskill resorts of the period, efforts at revitalization failed, interest in the buildings declined, and conservation departments reclaimed the lands to their "natural" states. Van Zandt unexpectedly stumbled upon the ruins during a summer hike in 1958. There, encapsulated in the dramatic scene of the great ruins of  an elegant resort, he saw the polarities of American history - city and country, civilization and wilderness. 

"An awful precipice of graywacke...from which the view is as awe-inspiring 
as it is extensive." - Gazetteer of the State of New York (1824)

    Thomas Cole and his kindred spirits of the Hudson River School noted these polarities in their paintings and writings, which helped define the American identity. Soon, the Hudson became comparable to the great rivers of Europe due to the sublime scenery visible from the Catskill Mountain House. Yet the Hudson River  lacked one thing the great rivers of Europe had plenty of: ruins. Today, there are scores of ruined or abandoned 19th- and 20th-century sites in the Hudson Valley. 

    So it was the place the helped spark a body of art and literature uniquely American would also develop as one of the first great ruins of American society. Van Zandt's book paints a picture so vivid that one almost expects to see the Mountain House when entering the clearing near that dangerous precipice. Alas, not one post, or brick, or crumbled molding piece remains. The site however, is no less awe-inspiring as it was in the 1820s, but the tourists don't come in great numbers. We had the place to ourselves one recent beautiful spring afternoon. 

    One more polarity for you: I first visited the site of the Catskill Mountain House in the spring of 2003, just one month after visiting some of the famous monuments of the American West. There, in the middle of nowhere, were teeming crowds of tourists. Here, 2 hours from the greatest city in the world, we found nothing but the ghosts of those who came before - etchings in the rock ledge. 

Yaz’ Hudson Valley Ruins andAbandoned Buildings, etc.

Yaz’ Hudson Valley Ruins and Abandoned Buildings, etc.

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