The Town of Marbletown in Ulster County encompasses the hamlets of Cottekill, High Falls, Kripplebush, Lapla, Lomontville, Lyonsville, Marbletown, Stone Ridge and Vly-Atwood: one-time centers of community and agricultural commerce in a region that was populated by Dutch immigrants. The area was, in fact, called “New Netherland” in the 17th century. Many of the roads and remaining properties still carry the names of those first European families. The Oesterhoudts, the Roosas, the Kroms and Van Wagenens were a few of the stalwart and industrious farming families who came and stayed for generations.
Vly-Atwood, known hereabouts as “the Vly,” was a hamlet where people attended school and church, and gathered for social congress. Named from the Middle Dutch word vley or valeye, meaning valley or swamp, the Vly is actually situated in an upland area of the Town of Marbletown, above the buried aqueduct that takes water from the Ashokan Reservoir to New York City, and the Esopus Creek, which flows through a narrow canyon below.
The hamlet no longer has a schoolhouse or post office. But the Vly-Atwood Firehouse continues to serve the homes scattered up on the hill and down the side roads along Route 213. When the infrequent wail of a siren clatters off the hillside, you’re reminded how tightly-knit a community it is. Emergency service volunteers and professionals alike make it their business to know the locals, where they live and how their needs can be met. This is true for most of the villages in the area.
Lucy Van Sickle, whose in-laws comprise one of the area’s oldest families and who is assistant chief for the Marbletown Fire Company, compiled photos and anecdotes about the Vly and all the hamlets in the Town of Marbletown. Published in 2008 by Arcadia Publishing, Van Sickle’s Images of America: Marbletown is a treasure trove of incidental images of the places and people who lived here in the past. Gathering vintage photographs and stories from local residents and historical societies, she documented the rich and lively communal structure that throve for more than two centuries in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. I met with her in the Marbletown Firehouse to ask about the project.
“My father-in-law, George Van Sickle, was actually the treasure trove. He used to live right across the street,” she told me. “He passed away a year ago. He used to do people’s genealogy. He had a house full of Indian artifacts: trade beads, arrowheads. Some are going to the State Museum and some to SUNY-New Paltz. He helped me with quite a few pictures for the book. My mother-in-law was related to the Krums. We’re all related.”
She points at photos and indicates different notable homes, such as the Sally Tack Inn and the Roosa homestead in Stone Ridge. “The building we’re in now was the old stone schoolhouse.” Mentioning a nearby stone house that was renovated by a new owner, she speculates on how much the project cost – maybe millions. “It’s beautiful inside. If you’re going to restore something, you should do it right. These people did it right. They researched and actually restored it with old materials. Me, I could only afford ‘new restoration’ to make it look old. But if you’re going to do it right, you search out old materials. Some of the nails to replace in the floor joists were $3 apiece!”
Manufacturing such items is a lost art, she says. “That’s why I wanted to do the book. My friend Deana Becker did the Hurley book [for Arcadia]. Her concern was that all these pictures were sitting in different people’s houses. No one is seeing them. And once those people die, they’re lost.” She laments the fact that many young people are not intrigued with the history of the region. But there are individuals like her father-in-law who have collected things. “I was lucky that a lot of pictures were given to me by Eddie Croswell [of Croswell Enterprises], and Eric Fedde has tons of picture of the Vly. He’s the local historian up there.”
Van Sickle, who has been a high school nurse for 26 years, mentions special archives in the attic of the Stone Ridge Library and a group in Hurley that does genealogical research for individuals. The project taught her a lot. “It took a good year-and-a-half from start to finish, gathering info from everybody.”
The photographs evoke great curiosity, like, “Why didn’t people smile for the camera?” “Look how stoic she is,” Van Sickle says about a farm wife. “When someone died, they used to take a picture – in the coffin, or some were even posed sitting up. The library was very helpful with fact-checking. And the people who gave me pictures – they had details, stuff written on the back, which you could tell was there from the time the picture was taken.”
Since the publication of Van Sickle’s Marbletown eight years ago, the region has gone through some changes. The Hasbrouck House has new owners and recently underwent renovation. The Widow Davis Tavern is being restored. There are now two traffic lights in Stone Ridge. Historic homes and commercial properties have been tastefully upgraded to please the influx of contemporary “settlers” moving up from the City.
Yet the feeling of bucolic tranquility remains. You can buy fresh corn at the Davenport family’s farmstand. You can meet up with friends and neighbors and talk about what books you scored at the library fair. You can almost imagine a horse and buggy coming up the hill on Tongore Road near Marbletown Park, where new young families play.
Images of America: Marbletown, www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9780738556833.