The Catskills

The Catskill Mountains is an area in New York State northwest of New York City and southwest of Albany, are a mature dissected plateau, an uplifted region that was subsequently eroded into sharp relief. They are an eastward continuation, and the highest representation, of the Alleghany Plateau. They are sometimes considered an extension of the Appalachian Mountains into Upstate New York, although they are not geologically related. The Catskills are west of the Hudson River and lie within the bounds of six counties (Otsego, Delaware, Sullivan, Schoharie, Greene, and Ulster). The Catskill Mountains are also considered a physiographic section of the larger Appalachian Plateau province, which in turn is part of the larger Appalachian physiographic division. The mountains lie within the Alleghany Highlands forest eco region.

At the eastern end of the range the mountains begin quite dramatically with the Catskill Escarpment rising up suddenly from the Hudson Valley. The western boundary is far less certain, as the mountains gradually decline in height and grade into the rest of the Alleghany Plateau. Nor is there a consensus on where the Catskills end to the north or south, with it being certain only that by the time one reaches either I-88, the Delaware River or Shawangunk Ridge that one is no longer in the Catskills.

In these peripheral regions, whether you are in the Catskills seems to be a matter of personal preference, as an old saying in the region seems to suggest – "When you have two rocks for every piece of dirt, you are in the Catskills."

Many visitors, including owners of weekend or vacation homes in the region, seem to consider almost anything sufficiently rural west of the Hudson yet within a short drive of New York City to be in the Catskills.

Originally, the mountain’s name was spelled “Kaatskil” by the 17th Century Dutch settlers - a spelling still attested in Washington Irvin's "Rip van Winkle," taking place in this area and emphasizing the Dutch origin of the earlier European settlers there. The old spelling is still used in various names such as that of the Kaatskil Kaleidoscope at Mount Tremper and the locally published Kaatskil Life Magazine.

During the 19th century the region became a destination for wealthy urbanites seeking vacation retreats from New York City. The mountains of the Catskills and the lower Hudson Valley inspired the Hudson River School of Painters and drew international attention. At the same time, the region was heavily farmed and logged, loosing much of its once impressive old growth forest.

In the 20th century, efforts to preserve the region's character resulted in the creation of the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve. The Catskill's reputation as a vacation destination continued, and by mid-century much of the area was dotted with summer resorts and campgrounds. Many ethnic groups from New York City, including Germans, Czechs, Jews, established summer resorts in the region, in some cases along the nearby Shawangunk ridge near the town of New Paltz. The larger Jewish resorts (such as Kutsher's, Brown's, and Grossinger's) together became known as the "Borscht Belt," where many comics and musicians got their start in show business. (Some facetiously referred to the Catskills as the "Jewish Alps.")

Although this ethnic tradition has mostly disappeared since the 1960's, the Borscht Belt reputation is still considered part of the Catskill's heritage, and some of the classic resorts still remain. Farther north, throughout the 20th century more traditional large scale resorts, country-style inns and lodges enjoyed success as well.