New York City and the Catskills
Foreword by William Cronon
- Published: 2007
- Subject Listing: Environmental History, American History
- Bibliographic information: 336 pp., 20 illus., 3 maps, bibliog., index, 6 x 9 in.
- Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
For over two hundred years, the Catskill Mountains have been repeatedly and dramatically transformed by New York City. In Making Mountains, David Stradling shows the transformation of the Catskills landscape as a collaborative process, one in which local and urban hands, capital, and ideas have come together to reshape the mountains and the communities therein. This collaboration has had environmental, economic, and cultural consequences.
Early on, the Catskills were an important source of natural resources. Later, when New York City needed to expand its water supply, engineers helped direct the city toward the Catskills, claiming that the mountains offered the purest and most cost-effective waters. By the 1960s, New York had created the great reservoir and aqueduct system in the mountains that now supplies the city with 90 percent of its water.
The Catskills also served as a critical space in which the nation's ideas about nature evolved. Stradling describes the great influence writers and artists had upon urban residents - especially the painters of the Hudson River School, whose ideal landscapes created expectations about how rural America should appear. By the mid-1800s, urban residents had turned the Catskills into an important vacation ground, and by the late 1800s, the Catskills had become one of the premiere resort regions in the nation.
In the mid-twentieth century, the older Catskill resort region was in steep decline, but the Jewish "Borscht Belt" in the southern Catskills was thriving. The automobile revitalized mountain tourism and residence, and increased the threat of suburbanization of the historic landscape. Throughout each of these significant incarnations, urban and rural residents worked in a rough collaboration, though not without conflict, to reshape the mountains and American ideas about rural landscapes and nature.
David Stradling is associate professor of history at the University of Cincinnati. His focus is the intersection of urban and environmental history. He is author of Smokestacks and Progressives: Environmentalists, Engineers, and Air Quality in America, 1881-1951 and editor of Conservation in the Progressive Era: Classical Texts.
"A pivotal work in environmental history that makes connections between issues of urbanization, resource development, land use, cultural representation, and environmental consciousness in new and provocative ways." - Marguerite S. Shaffer, Miami University
"One can discern the entire American relationship with nature through the prism of the Catskills: colonialism, subsistence agriculture, industry, ethnic segregation, and, more recently, a species of post-modern placelessness." - Karl Jacoby, Brown University
"Making Mountains is the finest modern history yet written of the Catskills-a chain of mountains that looms far larger in the national consciousness than one might think possible given their limited extent and modest height. And yet, because of the Catskills' special relationship to New York City, they became in the early nineteenth century the principal vehicle for helping Americans understand the meaning of the romantic sublime, and so shaped all subsequent American thinking about nature. David Stradling's book should interest anyone seeking to understand how rural and urban Americans have worked together to reinvent and reinterpret our national landscape." - William Cronon, University of Wisconsin-Madison