From the shores of the Hudson River westward to and including the northern range of the Catskill Mountains, Greene County maintains its semi-rural status among the counties of the State of New York. Blessed with superb scenic beauty and a low density of population – no cities – it continues to attract a wide mix of ethnic backgrounds. Major highways, including the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway, provide the means of rapid transportation via the automobile and truck.
Greene County’s history reaches far back into prehistoric times as is evidenced by surviving primitive rock shelters, semi-permanent agricultural sites and the famed Algonkian Indian flint mines. The arrival of the Half Moon in 1609 found the Catskill subtribe inhabiting the more easterly reaches of the lowlands. These Catskill natives were of a peaceable nature, securing their livelihood by hunting, fishing and by agricultural efforts. By the early 1700’s, under continued pressure from the North European immigrants in a series of Indian deeds approved by the colonial administrations, the Catskill subtribes relinquished claims to their ancestral lands and rapidly faded from the region. Unlike the nearby Van Rensselaer and the Livingston patents, except for the mountaintop’s Hardenbergh, local land patents were of small size and were quickly subdivided and sold off to settlers.
Except for a few Indian and Tory Raids, the Revolutionary conflict spared parts of what was to become Greene County. Instead it furnished manpower and supplies to meet the needs of the militia, the levies and the continental line.
With the signing of the Treaty of Peace at Paris, pent-up demand for undeveloped acreage burst. For two or more decades settlers continued to arrive from both the New England states and the lower reaches of the Hudson Valley. Unfortunately for them, much of the land was already preempted, leaving them to settle on less tillable soil. The small family farm of less than one hundred acres plus a woodlot was the typical means of earning a livelihood. After the opening of the Erie Canal, the growing of the more valuable wheat crop was no longer economically viable. Baled hay and straw plus fruit became the money crops; cheese, butter, and later milk were other possibilities. Cheap water transportation via the Hudson River plus deposits of limestone, bluestone and clay for bricks brought about related economic activity. Until the exhaustion of the hemlock bark, quantities of hides were imported from South America and California, tanned for sole leather and reshipped to New York City.
Earlier in the nineteenth century, the Catskill Mountain House and smaller hotels attracted the more venturesome travelers. It was not until after the close of the Civil War that the so-called “summer boarding house” came into its own. Many such establishments grew out of the family farmhouse, some continue to exist to this day. The railroads and river steamboats provided inexpensive transportation to and from metropolitan New York; the automobile was an added convenience for travel.
Fortunately, as the larger hotels and boarding houses declined in number, the American interest in winter sports increased. The mountaintop arena, once summer oriented, now provides a year-round economic base. The more affluent have used Greene County for second vacations home, either purchasing unused farms or buying new condominiums.
The recognition of the economic value of the performing and visual arts, coupled with history of the region is significant. The number of such cultural groups continues to expand, while the number of historical societies and museums is at an all-time high. The Hudson River Greenway and the Heritage Trail are positive developments and the Greene County Historical register seeks to encourage the preservation of buildings of architectural significance. The two National Historic Landmarks, Thomas Cole’s Cedar Grove and the Anglo-Dutch Bronck Homestead are sites with significant national structure.