Middletown

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New book describes the "color, charm and lunacy" of the Catskills

Above: The Flager in South Fallsburg in the 1950s Catskills. Image from 1950s Unlimited via Flickr.

To the wider world, the Catskills mean just one thing: The Borscht Belt, with its famous Jewish resorts that inspired the movie “Dirty Dancing.”

But Grossinger’s, Kutsher’s and the Concord only take up about two-and-a-half chapters of “The Catskills: Its History and How it Changed America,” a new book released by Knopf on Oct. 27.

That surprised even its author, veteran entertainment journalist and writer Stephen Silverman.

Left: Stephen Silverman. Photo via the Catskill Mountain Foundation.

Telling the story of the Catskills required five years of research and 450 pages. It’s the longest book Silverman had ever written.

“This is 150,000 words,” Silverman said. “You’re talking to somebody who is used to writing 200 words for People Magazine.”

By heft alone, it’s a coffee-table book—a big, glossy hardcover brick stuffed with four centuries of Catskills lore.

It's lavishly illustrated and intended for a mainstream audience that is once again rediscovering the region. (As the book shows, the Catskills have been discovered and re-discovered roughly every 50 years since the 17th century.) 

There’s the well-known history, like the story of how Jennie Grossinger created a world-famous Jewish resort out of her family’s Sullivan County boardinghouse. There are quick biographical sketches of the lives of must-mention 19th-century celebrities Jay Gould and John Burroughs. And there’s a snappy account of how Washington Irving wrote the legend of Rip Van Winkle.

But the best parts mine a rich vein of more obscure Catskills stories.

Promenading tourists find a gangster stabbed to death and strapped to a slot machine floating in Sullivan County’s Swan Lake in 1937.

Father Divine, the charismatic leader of the integrated Universal Peace Mission Movement, brings thousands of followers Ulster County in the 1930s.

Mark Carr, an enterprising farmer, invents the idea of commercial Christmas tree sales in America.

At Casa Susanna, a 1950s retreat in Jewett, a small colony of cross-dressers learn how to apply makeup and walk properly in a pair of pumps. 

“Illegal liquor. Religious cults. Gangsters. Left-wing children being raised on communist work songs," Silverman said. "You had restricted hotels that had signs that read, “No dogs and no Jews,” and then you had Jews. Murders took place. Religious salvation took place. There was the bluestone mining and leather tanning. It was a lively place.”

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Shandaken woman killed in fatal crash on Route 28 in Arkville

Above: Route 28 in Arkville near Oakley's Place, where last night's crash occurred. Image via Google Earth.

2:25 p.m. update: A 75-year-old Shandaken woman was killed in a head-on crash on Route 28 in the Delaware County hamlet of Arkville at 6:17 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 4, according to a press release issued by the New York State Police.

Harriet A. Rauchut was driving east near the Oakley's Place restaurant just outside of the hamlet when her Mercury Grand Marquis sedan was hit by a pickup truck that had crossed into the eastbound lane, police say.

Forty-five-year-old Richard E. Herrel of Delhi was driving west in the pickup truck, a Chevrolet Silverado, when he "attempted to avoid an unknown object in the roadway" and drove into the oncoming lane in front of Rauchut, the press release states.

Emergency responders transported both drivers to Margaretville Memorial Hospital, where Herrel was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and where Rauchut was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. by Nanette Treadwell, a physician's assistant at the hospital.

Delaware County Coroner Richard Ucci later ruled that the cause of Rauchut's death was "blunt force trauma," police say.  Read more

Gary Rosa wins Delaware County Family Court Judge race

Above: Gary Rosa celebrates his election to the position of Delaware County Family Court Judge. Photo via the Vote for Gary Rosa Facebook page. 

Gary Rosa has won a heated race for Delaware County's new family court judge position over county attorney Porter Kirkwood 5,150 to 4,662, according to unofficial election night results published by the Delaware County Board of Elections on Nov. 3, 2015.  Read more

Catskills election night reporting 2015

The polls are closed across the Catskills, and we're following the returns as they come in using our Storify widget, below.

You can stalk your own results right along with us. Raw election results are being posted on the board of election websites for Delaware CountyGreene CountySchoharie CountySullivan County and Ulster County.  Read more

Quietly, Delaware Supervisors update county ethics policy

Above: Jim Eisel, the chairman of the Delaware County board of supervisors, at the Aug. 26 meeting of the board. Photo by Robert Cairns.

The Delaware County Board of Supervisors, without much fanfare, has updated the county's ethics policy, which has been the subject of much controversy this year.

The board, at a Wednesday Oct. 28 meeting, passed a resolution adopting “The 2016 Ethics and Disclosure Policy for Delaware County.” The document lists “standards of conduct” regarding gifts, confidential information and conflicts of interest.

All employees of the county will be required to sign a form stating that they have read the policy. 

All members of the board, as well as department heads and several other administrators, will be required to file disclosure forms each year that state private employment and business interests for both the signee and his or her spouse.  Read more

Delaware County supervisors delay bed tax vote, tweak law to cover AirBnB rentals

Above: Leigh Melander, owner of a lodge in Fleischmanns, argued against a proposed bed tax during a public hearing on Oct. 28. Photo by Robert Cairns.

After a run-up of weeks and a public hearing held on Wednesday, Oct. 28, the Delaware County Board of Supervisors withdrew a local law that would have created a two percent tax on hotel and motel occupancy.

As the resolution to adopt the tax came up on the agenda at the Wednesday, Oct. 28 meeting of the board, Stamford Supervisor Mike Triolo, who chairs the board's economic development committee, withdrew it.

“There are some substantive changes we'd like to make to it,” he said.

Triolo said that comments received at the pubic hearing, as well as at three previous informational meetings, led his committee to change the language in the law so that it will apply not only to traditional hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast businesses, but also to vacation rentals booked through online services such as AirBnB and casual rentals advertised through services such as Craigslist.  Read more

How to spend Halloween in the Catskills

Above: One of the many creepy scenes at Night Terrors Haunted Farm in Schoharie. 

Halloween is this Saturday, Oct. 31, and the Catskills are celebrating with costume bashes, trick-or-treat events, zombies, witches and more. Here’s our five county guide to the best spooky events of the weekend.

DELAWARE COUNTY

In Andes, the annual Harvest Moon Ball is a Halloween tradition featuring a potluck, costume-contest and kid-friendly dance party that takes over the back room of the Andes Hotel every year. Saturday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m.

O’Neill’s Shire Pub in Delhi is hosting its Spook-Tacular Halloween Party on Saturday, Oct. 31, from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. They’ll have DJ Pat hosting a costume contest with prizes for scariest, sexiest, best Couple, and funniest costumes.  Read more

Mounted police division returns to Delaware County

Above: Mounted officers rode through obstacles during a demonstration of skills on Friday. Photo by Robert Cairns.

Delaware County has its first mounted police patrol since the 1980s.

Six members of a multi-jurisdictional force of cops on horseback graduated on Friday, Oct. 23 from a week-long certification course held at Golden Gait Farm in Masonville.

Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond was one of the graduates. He said that mounted patrols have been part of Delaware County’s history since the sheriff's office was founded in 1797, and existed as recently as 30 years ago.

“Delaware County was well-distinguished in regard to former Sheriff [Levon] Telian having a mounted division,” DuMond said.

Above: Officers and horses were tested as they rode around a police car with lights flashing and the siren blaring. Video by Robert Cairns. 

DuMond said that horses are still useful, especially for searches and crowd control.  Read more

Cuomo mounts a motorcycle to announce $5 million Catskills tourism campaign

Above: Gov. Andrew Cuomo riding a motorcycle through the Catskills. Photo via the governor's press office, via Flickr.

Riding on a motorcycle in a leather jacket through the peak of the Catskills fall colors, Gov. Andrew Cuomo led a procession of bikers around the Ashokan Reservoir to a private luncheon at the Catskill Interpretive Center in the Ulster County hamlet of Mount Tremper on Friday, Oct. 23. 

Earlier today, Cuomo announced that he was launching a $5 million I LOVE NY marketing plan for the Catskills region, a 2016 "Catskills Challenge" and a "Ride the Catskills" tourism website.

The new website, which contains motorcycling and biking itineraries for Catskills visitors, is a sub-section of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's website.  Read more

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Delaware County bed tax moves forward; public hearing scheduled

Above: Delaware County Economic Development Director Glenn Nealis answered questions about a proposed “bed tax” at Wednesday's meeting of the county's board of supervisors. Photo by Robert Cairns.

A local law to create a hotel and motel occupancy tax came a step closer to reality on Wednesday, Oct. 14, when the Delaware County Board of Supervisors scheduled a public hearing on the law to add two percent to the bills for overnight stays.

Wednesday's introduction of the law does not put it into effect. A vote on establishing the tax will likely follow the public hearing, which is scheduled for Oct. 28 at 12:35 p.m., prior to the board's meeting. The hearing and the meeting will take place in the board room at the county office building at 111 Main Street in Delhi.

It seemed, briefly, that the introduction of the law would be delayed.

Davenport Supervisor Dennis Valente questioned a provision of the law that would allow the county treasurer to require businesses to post a bond for the amount of the tax.

Economic Development Director Glenn Nealis explained that the provision would give the county recourse to collect the tax from businesses that “consistently” fail to remit it.

“It's just a tool to make sure they’re paying on a more timely basis,” Nealis said.

Valente asked if bonding is a practice used to collect other taxes.  Read more