Tanning Industry in Sullivan County

Gone with the natural resources which made it all possible….the unbelievably huge hemlocks. Gone with the turnpikes where you tossed your toll to a barefooted girl of eleven. Gone are the towns, twinkling in the pre-dawn with aromatic beechwood smoke drifting skyward, as housewives mixed buckwheat pancakes and fried venison or trout, for brawny hardworking men.

James Eldridge Quinlan wrote: There’s an old saying, The Civil War was won with the boots tanned in Sullivan County."

One hundred years ago the Catskill region produced more tanned leather than any other area in the United States. The five counties of Delaware, Schoharie, Ulster, Orange and Sullivan accounted for nearly one-third of New York’s annual leather output in 1860, according to "Report of the Growth of Industry in New York State." $7,034,438 worth of tanned leather was manufactured in the Catskills, with Sullivan County accounting for half!

The Union Army made most of its marches on Sullivan tanned red leather, drove most of their mules and horses with harness cut from locally tanned hides. Artillery horses, and other mounts were decked with saddles and harness made from Sullivan County leather. (The "red" of the leather came from the amber hued bark, key ingredient of tanning leather.)

Take a look at the westerly slope of Denman Mountain, opposite the mighty monolith of the Bushnell tannery tower in Claryville. as the moon rises. You’ll see a score of virgin white pine trees towering against the skyline. Or drive around on the east slope of Red Hill and on the saddle between Peekamoose and Table Mountain; to the northeast you’ll spy a handful of red spruce which were too isolated to fall to the axe. Atop Cornell Mountain is the only other stand of trees that were here before the white men. With the exception of a few elderly, gnarled and beautiful apple trees, practically every other tree has grown in the past hundred years of time!

The Evergreen Cemetery at Bethel was named for the virgin hemlock tree which still stands over the grave of the man who was clearing the land for a cemetery. He was killed when a limb fell from that tree (This is atypical tree, apparently once a clump of hemlock, for it’s really more than one. Normally hemlocks grow tall and true, much like the masts on clipper-ships, with comparatively small branches. This tree’s branches are huge, and think. . . a limb fell from it to kill in 1813! Its age to have a limb that large!

Those valuable remaining red spruce are now part of the "absolute wilderness" of the "forever wild" Forest Preserve protected by the Constitution of the State. However, when you cross the Tappan Zee Bridge of the New York State Thruway remember its concrete footings, sunken barges, are pinned to the mud of the Hudson’s bottom by the tallest pines from the very shadow of these few precious Claryville white pines. Also, when you look at the older homes of Liberty, recall that many were built from that very grove of pine, saved for posterity by the far. sighted operators of the tannery. . .only to be sold by Jarius TerBush to builder and contractor James E. Dice II.

The sight that greeted the first European’s eyes here in the Catskills, from a high vantage point, was an unbroken carpet of dark blue color, interspersed with shadows of black. This was the view that vast. uninhabited areas of hemlock gave to the entire countryside.

The immense spreads of hemlock timber made the Catskills an island in the midst of the westward push of civilization. But today there’s just the one documented virgin hemlock left standing though some are still rotting on the forest floor. . Other virgin trees of any kind probably number less than 100.

Then the tanneries came, with the turnpikes, the sawmills, the villages and hamlets around them. . . the canal, the railroads, the inevitable major transportation tolink them to market.

The Newburgh Cochecton Turnpike was built in 1808. The Delaware Hudson Canal in 1828. The Erie Railroad in 1851. The Denning to Napanoch Plank Road in 1856

All of these run generally east and west, connecting the hinterlands with the rivers and the centers of population. And generally this holds true. A north to south railroad was planned, but never built, contrary to Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester’s History of Ulster Co.

In the early years of the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike, its role was a vital one to the economic growth of the Sullivan area. It carried produce to the Hudson for transshipment to sloops bound for New York, serving as a quick route by stage for raftsmen returning to the upper reaches of the Delaware for another sprawling raft of timber. Actually, by the time of the Civil War, its importance had been usurped considerably by the Delaware and Hudson Canal and the New York and Erie Railroad.

In 1862 the 143rd Regiment used the ‘Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike to march off to war-via Middletown and the Erie Railroad.

The hemlock, that basic need in a new industry of leather tanning, was doomed. There was money in tanning, acres of tall trees to be cut, and the outcome was the growth of a vast new industry.

The eastern, hemlock was more plentiful here than in any other part of the state. The supply seemed inexhaustible. The tidewater of the Hudson, a natural highway, was close. The Erie Railroad, the great turnpikes, the D-and-H, would be built to transport the hides in, the finished leather out. We also had the tremendous amounts of water needed for the hundreds of tanning establishments.

In 1860 Sullivan had 39 tanneries, top number in the state. Ulster had 30, Oneida and Oswego 38, Chenango and Schoharie 17, Delaware 24 and Greene County nine.

The tanbark industry developed after the War of 1812. Not until then did the United States of America enjoy free commerce with the world. From the west via the Erie, from the east by the D-and-H, from Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Spain and later from Texas, came the shiploads of hides to be converted into leather,

The hides had to come to the bark, for the green hides were easier to transport than the bulky bark. It took one cord of bark, four by four by eight, to tan ten hides and it cost from three to ten trees to obtain one cord of bark.

French, in his 1860 Gazetteer said, "About 1817, upon the discovery of improved methods of tanning leather, tanners rushed into the Cats kill mountains, purchased large tracts of mountain lands covered with hemlock timber and erected extensive tanneries.

"The valleys of Schoharie Creek, Batavia and Westkill soon teemed with a numerous, active laboring population, and the solitude of the deep mountain glens was made vocal by the hum of industry, .the buzz of the waterwheel and the rattling of machinery. Villages of consider able magnitude, with churches, schools, stores and taverns, rose up in the wilderness as if by magic."

Jack E. Hope, in the New York State Conservationist for October-November 1960, wrote:

"Today the tannery has vanished from the Catskill scene; gone with the supply of hemlock bark that supported this flourishing industry during the brief period from 1840 to 1870.

"Actually, the tanning industry in New York got its start 200 years earlier, when in 1 638 the Dutch built a tannery on Manhattan Island (then a part of New Netherland). But any industry needs customers for (he goods it produces, and until the late 1800’s the Catskill Mountain region could boast little in the way of permanent settlement" ‘(sic). Further hindrance to private commercial development existed in the form of the original "feudal" type of land ownership by influential families. The influence of these feudal tenures was not completely eliminated until 1846 when the Constitution of the Empire State wiped out all possibility of a manorial system in New York.

By 1830, when leather tanning secured a foothold in the Catskills," Hope continued, "many commercially-minded citizens had grasped the importance of the huge supply of hemlock bark, waiting to be exploited for its valuable tannins. Evidence of this fact comes from Quinlan’s History of Sullivan County, in which the author states’ Bark was cheap, as well as labor, while leather was dear

The statement that ‘bark was cheap’ might well be revised by taking into account the dollar and cents value of the millions of board feet of hemlock timber skinned of its bark and left to rot on the forest floor."

Prior to tannery days, the beautiful Catskills had been an unbroken blanket of green hemlock stretching to the horizon. Now factories for the tanning of leather sprang up wherever there was bark to feed them. Roads suitable for heavy loads pushed up every timbered valley. Peelers, with spuds in hand, went into the bark woods about May first, peeling the hemlock as long as it would peel, then stacking the bark in cord piles to dry and to be drawn to the tanneries. The bark was taken to the tannery either by skidding it out in the summer and fall in dry season, or, at opportune times, the following winter.

High on the slopes of Doubletop, where only hardy hunters now penetrate, there are a few piles of forgotten hemlock bark, green with moss on the outside, just as they were peeled.

The spud was the tool of the bark-peelers. A hooked blade, with hard wood handle, it was made to cut into the slippery cambium layer and slide along the trunk, peeling a piece of bark approximately four feet long and from twelve to sixteen inches wide. The bark was removed from the butt to the first limb. ‘The rest of the tree was left to rot where it fell. Actually, the trees were so exceptionally long-lasting that this process would have taken at least fifty years, so many were burned by the people who settled the Cut-over lands. A few were cut into lumber to provide the first really good roads, the plank turnpikes.

The lovely, unpainted, weathered grey barns are of hemlock.

Uncured, hemlock wood is easily worked, resilient and yellow and aromatic. Cured, it is rock-hard, indestructible by insects, resistant to rot and decay, but it is brittle.

The spit and polish neatness of a modern factory had no counter part in a tannery of the year 1860. Buildings were rough, unpainted lumber, with huge stacks of hemlock bark in houselike piles built up around them. Always the tanneries were on a stream, or near one, be-cause great quantities of water were used in tanning. A characteristic smell hung over the tan-yards.

It is not surprising to note that the largest tannery, Hammond's at DeBruce, used the same superb water supply as the New York Conservation Department employs for the Catskill trout hatchery.

Tanbark was ground in a water-powered mill, something like a huge coffee grinder. Then it was taken to a leach-house where it was mixed with boiling water and left to steep for about a week. The liquor then ready to be piped to the tan-yards as needed.

The hides were first put in vats in the beam-house and left for approximately one week. Some weighed as much as 125 pounds! They were taken out, pounded until soft, and split down the middle into sides. The sides were taken to the sweat-pits and left for five to eight days, according to the heat. To know when the hides were ready to be taken from the sweat-pits, workmen rubbed a thumb over them. The odor on opening these pits was terrible, and the hartshorn made the eyes run. If hair could be rubbed off with a thumb the sides were ready to be milled, or pounded, to remove the. bulk of the hair. Beam hands then went to work, using a flenser, worker and big knife to scrape and clean any remaining hair or flesh from the hides.

Next the hides were treated to plump them, opening the pores so the leather would take a tan. Handlers put them, one by one, flat, into a vat of weak liquor solution. A shovelful of tanbark was scattered on each side as it sank. This kept the sides from settling too close together. After three weeks the sides were turned over and the liquor was made stronger. Again, at the end of three weeks, the hides were changed and laid down in strong liquor for three months.

This ended the tanning and the hides were put in a loft to dry. When dry, they were scrubbed and treated with fish oil and hung up again for a short time, they were taken down for the last time and treated with tanners’ oil and rolled for easier shipment to market.

Anyone who has handled a green, uncured raw hide that has been left for a few days in the warm weather, can easily imagine the terrible stench that hung over the tanneries. Many of these hides had traveled from the ends of the earth, slowly and without refrigeration.

The first extensive tannery in the state was built at Tannersville by Colonel William V. Edwards and his son William W., of Northampton, Massachusetts, in July 1817. The first tannery in the Greene County Catskills locale dates to 1791, or 1792, built by John Bray, in the town of Lexington. Soon after the Edwards tannery at Tannersville flourished, other tanneries were built and a. very large amount of leather was made annually for a long series of years, until the hemlock bark was exhausted.

For example, the extraordinary Cal. Zadok Pratt’s tannery at Prattsville used 6,000 cords of hark, tanning 60,000 sides of sole leather annually, for. 25 years!

It has been estimated that it took a long ton of bark, 2,240 pounds to tan 250 pounds of leather. With a big tannery operation processing 30,000 sides of leather in a year, it is easy to see what happened to the virgin hemlock stands of these hills.

In 1860, J. H. French wrote, "The supply of bark was soon exhausted, and the proprietors gradually abandoned their establishments and followed the mountain chain south, erecting new factories in Ulster and Sullivan counties, and their successors are now pursuing the hem lock into the heart of the Alleghenies. The result of all this was to facilitate the occupation of the lands in the mountain towns, and in many cases to carry cultivation to the summits of the most lofty ranges, thereby opening one of the finest dairy and wool growing regions in the State."

The Palens gave the name to Palenville, Greene County, then came south to Fallsburgh (at the Neversink Falls) where they ran the Palen and Flagler tannery, to Neversink Flats (now under the reservoir) for Palen & Co., and then on to Rockland where it was Utter and Palen in the year 1865.

The Flaglers, as you know, turned to the resort business, making the transition from one century’s big business to the next century’s big business without moving.

Colonel Gideon E. Bushnell, first commander of the’ elite corps called "The Ulster Guard," the 20th Regiment of New York, ran the tannery which gave the name to Bushnellville on the Ulster-Greene county line, then came south to found Claryville.

But it was Colonel George \V. Pratt and Governor Edwin D. Morgan who offered the 20th to the Union, the 12th of April, 1861. April 28th they were on their way. (The son of Cal. Zadok Pratt, a tanner, businessman and Congressman, though illiterate, Col. George W. Pratt was wounded at the second Battle of Bull Run, was taken from the field to Washington, then to Albany where he died on the 11th of September 1862. The 20th went on to fight at Gettysburg under Cot. Gates who ‘lost more than half his force.")

Private Lewis Snyder, later Captain Snyder, and also a partner in the Bushnell and Snyder tannery was wounded at Gettysburg. The Bushnell tannery became the Bushnell and Snyder tannery. Jarius Ter Bush purchased the remaining property from the Snyders, and his daughter, Mrs. Harvey Slater, now holds what is left.

The tannery owners were not only the big wheels of the villages they begat, they were the officers the men followed into battle, and thetannery fortunes, plus the experience gained in the wild boom towns and on the bloody battlefields took them into some of the most prominent and influential positions throughout the world.

Many born in the township of Liberty went to other parts of the country to operate successful tanneries. Wherever hemlock grew in abundance there could be found the Crarys, the Gildersleeves, the Hortons, Garrits, Smiths or Grants,

In 1860, Liberty was turning out 106,000 sides of leather. Fallsburgh’s & Woodbourne’s tanneries were putting out about 40,000 each. In 1865, the tanneries owned by Medah T. Morse, at Woodbourne, Morsston and Black Lake were pushing out about one million pounds, valued at over $250,000. However, S. Hammond and Son, at DeBruce, was the peak single producer in 1865 with 826,280 pounds of leather, valued at $279,778 dollars. In 1855, Sullivan’s 40 tanneries turned out two million dollars worth of leather.

Inasmuch as the 1865 figure was for income tax you can rest assured it was slashed from the truth, perhaps even as much, or more than, fifty percent!

Mrs. James Cusator of Liberty wrote, "James Gildersleeve owned the first tannery in the town of Liberty. Born in 1786, the father of 16 children and a veteran of the War of 1812, James Gildersleeve began his tanning operations with very crude tools.

"At first the bark was broken with a hammer; later a mill was set up, run by horsepower (one old horse). Uncle Jimmy, as he was called (in the casual, friendly way), tanned hides and skins for his neighbors on shares. The shoes from his leather seldom wore out, but then children went barefooted from May to October. From this small beginning the tanning industry grew bringing fame and fortune to the sons of Liberty pioneers."

Putting the shoe on the right foot, elders as well as children didn’t wear shoes in the summer, except to church! They sat down by the roadside and put them on just before going in to worship.

The Catskill hemlock leather beyond doubt seldom wore out It was the finest leather made anywhere in the world! Imagine this fact: the boots never leaked, without using water-proofing!

After the war, when the hemlock supply was dwindling, oak bark was used, first as an additive. Later the present chemical tanning process began. Oak tanned leather is now the best obtainable, but it is in such short supply you find it only in the best sporting boots. And hem lock-tanned leather is not obtainable at all.

The tanning profits were enormous! In 1856 a Mongaup Valley tannery, with an overhead of $12,000 turned out 50,000 sides of leather valued at $187,000: 5,000 cords of bark were used, 70 men employed.

James Gildersleeve paid a man and his oxen 75 cents for a half-day’s work, drawing bark in 1829. In 1830 he laid out 14 shillings ($1.65) per cord of bark. By comparison the Governor of the State was paid $4,000 a year, the Lt. Gay. $6.00 a day and mileage.

No wonder the workers couldn’t afford to wear the shoes from the leather they made except to church!

In 1855, according to J. H. French’s Gazetteer of the State, which used census reports, there were 40 tanneries in Sullivan doing a two million-dollar business. Transfer that two million dollars worth of leather reported in 1865 into today’s figures!

By 1844, James Gildersleeve and his son, Nathaniel, owned a sawmill, gristmill and tannery. The buildings stood in the gorge now largely filled in and covered over, below the cemetery bridge in the village of Liberty. The tannery extended from bank to bank, over the Mongaup. The partners did an excellent business in tanning and currying, sending upper leather and calfskin to New York City.

Mrs. Cusator continues, "Then a disastrous flood destroyed the tannery. Undaunted, the Messrs. Gildersleeve moved to Liberty Falls (Ferndale). Here they were still doing business, and paying taxes, in 1865. Records show that in that year they manufactured 103,198 pounds of sole leather valued at $32,961, and paid an income tax of $1,694.60.

(The tax was 1 and 2/3 cents per pound. For the year ending June 30, 1865, Sullivan tanneries paid the United States government $142, -983.92. Income tax began August 5, 1861 - 3% of all income over $800.)

"James Gildersleeve died in 1870. William Gildersleeve, son of Nathaniel, was proprietor of a tannery near Liberty in 1872. He manufactured sole leather. Later, going to Tennessee, he continued in the leather business. David Clements, Abiel Bush and Lucas Forbes had a tannery at Bushville.

"Judge William Horton tanned the first leather in Delaware County. William’s son, with his wife, six sons and four daughters, came to Liberty Falls in 1826. Here he erected the first frame house and the first gristmill. Later he built a tannery, the chimney of which is still standing, and is now used as a TV tower.

"He died in 1855, but left a family of successful tanners to carry on his name. Five sons and 13 grandchildren, either directly or indirectly engaged in the tanning industry. Later Henry Gurd took over the Horton tannery. In 1845, one Isaac’s sons, Charles entered the tannery business at Liberty Falls with Nathaniel Gildcrslccve, thus joining two great pioneer names of the tannery business as a partner ship venture.

"Stevensville (now Swan Lake) received its name from the Stevens Brothers. Native tanners from Schoharie County, they conducted a sole leather tannery in Stevensville until it burned in 1856. One brother, Daniel, rebuilt the tannery and continued the business until after 1872.

"Traffic in Parksville, during the late ‘60s, presented congestion problems only exceeded by the automobiles of today. A number of tanneries operated there. They were owned by William Bradley, James F. Bush, Thomas Crary and his brother-in-law, J. Newton Young. Crary and Young, alone, kept 20 or 30 mule teams to haul the loads in and out of their tanneries.

"Grant and Lane operated a tannery across the street from the present Elks Club in Liberty. This was badly damaged by the summer flood of 1855. Quinlan mentioned this flood as follows: ‘On the 24th of July, 1855, showers of rain raised the Mongaup until it swept every thing in its way. The tanyard of Grant and Lane was overflowed, leaches torn away, etc. The tannery of James Gildersleeve and son was undermined and torn to pieces; their leather hides carried downstream. Their loss was $10,000.

"In 1862, Senator Robert Y. Grant died and his tanning business subsequently was taken over by his son Oscar B. Grant (A Lieutenant in the U. S, Marines during the Civil War.) About 1870, Oscar, affectionately known as "Doc," dismantled the tannery and moved to Ridgeway, Pa., where he continued in the leather business. 0. B. Grant, a man of wealth, hated autos and would never ride in one, but when he died at the age of 80, ironically, the horse drawn carriage had given way to the modern coach, and this Civil War veteran was carried to his last resting place in the "devil wagon" he despised.

"About 100 years ago (1832), Mason Crary built a tannery on the flats south of Liberty. A sawmill and several tenant houses were later erected. Mason Crary, unlike his brothers, was an inventor, and a dreamer, and not a business executive. Hence the inhabitants who knew him doubted his business would succeed. They doubted to each other, they doubted to strangers; they doubted loud and long, until the little community became known as Dowtonville, and to this day the little bridge over the Mongaup, tier Ben Gerow’s gas station on route 17, is known as the Dowtonville bridge. The tannery burned. Watson Hose Co., now No. 1’s used their new pumper for the first time on this fire.

"While the tanneries flourished, the trout disappeared from the streams, killed by the residue. However, with the passing of the tanning business, they again filled the many streams and brooks as a lure to the summer boarders. As the summer boarders flocked to Sullivan County, hemlock was once again in demand, but this time as lumber, needed to build or enlarge the small houses that had sufficed the settlers.

"On the farm of J. Newton Clements, just east of Liberty village, they peeled the hemlock before sawing the logs into lumber. The following winter, with the slackening of farm work, Mr. Clements would sell the bark to the Fairchild tannery in Monticello, delivering it with horses and sleigh.

"It was an all day trip, and especially long to the mother with two small children at home. Often, when night drew near, the children would stand by the road and put their ears to the ground to catch the beat of the horse’s feet, a quarter of a mile away.

The Clements family sold hark as late as 1906."

Some of these fortunes which were made during the Civil War years, when Sullivan County tanning was at its peak were lost during the 1870 depression. But the Webb Horton Memorial Church and the Elizabeth Horton Memorial Hospital of Middletown were erected by a large share of money given by the heirs of the Horton family who had vast holdings in county tanneries.

Mildred Parker Seese, Middletown Times Herald Record column she wrote. "The fact that there were tanneries in Greene County is of importance in Middletown and, all of western Orange County because we still profit directly and indirectly from the southward migration of tanners when the hemlocks around Windham, Ashland and Prattsville gave out.

"The chief monument to the tanning industry, perhaps the only one, is the rock carving representing Zadok Pratt overlooking his village and the Schoharie Creek, which furnished water necessary for both the tanning process and the power his tannery needed. That rocky hill once bore a noble forest of deep green red barked hemlocks.

*(This bridge was just south of the present Mongaup bridge on the northbound entrance to the Route 17 Quichway at exit 100. Editor)


"Catskill, where the tanners put their produce on Hudson slops, has a monument of another kind, the Tanner’s National Bank. And there is Tannersville across the mountain from Windham.

"Albert E. Babcock, who built the Cornelius & Dodd Funeral Home on Grove Street for his daughter, Mrs. Thrall (long the Harry Gould residence, and his brother Linus B., who became a Middletown hat manufacturer, and built a fine residence on an eminence now leveled and replaced by a gas station opposite Central Firehouse, went’ down from Sullivan. But they were sons of an early tanner at Prattsville and Ashland, and first cousins of the railroad financier from Delaware County. Jay Gould. Albert’s daughter, Sara Maretta Thrall, was Middletown’s Beneficent Lady."

The Matthews & Hunt carpetbag factory and at least a dozen families, some of great importance to the city like Horatio Wilcox, a hatter who built Dr. Pohlmann’s house at Railroad and Grove—went from Greene County to Middletown in related migrations. And about 1895 the Newburys took their foundry from Coxsackie to Goshen, which was for them really a return to near their pioneer territory in Warwick.

Service to the Sullivan County tannery industry was among the reasons Samuel Callendar Howell built a depot and warehouse and persuaded the Erie to designate a stop at his place on a trade route from Sullivan to the Hudson. Thus we have the Orange County hamlet of Howells, dominated by the magnificent brick Howell house which was long the home of the Times-Herald advertising staff’s Fanny Dudley.

The Dietz operation at Burlingame, from where some Dietzes went to Syracuse and the lantern business, probably was Sullivan’s first tannery of consequence. One of the Dietz buildings, as well as a family home, still exists, on the property that was, in the 1930’s, Camp Isida for Macy Store employees, after the late Benjamin Todd of Middletown, Marie’s father, had made a summer resort around the tannery pond.

John Joachim Dietz, whose tannery and glue factory in New York depending on hides from his fellow-Rhinelander, John Jacob Astor, moved the tannery to the Sullivan-Orange border in 1818 to be near the source of tanning bark. The bark supply gave out about 1838, but the family is represented in the area.

The earliest Orange County tannery, Mildred Parker Seese reports, was the Dill and Boyd at Hunting Grove, near Burnside. She says it was either the Robert Boyd, junior, Revolutionary arms maker, or his father who was the partner with Dill.

French’s Gazetteer says that Bethel Township tanneries turned out 102 thousand sides of leather annually 100 years ago. That Callicoon’s (then pronounced Caw-li-coon) five large tanneries turned out 125 thousand, "Lumbering and tanning form the leading objects of industry" in Cochecton. Fallsburgh: 80,000. Forestburg, 100,000, "Tanning and lumbering form the principal employments of the people." But evidently Highland had no tannery, French said, "the people are chiefly engaged in lumbering and the rudiments of farming."

Liberty turned out 106 thousand sides of leather, Lumberland evidently had no tanneries, but there has been timbering since at least 1 762, when "Reeves Sawmill" was mentioned in the Minisink Patent. He didn’t report how much leather Mamakating turned out, though they had tanneries, but did say the 1855 census shows "this town is second only to Thompson in dairying." Neversink’s 155 production was 95 thousand sides; Rockland’s area had one of the most extensive tanneries in the state and annually tanned 170 thousand sides of leather. Thompson, where people raised stock, lumbered and tanned, turned out 35,000

Tusten’s people were generally engaged in farming and lumbering rather than tanning.

Former Sullivan County Historian, Charles C. Hicks compiled this list, with the following footnote:

The above (below) is for the year ending June 30th, 1865, and is’

probably taken from a tax return. The tax paid to the U. S. Govt. (Civil War tax) was $142,893.92 - which is the rate of I 2/S cents per pound.




Babcock, A. E. Beaverkill



Wales, Gad & Co., Forestburg, later Gildersleeve



Wheeler, O.B. Oakland Valley



Gilman, W. St. Josephs



Wales, Gideon, Pike Pond



Hammond, S. & Son, Debruce



Morss, Medad T. Woodbourne



Morss, Medad T., Morsston



Morss, Medad T. Black Lake



Miles & Miles, Hankins, Mileses



Clark, E.A. & Co., Cochecton Center



Babcock, L.B. & Co. Cochecton Center



Buckley & Lapham (Hoyt Bros.), Callicoon Center



Buckley, B.P. & Sons, Fremont Center



Utter & Palen, Rockland



Inderlied, Henry Parksville



Horton, Clements & Co. Liberty Falls



Cochrane & Appley Roscoe



Hoyt Brothers (reside in N. Y.) Callicoon Center



Interlied, Henry Youngsville



Young & Crary Parksville



Palen & Flagler Fallsburg



Snyder & Bushnell Claryville



Gildersleeve, J & N. Liberty Falls



Stevens, D.T. Stevensville (Swan Lake)



Palen & Co., Fallsburg



Castle, Philip A.



Stevens, D. T. Stevensville (Swan Lake)



Johnston, John Denning, Ulster Co,



Hammond, Stoddard Grahamsville



Grant, O. B. Liberty



Dutcher & Decker Willowemoc



W. Kiersted & Co. Mongaup Valley



Fobes, Edwin Bushville



Snyder, John B. Claryville



Kuykendall & Knapp Summitville



Denniston, C. W.



Bowers & Morris Wurtsboro



Dietz, G. F. Rurlingham



Totals lbs.



The tanning industry gave employment to many men, the larger ones employing as many as 700 at a time. Boom towns sprang up around the tanneries. Today they arc ghost towns, like Ferndale, or forgotten communities, like Starlight, which did have a post office, or marked only by a few vestiges of foundations and village homes, like Fallsburgh, leaving very little evidence of the many tanneries which dotted Sullivan’s 1,082 square miles.

"Tanneries varied in size," Jack E: Hope reported "from very small establishments employing three or four workers to large, well-planned operations such as the Palen tannery built in the year 1832 on the falls of the Neversink in Sullivan County. The main building of this tannery measured 40 x 350 feet and contained 160 tanning vats, capable of holding 25,000 sides of leather. In operation, the business required 4,000 cords of hemlock bark yearly (a cord is roughly equivalent to one ton of bark). About 40 workers earned their living under the roof of this one building, while additional manpower was needed in order to harvest the huge amount of bark. The Claryville tannery, built in 1848, also in Sullivan County, was even larger. It employed 50 men, and tanned 30,000 sides of leather annually.

"But the tanners, whose aim it was to ‘convert the forests to cash at the least possible expense,’ added to their bank accounts at the loss of their future, By 1870 the Catskills fell behind the Southern Tier and Adirondack counties in’ leather production. At this time, New York lost her lead to Pennsylvania, with tanning establishments declining in number from more than 1,000 in 1870 to but 147 in 1900, following state-wide depletion of hemlock.

"It’s small wonder that the supply of hemlock bark disappeared. Following tanning processes of the day, one "long" ton (2,240 pounds) of hemlock bark was needed to tan between 200 to 300 pounds of leather. With tanneries the size of Rufus Palen’s, mentioned above, using as much as 4,000 long tons of bark yearly, the hills were son denuded of hemlock. These three species, along with a few others, are the "natural successors" in the Catskill area, ruling out the possibility of natural replacement of the hemlock stands.

Hope continues, "Profit-minded tanners did not heed the warnings of the few foresighted individuals who predicted the inevitable exhaustion of the hemlock stands and the downfall of the tanning business.

"At the turn of the century, Catskill tanneries were on their way out; only eight small businesses remained. The area also possessed oak and chestnut, which could have been used for tanning, but these species were relatively scarce and their utilization for tanning would have been impractical.

"During their period of prosperity these tanneries were not benefited by any of the more modern advances in tanning technology. Be ginning about 1880, laborsaving machinery and new tanning compounds found their place in American leather manufacture. Although the plant extract, tannin, is still the leading ingredient in tanning formulas, its importance has been diminished by the popular use of oils, aldehydes, chrome and synthetic tanning materials. But the revolutionary formulas and mechanical advantages of modern tanning came too late to save the tanning industry and the hemlocks of the Catskills. The region’s importance as a leather producer vanished as quickly as it came about.

"Had this heavy exploitation of the hemlock been postponed by some twenty years, modern technology might have prevented the complete disappearance of the Catskill tanneries. But no amount of enlightenment now can restore these tanneries nor the great tracts of hemlock that played such a brief but dramatic role in the history of the Catskills."

Had this exploitation been postponed by one year, the North might have lost the Civil War... "for the want of a nail.

French tells us that Sullivan’s valuation in 1858 was $4,276,586. Now it is, assessed valuation $121,257,502: true valuation $330,387,709.

In 1858, Thompson was our richest township, with Mamakating second with $658,778, but Mamakating was ahead in valuation of real estate, $612,928 to $515,680, but way behind in value of personal property, only $45,850 compared to Thompson’s $225,800. Rockland was the county’s poorest township with only $1 15,685 valuation, of real and personal property.

Other interesting 1858 figures: there were 125,489 1/4 acres of inn-proved lands, 494,829 1/4 unimproved. Four to one. I doubt that to day’s comparison is any better, if as good, for we hit our peak around the turn of the twentieth century.

Our population was 29,487, and it is still under 50,000. 15,491 men, 13,996 ladies, more men than women, as on any frontier. There were only 5,403 dwellings, 5,517 families, 4,070 freeholders, 46 churches, 167 school districts (now 10) with 12,330 children in school. There were two secondary schools, Monticello and Liberty academies. Mamakating maintained its lead over Thompson down the line, except in freeholders. Thompson had 514, Mamakating 511. The town of Forestburg had the least number of people; a total of 598,325 in school. The town of Del aware hadn’t come into being.

Thompson had the most horses, 440 and cows, 1721, raised the most dairy products, chiefly butter. Liberty had the most working oxen and calves, 2,463 and made more cheese than Thompson. Neversink led with sheep, 2,450, Mamakating had the top number of hogs, 1,751, raised the most grain, nearly 50,000 bushels. Neversink the most apples, 14,545 bushels.

French also said, sort of prophetically, "The climate is cool and bracing, and the county is remarkably healthy."

Sullivan’s population of 29487 people included 110 colored. There were 5,727 voters, only men in those days; 3,606 aliens, 21,508 New York born, 23,185 born in the country. 6,128 were born out of the country. Also there were 436 people over 21 who couldn’t read or write, but probably most over 21 could only read and write their own name. There were 11 deaf and dumb, 13 blind, 16 insane, 13 idiots.

Ulster County’s population then was 67,936, Orange 60,868. Orange had 1,426 black or mulatto - but there was only one slave still living in New York State in 1855 when these figures were compiled.

Back in 1790 Sullivan had 1,763 people. . . in 1800, 3,222. Just how these figures were compiled we don’t know, inasmuch as Sullivan wasn’t set off from Ulster until 1809. In 1810 we had 6,108; 1814, 6,233; 1820, 8,900; 1825, 10,373; 1830, 12,364; 1835, 13,755; 1840, 15,629; 1845, 18,727: 1850, 25,088; 1855, 29,487.

Sullivan and Ulster had no medical society, though most other counties did.

There were many religious, literary and benevolent societies in 1860, all of which arose between 1822 and 1825, and all with annual meetings during "Anniversary Week" on the 2nd week in May in New York City. The American Bible Society which started in 1809 in the state, began in Sullivan in 1826. It had raised over $5,000 up to May of the year 1858.

The Free and Accepted Masons order began in Sullivan in 1861. Oddly, horseracing at Saratoga started during the war itself, Aug. 1863.

Sullivan was a state leader in one agricultural "product" - - - the number of working oxen. They drew the loads of hides in, the bark to the tanneries, the leather out. We had 4,265 working oxen, bested only by Chatauqua, Delaware, Dutchess, Saint Lawrence, Steuben, Ulster and Westchester.

We had only 15 stone houses, no brick ones, 4,230 frame homes, 757 log houses, a total of 5,403. There were 3,643 farms, with 125,489 1/4 improved acres, 620,318 1/2 unimproved. Eleven counties had more unimproved land. Ten counties had more sawmills - but no county had more tanneries.

Gales in the town of Thompson is now just a memory. Bashville in Bethel is gone. Neversink Falls had 25 homes, was even in 1860 the Fallsburg post office. Now it’s often called Old Falls to differentiate it from South Fallsburg which grew up around the New York, Ontario & Western railway depot. Sandburg’s 15 homes would come to be known as Mountaindale. Woodridge was then Centerville Liberty Falls is now Ferndale, and Glen Cove is Grossinger. Robertsonville became White Sulphur Springs, Stevensville turned into Swan Lake.

Neversink Flats, which in 1860 had the Neversink post office (and post offices were in their infancy) is now obliterated by the New York City water supply reservoir of the same name. Morsston has been for gotten for Morsston Depot on the O and W Railroad which we call Livingston Manor.

Westfield Flats turned into Roscoe in honor of Senator Roscoe Conkling. The Delaware river’s raftsmen often called Lackawaxen "Lacawack," but Lacawack was on the Roundout River located directly under the present Merriman dam.

Consider this, away back then, when the great war began, this was a raw, rough frontier, with booming growing towns. Some of our townships, like Fallsburgh, Liberty and Thompson of the present Gold en Triangle, have more permanent residents, but most townships of Sullivan have less.

In 1860, Neversink had 2,180 peoples now only 1,555. In 1860 Cochecton had 3,071 compared to today’s 1,067.

Bert Feldman - Sullivan County Historical Society