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The Rip Van Winkle House

When the Catskill Mountain House first opened in 1826, visitors made the twelve-mile journey from Catskill, NY to Pine Orchard by horse-drawn coach. The last three miles wound steeply up the east side of South Mountain along the Mountain House Road, a privately owned turnpike that followed an old trail. A traveler in October, 1826 writes ...

"Two miles from the summit is a small hut, or shantey as they are called here, whose occupant by universal consent bears the name of the immortal sleeper. Whether a genuine descendant or not is the point upon which I will not state my veracity. His hut is in a singularly romantic situation; built in a deep angle of the rock with a perpendicular ascent fifty feet directly above him. He keeps refreshment for travelers, and is supplied with water by spout which is laid from his window to the spring in a rock behind him. It was just dark when we arrived there, and probably the deep shadows of the woods and rocks added to the effect---but I have seldom been so struck as by the sudden turn which brought me upon the wild eyrie of this modern Rip Van Winkle." [1, Boston Recorder and Telegraph, 6 Oct. 1826]

Thus, a commercial endeavor determined where Rip Van Winkle slept. Indeed, visitors were shown "Rip's Rock" as the specific resting place. Washington Irving did not visit the Catskill "Sleepy Hollow" until 1832.

Ira Sax owned the so-called shantey lot. In 1867, he hired William Comfort to build a larger boarding house ...

"I built the three-story boarding house in 1867 for a farmer who owned the site and had an impression that he might make a summer resort of the reputed spot where Rip took his famous nap. So I was chosen as the designer and builder, and after several weeks of freezing in the early spring and several weeks more of torment from mosquitoes and punkies getting into our eyes---to say nothing of other inconveniences and annoyances---the building was finished, good and strong" [2, Catskill Recorder, 1 Feb. 1918]

The boarding house was a convenient half-way resting stop on the Mountain House Road ...

"A stop was made for "rest" at the Rip Van Winkle Boarding House. Tourists were shown the immense barroom, opening upon the porch of the boarding house, with its famous awning extending across the creek. To sit beneath it for ten minutes brought a chill, no matter how hot the day,---owing to the current of icy air that swept down from the cool, deep ravine of Sleepy Hollow gashed into the mountain overhead. When the tourist began to shiver from this chilliness the bar-tender brought forth a fresh version of the oft-told story of horses that caught cold while their drivers drank. The horses then had to be unhitched and led to the stables, where they could be warmed and their joints limbered; the afternoon quickly sped on, while the drivers drank; nightfall made impossible any further progress up the awful road; and, far into the night the drivers drank on,---telling and enlarging upon the many version of Old Rip and his Dwarfs and their kegs of musty old ale. Little wonder that no one rembered the truth!" [3, H. A. Haring, Our Catksill Mountains, G. P. Putnam, New York, 1931.]

In 1880, Ira Sax sold the shantey lot and Rip Van Winkle Boarding House to Elizabeth Lusk, wife of Gilbert Lusk, who subsequently managed the property. The hotel presumably had an image of Rip Van Winkle over the door that was painted by Thomas Cole. Gilbert died in 1885. Nevertheless, his widow continued operations under the management of H. A. Schutt and J. M. Miller.

The Mountain House Road began a steady demise in 1892 when the Otis Company built an inclined railway up the mountainside to the Catskill Mountain House. Eiizabeth Lusk conveyed the property to Sarah Emory in 1893 who, in turn, conveyed the property to Robert M. Mabie in 1896. Robert's investment was a poor one---the property significantly deteriorated by 1902, and it was abandoned soon after.

The Rip Van Winkle Boarding House and the adjacent shantey house burned in 1918. The Mountain House Road is now a horse trail.

The Rip Van Winkle House site today ...

 

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