Celebrating history close to home
Three summers ago, more than 40 residents of the Town of Highlandfull-time, part-time, long-time and newly arrivedgathered for a lively community visioning workshop organized by The Catskill Center and expertly led by Helen Budrock. Like communities up and down the Delaware, we were responding to change, real and potential, from many points of view.
Ultimately, it became clear that the kind of economic development we wanted was not only compatible with, but dependent upon, the preservation of the things that make our community beautiful and livable. Everyone spoke of a desire to protect the extraordinary natural beauty and distinctive rural character of our five hamlets. Our unique local history was rated highly. Suggested improvements ranged from build community pride to build a swimming pool, but most agreed that we should preserve open space, protect historic architecture and buildings, create cultural opportunities and promote intergenerational activities.
Ive remembered those conversations as Highland Renaissance volunteers put the finishing touches on our history walk in Barryville. The self-guided tour is part of a three-year grant from Sullivan Renaissance, administered by Highland Renaissance working in partnership with the Greater Barryville Chamber of Commerce, which grew out of those initial visioning sessions. Called Barryville Renaissance, our multi-year project focuses on beautification of the Route 97 corridor and the delicate task of creating a stronger sense of Main Street identity in Barryville, while preserving the hamlets essentially rural atmosphere.
The history walk invites visitors and longtime residents alike to celebrate local heritage and discover some wonderful examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture. Dorene Warner designed beautiful bluestone hitching post tour markers and a colorful brochure illustrated with vintage photographs. John Conway, the official Sullivan County historian, has helped us create an entertaining narrative that captures the texture of everyday life in a small town.
Our overarching theme is continuity and transformation, and the walk reminds us that endurance, ingenuity and adapt-ation have always been a part of life in the Catskills. The tour traces the changing fortunes brought about by the canal, railroad and automobile, and draws attention to a number of venerable structures that have been remodeled and re-purposed over the years.
A good example is the circa-1927 filling station near the intersection of Route 97 and Route 55, renovated by volunteers in 2005 as a visitor information center. This charming little landmark represents the era when motor touring revitalized the Catskills, and demonstrates that a humble piece of commercial architecture can have real beauty, dignity and integrity of design.
Inspired by the refurbishment of the station, area residents have stopped by to share family photographs and memories. Exploring the past really does bring people together and create shared connections to the community and the landscape, bonds that can enrich our perspective as we look to the future. Were planning a formal oral history project later in the year, so that we can preserve these wonderful stories.
If youd like to contribute information or reminiscence, or help interview town residents, stop by the information station on weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day and sign up. Well keep you posted as the project takes shape.
Better still, come to a meeting of Highland Renaissance, at 3:00 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Town hall in Eldred. There are countless ways to contribute your knowledge and skills to our various projects, from planning and research to planting and tending flowers in Eldred and Barryville, or serving as an official greeter at the information station. Our group includes motivated citizens of all ages, and your participation would be most welcome.
(Barryville resident Carol Roig is a writer and communications consultant for non-profit organizations, and president of Highland Renaissance, an all-volunteer community organization dedicated to enhancing the natural beauty and rural character of the Town of Highland.)