A Brief History of the Town of Delaware
By Mary E. Curtis
Practically all of the land now within the boundaries of the Town of Delaware was a part of the tract of the Hardenburgh patent purchased in London about 1750. The buyer was a New York distiller name Joseph Griswold, who had traveled to England in search of a second wife.
In 1755 or 1756, Griswold hired Joseph Ross of Bound Brook, New Jersey, to settle at the confluence of Callicoon Creek and the Delaware River. Acting as Griswold's land agent, he built a house near what is now Upper Delaware Campgrounds.
When Ross came to what came to be known as Callicoon, there were few settlers in the area, none within a mile of his new home. Many years before, hunters from the Hudson Valley had ventured into the valley of the Callicoon Creek, finding abundant wild turkey and naming the waterway "Kolikoonkill" (Turkey River).
Not long after Ross's first settlement, the lumber rafting industry came into being. It began in 1764, when Daniel Skinner put his first small raft of logs into the Delaware just below Callicoon, and floated it to market in Philadelphia. This grew into a business, which took millions of board feet of timber from the forests of the Upper Delaware to the fast growing cities of Philadelphia, Trenton, and Easton. By 1922, when the last raft came into Martin Hermann's mill at Callicoon, the industry had dominated the area for more than 150 years. It drained the region of its native timber, and in the process changed it from a forested wilderness into a relatively civilized world of dairy farms and small communities.
As the forests were cleared, other communities began to appear. Hortonville was settled by Charles Layton - a friend of Joseph Ross's- in 1790. About 1849, Charles Horton built a tannery there. Still later, Henry Gardner established a paper mill.
Callicoon Depot, as it was first known, did not exist until the building of the Erie, America's first long line railroad. During construction of the Erie's Delaware Division, completed in 1848, the settlement served as one of the staging areas and was formally named in recognition of its railroad depot. In 1906, the U.S. Postal Service dropped the "Depot" from its name and renamed the smaller upstream village of Callicoon with the new name of Callicoon Center.
The coming of the railroad had a huge impact on the area, bringing German immigrant farmers to populate the Beachwoods and vacationers from the New York metropolitan area to summer at local boarding houses and hotels.
Although it too became a favorite spot for vacationers, Kenoza Lake (Pike Pond) had begun to develop before the advent of the railroad. The first settler there was a man named Woodruff, who came in from Poughkeepsie in 1812. Other early settlers included Stephen Gidney, who arrived from New Paltz about 1820, and Captain Nathan Moulthrop, a War of 1812 veteran, in 1828. In 1833, Eli Beach, William Bonestel, John Bied, and Robert Burger built a tannery, which was later operated by Gideon Wales for many years.
As the area developed, the government also changed. Prior to the Revolutionary War, much of the territory that is now Sullivan County was the Town of Mamakating. The Town of Lumberland - including today's Towns of Bethel, Highland, Cochecton, Liberty, and Tusten - was formed in 1798. In 1869, the Town of Delaware was taken from the Town of Tusten.
The first supervisors of the Town were Isaac R. Clements ((1869), a tanner from Pike Pond (Kenoza Lake), William H. Curtis (1870), a businessman from Callicoon Depot, and John F. Anderson (1873), an attorney also from Callicoon Depot. William H. Curtis has the distinction of being the only man to serve as supervisor for two Sullivan County towns, having been supervisor of the Town of Cochecton 1850.53, 1857, and 1859.
Callicoon grew into a busy and prosperous community, with the railroad station as the center of the community. At one time, it boasted five hotels, as well as a harness maker, livery stables, a dry goods store, two grocery stores, a milliner, a large sawmill, a newspaper, a pharmacy, a jewelry store, and at least two saloons. One of the latter had a special "ladies entrance." Another was the site of a notorious axe murder.
Each of the communities had its churches, established in the 19th century: Lutheran in Kohlertown; Methodist in Kenoza Lake; Reformed/Presbyterian in Hortonville; Methodist, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic in Callicoon. Catholic priests, who came to the area ministering to the 19th century German and Irish immigrants, paved the way for establishment of St. Joseph's Seminary. In 1901, the Order of Friars Minor, Franciscans based in Patterson, New Jersey, bought a large boarding house property overlooking Callicoon Depot. There they built an imposing seminary, the largest native bluestone building in the area. From that time until the 1970s virtually every Franciscan in the Province passed through St. Joseph's Seraphic Seminary, either as student, as teacher, or both. Finally closing due to a drop in student enrollment, the complex was sold to the U.S. Department of Labor, which operates it as a very successful job Corps Training Center.
The communities who came to life nourished by the railroad found their economies badly damaged as railroad travel gave way to the automobile. Building of New York State Route 97 in the 1930s as a scenic highway did not immediately lead to an influx of new visitors. By the 1950s, the boarding house and hotel business was fading from the scene. Hillsides that had provided the timber for development of Philadelphia, Trenton, and Easton, and hemlock bark to tan leather for Civil War soldiers' boots and belts to run the machinery of the Industrial Revolution had given up the last of the virgin forest's bounty.
Beginning in the late 1960s, a new kind of tourism found its way to the town. Campgrounds and canoes, followed by bed and breakfast inns, drew a new generation of vacationers. As the forests grew back and the river valley remained remarkably pristine, increasing number of visitors were drawn to the area.
Federal legislation in 1978 created the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. Encompassing the western section of the town, this unusual unit of the National Park System was established as a partnership park, relying upon local zoning to protect the land of the river valley, with the National Park Service as a partner primarily focusing on management of the river itself - monitoring water quality, enforcing law on the river, and encouraging environmental sensitivity.
One of the largest and most successful resorts in the region, the Villa Roma, now nestles in the hills of the Beachwoods. Callicoon, with its many and varied restaurants, justifiably claims to be the primary dining spot of the area. Second homeowners, from the rich and famous to the less exalted folk, are to be found, year round, in homes along virtually every street and roadway of the town.
And so the Town of Delaware begins the new millennium looking back on its rich heritage and forward to revitalized future, amid some of the most beautiful scenery to be found anywhere on the planet.