Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Book Follows Old Local Trail

By Jack Mazurak

Staff Writer

A winding, 90-mile dirt road that contributed much to the history of Delaware, Schoharie and Greene counties became fertile ground for a local author two years ago. 

Hamden's Dorothy Kubik had her second book, "West Through the Catskills," published by Purple Mountain Press of Fleischmanns in September.

The 120-page work details the rise and fall of the Susquehanna Turnpike, sometimes known as the Catskill Turnpike, over its 100-year life. Kubik said she likes dealing with local history for her topics.

"I especially enjoy the 19th century, a time when things were simpler," she said. 

The book includes a map and directions to sections of the turnpike that remain, where motorists can tour and see a piece of history.

Kubik said the turnpike was chartered by New York state to the Susquehanna Turnpike Road Co. in 1800 to run from Catskill to Unadilla. Many people were moving west after the Revolutionary War, she said, and the state saw a chance to grow.

"People were traveling on Indian paths and through the wilderness. The state couldn't find the funds to build the roads it needed, so they had to be chartered," Kubik said.

She said investors in the turnpike's charter wanted to get rich by selling or renting their lands around the turnpike to settlers and businesses. Franklin, Treadwell, Stamford and Harpersfield saw population increases thanks to the turnpike.

"Villages probably grew up quickly," she said. "As new settlers moved in, they would need blacksmiths, builders doctors and such." 

Kubik said the region's produce was taken down the road to Catskill and shipped the Hudson River to New York City. 

"Wheat for alcohol, sheep, cattle, maple products and butter, even turkey were shipped. It was not uncommon to run into 120 head of cattle being herded down the road," she said.

It was in the 1830s that the turnpike began to fail. Sections of it were abandoned and turned over to local pathmasters for upkeep.

"It kept falling apart little by little. A major factor was the Charlotte Turnpike in 1833, which was an easier grade and easier to travel," Kubik said. 

With the building of the Erie Canal, she said turnpikes became even more obsolete, and then railroads put both of them out of business. She said the last 15-mile stretch of turnpike west of Catskill was sold to Greene County in 1901.

Wray Rominger of Purple Mountain Press said he enjoyed working with Kubik on both this book and her first one, "A Free Soil — A Free People."

"We're very impressed with Dorothy, her writing skills and her research commitment," he said. 

"And she has a lot of skill in working with primary sources. Some of the information she researched for her first book on the Anti-Rent War had not even come out before."

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