The Legend of Add Condon: The Halcott Directory

July 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Richard Lionel De Lisser is one of the greatest photographers in Catskills history. He authored two photographic surveys of the Catskills, one of Greene County and one of Ulster County. Combined they contain over 1,800 photographs, which when combined with the author’s writings, highlighted his rambles in search of the picturesque. Part travelogue, part photo-documentary, both publications vividly capture the essence of late 19th century life in the Catskills.

 

Beginning in the summer and fall of 1893, after completing Picturesque Berkshire, De Lisser moved his travels across the Massachusetts border as he tramped the countryside of the Catskills of Greene County, New York in search of the picturesque. He traveled extensively on his buggy pulled by his faithful companion, his horse known as Cherry-Tree. The culmination of these ramblings was the first of his two photographic Catskills surveys, Picturesque Catskills: Greene County. It was published in 1894 by the aptly named Picturesque Publishing Company. The work contains over 800 black-and-white photographs and illustrations of the people and places of the county.

 

Vintage postcard titled “A Catskill Mountain Directory” that was published by T. H. Sachs of Catskill, New York.A Catskill Mountain DirectoryThis vintage postcard titled “A Catskill Mountain Directory” was published by T. H. Sachs of Catskill, New York. The photograph depicts a young boy by the name of Add Condon and was originally featured in the book Picturesque Catskills: Greene County by Richard Lionel De Lisser. The original caption was the “The Halcott Directory.” In the book Add Condon assisted De Lisser in finding the road to Halcott, the last remaining town to be photographed for the travelogue throughout Greene County.

Add Condon: The Halcott Directory. Author’s collection.

 

While nearing the completion of his photographic tramp through the Catskills of Greene County De Lisser faced an improbable challenge. No one that he met along his journey seemed to know how to get to the geographically isolated town of Halcott, and his comprehensive photographic study of Greene County would not be complete if an entire town was missed. From Lexington, where he was then located, there was an imposing mountain branch that ranged from the north at Lexington to the south near Bushnellsville that blocked easy access to the town of Halcott. This range included 3,530-foot Vly Mountain, Vinegar Hill, Beech Ridge, 3,520-foot Halcott Mountain and 3,090-foot Rose Mountain.

 

In the History of Greene County, New York published by J. B. Beers & Co. in 1884 the isolation of the town of Halcott was described. “The valley of the east branch of the Delaware River includes one township of Greene county, which is isolated from the other towns of that county by a branch from the main ridge of the Catskill Mountains. This branch, which forms the water-shed between the Delaware River and the Schoharie Creek, rises to a height of from ten hundred to eleven hundred feet, and is crossed only by difficult and unfrequented roads. There are no gaps or passages in the hill range, and the isolation is so complete that the principal routes of communication are by the way of Middletown, in Delaware County.” (Page 318.)

 

The History of Greene County, New York also contained the details of the many changes to the control of the Halcott township. “The township was included in Ulster county at the time that county was erected, on the first of November 1683. When Woodstock was formed, in 1787, it included this territory, and on the erection of Windham, March 23d 1798, it became a party of that town, and with it became a party of the new county of Greene on the 25th of March, two years later. In 1813 Windham was divided, and this part was called New Goshen; that was subsequently changed to Lexington, and from Lexington Halcott was taken on the 19th of November 1851.” (Page 318.)

 

The 1856 map by Samuel E. Geil shows the town of Halcott isolated geographically from the rest of Greene County by a range of mountains to the east. The residence of D. Condon is shown on the map on the Lexington side of the mountains, at Condon Hollow, where De Lisser likely began his journey to Halcott. (Geil, Samuel, E. A Balch, Robert Pearsall Smith, and Jones & Hitchcock. Map of Greene County, N.Y.: from actual surveys. [Philad. Philadelphia: E.A. Balch, publisher, 1856] Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2013593222/.)

 

Phoenicia, NY, 1:62,500 quad, 1900, USGSPhoenicia, NY, 1:62,500 quad, 1900, USGSHistorical Topographic Map Collection

The 1900 regional map from the U.S. Geological Survey provides some further insight as to the challenge of De Lisser’s likely route. Condon Hollow, located to the northwest from West Kill, was the site of a rough road over Beech Ridge. The road traveled through the pass between a 3,120-foot mountain to the north and a 3,240-foot mountain to the south. On the other side of the ridge a traveler such as De Lisser would have picked up a road in Turk Hollow, and then headed southwest along Vly Creek to reach the hamlet of Halcott Center. This route would have been even more challenging with De Lisser’s horse and cart.

 

Today this route is the location of the Condon Hollow Road Trail, a 2.3 mile, yellow-blazed trail managed by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that extends between Condon Hollow Road and Turk Hollow Road. There is a public lean-to located on the Turk Hollow end of the trail.

 

As for why, given its isolation, Halcott was originally included within Greene County, it was written that “when the Greene county line was drawn at its founding, it was laid out in straight lines and 90 degree angles to take in Halcott, regardless of the fact that the town is hemmed in from the balance of the county by mountains.” (“New Halcott-Westkill Road Being Pushed.” Catskill Mountain News. March 14, 1963.)

 

In the 1960s there were plans to construct a state road through Condon Hollow to Route 42. The “proposed road would run easterly along the present Condon (or Turk) hollow Halcott town road, from the main Halcott valley road at the Methodist church. It would cross the mountain and connect with a town of Lexington road into Westkill, covering a distance of 6 1/2 miles.” (“New Halcott-Westkill Road Being Pushed.” Catskill Mountain News. March 14, 1963.) However, these plans were abandoned “because of the difficulty of securing a right of way through the forest preserve.” (“Survey Begun for New Road Into Halcott.” Catskill Mountain News. December 9, 1965.)

 

Even today the town of Halcott remains relatively isolated from the rest of Greene County. To reach the rest of Greene County from Halcott via paved road one must first drive through a section of either Ulster County or Delaware County. Alternatively, for a route completely within Greene County, there is only the unimproved Halcott Mountain Road, which traverses the pass between Bearpen Mountain and Vly Mountain, thus connecting county Route 3 in the south and county Route 2 in the north. The town of Halcott is most often accessed from the south via the village of Fleischmanns in Delaware County.

 

Fortunately, for Catskills’ photography history, during his travels De Lisser came upon a young Add Condon who was able to direct him over the mountain to the town of Halcott. This fortuitous meeting allowed De Lisser to fully complete his photographic survey of Greene County. And fortunately for us, De Lisser recorded Condon’s name, and immortalized the young boy by including his photograph within Picturesque Catskills: Greene County. De Lisser affectionately described Condon as “the only man in Greene county who knew the road to Halcott.”

 

The postcard was published by T. H. Sachs of Catskill, New York. The postcard was printed in Germany, as was common for the era. The postmark on the reverse side shows that it was mailed from East Windham in April 1912, which was five years after the passing of the original photographer Richard Lionel De Lisser. While the postcard shown above is titled “The Catskill Directory,” De Lisser within his book titled the picture “The Halcott Directory.”

 

Although it is not definitive that it is the same person, there was a young Addison Ivan Condon who was born at the town of Lexington on February 5, 1888. This birthdate would make Addison 6-years-old at the time De Lisser arrived at Lexington, which seems to coincide with the apparent age of the boy in the photograph. The 1892 New York State census and the 1900 United States census show the youthful Addison residing at the town of Lexington with his parents, Richard and Martha Condon. The residence of D. Condon, a likely ancestor (possibly grandfather) of Addison, is shown at Condon Hollow in the town of Lexington on an 1856 map of Greene County, New York. This is the only residence on the map in the town of Lexington attributed to a person with the surname of Condon.

 

If this is the same person then we can offer a brief biography. As stated above he was the son of Richard Condon, who worked as a farmer, and Martha (Benjamin) Condon. After he grew up Addison worked as a farmer (1905 New York state census), a laborer in the household of George Van Loan (1910 US census), a farmhand in the household of George Hobbie (1915 US census), a farmer employed by C. S. Whipple (1917 World War 1 registration), as a farm laborer on a dairy farm (1920 US census), a carpenter and private contractor (1940 US census) and later as an employee at the Delaware Farm Cooperative Creamery at Delhi, New York (1942 World War 2 registration).

 

Addison Condon was a veteran of the World War I era, having honorably served as a private from July 1918 to December 1918 with the US Army 335th Guard and Fire Company. Five years later, in 1923, at the age of 35, Addison enlisted with New York National Guard, serving with Company F, 10th Infantry. With his service he was active in the local veteran community, being a member of both the American Legion and the Delaware County Barracks of Veterans of World War One.

 

As for his physical appearance Addison’s World War I draft registration card described him as tall in height and stout in build. He had light brown eyes and dark brown hair. He first married Florence May Divet at the town of Bovina in 1919 and later married Nellie M. Knowles in 1934.

 

Our once young and charming Addison lived until the age of 70, passing away on February 16, 1958. It was believed that Condon’s car skidded off Route 10, about five miles south of Delhi, during a winter snow storm, and he then fell asleep with the car running, ultimately dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was survived by his wife and four sons, Clayton (1934-1971), George (who later resided at Plattsburgh), Andrew (who later resided in Florida), all who were serving in the armed forces, and Robert, a student at the Delaware Academy, who later resided at Waverly. Addison Condon (1888-1958) is buried at Woodland Cemetery in Delhi, New York.

 

Halcott photographs by De Lisser, only taken through the helpful assistance of our hero Add Condon, that were featured in Picturesque Catskills: Greene County included:

 

  • Over Beach Ridge to Halcott
  • Near the Schoolhouse – Beach Ridge
  • “The” Road to Halcott
  • The Halcott Directory
  • A Winter Scene in Halcott
  • A Halcott Farmhouse
  • On the Stream
  • The First Snow – Halcott
  • Van’s Bridge – Halcott
  • Winter at Van Valkenburgh Dam
  • “On (Halcott) when the sun was low, All spotless lay the untrodden snow.”
  • “Beneath the gray December clouds”

 

From De Lisser’s Picturesque Catskills: Greene County:

 

“HALCOTT.–From Lexington, after many attempts, I succeeded in finding Halcott. The town is so situated, topographically, that it is a difficult matter to obtain access to it from Greene County. I was unable, after months of constant inquiry, to find a man who had been to Halcott, or who could tell me how to get there. A branch of the Catskill mountain range, some 1,100 feet in height, running north and south, between it and the township of Lexington, forms an almost impassable barrier, over which no good road is practicable, the only one being no more than a wood road, unfrequented and hard to find. The natural outlet of the town is by way of Delaware county, a good road running through the Halcott valley to Griffin’s Corners, and thence to Middletown.

 

Halcott was organized in 1851, being taken from Lexington. The population is about three hundred, and it is in area the smallest town in Greene county, with but little of the land under cultivation, and that principally in the valley of the Bush Kill. The name was given to it by George W. Halcott. For this isolated place I started late in the fall, from Lexington, determined to find it. No one whom I met seemed able to direct me in any manner, knowledge of the locality being shown by a jerk of the thumb over the shoulder, and the words, “Over there!” muttered solemnly; or else announcement of the fact there was such a place, and that I would have to cross Beach Ridge, if I went there, except I went by way of Griffin’s Corners, and as that necessitated a very long drive I pointed Cherry for the mountains, depending upon finding a passage in some way. By dint of numerous inquiries and persistent effort, and after retracing my steps many times, I at last found myself driving along what would be mistaken from a cow-path or lane, leading to some one’s barnyard. Seeing a small boy leaning on the bars of a pasture entrance, I inquired, as I had done of everyone I had met through the day,

 

“Do you know of a place called Halcott?”

 

“Yep!” said my little friend.

 

“Do you know how to get there?” I inquired.

 

“Yep!” said he again.

 

I was so surprised and overjoyed at his answer, that I could not question further, for a few minutes, then, in response to my request, he pointed out the road:

 

“Wa-al, you see that barn over there?”

 

“Yes,” said I.

 

“Wa-al, drive ‘round behind it, and you will see a place that looks like the dry bed of a creek. That’s the road. After you git up a piece it will be better going.”

 

I rewarded him and asked his name.

 

“Add Condon,” he responded.

 

“And what do you do for a living?”

 

“I am a farmer,” said my little hero.

 

I think his name should go on record as that of the only man in Greene county who knew the road to Halcott.

 

I found the road, as he had directed. It proved not a very bad one, after the first half mile had been passed, but I was obliged to walk every step of the way, and lead Cherry, who, I could plainly see, was extremely nervous, a weakness I had never known him guilty of before. This, no doubt, was due to the fact that he had never traveled this road before. If so, it was the only one that he was unacquainted with, I think, in this wide world. I had never seen the poor follow so distressed, so completely “rattled.” He did not know where to find a spring by the wayside, for a drink, nor just where to stop for a rest, or what was ahead of him – things that he had never failed to known on any road over which I had ever driven him before. He followed me with a sad, reproachful look, as if he thought I was taking him out of the world, and the upward course we were taking and the prospect of meeting George Washington again gave him no pleasure. We arrived at the top of the mountain, pretty well tired out, both of us, and after a short rest we traveled through the woods, over the Ridge and down the mountain, on the other side, into the valley, arriving at the centre, near the post-office, at sunset. Like matrimony, wealth, heaven and other desirable things and places, Halcott, is very nice when you get there. I found quarters for myself and faithful old Cherry (who since he had stopped going up and started downward again, had been quite himself). I retired early, for the little I had seen of the valley promised a beautiful harvest of pictures, and I wanted to be up early, to have a full day in which to reap them.

 

On awakening at daybreak, the following morning, I found that five or six inches of snow had fallen during the night, with more still coming, and that all the beautiful bits of landscape and other subjects that I had planned to picture, lay hidden under the white mantle of selfish old Winter, who was so disagreeable about it that I was kept within doors until the following noon, when I managed to secure a few pictures between squalls, and made haste to escape, before I should be snow-bound for the season.”

 

If you should have any additional information, comments or corrections about the young Add Condon, who lived near Lexington, New York please add a comment to this page, or send me an email using the contact page. Where possible, please include any available references. Thank you. 

 


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