William England (1830-1896) was a 19th century British photographer who was widely known for his travel images. He was an early adopter of photography, operating a studio in the late 1840s, less than ten years after the daguerreotype was created by French inventor Louis Daguerre. England’s 1859 trip through the United States, including a visit to the Catskills, and Canada gained widespread praise. His image of Charles Blondin tightrope walking across the Niagara Gorge is among the top selling stereoviews of all time. Although largely forgotten today, William England was considered one of the great photographers of his era.
Continued from Part 3
Study of the Catskills
In 1882 The Photographic News noted England’s earlier work in the Hudson Valley and in the Catskills. “Speaking of Mr. England’s photographs, it is well worth noting that he was the first to produce a series of views of that charming district hallowed by the romance of Washington Irving. The green-shored Hudson river and craggy Kaatskills, world-famous as the home of Rip Van Winkle, where passed “the legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and where Hendrick Hudson and his old-Dutch associates still live and move in spirit, carrying on in phantom-life their old sailor-smuggler adventures among the silvery crags and green forest land that overlook the winding river – these scenes were depicted with all Mr. England’s art and skill during his stay in the New World.”
England’s stereoviews of the Catskills offer three contrasting views of Kaaterskill Falls, i.e., numbers 55, 56 and 68. Number 55 shows the side view of the falls, a view that is today quite accessible since the construction of a viewing platform by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Number 56 offers a view from underneath the first drop, a location that was for many years difficult to reach, although in recent years additional trails have been constructed around Kaaterskill Falls for safety reasons, and this view is now easily accessed. Number 68 offers the classic view of the falls, from the bottom of the gorge, showing both drops, and the spray house of the former Laurel House. This view was featured in a 2019 New York Times article about the Catskills and their growing popularity.
#55 Kauterskill Fall, Catskill Mountains.
#56 Kauterskill Fall, Catskill Mountains.–View from Below.
#68 Falls of the Kauterskill, Catskill Mountains.
Two photos of Kaaterskill Falls, numbers 55 and 68, depict the “spray house” of the former Laurel House hotel, which was constructed as a boarding house in 1852 by Peter Schutt, and later managed by his son Jacob L. Schutt. The Laurel House, named for the mountain laurel (kalmia latifolia) that grows and blossoms around the area, originally had room for 50 visitors but was expanded after the Civil War and again in the early 1880s to accommodate approximately 300 people. The hotel was very popular given its location near the falls, its views of Kaaterskill Clove and its moderate pricing when compared to the more upscale Catskill Mountain House and the Kaaterskill Hotel. The grand Laurel House hotel operated until 1963, was acquired by New York State two years later and its grounds added to the Catskill Forest Preserve. The state intentionally burned the historic structure in March 1967.
All three of England’s photos of Kaaterskill Falls notably show a heavy flow of water. This type of flow at Kaaterskill Falls is fairly typical with the spring thaw, in the autumn season and after a heavy rain. However, summer was, by far, the busiest season in the 19th-century Catskills, a time of year when the falls often slow considerably, sometimes to a mere trickle. Given that visitors desired to see the falls at full flow, an early entrepreneur had a solution, i.e., dam the creek, and, then when visitors were at the Falls, open the dam’s gate to allow the water to freely flow when requested, all for a fee, of course, typically noted as being 25 cents for the season. Not everyone was happy about paying for nature’s flowing water, and yet most wanted to witness the Kaaterskill Falls made famous in so many paintings, engravings and poems. This “spray” operation began in the 1820s with Ira Scribner and father Silas who operated a sawmill upstream from the falls, and continued with the Schutt family while they operated the Laurel House. The option to let the water flow for a fee would have almost certainly been made available to William England during his visit to Kaaterskill Falls.
Samuel E. Rusk, who would later become a noted Catskills photographer and boarding house owner, beautifully described the setting of the Laurel House, the Spray House and Kaaterskill Falls in his 1879 book titled Rusk’s Illustrated Guide to the Catskill Mountains.
“It is but a few feet from the Laurel House to the top of the [Kaaterskill] Falls. The Spray House stands on the very verge, and its platform, with timbers bolted to the rock, projects over the awful chasm. This is the point from which to view the Falls from above; and over this first Fall the water drops a hundred and sixty feet, broken into millions of foamy fragments ere it strikes below, and flowing along a few yards it again plunges to the depth of eighty feet . . .
It is from under the Falls where its grandeur becomes most striking. At a gate by the Spray House a payment of twenty-five cents is made – for once during the season – and a charming path followed a few yards through the forest to the head of the stairs. Rustic seats are place along the way, and there are resting-places at various landings along down the many flights of stairs passed in reaching the bottom of the falls.
In the immense ampitheater which curves behind of the first Fall is a level path on which one may safely pass entirely around behind the falling water. Midway along the path the flood comes pouring over the enormous arch of rock, and as it descends, is eighty feet distant from the point of observation. After passing around by this path, the stream may be re-crossed a few yards below, at the top of the second Fall, where the stairs continue down to the foot, and reach a seat placed so as to give an unobstructed view of both Falls. While parties are down here, the gate of a dam immediately above the Falls is opened, thus augmenting the usual flow of water, and the scene is then truly marvellous.”
Fawn’s Leap, number 74, once known as the less poetic Dog’s Hole, is a quaint, fabled waterfall spilling through a narrow gorge along the lower Kaaterskill Creek. It is one of the most beautiful spots in Kaaterskill Clove. The falls are approximately 30 feet tall, “and so runs on this wonderful stream, giving the Fawn’s Leap, where the waters plunge into a seething gulf between the cleft rocks and then flow gently to make still greater plunges into darker depths a short distance below.”
There are multiple versions of the legend as to how Fawn’s Leap takes its name. One version “has a young deer having here escaped a hunter and his dog that pursued it to the verge of the chasm; the fawn leaped it, but the dog, attempting to follow, fell into the gulf and was drowned.” The historic marker at the waterfall has the fawn, not the dog, meeting its fate: “A fawn pursued by a dog tried to jump the chasm and failed.” Yet another version states “that a doe made the leap of the chasm over the fall, and that her fawn, in attempting to follow, fell into the deep pool, and swan round the pool for two days, the doe remaining near and watching it.” An 1839 article in The Evening Post in still yet another version said the falls were “so called from the bones of a deer being found near the opening of a rocky chasm into which the sheet of water throws itself.”
No matter the origin of its name, Fawn’s Leap has long been a favorite destination for artists and photographers and today is a locally popular swimming hole and cliff jumping location. Fawn’s Leap was the inspiration for the lower waterfall in Asher Brown Durand’s classic painting Kindred Spirits. Other well-known paintings of the waterfall include The Fawn’s Leap (1859) by John Frederick Kensett, Mountain View (1860) by Charles Herbert Moore and Fawn’s Leap, Catskill, New York (1868) by John William Hill.
“Sylvan Lake, Catskill Mountains,” number 65, was one of several former names of today’s North-South Lake, as per Alf Evers, noted Catskills’ historian. “Forest Scene, on the Catskill Mountains,” number 59, and “View on the Catskill Mountains,” number 62, both appear that they may also be scenes on the shores of Sylvan Lake.
#59 Forest Scene, on the Catskill Mountains.
#62 View on the Catskill Mountains. (Same name as #67.)
Sylvan Lake, or North-South Lake, has also been known as the Kaaterskill Lakes. At times the two names, North-South Lake and Kaaterskill Lakes, were used interchangeably; while at other times the name Kaaterskill Lake referred specifically to South Lake, while the other lake continued to be known as North Lake. The 1884 Walton Van Loan map referred to them as North Lake and South Lake.
Sylvan Lake, “a perfect gem of a lake,” was, like Kaaterskill Falls and Fawn’s Leap, a required stop for those visiting Kaaterskill Clove of the northern Catskills. Sylvan Lake is located between South Mountain and North Mountain, west of the Escarpment, and near the former site of the famed Catskill Mountain House. Particularly with visitors to the Mountain House, the lakes were a much-sought destination for walks along its shores as well as being a haven for swimming, boating and fishing. North-South Lake used to be two separate, distinct lakes. However, as per the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, “the narrow isthmus between the lakes was removed and a dam was built at the outlet of South Lake to create one large lake.” Today, North-South Lake is home to the largest campground in the Catskills.
Sylvan Lake had long gained the attention of artists. The first painting of the lake, titled Lake with Dead Trees, was completed in 1825 by the then unknown 24-year-old landscape artist Thomas Cole. Lake with Dead Trees was one of five paintings completed that year by Cole of scenery in the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains. Th painting was displayed in a New York City shop, where it was purchased by William Dunlap (1766-1839), a noted painter and historian, and then displayed at the American Academy of Fine Arts exhibition to favorable reviews. The five paintings helped launch both Cole’s painting career and the Hudson River School of Art, a new style of painting, the first uniquely American painting style and one that Americans could call their own. In 1835, ten years after his initial visit and painting, Cole wrote of “two of the happiest days I remember,” which included his experiences at Sylvan Lake.
“After breakfast, we strolled down to the small lake, a few hundred yards from the house [the Catskill Mountain House]. It has beautiful as well as grand features – rich forests and mountains . . . I pointed out a view which I once painted, which was, I think, the first picture ever painted of the lake, which will hereafter be the subject of a thousand pencils. Several years since I explored its shores for some distance, but thick woods and swampy ground impeded me. I enriched by sketch-book with studies of the fine dead trees, which stand like spectres on the shores. As we made our way to an opening through the woods, which disclosed the lake in a charming manner, we perceived a rude boat among the bushes, which was exactly what we wanted. We pushed off and leaped into it, as if the genius of the deep had placed it there for our special use. Before us spread the virgin waters which the prow of the sketcher has never yet curled, enfolded by the green woods, whose venerable masses had never yet figured in annuals, and overlooked by the stern mountain peaks never beheld by Claude or Salvator, nor subjected to the canvas by the innumerable dabblers in paint of all past time . . . .
A little promontory, forming a fine foreground to a charming view down the lake, invited us. We had some fine perspective lines of forest on our right, with many dead trees standing near the shore, as if stripped for the elements. These dead trees are a striking feature in the scenery of this lake, and exceedingly picturesque. Their pale forms rise from the margin of the lake, stretching out their contorted branches, and looking like so many genii set to protect their sacred waters. On the left was another reach of forest of various hues, and in the center of the picture rose the distant Round Top, blue and well defined, and cast its reflection on the lake, out to the point where our boat swung like a thing in air. The headland was picturesque in the extreme. Apart from the dense wood, a few birches and pines were grouped together in a rich mass, and one giant pine rose far above the rest. On the extreme cape a few bushes of light green grew directly from the water. In the midst of their sparkling foliage stood two of the bare spectral trees, with limbs decorated with moss of silvery hue, and waving like gray locks in the wind. We remained here long enough to finish a sketch, and returned to our harbor to refit.
After dinner we again launched our vessel for a longer voyage of discovery. We now crossed the lake, paddling, after the manner of Indians. Our boat glided beautifully over the tranquil waters, and swept aside the yellow water-lilies. In a strait between the mainland and a low islet, where the water was very still, the woods were reflected beautifully. I never saw such depth and brilliancy in the reflections. The dead trees on the margin added by their silvery tints to the harmony of color, and their images in the waters, which had a gentle undulation, appeared like immense glittering serpents playing in the deep. At every stroke of the oar some fresh object of beauty would break upon us. We made several sketches, and about sunset turned our prow. As we returned we struck up the ‘Canadian Boat Song,’ and though our music was rude, the woods answered in melodious echoes. What a place for music by moonlight! It would be romance itself! This may be, and I may enjoy it.”
T. Addison Richards, a noted landscape painter, described the scene at Sylvan Lake during his travels through the region in 1854, only five years before England’s arrival.
“The next pilgrimage which the tourist is expected to make is the two charming lakelets, which, in their strange mountain bed, add so greatly to the interest of the surrounding points. Their waters supply the renowned Catskill Falls, which we shall reach in due order. An easy wagon passes the lakes at intervals throughout the day, on its way from the hotel to the cascades, but an orthodox Syntax will indignantly scorn this vulgar mode of locomotion, and bless the man who first invented boots.
A few minutes’ walk will bring you to the margin of the Upper or Sylvan Lake, a view of which we add to the list of our pictorial memories. You may pass an hour or two delightfully in strolling upon the pleasant shores, or you may enter one of the skiffs which skim the waters, and mingle your voice in happy carol with the murmur of the breeze, which never fails to play with the bright image cast by tree and rock and sail on the pellucid bosom of the lake. When these more demonstrative expressions of pleasure, which the scene will always draw from the coldest hearts, are spent, you may give your thoughts to the poetic page, or to the dreams of the romancer, occasionally glancing at the fly which you have cast upon the water to lure the wary trout. In short, unless you can find here some or other source of pleasure, God pity you, unhappy man!”
“Crystal Cascade, Catskill Mountains,” number 77, appears to be a photograph of Moore’s Bridge Falls, a scenic 20-foot waterfall located in Kaaterskill Clove near Palenville. The falls flow beneath the Route 23A bridge, known as Moore’s Bridge, with Fawn’s Leap being located just upstream. The waterfall and the bridge over the falls are named for Charles Herbert Moore (1840-1930), a 19th century artist, writer, professor and museum director. During the 1860s Moore resided just north of the village of Catskill near today’s Rip Van Winkle Bridge. That estate, known as the Moore-Howland Estate, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Moore then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he took a teaching position at Harvard University and would become the first director of Harvard’s Fogg Museum. The rock wall adjacent to the waterfall is a popular destination for ice climbers during the winter months, while the pool just past the falls is a popular swimming hole during the summer months.
#77 Crystal Cascade, Catskill Mountains.
William England, in his Catskills photos, makes great use of adding people to the foreground to add both human interest and to reference the scale of the mountains. This use of people in landscapes, known as staffage, would continue to be used in England’s landscape work throughout his career. In his use of staffage, England was known to include various people including his traveling companions, his wife Rosalie and even himself.
The use of people in landscape photography, as England was inclined, was often debated. At a meeting of the Camera Club on February 13, 1890, 31 years after England’s journey to the United States, there was a discussion as to “the relative artistic merits of pure landscape and landscape with figures.” “Mr. William England was of the opinion that it is desirable to introduce figures into landscapes where it can be judiciously done, and that in some cases it is absolutely necessary. He had seen American stereoscopic pictures in which the introduction of the human figure gave an idea of the approximate height of the geysers in the Yellowstone Park. Sometimes the introduction of a figure will help to suitably break up a landscape foreground, and in the instance of a trout stream, the introduction of a man fishing was an improvement.”
Not everyone at the Camera Club agreed with England’s assertions on staffage. Graham Balfour noted “the relative artistic merits of pure landscape and landscape with figures, and stated that he felt inclined to recommend the former.” Andrew Pringle, photographic author and president of the Photographic Convention of the United Kingdom, “maintains figures in landscape photographs are scarcely ever in the right place, and that it is better to leave them out.” Mr. George Davison, later a proponent of impressionistic photography and director at the Kodak company, stated that he “believed that there might be as much beauty in a simple landscape, or a tree, or a bit of a pond, as in grand scenery, and he did not think figures to be essential to pure artistic work.” Mr. Balfour, perhaps most harshly, stated that “the great experience of Mr. England made his utterances welcome and valuable, but that evening they were rather outside the range of the subjects dealt with in his paper. When figures were introduced to give the scale of the dimensions of a geyser, he should consider the result to be more properly classified with diagrams than with works of art.”
In the summer of 1863 England traveled to Switzerland, which resulted in the series Views of Switzerland, comprised of 130 widely praised stereoviews. Historian Peter Blair notes England’s use of staffage in an article about stereoviews in the Alps. “Long before the impact of global warming was felt, his [England’s] stereoviews provide a remarkable photographic record of the Alps at the end of the Little Ice Age with dramatic glaciers reaching the valley floors. His images demonstrate a genius for composition and an eye for the picturesque, with people placed in the foreground, usually including his French wife Rosalie, to provide interest and a sense of depth and scale.”
In 1865 The Photographic News wrote of England’s expert use of staffage in a review of his “Views in Switzerland” series. “Another quality in which Mr. England excels, the want of facility in doing which often causes the ruin of otherwise charming views, is the judicious introduction of figures. In all the series before us we seldom find a figure out of place, and in the majority of instances they greatly assist in completing the pictorial effect of the composition.”
During 1868, nine years after his trip to the United States, William England travelled to Tyrol in the Alps region of Italy and Austria. Historian Alexander Guano wrote of England’s travels in that beautiful region and the importance of staffage figures in his photographs taken there. “. . . one can nearly always find staffage figures in England’s work that enlivened the picture. On the one hand, they demonstrate the scale of the mountains, and on the other hand, function as representatives of the viewer in the landscape or in space.”
#53 Plauterkill Gap, Catskill Mountains.
As an example of England’s use of people in the Catskills, in view #53 titled Plauterkill Gap, Catskill Mountains, a well-dressed, bearded man in a hat relaxingly sits with legs crossed among the enormous boulders that are quite characteristic of Platte Clove.
#54 View in the Kauterskill Clove, Catskill Mountains.
In view #54 titled View in the Kauterskill Clove, Catskill Mountains, a well-dressed man in a suit and hat carries a walking stick while standing on the edge of a boulder-strewn river. The view is stamped with the imprint of The London Stereoscopic Company 534 Broadway.
#57 Mountain Scene on the Catskills.
In view #57 titled Mountain Scene on the Catskills, a man in a hand-painted red shirt sits along at the bottom of a rocky cliff ledge while seemingly drawing on a sketch pad. Large boulders can be seen, along with a set of trail stairs leading up the cliffside, as well as a young woman in an aqua shirt sitting on a rock. The hand-painted elements, i.e., the man’s red shirt, the woman’s aqua shirt, the green trees and the blue sky, all add to the view.
#62 View on the Catskill Mountains. (Same name as #67.)
In view #62 titled View on the Catskill Mountains, a well-dressed young man sits on a fallen tree with a lake in the background. The view has been hand-painted, including the man’s yellow hat, the tree trunks and ground in a natural orange, the tree foliage in green and the sky in blue.
#69 View in the Kauterskill Glen, Catskill Mountains.
View #69 titled View in the Kauterskill Glen, Catskill Mountains depicts two men scrambling amongst boulders in the middle of a series of towering cascades.
#60 Mountain Gorge, on the Catskills.
In several views, including #60 titled Mountain Gorge, on the Catskills, #74 titled The Fawn’s Leap, Kauterskill Clove, Catskill Mountains and #76 titled Sylvan Cascade, Plauterkill Clove, Catskill Mountains, young men can be seen sitting or standing, all while admiring beautiful waterfalls.
#74 The Fawn's Leap, Kauterskill Clove, Catskill Mountains.
#76 Sylvan Cascade, Plauterkill Clove, Catskill Mountains.
Three of England’s stereoviews (numbers 57, 59 and 70), interestingly, feature other artists, likely painters, working at their trade. “Mountain Scene on the Catskills,” number 57, was described above. In “Forest Scene, on the Catskill Mountains,” number 59, a well-dressed man comfortably sits straddling on a dead tree, while in front of him is a tripod and a small easel, with a seemingly near completed work of art, either a sketch or a painting. Although the exact subject in the artist’s work is difficult to determine, it may possibly be a waterfall scene, perhaps Kaaterskill Falls. “View in the Kauterskill Glen, Catskill Mountains,” number 70, shows two men in front of a towering waterfall, with one of them comfortably sitting on a rock with a sketch pad in his lap.
#57 Mountain Scene on the Catskills.
#59 Forest Scene, on the Catskill Mountains.
#70 View in the Kauterskill Glen, Catskill Mountains.
As for the equipment used by England during his United States trip, historian Alexander Guano writes: “William England used a light ‘pocket’ camera, measuring 20 x 12 x 5 cm. With a weight of only half a kilogram, it was perfect for travelling, but there was one problem with this ‘pocket’ camera; it used only a single lens, which forced England, while taking a photograph, and in order to attain the desired stereo effect, to move precisely 33 cm sideways, on an exactly pre-defined line, before taking a second picture. The tent he carried with him for processing the plates on the spot, was also very lightweight.”
During his time in the United States England worked through all seasons. Winter photographs included snow and ice scenes at Niagara Falls and in the White Mountains. Working in the frigid cold of winter in the northeast United States placed additional technical burdens on England.
“During Mr. England’s operations in America and Canada, the film of his wet plate, he has told us, would often freeze in the low temperature, for a long time would sometimes elapse between the plate’s withdrawal from the bath and its development. At first he was much exercised in mind, lest no picture should be developed from the glazed collodion surface he brought out of the dark slide; but he paid little heed, and developed in the same way precisely as if nothing had happened. The result was in every way satisfactory, and there was no sign, indeed, in the image to show that anything extraordinary had happened to the plate.”
“Mr. W. England said that, when working in America several years ago, he had encountered a temperature as low as thirty degrees below freezing point. He found that, although the cold was so great as to freeze the surface of the wet collodion plates he was using, the quality of the negatives was unimpaired.”
In addition to tough weather conditions, England also faced challenges with wildlife in the United States, to which he responded quickly and decisively. “It is not often, we apprehend, that photographers are visited by snakes during their operations; but we remember Mr. England describing an incident of a similar kind. Whilst photographing in America he found a large snake rearing its head with open mouth just outside his tent. The cyanide solution being close at hand, a little of it was poured between the gaping jaws of the snake, his fate being less fortunate that that of those for which Professor Towler found a better berth than the photographer’s water bucket.”
England’s time in the Catskills offer some of the earliest landscape photographs from that once world-famous region. The photos provide great insight, in both the changing and unchanging elements of the Catskills. For the changing elements, there are early captures of the spray house at the top of Kaaterskill Falls and the simple bridge above what is now known as Moore’s Bridge Falls. The unchanging elements include numerous waterfalls and mountain scenes that seemingly, in their own way, emphasize the timeless beauty of the Catskills. All the Catskills scenes can be enjoyed today in the same way that they were at the time of England’s visit in 1859.
William England would be followed in the 19th century Catskills by several other notable photographers such as E. and H. T. Anthony, John Jacob Loeffler and Richard Lionel De Lisser. Anthony and Loeffler would both offer an extensive series of Catskills stereoviews, while De Lisser would publish Picturesque Catskills: Greene County, a thorough photographic survey of the northern Catskills that included over 800 photographs.
Kaaterskill Clove and Plattekill Clove
"Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains . . .
When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory." – Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving, 1819.
Kaaterskill Clove and Plattekill Clove are two of the most popular areas within the northern Catskills. At the time of England’s trip, the geographic understanding of what constituted the Catskills was generally thought to be the Greene County region around the Catskill Mountain House, including Pine Orchard, South Mountain, North Mountain and North-South Lake, as well as Palenville, Haines Falls, Hunter, Stony Clove, Kaaterskill Clove and Plattekill Clove. It was only later that areas in the rest of Greene County, Ulster County, Delaware County and Sullivan County also became thought of as being part of the Catskills. Therefore, in 1859, it is no surprise that William England would have focused his photographic efforts on the northern Catskills regions of Kaaterskill Clove and Plattekill Clove.
Kaaterskill Clove is a deep gorge that cuts through the northern Catskills Mountains, with the village of Palenville located at the base of the Clove and the village of Haines Falls located at its head. The clove is formed by Kaaterskill and Lake Creeks, with the gorge cutting as deep as 2,500 feet in places.
South Mountain forms the north wall of the clove. Prospect Mountain, located west of Lake Creek, looms over the upper part of the Clove near Bastion Falls. Kaaterskill High Peak and Round Top Mountain form the south wall of the clove, with the Long Path traversing much of its length. The south wall is home to the Wildcat Ravine, Buttermilk Ravine and Santa Cruz Ravine. The south wall, at its head, culminates at Twilight Park, a private residential community that offers magnificent views of the entire clove. The entire length of the Clove is traversed by Route 23A.
Numerous hiking trails in Kaaterskill Clove offer access to overlooks with outstanding views. Notable examples include the Escarpment trail that takes the hiker along the north wall to viewpoints such as Inspiration Point and Sunset Rock, the viewpoints at Palenville Overlook and Indian Head near the entrance of the clove, as well as Poet’s Ledge on the south wall. The clove is also home to countless other scenic wonders such as Moore’s Bridge Falls, Fawn’s Leap, Bastion Falls, the Five Cascades and Kaaterskill Falls.
Kaaterskill Falls, the subject of three of England’s photographs (numbers 55, 56 and 68), can be considered one of the most iconic destinations in all of the Catskills. With two drops measuring a combined 260 feet, 175 feet for the upper and 85 feet for the lower, Kaaterskill Falls is taller than Niagara Falls, which measures 173 feet. Kaaterskill Falls, the tallest waterfall in New York State, is a classic Catskills, “must see” location, and has been for nearly two centuries.
In 1823 James Fenimore Cooper in his classic The Pioneers poetically described Kaaterskill Falls.
“Why, there’s a fall in the hills where the water of two little ponds, that lie near each other, breaks out of their bounds and runs over the rocks into the valley. The stream is, maybe, such a one as would turn a mill, if so useless a thing was wasted in the wilderness. But the hand that made that ‘Leap’ never made a mill. There the water comes crooking and winding among the rocks; first so slow that a trout could swim in it, and then starting and running like a crater that wanted to make a far spring, till it gets to where the mountain divides, like the cleft hoof of a deer, leaving a deep hollow for the brook to tumble into.
The first pitch is nigh two hundred feet, and the water looks like flakes of a driven snow afore it touches the bottom; and there the stream gathers itself together again for a new start, and maybe flutters over fifty feet of flat rock before it falls for another hundred, when it jumps about from shelf to shelf, first turning this-way and then turning that-away, striving to get out of the hollow, till it finally comes to the plain . . .
To my judgment, lad, it’s the best piece of work that I’ve met with in the woods; and none know how often the hand of God is seen in the wilderness, but them that rove it for a man’s life.”
The “jewel of the upper Catskills” was a popular haunt of the Hudson River School artists, including Thomas Cole whose paintings brought world-wide fame to the region. His 1826 Falls of the Kaaterskill and Kaaterskill Falls both beautifully capture the essence of what was to become one of the most popular subjects of 19th century American painting. Sanford Robinson Gifford’s 1871 Kaaterskill Falls is another masterpiece rendition.
The most celebrated painting of the falls though is certainly Asher Durand’s 1849 Kindred Spirits, sometimes referred to as the defining work of the Hudson River School. Originally created as a tribute to Thomas Cole, after his death, and poet William Cullen Bryant, it offers a romanticized view of the Kaaterskill Falls area, although it is actually a composite of several scenes in the area. In 2005, Kindred Spirits sold at auction for $35 million dollars, the highest price ever paid for an American painting.
The second of England’s Catskills destinations, Platte Clove, also known as Plattekill Clove, is a deep, dark, heavily wooded, historic, wildly rugged and wonderfully scenic mountain pass through the northern Catskills. Charles Lanman, a noted American writer and artist who spent much time in the clove, described his impressions in 1844.
“Plauterkill Clove is an eddy of the great and tumultuous world, and in itself a world of unwritten poetry, whose primitive loveliness has not yet been disfigured by the influences of mammon, and God grant that it may continue so forever. It is endeared to my heart for being a favourite haunt for solitude, and for having been consecrated by a brotherhood of friends to the pure religion of nature; and they always enter there as into a holy sanctuary.”
With Plattekill Mountain encroaching from the south and Kaaterskill High Peak looming to the north, a narrow and winding two-lane road precipitously crosses the eastern portion of the clove, rising over 1,400 feet from West Saugerties in only 2.1 miles. There are no guardrails despite the nearly vertical cliffs along much of the drive. The climb is so dangerously steep that the road is closed in the winter from November 15th to April 15th as the town provides no maintenance.
Platte Clove is home to, depending on who’s counting, over 18 waterfalls, many of which are only reachable with extreme caution and effort and is not recommended. There are fatalities in the clove area just about every year. Fortunately, the clove’s showpiece waterfall, the beautiful Plattekill Falls, is easily and safely accessible.
Well-known photographer and guidebook author Richard Lionel De Lisser wrote of his 1894 trip through Platte Clove.
“A trip through the clove, following the bed of the stream, to West Saugerties, in Ulster County, is fully worth the exertion necessary to make it, and is full of interest to the lover of Nature in her barbaric state. There is nothing in the Catskills to equal it – of the kind. My trip was made with an assistance and a guide, with an axe to clear the way of fallen trees and other obstructions. Although not much over a mile, it took us from early morning till late in the evening to make the passage. In the descent, of over 2,000 feet, no less than eighteen large waterfalls are encountered and passed, which vary in height – from twenty-five up to many which are higher – some of them hundreds of feet. There are no paths or roads through; in fact there is little chance for any, the creek occupying about all the space between the mountains on either side.
After a visit to Black Chasm and the Plaaterkill Falls, the next point of interest is the Old Mill Falls, just below the bridge that crosses the stream on the Overlook Mountain road. Then comes Pomeroy Falls. Here the visitor will find a flight of steps that will take him to the foot of the ravine. From there, down the clove, he must do as I did – make the best of the natural opportunities afforded by the depth of the water in the creek, and the fallen trees and rocks in the bed.
I should judge that a foot-path could be made through the entire length of the clove, and at but little expense, that would make it passable for ladies and summer people in general. The place only needs to be known and made passable, to take precedence over any other of the cloves in the Catskill region.
The next fall below Pomeroy is the Rainbow, the one below that is the Lower Rainbow, or Hell Hole Falls. The stream that enters the creek at this point comes from High Peak, passes under Hell Hole bridge, on the clove wagon road, and falls almost perpendicularly hundreds of feet, over huge rocks and high cliffs, into the wild stream below.
Green Falls comes next. A second view of this falls I have called “The Ghost,” as it suggested to me a Death-head wrapped in a winding-sheet. Looking to one side of the “Ghost,” you can find two other heads, one clearly defined.
Evergreen Falls is named from the quantities of green moss that covers its rocks, and comes next in order. Then comes Rocky Rapids, which is a wild and rather a dangerous spot, quite narrow and in which one is in as much danger from the rocks handing above as from the big boulders in the path.
Gray Rock is a beautiful falls, and would well repay a visit to the clove. The stream from Black Chasm enters the creek just below these falls.
In attempting to cross the stream here I fell in the creek, for about the twentieth time that day, but unfortunately, this time, having in one hand the camera and in the other the lens, and wishing to keep them dry, at any cost, I was obliged to remain as I had fallen, until relieved of them, while the water, which had found convenient passageway through my trousers, spurted out over my collar in playful jets. My guide set to laughing at this, and laughed so long and so hard that we had to sit down and wait for him to get through and afterward to recover from the fatigue caused thereby.
The last falls in Greene county is the Upper Red Falls, so called to distinguish it from the Lower Red Falls, which in Ulster county.”
 “Notes.” The Photographic News. Vol. 27. September 8, 1882. London: Piper and Carter, 1882. p. 536.
 Rusk, Samuel E. Rusk’s Illustrated Guide to the Catskill Mountains. Catskill, NY: Samuel E. Rusk, 1879. pp. 68-71.
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 Guano, Alexander. “The views of the Tyrol by William England.” The PhotoHistorian. Summer 2019 / No. 184. p. 18.
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 “Snakes Amongst the Chemicals – Metallic Silver Stains in the Negative.” The Photographic News. Vol. 10. October 19, 1866. London: Thomas Piper, 1866. p. 494.
 De Lisser, Richard Lionel. Picturesque Catskills. Greene County. Northampton, Mass.: Picturesque Publishing Company, 1894. Reprinted – Cornwallville, New York: Hope Farm Press, 1983. pp. 76-77.