Angel Falls and Sholam Falls are both amazing destinations located along Trout Creek, near the Rondout Reservoir. It’s a two-for-one destination with both falls located within close proximity of each other, with the separate “upper” falls, known as Sholam Falls, measuring approximately 40 feet, and the “lower” falls, known as Angel Falls, measuring approximately 30 feet.
Angel Falls and Sholam Falls are located within the Trout Creek Unit, which is managed by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. The Trout Creek Unit falls within the town of Wawarsing in Ulster County. The unit is 1,506 acres in size. The lands of the Trout Creek Unit are open for hiking, fishing, hunting and trapping. The section of Sholam Road near Trout Creek, as well as the bridge over the top of Sholam Falls, has long been abandoned.
Trout Creek is 5.6 miles in length, originating in the Sundown Wild Forest near Balsam Swamp and flowing south past the hamlet of Yagerville and then into the Rondout Reservoir. Trout Creek enters the reservoir just east of the intersection of Route 46 and Route 55A, near the former site of the hamlet of Montela, one of three hamlets destroyed during the construction of the Rondout Reservoir. The other two destroyed hamlets were Lackawack and Eureka. Trout Creek is one of several primary tributaries of the Rondout Reservoir, the others being Chestnut Creek, Red Brook, Sugarloaf Brook, and the Rondout Creek. Even with their rustic beauty, Angel Falls and Sholam Falls are both largely unknown, having only recently been acquired and opened to the public by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Angel Falls and Sholam Falls are both located in close proximity to the former hamlet of Sholam, which has quite an interesting place in Catskills history. The former hamlet, located north of the hamlet of Lackawack and south of the hamlet of Yagerville, was founded in 1837 by a group of Jewish settlers from New York City as an agricultural and religious co-operative community. At the time of its founding Sholam was home to the only synagogue in the Catskills, which was called Covenant Observers, or Shomre Ha-Brit. (Marcus, Jacob Rader. United States Jewry, 1776-1985. Vol. 4. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1993.)
The settlement would eventually be home to approximately 15 families. In addition to hard-scrabble farming (given the inhospitable land), some settlers operated two factories, which manufactured quill pens and fur caps, while others engaged in various trades including cobbling, tailoring and selling used clothing purchased in New York. Despite noble intentions, the community faced numerous business and financial issues, and only lasted four years before its collapse circa 1842.
The community was originally named Sholem, a variant of “shalom,” the Hebrew word for “peace,” but later appeared on maps as “Sholam.” In 1912, Olde Ulster, a local publication dedicated to regional Ulster County history, published a brief history of the Sholam community.
“At that period Edmund Bruyn of Kingston was the possessor of a large tract of land in the north part of the town of Wawarsing at the head of the Ver Nooy kill. This land lies north of Lackawack and near the town of Rochester. He established his home there and named the place Bruynsville. It is now known as Brownsville. This was during the decade 1830-1840. He threw the property, containing 3,000 acres, upon the market. A survey was made by Jacob Chambers and the tract was divided into lots and a village was laid out and sub-divided into village lots. A map was made and said to have been filed in the office of the county clerk in Kingston . . .
. . . the records in the office of the county clerk of Ulster county show that on the 12th of December, 1837, Edmund Bruyn conveyed by deed hundreds of acres of land “of the Sholam tract” to certain parties of the City of New York, each of whom bought in addition one of more lots in “Sholam village.” The deeds give in each instance the numbers of both of the lots upon the tract and in the village of Sholam, referring to the Chambers map. There are eight of these deeds of the date of 12th December, 1837 and three of subsequent dates. All are recorded in Book of Deeds No. 49 except one in Book No. 50. The names of the parties purchasing are William N. Polack, Marcus Van Gelderen, Elias Rodman, Benedict Cohen, Jonas Solomon, Edward May, Solomon Samelson, Ignatz Newman, Moses Cohen and Charles A. Sahroni. One deed on the record is to Zion Berenstein for nine lots on “Sholam tract” and two lots in “Sholam village.” Was this for the synagogue they erected?
Whence these colonists came is forgotten today and the story of the settlement is almost unknown . . .
The colonists contracted with a man named Rich, of Napanoch, for the erection of about a dozen houses for residences, a store, a synagogue, a museum, an art building and two factories.
When the colonists arrived they were found to be a highly educated people possessed of a taste for art and music, and who loved and sought social intercourse with all neighbors. Their store was stocked with a general assortment of goods; the museum filled with attractions and the art gallery with many oil paintings. Customers at the store were first received in a reception room, given a cup of tea and cakes and then permitted to trade.
One factory was devoted to the manufacturing of goose quill pens. Quills were purchased by the wagon load in New York, sent to Rondout and brought to Sholam. Here they were boiled in oil, scraped, split and tied in bunches of a dozen quills with bright red ribbons. They were then transported back to New York. A Mr. Castor conducted a fur-cap factory, using local firs as well as seal.
Farms were cleared and fenced, and the homes were models of neatness and thrift. Some members of the colony peddled with packs; others were traveling shoemakers and tailors. All engaged in some employment and prospered. The Reverend Solomon Samelson was the rabbi. It is the opinion in the vicinity that these colonists were refugees from persecution in some country in Europe. They came laden with a quantity of rich furniture and household effects and beautiful paintings. They seemed to have been a people once possessed of wealth which may have been swept away by such an experience.
In the former part of this article we stated that the abundance of paper money and the fever of speculation with the inflated and irredeemable currency reached a crisis in 1837. There was currency, such as it was, in abundance, but no capital. This had been absorbed in speculative schemes and measures all over the land far beyond the needs of the day. During the spring of that year holders of the great issues of bank bills began to ask that these bills be converted into specie. Panic reigned everywhere.
The President, Martin Van Buren, on May 15th, 1837, called a meeting of Congress to assemble on the first Monday in September. People everywhere locked up what gold and silver money was in their possession. During all this time the president stood by his position that public lands must be paid for in specie, not in renewed promises to pay. In this he was firm during his whole administration. Besides, he insisted that the fiscal concerns of the government must be divorced from those of private individuals and corporations. It was a long and bitter struggle but the president won.
As we just said Congress was to meet on the first Monday of September, 1837. A few days before this, August 14th, 1837, Edmund Bruyn and the Jews mentioned had agreed upon the formation of a village on his lands in the town of Wawarsing. The surveys therefore were to be made by Jacob Chambers. The survey and map was completed and filed under date of November 22nd, 1837. The panic was at its height. When the purchasing colonists met on December 12th, 1837, for the receipt of their deeds, they could pay but from forth to fifty per cent of the purchase price because of the financial stringency and mortgages at seven per cent were given for the difference, payable in five years.
As the immediately succeeding years showed little improvement the mortgagors defaulted. By the autumn of 1841 they were considerable in arrears and foreclosures were begun. The court directed a sale and William H. Romeyn, editor of the Kingston Democratic Journal, was directed to sell Zion Berenstein and Ignatz Newman had paid off the mortgages on their lots. But the others were foreclosed and sold. Edmund Bruyn was the purchaser in each instance, buying the lots of Charles Saroni, Marcus Van Gelderen, Elias Rodman, Benedict Cohen, Moses Cohen, Solomon Samelson, Jonas Solomon, Edward May and William N. Polack, some on May 6th and the others on May 27th, 1842.
This brought the project to an end. The colony broke up. Auctions were held and the personal possessions of the colonists disposed of by auction sales. Houses were removed to other sites, goods and effects, including rich old furniture of mahogany and large gilt mirrors found their way into families of the vicinity where, it is probable, some may yet be traced and found.
This seems to have ended the enterprise early in 1842. As it could not have been under way before the spring of 1838 it must have been of not more than four years duration. Most of the lands cleared for farms and even the village site have returned to the wilderness in which the settlers found them and where they made a heroic attempt to build a model home and community. The colonists returned to New York City. Their future history is not known.” (“The Jewish Colony at Sholam, Ulster County.” Olde Ulster. Vol. 8, no. 6. June, 1912. Pp. 161-167.)
Given the local interest in the subject, Olde Ulster, in the following year of 1913, published a second article on the hamlet titled “Establishing a New Jerusalem in Sholam.” The article expanded on the 1912 article and contained additional information on the people, business, financial troubles and downfall of the experimental Jewish community in the woods. (“Establishing a New Jerusalem in Sholam.” Olde Ulster. Vol. 9, no. 8. August, 1913.)
For a more detailed history of the Sholam community, see also “The Sholem community: reimagining a Jewish agricultural community as the First Jewish Resort in the Catskill Mountains” by Michele Ferris, published in 2013 in the Communal Societies Journal, volume 33, number 2, pages 105 to 132.