Tompkins Falls is a beautiful roadside water fall located in the Delaware Wild Forest section of the western Catskills. The falls, located on the Barkaboom Stream, are approximately 25 feet tall. Near the top of the falls are the remnants of old dam and mill site.
The Barkaboom Stream, which rises between Barkaboom Mountain and Touchmenot Mountain, once flowed into the East Branch of the Delaware River, but now sends its waters into the Pepacton Reservoir, south of the hamlet of Andes and west of the village of Margaretville. Deerlick Brook flows west off of Barkaboom Mountain and joins the Barkaboom Stream upstream of Tompkins Falls.
The nearby 3,140-foot Barkaboom Mountain is part of the Mill Brook Ridge Range. Other peaks in this range include Balsam Lake Mountain, Schoolhouse Mountain, Graham Mountain and Doubletop Mountain. Graham Mountain, at 3,868 feet, and Doubletop Mountain, at 3,860 feet are the seventh and eighth highest mountains in the Catskills. (Kudish, Michael. The Catskill Forest: A History. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2000. pp. 91-96.) For more information on hiking the unmarked Barkaboom Mountain, see Alan Via’s book titled The Catskill 67 – A Hiker’s Guide to the Catskill 100 Highest Peaks under 3500’.
Barkaboom Stream, Barkaboom Road and Barkaboom Mountain all have quite interesting names. According to the History of Delaware County, N.Y., the Barkaboom name “is of Indian origin, signifying a birch bridge, and alludes to an immense birch tree which had so fallen as to make a suitable bridge on one of the Indian trails crossing this stream.” (History of Delaware County, N.Y. New York: W.W. Munsell & Co., 1880. p. 111.)
Two other sources state that the Barkaboom name derives from either the Dutch word “berkenboom,” meaning “birch tree,” or perhaps otherwise a family name. (Van Der Sijs, Nicoline. Cookies, Coleslaw and Stoops. Amsterdam University Press, 2009. p. 52.; also, Stewart, George Rippey. American Place-Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. p. 35.)
However, a third theory about the Barkaboom name was put forward by journalist David Rossie in a 1991 article for the Press and Sun-Bulletin newspaper of Binghamton, New York.
“Bob Gonos of Binghamton solved the mystery of Barkaboom for me. A “barkaboom,” Gonos wrote, was a person who stripped bark from trees – hemlock, I believe – in the Catskill Mountains around the turn of the century and probably into the 1930s. The bark was used as a dying agent in the shoe industry.
Gonos said his information was supplied by a man named Cal Smith of Phoenicia. He said Cal’s father was a fishing guide on the Esopus and that one of his frequent clients was the comedian, Fred Allen.
“Incidentally,” Gonos added, “from the way Cal referred to barkabooms, it was not a highly regarded occupation.”
Sort of like journalist, maybe.” (Rossie, David. “How the barkaboom got his name.” Press and Sun-Bulletin. June 10, 1991.)
The valley of the Barkaboom was closely associated with the history of the nearby hamlet of Union Grove. The hamlet was located where the Barkaboom Stream entered the East Branch of the Delaware.
The Union Grove area was first settled in 1800 by a family with the name of Howks. With an abundance of lumber, including white hemlock trees, Eli Sears established a sawmill on the Barkaboom Stream in 1801, moving the wood each year to the Philadelphia market.
In 1848 the firm of Jenkins and Mekeel built another sawmill further up the Barkaboom Stream. This firm, a partnership between James Jenkins (1812-1883) and John Mekeel (b. 1798) & Son, was established with the purchase of 130 acres of land, to which an additional 270 acres were later added. This mill was later operated by Anson Jenkins (1833-1905), son of James Jenkins.
In 1857 Andrew Hawver settled further up the valley, about one-third of a mile below Tompkins Falls, and established his own mill. This mill was later operated by William M. Spickerman.
In September 1863 flooding caused much damage in the Barkaboom area. “On the Barkaboom stream its ravages were very great. About 1200 logs were taken out of the milldam, belonging to A. Hawver, Esq. Part of the sawmill of James Jenkins were swept away – the entire sawmill, logs and lumber around it, belonging to Harrison Hawver, were taken down the stream – and, finally, the dwelling house of Mr. Hawver, P. M., of Union Grove Post Office, was undermined, broken to pieces and taken away.” (“Flood in Andes.” Bloomville Mirror. September 29, 1863.)
In 1868 Robert M. Hammer and Herman D. Hammer established a sawmill 3.3 miles up the Barkaboom Stream from the East Branch confluence. This was known as the Little Falls Mill. The Hammer’s also operated a lumber and general merchandise business at the hamlet of Union Grove.
In 1880 Union Grove was described as having a post office, a hotel, several shops, a sawmill, three churches and a schoolhouse. In terms of progress at Union Grove, district school number 20 was established in 1843, the Union Grove post office was established in 1857, and the first general store was established in 1860 by R. M. Hammer.
The business dealings of the Barkaboom valley, in a book on local history, were described in 1880. “Opposite Union Grove, on the right bank of the river, are old, well improved farms, but up the valley of the Barkaboom is a newly cleared, sparsely settled tract, which seems to be in a sort of transition state between lumbering and farming, where the one has ceased to pay and the other has not become profitable.” (History of Delaware County, N.Y. New York: W.W. Munsell & Co., 1880. p. 111.)
Union Grove was one of the four hamlets destroyed during the construction of the Pepacton Reservoir. The other three destroyed hamlets included Pepacton, Shavertown and Arena.
For those who wish to spend a little more time in this area in a beautiful rustic setting, the Little Pond Campground is located approximately five miles south along Barkaboom Road. The state campground offers tent and RV camping, fishing, boating and swimming, all set on the picturesque, 13-acre Little Pond. For more information visit the New York Department of Environmental Conservation website for Little Pond Campground and Day Use Area.
For those with a need for more refined lodging, the historic Beaverkill Valley Inn is also located in this region. The Inn, formerly known as The Bonnie View, was built for anglers seeking to spend time on the pristine waters of the Beaverkill. The Inn continues today with its history of inviting hospitality. Visit their website at www.beaverkillvalleyinn.com for more information.