This weekend: Rails to the Catskills premiere
By John Phillip Tappen, Watershed Post
5/29/14 - 2:16 pm
Engine number 49 on the New York Ontario and Western Railway, taken around 1872. Photo courtesy of the Cornell University Library.
Forgotten history is what interests filmmaker Tobe Carey most. His latest film, the documentary Rails to the Catskills, is an attempt to encapsulate the history of the railroad lines that abounded in the Catskills area for much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"I had been asked for years to make a film about the railroads," Carey said. “Many people don’t have a sense of the vibrant railroad industry.”
The 95-minute film, which will premiere on Sunday, June 1 at 4 p.m. at the Mountain Cinema, Doctorow Center for the Arts in Hunter, highlights the cultural and economic impact the railroads had on the area.
According to Carey, the film tells the story of the railroads in chronological order — beginning with its predecessor, the Delaware and Hudson Canal — and its original intent to “connect waterways.”
The railroads featured include: Canajoharie & Catskill, Delaware & Ulster, Wallkill Valley, Ulster & Delaware, Otis Elevating, New York West Shore & Buffalo and New York, Ontario & Western.
Carey said the film traces these railroad lines — all of which have a similar trajectory — from their emergence after the Civil War, through prosperity in the Gilded Age to eventual mergers and bankruptcy in the 20th century.
“[The railroads] have an interconnected history and mostly developed at the same time,” Carey said.
Carey spent over two years uncovering lost history — collecting vintage photos, footage, postcards and newspaper clippings — for the film.
He said he found the antiquated material for the film from libraries and the internet, including the Library of Congress.
Carey said he was also fortunate enough to find cooperative local collectors who held pieces of railroad history that they were willing to share for the movie.
While history and classic railroad images comprise the majority of the film, the last 15 minutes cover the controversy surrounding the future of the former Ulster & Delaware tracks in Ulster County.
The tracks stretch 38 miles from Kingston to Highmount and are being leased to the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR), a tourist operation since 1983, by Ulster County, which own the tracks.
Currently, the CMRR only operates its tourist trains on two 2.5 mile segments of the original railroad tracks — one between Kingston and Ulster, and another between Phoenicia and Boiceville.
Due to damaged tracks, the railroad does not run trains between the two sites, although it has long been a goal of the CMRR to refurbish the tracks and connect the two portions.
However in December, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) gave Ulster County $2.5 million to help fund an 11.54-mile pedestrian trail in place of the rail trail along the Ashokan Reservoir.
The CMRR’s lease is up in May of 2016, but Ulster County has threatened to terminate it. The case is expected to be heard in court in October, according to the Daily Freeman.
The last section of Rails to the Catskills documents the ongoing conflict between Ulster County and the CMRR over the future of the unused rails.
Rails to the Catskills will premiere on Sunday, June 1 and June 8 at 4 p.m. at the Mountain Cinema, Doctorow Center for the Arts, Theatre 2, 7959 Main St, Hunter. Tickets are $15 and profits will go toward the Mountain Top Historical Society.
Tobe Carey is a Watershed Post advertiser.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, it was written that the film covers the controversey surrounding the future of the Delaware & Ulster railroad, instead of the former Ulster & Delaware tracks.
Below: Volunteers working on the Catskill Mountain Railroad, west of the C9 bridge over the Esopus Creek in Kingston. Photo courtesy of Tobe Carey.
Documentary captures romance of the locomotive
By Jim Planck, The Daily Mail/Columbia-Greene Media | Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Above: The Otis Elevated Railway will be one of the lines discussed in Sunday’s showing of “Rails to the Catskills.” Photo contributed.
CATSKILL — Who doesn’t love the sound of a nighttime train whistle, distantly drifting across the dark air, as a locomotive passes through to parts unknown?
Trains have always carried a certain amount of romance with them, and to experience the significant local history of that romance, area filmmaker Tobe Carey has produced “Rails to the Catskills,” an hour-and-35-minute-long documentary that brings the heritage of the region’s trains to full life.
Carey is no stranger to local history filmmaking, having already produced several other acknowledged works of import to the area, including “The Catskill Mountain House and the World Around,” and “Deep Water: Building the Catskill Water System.”
Carey’s newest work presents all aspects of railroading in the region, from the Southern Catskills and its dairy trains to the Northern Catskills and its tourist-based Otis Elevated Railway, and includes interviews, photographs, and videos showcasing all.
Among the systems represented are the Catskill & Canajoharie, the Ulster & Delaware, the New York Ontario & Western -- the O&W -- and the Catskill Mountain Railroad, plus more.
Before the railroads, however, canals were the first superhighways of the time, so the film also touches upon the Delaware & Hudson Canal, which, along with other goods, brought coal from Pennsylvania to Kingston.
It is the lost importance of such 19th and 20th century transportation corridors, notably the railroads, that Carey seeks to remind folks of with the movie.
“People should attend if they are interested in the region and the region’s railroad history and understanding,” Carey said, “what a phenomenal change railroads brought to areas all over the world.”
“There was a time when we didn’t have good roads,” he said. “Business couldn’t move goods easily.”
“Railroads changed all that,” Carey said. “I wanted to highlight that, and remind people of that.”
The film took about two-and-a-half years to create, while he accessed libraries, museums, and historical societies, as well as conducting interviews with the area’s railroading history experts.
Carey said he selected the topic because it was a recurring one that people kept suggesting to him, but said he always declined doing it because of the necessary size and grandness of its scope.
“It’s a very large topic,” he said, “so I wanted to think about it.”
Ultimately, and thankfully, he did decide to create the movie, which has just had a premiere at the Mountain Cinema, in Hunter, on June 1, but will have a second showing this weekend, on Sunday, June 8, 4 p.m., also at the Mountain Cinema.
The Mountain Top Historical Society is handling the tickets, which are available at 518-589-6657 or by visiting www.mths.org, with additional information also available at either contact.
The first showing was sold out, so a word to the wise is sufficient.
Carey’s production company is Willow Mixed Media, a not-for-profit organization, and there will be DVD copies of the film available at the showing.
Carey will also be on hand for a Q&A session.
To reach reporter Jim Planck, call 518-943-2100, ext. 3324, or e-mail email@example.com.
There isn't much left of the once-grand Catskill Mountain House. The lavish resort hotel was perched on a precarious ledge in Greene County for over a century. During its 19th-century heyday, the hotel embodied the peak of luxury for a generation of the rich and famous. But like many resort hotels of the Catskills' glittering past, the Mountain House fell into disuse in the 20th centry and was finally destroyed by the state of New York in 1963 to return its scenic overlook to wilderness.
Tobe Carey, a profilic Catskills-area documentary filmmaker, has painstakingly resurrected the Catskill Mountain House's glory in a documentary, The Catskill Mountain House and the World Around. The film has been winning accolades, including a Gold award at the WorldFest Houston International Film Festival in April. Just in time for Memorial Day weekend -- the official start of the Catskills' summer tourist season -- we chatted with Carey over email about the Catskill Mountain House and its bygone era of romantic tourism.
Q: What got you interested in studying the Catskill Mountain House and the other grand resort houses of the 19th-century Catskills?
A: I was searching for my next project after the continued success of our documentary, Deep Water: Building the Catskill Water System. My wife, Meg, and I were at a lecture at the Thomas Cole House when I spoke with Debbie Allen ofBlack Dome Press, and she suggested doing something on the Catskill Mountain House, since there had never been a film about that historic building. I liked the idea and began researching. One thing led to another and although all the threads pointed back to the Mountain House, they spread near and far and pulled in the other grand hotels as well as railroads, steamboats, personalities, and more. It took about three years to complete the film.
Q: Why did efforts to restore the Catskill Mountain House fail? Was there any backlash to the state's decision to burn down the Catskill Mountain House in the 1960s?
A: By the time the Mountain House was burned, it was too late to revive it. After World War II, easy transportation by airplane and car allowed tourists to go far beyond the Catskills. And the building was hit by a hurricane in the 1950s, and then was vandalized. The last owner sold off parts in an attempt to keep it going, to no avail. Who would want to stay in a wooden “fire trap” like those old hotels? I think most people were sad to see the Mountain House destroyed after 140 years sitting on top of the escarpment, but they realized that razing it was better than leaving a dangerous hulk in place. Besides, New York State regulations required the removal of most structures on “forever wild” land.
Q: Of all the 19th-century resorts in the Catskills, which was the most grandiose? Why?
A: I think the Kaaterskill Hotel was the most grandiose. It was built as a ”spite hotel” by George Harding after he was denied fried chicken for his ill daughter (or, as some say, his daughter and wife) when he was staying at the Catskill Mountain House. The Kaaterskill boasted over 1,000 rooms, fresco ceilings, “modern” plumbing, and closets, which were unheard of in hotels of that era. It was opened in 1881 and accidentally burned in 1924. The perimeter of the hotel was a mile around, and extensive carriage roads wound through the forests around it.
Q: Do you think there will be a revival of the era of romantic tourism that helped the Catskill Mountain House and the Kaaterskill Hotel boom?
A: No. Times have changed, and although there are spectacular wilderness areas and great hikes, there are no comparable romantic hotels and no artists extolling their virtues the way the painters, poets and writers of the 19th century did for popular magazines of that time.
Q: Do you have any advice for hikers who trek to the site of the Catskill Mountain House? What should they look for when they arrive?
A: Except for the concrete remains of Overlook Mountain House, there are no ruins to see, although there a few artifacts still to be found at the sites of the various old hotels. Great hikes are offered by the Mountain Top Historical Society and theHudson River School Art Trail is a great offering of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill.
The Video Librarian Review in its March-April 2011 edition gave
"The Catskill Mountain House and The World Around"
a 3+ rating and called it "Highly Recommended"
Grass Valley's Edius was instrumental in shaping the feature documentary “The Catskill Mountain House and The World Around” which recently won a Gold Remi at the 44th Annual WorldFest Houston International Film Festival. The prestigious Remi Award is named after famed sculptor Frederick Remington and was garnered by Tobe Carey producer/director at Willow Mixed Media, a not-for-profit arts group located near Woodstock, NY.
“The Catskill Mountain House and The World Around” is the fascinating story of America's first great mountain top hotel, romantic tourism, and cut-throat competition in New York's Northern Catskills. For 140 years, from 1823 to 1963, the Catskill Mountain House stood atop the Catskill High Peaks as a symbol of the Gilded Age. Beginning in the 1850's, The Laurel House, The Hotel Kaaterskill, The Overlook Mountain House and The Grand Hotel also became world famous vacation spots that attracted business tycoons, artists and Presidents.
The story of the rise and fall of the Catskill Mountain House is a compelling tale of steamboat and railroad empires, bitter rivalries, exclusive private preserves, fabulous art and picturesque landmarks that celebrated the Catskills as part of the American "Grand Tour” and as America's "First Wilderness."
Carey exclusively used Edius in shaping the product, and preparing for output to DVD and final distribution. Carey said, “Edius was my bedrock in dealing with many hours of interviews with historians as well as organizing the hundreds of images, vintage art and 19th century music as well as period film from the Library of Congress. Edius' strong and reliable workflow made it easy to shape the program and deal with the many changes that editing a documentary always requires.”
Carey has used Edius since it's introduction and his documentary output, which has included numerous festival showings and awards reflects his attention to detail that Edius supports. Carey specializes in documentaries and art projects.
His films have played at international and US film festivals on PBS affiliates and his work has appeared on 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, ABC 20/20, and he has won multiple festival awards. Carey's documentaries include “Giving Birth”, “The Hudson River PCB Story”, “Indian Point – Nowhere to Run”, “Deep Water: Building the Catskill Water System”, “Stanley's House”, “School Board Blues” and “Love is the Reason”.
“The Catskill Mountain House and The World Around” premiered in October 2010 and is in wide distribution on DVD. An online trailer is available at
Sittin’ on top of the world
Free screening of Tobe Carey’s new doc,
The Catskill Mountain House and the World Around , this Sunday in Woodstock
Article by Frances Marion Platt - Published December 16, 2010 in Ulster Publishing Almanac
Photo of Catskill Mountain House courtesy of John M. Ham
For a hiker who is mainly interested in spectacular views, the rolling, heavily wooded Catskills don’t always offer a payoff proportional to the amount of vertical effort required to get to an overlook. But a short walk from the campground at North and South Lakes, near Palenville, lies a ledge where the ground drops out from under one’s feet so precipitously as to induce a serious case of vertigo. In James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers, frontiersman hero Natty Bumppo claims that from this place he can see “all creation.”
That may be a bit of romantic hyperbole, and this may not be (as once advertised) the highest point in the Catskills. But the view from this dramatic eastern escarpment does extend some 50 miles – up and down the Hudson Valley, across the River to Dutchess County and beyond into Connecticut and Massachusetts. And in the waning years of the 19th century, Frederic Church was gazing back at this same spot atop the cliff known as the Wall of Manitou from his artist’s eyrie at Olana.
After sufficient time spent drinking in that view, look around at the grassy area behind the rocky ledge, once known as the Pine Orchard. There’s not much debris left to tell the story of the grand structure that once lured tourists from as far away as Europe to enjoy this prospect of the American wilderness as part of the New World version of the Grand Tour, and that provided privileged New Yorkers a healthful, airy escape from the coal smog, deadly heat waves and cholera epidemics of urban summers. For over 125 years, from 1824 to 1941, the Catskill Mountain House entertained visitors on this very spot; Hudson River School painters including Thomas Cole and Jasper Cropsey depicted its glories on canvas; and veteran filmmaker Tobe Carey of Willow Mixed Media, Inc. has now taken it upon himself to remind us all of the site’s remarkable history.
Carey is well-known in these parts and held in high esteem by the independent filmmaking community for his long list of documentaries about artists, health and environmental issues and local history, among them Deep Water: Building the Catskill Water System, Love Is the Reason, Stanley’s House, School Board Blues, The Hudson River PCB Story: A Toxic Heritage, Indian Point: Nowhere to Run and Cancer: Just a Word…Not a Sentence. His newest film, The Catskill Mountain House and the World Around, will be screened free of charge at Upstate Films’ Woodstock venue this Sunday, December 19 at 2 p.m.
Guests of America’s first great mountaintop hotel typically arrived by steamboat at Catskill Landing, then had to endure a grueling five-hour trip up the mountain by stagecoach. On the steepest stretches, they had to get out and walk just to spare the horses. Two railroads later brought visitors closer to the site, their construction inspired by the so-called Fried Chicken War between two rival businessmen: the Catskill Mountain House’s second owner/expander Charles Beach and his longtime customer George Harding. Visiting with his daughter, who was on a restricted diet, Harding felt snubbed when Beach refused to substitute a chicken dinner for the red meat that was on the menu and decided to build a much larger competing resort, the Kaaterskill hotel, atop neighboring South Mountain. When Harding introduced the Kaaterskill Railroad to make his new establishment more accessible, Beach fired back by hiring the Otis Elevator Company in 1892 to build a funicular railway that would haul his visitors straight up the precipitous incline by cable.
There’s much more to the story, of course, as well as more to tell about the Catskill Mountain House’s immediate environs, including fabled Kaaterskill Falls: the day hike that was de rigueur for the resort’s visitors. You can dig deeper into this intriguing vein of local history by attending the screening at Upstate Films in Woodstock – the former Tinker Street Cinema – at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 19. The film runs 80 minutes and admission is free at this event sponsored by The Historical Society of Woodstock, Willow Mixed Media, and Upstate Films. DVDs will be available for purchase at the screening with a portion of sales going to support Upstate Films. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.