The Hudson River Valley and Catskills region is an old place in terms of U.S. history. It was one of the first places explored, and then exploited, for its natural resources to supply our fast-growing country.
The area also inspired the first American literature, with both Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper writing about the region. Thomas Cole created the first American art movement, which came to be known as the Hudson River School of painting. And John Burroughs, born and raised in Roxbury, was our first “literary naturalist,” writing lovingly about his many explorations of the region.
All are part of the rich tapestry of the region.
So it’s not too surprising that, with generations of boom-and-bust cycles and never-ending socio-economic changes, there are countless hidden and forgotten places in the Catskills. What is unusual, however, is a normal, everyday road sign — found south of the Ashokan Reservoir on County Road 3 — pointing you to some of these places that no longer exist. The exotic name-places intrigued this curious traveler.
Of the four places on the Twilight Zone-like sign, only the first still survives: the tiny hamlet of Kripplebush. Driving though Kripplebush takes seconds, and unless paying close attention, one would miss the fact that this area has a name. Officially a hamlet within Marbletown, it straddles both sides of County Route 2. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 due to the excellent state of its historical buildings — predominantly stone and clapboard farm houses, a lovely Methodist church, and the old schoolhouse, which now serves as a historical museum.
Continuing down the sign, we are directed to Mombaccus. The town of Mombaccus was officially changed to Rochester in 1703 — 317 years ago. And today, no sign of it exists, although some maps still list this corner as the Hamlet of Mombaccus.
Next on the sign we are directed to Fantinekill. No features of the town still exist, and the history of the place is largely non-existent except for one grisly recorded event — the Fantinekill Massacre of 1779. The horrific act occurred during the Revolutionary War when “Indians and Tories” would raid homesteaders sympathetic to the Patriot cause. One such raid resulted in the dastardly murder of two woman and their grown children, according to a pamphlet written in 1846 by John A. Gray.
On Sunday, May 31, 1903, The New York Times noted that a “…monument erected by the citizens of Ellenville to the memory of the victims of the Fantinekill massacre on May 4, 1789, was unveiled there to-day with imposing ceremonies.”
The last place on our time machine/road sign is Pataukunk, about which little written history can be found.
However, the Friends of Rochester Town History website has this to say about it, reflecting our cruel and sad history with the original inhabitants of this land: “Many Native villages were surrounded by palisades for defense and were often called forts. Captain Kreiger destroyed one such substantial village, said to be in the Pataukunk area, in his 1663 expedition.”
So, if you ever find yourself heading south on County Road 3, just before you reach the recently reopened Tetta’s Market in Olivebridge and just before you enter the picturesque hamlet of Samsonville, locate and ponder the sign that is one part directional, one part time machine, and one part weird, pointing you to the forgotten places of the Catskills.
Robert Kadar is a resident of New Jersey and has been visiting the Catskills region all his life. He is fascinated by the history of the region and enjoys researching and writing about it.