Architecture in the Catskills
On the weekend of my recent trip to New York, I ventured upstate, to the wilds of the Catskill mountains. The glorious train ride along the wooded Hudson River valley made me think of how difficult it would have been to sail a ship up those broad waters, with cliffs towering on either side, as we Brits tried, and failed, to do so many times during the American War of Independence.
However, these historical musings soon vanished when we arrived at my good friend David’s house. Sitting only a few yards from a perfectly tumbling brook, it was the picture of a fairytale. He mixed me his signature drink before I’d even taken my bags upstairs (a dirty vodka martini with a capful of scotch, which is certainly worth a try). Fortified and happy we planned a tour of Catskill villages the next day.
What struck me most about these quaint little villages was an architecture that seemed uniquely American. Of course there are European influences. Most of these towns were founded towards the end of the late Eighteenth century, long before the States would lead the way in skyscrapers, glass and steel.
There was a humility to the houses. Like they had, even in those early years, taken on board the American dream. The homes were scaled down versions of the grand European houses, as if to say that all who made lives in this new country had the chance to take the best bits of their European heritage, but live a life free from the shackles of a restricted class system. Even if history has ruled that the puritans were more ruthless than the persecution they fled, and even if the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has produced a radical individualism and class system more entrenched than most medieval European courts, as we drove down winding roads and encountered small scale farms that had been selling all their home grown produce direct to local people for generations, it seemed like the fight to start a free and honorable country of their own had paid off.