In Search of the Family Homestead

My sister and I met on a Wednesday, had a quick lunch, and took off in my car for the Catskill area of New York to seek the family homestead. She had driven down to my house from hers in New Hampshire and so I drove. My hybrid does road trips!

There are a number of discoveries and stories to tell from this trip, and many pictures from cemeteries, but the central story is of our climbing Denman Mountain with our cousins. This is where our branch of the Denman family first settled, in 1795. We had met the cousins the day before and they had offered to take us up to see the original place our family owned and lived. Since I had read somewhere or another that you needed a 4-wheel drive vehicle, I was happy to accept the offer. It had been very hot and humid for several days already, so we all agreed that we’d meet pretty early to start up (8:00 AM is still early in my book!).

We all were there, on time, and it was arranged that I would follow them to the road we were going to ascend. Even the paved road was noticeably uphill, so I was glad I wasn’t going to be driving the hard part. Denman Mountain is reputed to be the highest location in Sullivan county, although there is some recent dispute of that, I understand.

At the designated spot, I parked my car off the road and in as much shade as possible (have I said it was hot?!). My sister and I climbed into the back seat of the Jeep and we were off. Cousins Jack and Bruce were in front, with Jack driving. We had left my car at the point where the road switched from paved to unpaved. The road didn’t seem so bad for the first little while, although it was bumpy and very slow going.

The dirt road at its best

Basically the road is two ruts with more or less grass in the middle. As we climbed, it soon became less grass in the middle and more rock and downed tree branches. We stopped a number of times for Cousin Jack to get out and move a large tree branch or rock to the side of the road. He was an excellent driver of this terrain, and I was very relieved that he was behind the wheel.

As they drove, the two brothers talked about growing up in the area. They particularly remembered going up the mountain to pick grapes on the old property. We were shown two different places where there had been plane crashes on the mountain (which comes up at you unexpectedly so if you don’t know the flying route it would be an unpleasant surprise). Their father told the story about one crash in the night time: he and his wife heard the sound of it and went up to see if they could find anything or be of help. They only had one flashlight, and somehow his wife ended up with it, so he was in total darkness. All of a sudden he felt something hard with his foot. Reaching down, he discovered a flashlight – and it still worked. They were not able to find that crash and ended up returning home. The other plane crash location and story was less positive. It was a military plane that had been warned about the mountain, the story goes, but ignored the warning for whatever reason. It crashed and their father took his tractor and wagon up to help ferry bodies down off the mountain. He was there when the person in charge of the site decided to blow up the plane wreckage to prevent looting. He told the man that the forest was very dry and he would start a fire if he followed through. Well, he did and it did. The local fire department had to send crews up to put the fire out. I suspect they weren’t happy about being called out for this one!

By this time we were fairly far up the mountain and the road was getting worse and worse, crossing little brooks, and low places that were very muddy, and the question of putting on the four-wheel drive came up. Everyone (but me – I was trapped on the side of the truck looking down at the stream) got out and looked at the front wheels. Both men tried to move the piece that needed to move to set the drive – you can tell how much I don’t know about four-wheel drive let alone mountain driving. The short story is that the mechanisms were stuck and wouldn’t engage. So we decided to go ahead until the road was too dicey and then to walk the rest of the way in.

We start up the road on foot

Which we did. I don’t know how far we had to walk from the road – it wasn’t that far, but it was cross country with no paths and waist-high grasses and small trees, and swampy areas that were hard to see. The one cousin, who was our expedition leader, was breaking the trail and we other three were strung out behind him like ducklings. As is usual for me in such situations, I was bringing up the rear most of the time. I am a somewhat slow walker, and I have short legs. The short legs were my downfall. I didn’t quite make the leap from one dry hummock to the next and as my feet hit a marshy and soft patch I went down on my knees. I couldn’t find a solid place to put my hands to help myself up, and ended up requiring the arm of my sister to get out of my predicament. After that Jack loaned me his walking stick and I was fine again. But for the rest of the day I had a great time telling anyone who would listen, how Jack pushed me into Denman Swamp. He thought it was pretty funny.

Shortly afterward we reached the place

Natural chimney for the home fireplace

where the emigrant Denman family first built a lean-to against a rock outcropping. The crack between the rocks provided a natural chimney for their fire. There is a sign carved close to that chimney, that says William Denman settled here 1795 (I think). This picture shows that the rock has moss and maybe lichens growing on it and obscuring the carved letters. This carving may have been done by William when he paid off his obligation for the first 200 acres he purchased by leasing first. The thrill was to see and stand on the place where our ancestor lived and built his family’s first house in America.

carving on rock where lean-to had been

Having safely climbed the mountain and then safely gotten back down it, we were ready to rest and have lunch. The cousins were too, and we were all pleased with ourselves for the successful expedition. They took off in two directions and my sister and I took off in another. This was our last full day in New York and we had several other goals to meet as well. But before we all left, we planned to meet Jack at his house the next morning to see some of his wildflowers and chestnut trees. I will

My very own walking stick

probably write other posts about this trip and what we saw and did but the finishing touch to the family part of the trip was when we got to Jack’s and as we were getting in his truck to go see his upper pond and cabin, he presented me with a walking stick made just for me. He had cut down a wooden handle to my height and put a tip on it, and carved my name into the side. Here is my trophy. If you look closely (or enlarge the picture) you can see my name and everything!

Tagged with: ,
4 comments on “In Search of the Family Homestead
  1. Pat says:

    Always nice to hear from a cousin, Katy! I write about the Denman family every so often, so check back if you’re interested in the family history.

  2. katy angel says:

    Great story! I am Mary Denman’s grand daughter and I went up to see the site a few years ago with my father. Its nice to hear your story and know we share the history:)
    Katy (McGrath) Angel

  3. Pat says:

    Glad you liked it – we had a wonderful time!

  4. What a wonderful find! I love hearing genealogy stories like this. Thank you for sharing 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *