America In Play


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  • Learn more about The Catskill Mountain House, part of the journey in A Time-Traveller's Trip to Niagara!

    Summarized from
    The Catskill Mountain House
    by Roland Van Zandt,
    In 1820-1830, the Hudson Valley was the focal population center of the nation. The Hudson Valley was a main hub for trading all over the trans-Atlantic and it dominated the trade and traffic of New York State for the first two centuries of the river’s history. The valley also provided easy access to the American interior and so passenger steamships full of travelers and tourists were also a major presence on the river. The sublime and majestic beauty of the Catskill Mountains, the endless green forests and the Hudson River brought people in droves to come view the area. The popularity and beauty of the area also encouraged many wealthy New Yorkers to build beautiful summer homes high up in the mountains and also in the lower valleys near the river.
    The Catskill Mountain Association was formed by a group of Catskill businessmen who wanted to buy the land of the Pine Orchard and build a large hotel. This area was especially favorable because of the amazing view one would get from the location. In one of the first of the Leather Stocking novels (James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers) written in 1823, Leather Stocking speaks of the beauty of the Pine Orchard area. His description of the view’s beauty as something that could only be created by God became extremely well known and is still quoted. This “first great resort area” looked opposite the city of Catskill and was walking distance to the steep but breathtaking cliffs of Kaaterskill Clove. Sunset Rock, located on the rim of Kaaterskill Clove was a popular site where both the peaks of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley could be viewed. Another impressive point called Artist’s Rock would have been an hour walk from the Mountain House for the 19th century hiker. The spot had a great view of the protruding ledges of the Mountain House and was a favorite area for 19th century artists.
    There was a road built to get up to the Mountain House area (probably in the early 19th century) and it was used by many who climbed up by foot or on horseback to take in the view. This road was dubbed “The Rip Van Winkle Trail.” Because of the popularity of the spot, the association built the Mountain House there and it opened in time for the 1824 summer tourists. From at least 1826-1835, the coach fare from Catskill Landing to the Mountain House was $1. Coaches usually ran twice a day and they were large and weighty. In 1827, Basil Hall commented on the trip, which was an uncomfortable and dangerous journey due to the poor condition of the road. However, many people were willing to brave the road in order to take in the beautiful views that could only be attained by taking a trip up the mountain.
    The Hudson River School of Painting was the term coined for the group of painters that would frequent the Catskill area to devote their work to capturing this great American landscape in the 19th century. It was said that these painters felt that, “nowhere in the world can be found so many subject’s for the artist’s brush so exquisitely beautiful and extremely grand as here among the historic Catskills.” The painters of the first cohort, which began around 1850 by Thomas Cole, were extremely influenced by the Europeans but also by the Romantic movement and they worked to capture the sublime aspects of this region. The paintings also reflected major themes in America during this period including discover, exploration and settlement.
    Beyond 1828: In the 1880s, the Catskill region had been filled with railroads and the Mountain House had been greatly expanded. After the Civil War, the Romantic elements of the area had faded away but it became an even more popular resort area until after the dawn of the 20th century. By 1941-42, the strains on the nation due to the second world war proved fatal for the Mountain House. By 1943, it was ultimately abandoned.
    Kauterskill Clove, 1862- Sanford Robinson Gifford (American painter 1823-1880)



A lingering rumor in standard theatre history is that a true American drama did not exist before Eugene O’Neill. Not so. We have an enormous, but neglected, wealth of comedies from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, plays that comprise our folk drama. These comedies of and for the people contributed to shaping an American identity, and their codes still live in popular culture. AMERICA-IN-PLAY aims to immerse playwrights in this legacy and strengthen their connection to this past as a source for contemporary American writing. My design is to initiate conversations between current writers and those of the past, not for the purpose of resurrection, but rather to enrich present writing through the grounding and inspiration from long-forgotten plays.

- Lynn M. Thomson, Founder and Artistic Director