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Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskilll Mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled they are clothed in blue and purple and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky, but, sometimes when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.

Washington Irving – Rip Van Winkle (1817) - describing the view of the Catskills enjoyed by travelers on Hudson River steamboats.

Elka Park’s story evolved from the enthusiasm of several members of the Liederkranz Club, a choral society founded by German –American business and social leaders in 1847.  Based in New York City, the Club gave concerts throughout the northeast, including a performance at the White House in 1903.  It was their visit to the Hotel Kaaterskill, however, in July 1887 that planted the idea of the Elka Park Association.  The Association recently celebrated its 120th anniversary.

When Liederkranz Vice President Paul Goepel became familiar with the Mountaintop, the region had reached its apex of popularity “as a social and cultural center of American wealth and fashion.” (Author Roland Van Zandt – The Catskill Mtn House).   The Hotel Kaaterskill (1881 – 1924) and the famed Catskill Mountain House (1824 – 1963) and surrounding boarding houses had become so overcrowded Goepel and  several other Liederkranz members purchased a 195 acre tract of land on the northern slope of Spruce Top mountain.    The park’s name derives from the German initials of the Liederkranz “El” and “Ka”.

The Elka Park founders were established professionals in a variety of fields including, among others, engineering, manufacturing, and publishing.   Following the completion of the clubhouse in 1890, members began constructing their own cottages.   A variety of “modern” amenities were added to the plans including a water system, a sewage treatment facility, and natural gas to provide heat and light.  Electric street lights were first installed in 1913. A 1986 Greene County study of the residential parks (Onteora, Twilight, and Elka) stated:  “The cottages of Elka Park are notable not only for their fine craftsmanship which is witnessed in their high degree of architectural integrity, but also for the rich variety of the late 19th century stylistic influences which they reflect.”

The scenic landscaping is Catskill natural – pine and hemlock forested hills – but the man made elements are magical.  Along with wrap around porches, turrets, and balconies come whimsical details including castle like gateposts, a miniature German style log chalet, and a blue stone look out tower.

Much of what was built at Elka Park at the turn of the 19th century, and all that it stands for, remain.

 

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