Our planet is a creative force. It continually makes new things. It mixes and molds, formulates and blends. It's been doing this for billions of years.
Some of these creations are sensuous, ever changing experiments of light, texture, sound and aroma. We and all "living" things around us are part of this ephemeral side of the earth’s creativity.
A more permanent side to our planet's creativity it reserves for the composition of its essential form: rock.
Through a unique combination of both its ephemeral and permanent sides we have Bluestone.
Many eons ago our planet directed its sensual side to the earliest attempt at what was ultimately its greatest creation, the forest. This, like all youthful experiments, was flamboyant; volatile in composition. It was a forest with an explosive, fiery life cycle. Over millions of years this experiment continually blended the ashes of the forest's seasons with the rains of an atmosphere saturated in an acrid haze, eroding the scorched fragments of rock at its base to be deposited as sands in the depths of a broad sea.
At the end of the forest experiment a dead land, no longer held by the forest's roots, washed down to cover these scorched sands. After tens-of-millions of years a two mile thick layer compressed the sands at the bottom of a deep sea. Heat from this pressure and the depths worked upon the sand’s scorched and crystalline elements, chemically merging them with properties of the limestone bed of the ancient sea.
A copy of Alan McKnight’s beautifully descriptive graphic of the geological base of the Town of Saugerties from a 1985 article
written by Spider Barbour on the Geology of the Catskills.
The result became the massive, 500 foot-thick monolithic plate of dense dark sandstone we know as Bluestone. The process yielding its organic bonding and color involving intense pressure from both above and below following the period of its formation during the earliest in the evolution of forests make Bluestone a product of nature that is incomparable and in a way mysterious.
Over the next hundreds of millions of years this plate was lifted from the depths under the drifting action of the Appalachian and Acadian land masses. Unable to push this Bluestone plate and its two-mile thick burden forward, they pressed under instead, eventually forcing this land mass three miles high at its eastern front. Over millions of years of exposure this mountain eroded west to make the continental plateau and east down the Hudson River.
In time the easterly
edge of the ancient Bluestone plate
became exposed along the
west side of the
During the many recent glacial periods
scraping along the exposed edge
the plate formed ledges
followed evenly spaced stress
made as the weight of the
mountain was released.
the Bluestone ledges of Saugerties.
After the most recent hundred thousand years of this ledge sculpting man appeared, at first hunting the animals that sheltered beneath the broad overhangs of the Bluestone ledges. Over a hundred or more generations man settled in to cultivate the rich soil of a sweeping savannah deposited in a valley by runoff from the ledges high above.
In his long union with these ledges man developed a spiritual connection with their plated structure. They represented a symbol of the Earth which he likened to the form of the shell of the turtle. He lived in harmony with this symbol. He was a life this turtle bore on its back. The other life forms there were what the earth gave him to fill his needs. He moved not one stone from these ageless ledges lest that harmony be disturbed.
Four hundred years ago Henry Hudson met these native peoples and in recording the resources he found on their lands wrote of the "great store of slate for houses, and other good stones". Within a score of years stone houses began to be built by the Dutch settlers from "cliff stone", the dimensional fragments fallen to the base of the ledges, and at the same time the native people, the Warranawonkongs, disappeared.
For nearly two centuries "found" stone was the principal building material for the hundreds of stone houses that line the flat farmlands that spread out at the base of the Bluestone ledges. The earliest stone houses were made of "cliff stone". Chunks that weathered from ridges of limestone and sandstone were plentiful and could nearly always be found in a form dimensionally ready for building. The outcroppings of bedrock at these ridges had been deeply stressed in a nearly prefect north-south direction. The weathered edges crumbled as flat slabs that accumulating at their bases.
Picking through these naturally found flat stones would lead to the founding of an industry for quarrying and finishing perfectly dimensioned stone slabs. This began in 1831 when Silas Brainard was hired to build a bridge in the newly incorporated Village of Ulster, now Saugerties Village. The Woodstock and Saugerties turnpike was being constructed at this time and he discovered that above Veteran where the turnpike zigzagged its way up the Hoogeberg ridge there was readily accessible the quality of stone he needed for building the bank abutments to support his bridge. A house on the vanValkenberg farm was constructed of perfectly dimensioned blue sandstone. The ledge that supplied this stone became the site of the first commercial Bluestone quarry. Within 30 years the quarrying industry had grown to involve over half the land mass of Saugerties.
So the History of Saugerties can be traced in its stone: that of its settlement phase in the walls of its stone houses; that of its industrial phase in its quarries; that of its ancient past in its much-changed landform.
Before modern man arrived only the earth had the power to change this landform. For thousands of years the native inhabitants of the Saugerties region tightly stacked their burial cairns of its stone only to ritually remove it and return it to its natural place once the body inside had been returned to the earth. They were an integral part of this land and they left no permanent marker on it.
The Europeans that replaced them had the opposite use for stone. It raised them above the earth and allowed them a sense of permanence. The permanence of their stone houses made these “landmarks” and they remain period markers of Saugerties' early recorded history.
This history follows the land. The first stone houses set their foundations into bedrock ledges and raised their walls to match the slope. These are bank houses. They were located over a spring of water that the house enclosed for winter use. They were the houses of herdsmen as the pastureland of the earliest settlement, Kingston, spread northward.
Stone houses were also built along the major wagon roads and by-ways. These are different. They are built on the ground plain and made large enough to act as way-stations and frontier garrisons as well as shelters for the farming family they housed.
The period of greatest activity in stone house building in Saugerties follows the competitive growth of agriculture. This coincided with the disbursement of the largest immigration of the time, the West Camp Palatines, after 1712. Prior to their homesteads most of Saugerties was frontier. Before and after the Revolution their stone houses showcased the growing prosperity of remote farms well into the interior.