Marker to be unveiled at ag history site

The annual Cauliflower Festival in Margaretville will not be held September 26 due to the Covid pandemic, but the weekend will nonetheless feature the unveiling of a historic marker at the site where the region’s cauliflower industry first took root.

The Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM), in collaboration with Margaretville Mountain Inn, invites the public to a short ceremony Sunday, Sept. 27 at 2 p.m. The Inn is located about two miles up Margaretville Mountain Road which begins as Walnut Street in the Village of Margaretville. This important site in Catskills’ agricultural history was the former William and Thankful VanBenschoten farm overlooking the East Branch valley.

In the mid-1890s, twenty years after cauliflower began to be grown commercially on Long Island, William F. VanBenschoten, obtained 100 cauliflower plants from acquaintances there. His wife, Thankful Sanford VanBenschoten, reportedly nursed the first plants in flower pots in her kitchen. They did so well the couple set 200 plants the following year and peddled the fresh cauliflower to boarding houses in Fleischmanns.

The year after that, they put in 2,000 plants, and began shipping the crop in iced barrels on trains to the New York City market. Soon, other local farmers began planting cauliflower and by the 19-teens the Catskills became renowned for its fine quality ‘white gold.’ This was a major industry here through the mid-20th century.

The Van Benschotens also kept a boarding house. They built their lovely Victorian home in 1890 to accommodate summer visitors. Listed on the state and national registers of historic places, Margaretville Mountain Inn still welcomes tourists and hosts weddings. It has been operated by Carol Molnar and family for 30 years.

This will be the eighth brown and yellow marker erected by HSM to designate historically significant sites in Middletown. Visit mtownhistory.org to learn more about local history and to become a member of HSM.

VanBenschoten house and boarding house, c. 1890, is now Margaretville Mountain Inn