Communities

Political Geography

The Town of Middletown was incorporated in 1789 as a part of Ulster County, being formed from the towns of Woodstock and Rochester. It took its name from its central location within the territory drained by the Hudson, Delaware and Susquehanna rivers, the Delaware being the middle valley and the town of Middletown lying within it.

Delaware County was established in 1797, and the Town of Middletown was placed within its boundaries. It made up more than half of the new 1,400-square-mile county, covering all of the present towns of Roxbury, Bovina, Middletown, Andes, Colchester and Hancock; nearly all of Stamford, a large part of Delhi, Hamden, Walton and Tompkins, and a small portion of Shandaken in Ulster county.

Memorial Day 1949

Memorial Day 1949

Today, Middletown’s 98 square miles includes two incorporated villages (Margaretville and Fleischmanns) and several unincorporated hamlets. Most of these communities developed along the East Branch of the Delaware River and its tributaries, the Bataviakill, Bushkill, Dry Brook, Mill Brook and Plattekill, because waterways provided transportation, drinking water for humans and livestock, and power to run mills and early industries. In Halcottsville, for example, the East Branch powered a grist mill, a fulling (wool felting) mill and other small businesses, and generated electricity for the hamlet. But Arena’s location on the East Branch proved to be a liability when New York City claimed the hamlet and three others further downstream in order to build the Pepacton Reservoir.

Wartime Service

Middletown’s men and women have always answered their country’s call when war or conflict threatens. The town’s cemeteries are filled with veterans of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts. HSM has documented more than 730 veterans in 16 area cemeteries. An impressive exhibit of more than 400 WWII era veterans can be seen in the American Legion Post 216 hall in Margaretville.

Economy

Subsistence agriculture was a way of life for the town’s first 150 years, when most of the population lived on small farms that produced the family’s food, clothing, building materials and other necessities. Wool, butter, milk, bluestone, lumber and other products, like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, provided cash to buy things a farmer couldn’t produce.

Farmer with hay rake, 1939

Farmer with hay rake, 1939

Gradually, farms grew their dairy herds to boost milk income, but it was never an easy way to make a living in a region containing “two stones for every dirt.” Add to that the fluctuating, artificially controlled milk pricing system and most farms opted to sell their herds. In Middletown, where there were still approximately 200 dairy farms in 1950, only three are operating today.

Roseland guests on lawn, Fleischmanns

Roseland guests on lawn, Fleischmanns

Tourists became a mainstay of the Middletown economy after the Ulster & Delaware Railroad arrived in 1872, and the Delaware & Eastern (later the Delaware & Northern) in 1906. Hotels and boarding houses opened to accommodate visitors from New York City and the Hudson Valley. Some families stayed for a month or an entire summer, the men commuting on “husband trains” to join their wives and children for country weekends before returning to jobs in the city. Fleischmanns was especially noted for its many hotels.

Industries have flourished and died as the need for their products arose then vanished. A wood acid factory in Arkville operated from 1900-1920 producing charcoal, acetate of lime, acetic acid and wood alcohol used in manufacturing woolen dyes, solvents, antifreeze, formaldehyde, and cordite, a smokeless substitute for gunpowder. Synthetic chemicals developed during and shortly after World War I made the plant obsolete. The tannery that gave the name to Clark’s Factory (now Dunraven) processed untold thousands of cow hides into leather from the 1830s through the 1860s. The end of the Civil War reduced the demand for leather shoes and goods and the tannery closed. There were once many creameries and processing stations in the town of Middletown handling milk from hundreds of local farms. One, in Kelly Corners, even made cream cheese. As farmers sold their dairy herds, the creameries folded, too.

Outdoor recreation has played a significant role in Middletown’s economy. Long recognized as a premier fishing destination, it has attracted wealthy anglers who are members of exclusive fishing clubs, as well as travelers taking advantage of public fishing access sites. Middletown has also benefitted by proximity to the New York State Catskill Park and Forest Preserve, which have drawn hikers, campers and hunters for a century. The State-owned Belleayre Ski Center in Highmount, established in 1950, has brought thousands of snow-lovers to the area, and many have purchased homes and property here.

Education

School District #13, Johnny Cake Lane, New Kingston

School District #13, Johnny Cake Lane, New Kingston

Middletown’s children learned the Three Rs and a whole lot more at 26 District schools, spaced so that children wouldn’t have more than three miles to walk to school. Most of these were one-room schoolhouses where sometimes all 12 grades were taught by the same teacher in the same classroom. The 1860s Stone School in Dunraven is a surviving example of this type of early education.

Arkville’s District 20 accommodated primary and junior high classes, and Fleischmanns and Margaretville (Districts 21 and 17) taught children through 12th grade.
In 1937, the school system was centralized with students throughout the town attending the newly built Margaretville Central School.

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