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Celebrating our past and envisioning a sustainable local food system for the future

TRR photo by Sandy Long

October 30, 2013

By Greg Sandor

As a California native, I am struck daily by the abundance of water surrounding us from our brooks, creeks and rivers to our estuaries, lakes and reservoirs. I am fascinated by the flow of water through our woodlands, across our farmlands and ultimately supplying thousands upon thousands of people with drinking water in our nearby metropolitan areas. I know the majority of the waters in Sullivan County flow westerly to drain into the Delaware River Basin where they join with the waters that flow easterly into it from Pennsylvania.

At the beginning of the 19th century, early settlers, mostly of Dutch and German descent, cleared land for timber and started quarries to mine the abundant bluestone rock formations found in the upland regions of the river valley near Hancock. These materials, along with the abundant coal that was mined in Pennsylvania cities around Scranton and Carbondale, was transported on barges through the Delaware Hudson Canal to New York City. The Delaware and Hudson Canal was built in 1828, connecting Honesdale, PA to Kingston, NY; it ceased to function as a means to transport of these materials in 1898. Instead, railroad lines developed, some along the same lines as the Delaware and Hudson Canal, and continued to transport goods including agricultural products to the growing metropolis—New York City.

As manufacturing flourished in Pennsylvania around the mining towns, farming also grew in the outskirts to feed the growing communities. In Sullivan County, the tourist and resort community fueled farming as well, with the growth of farm boarding houses and bungalows where visitors could escape the heat and pollution of the city. Dairy and other livestock, including hogs and chickens, were raised on the upland type soils well suited to this type of production. The flats and floodplains along the rivers and estuaries provided rich soil for limited vegetable crop production. Apples and berries were also suitable to many valley locations.