Kaaterskill Falls | Hudson River School

The Catskills: Kaaterskill Falls

Kaaterskill Falls is a two-drop waterfall located in the eastern Catskill Mountains of New York, on the north side of Kaaterskill Clove, between Haines Falls and Palenville. The cascades drop a staggering 230 feet, making it one of the highest waterfalls in the Eastern United States. The Kaaterskill Falls are one of America’s oldest tourist attractions, and a major site for Hudson River School painters. It regularly appeared in paintings, books, essays, and poems during the early nineteenth century. Kaaterskill Falls was heralded as a place where a traveler could visit a primeval Eden, unsullied by progress. Beginning with Thomas Cole’s first visit to the site in 1825, and his numerous sketches and writings regarding the location, the Falls became synonymous with the Hudson River School and in large part came to symbolize the American wilderness of the East. James Fennimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales described the Falls as “the best piece of work that I had met with in the woods.” William Cullen Bryant, a friend of Cole and Asher B. Durand, penned the Romantic poem “Catterskill Falls” in 1836, celebrating its “wild stream and its rocky dell” and vividly describing the intense emotions the Falls could elicit.

Cole’s paintings from that initial trip inspired a generation of artists to make the pilgrimage to the Falls, Kaaterskill Clove, and Charles Beach’s Catskill Mountain House. The earliest known view of the front of the Falls by Thomas Cole, dated 1826, is housed in the collection of the Westervelt Warner Museum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Nearby Palenville, New York is considered the first art colony in the United States.

In 1885, New York State established the Forest Preserve, which later became part of the New York State Constitution. The “forever wild” stipulation has helped protect the area from logging and development since the Falls came into state ownership during the early twentieth century. Today the Falls are part of the North Mountain Wild Forest preserve.

Thomas Cole (1801–1848) The Falls of Kaaterskill, 1826
Oil on canvas, 43 x 36 inches
The Warner Collection of American Fine and Decorative Arts, Gulf States Paper Corporation, Tuscaloosa, AL