POST BY: JOY’S BETTER HALF, BRENDAN
One of the neatest things about our place upstate is a big waterfall, which sits directly below our house over a steep cliff. The rushing water creates a soothing white noise, even though we can’t see a lot of it from above because of the hemlocks that surround the cabin.
We don’t know the exact height of the falls, but I’d guess it’s at least 20 feet. The water, which is always clear unless there’s been heavy rain the day before, plunges into a swimming hole that’s surrounded on three sides by steep slate and granite cliffs. The volume varies by season, with the heaviest flow in the spring after the snow melts. We’ve never seen fish in the stream, but we know it’s stocked with trout every year, and at least historically it has been a river used by anglers , as evidenced by this postcard we found on eBay:
Though we own the falls outright, or at least half of them (our property line extends halfway into the stream), it seems they’ve been somewhat open to the public at times, for better or for worse. While some people would say natural sites like these should be open to the public forever, we’ve learned the hard way (via trespassers) that this also can mean exposing the waterfall to litterbugs and the adjacent hill to erosion. Which is better? It’s hard to say. We’ve felt some guilt shooing trespassers away — after all, they just want to see something pretty — then grapple with the anger we feel after finding discarded beer boxes.
(The waterfalls, by the way, do have a proper name, but to protect their and our privacy, we’ve blocked out the name on these postcards. )
We’ve found references to the falls online dating as far back as the 1850s, when International Monthly Magazine wrote a very strange, almost unreadable piece about folks in the area visiting the site. There’s also a book with old-timey photos from the region that contains an image showing well-dressed ladies and gentleman from about 1900 gathered in front of the falls for a picnic. The caption on the photo says the falls are considered “the most picturesque in Sullivan County,” though we’re not exactly sure what the competition is and who came up with the rankings.
In the past eight months or so, searches on eBay brought us four early 20th-century postcards that depict the waterfall, and the one of the trout fisherman in the same brook, presumably downstream. We love them, of course — they’re now framed and hanging in our cabin — but these postcards point to a time when people had lower standards for what was worthy of being depicted on a postcard. We’re the lucky beneficiaries, I guess.
Our favorites are those from the Artino company, mostly because they’re in color. A postcard expert told us they were probably produced from paintings made by a local artist, but couldn’t say who it was that sat in front of our falls with an easel oh-so-long ago. Both cards were made before 1907, which you can tell because they have an undivided back, stemming from an era in which the U.S. Postal Service only allowed people to write on the front of postcards, over the image. The two black-and-white postcards are photos. It must have been quite the challenge to hike to the falls with the large camera equipment of that era, and it’s kind of mind blowing that these postcards survived all these years, too.
In this postcard below, you can get a sense of the size of the waterfalls by locating the man sitting down, to the right of the falls.
The modern-day waterfall looks much the same, by the way. Here it is near the end of summer, when the river is lower:
And a more recent shot, when the snowmelt raises water levels:
Two of our postcards appear to have actually been mailed, as evidenced by the little messages that add a human dimension to the flat images. One wonders what inspired the senders to choose photographs of our waterfalls for the missives. Uncle David’s message that he has “regained my health” is mildly intriguing. One can only imagine the boredom Louise of Staten Island must have felt when she got the postcard from Connie Ferraro about the “fine time” she’s having.