Removing Gilboa

Removing Gilboa

Despite the expansive Catskill system and the 130.5 billion gallon holding capacity of the Ashokan Reservoir, New York City continued to search for ways to obtain more water. In 1917, New York City acquired the village of Gilboa and a surrounding area of 2,435 acres, and the Board of Water Supply gained permission to build a dam to create the Schoharie Reservoir over the village of Gilboa (until 2020, the town of Gilboa contained the oldest known fossil forest in the world). Water from the Schoharie Reservoir would enter the Shandaken Tunnel, travel through the Esopus Creek, and eventually join the Ashokan Reservoir. The Schoharie Reservoir forced the removal of 350 residents in Gilboa and neighboring valley lands.

A black and white photo of a valley landscape. In the foreground there is about 17 homes sitting on a cliff above a stream below, and looming above the town is a large dam wall under construction. There are mountains in the background.
Gilboa Dam downstream, 1925. Source: NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection via NYC H2O. Link.
A black and white photo of a white building with wooden siding and two large turrets rising above the 2nd floor on each corner facing the street. There is a church next door on the far side. There are commercial businesses and window displays on the ground floor.
Caption via NYC Water: Village of Gilboa. Hardware store and Photo-Plays theater with “The Girl of the Golden West” poster. The village was displaced in order to build Schoharie Reservoir. July 5, 1917. Source: NYC Water via Flickr. Link.

“Major settlement in the Town of Gilboa did not begin until the nineteenth century. In the 1840s, the Village of Gilboa began to flourish. The village developed a rural industrial economy with the establishment of cotton mills, tanneries, blacksmith shops, and other mills. Such industries were lofty attempts at increasing the local economy, but natural events, such as floods and the lack of a railroad entering the village hindered any large-scale industrial development. The flood of 1869 destroyed the Gilboa Cotton Mill Company and much of the local infrastructure. The result was the loss of the local cotton industry and a refocusing of the economy on agricultural industries.”

— From Northern Catskills History: Bringing Communities Together with a Common Heritage. Link.

A black and white photo of an rural landscape with rolling hills. In the middle of the photo is a small village cloaked in trees. There is a church visible in the center. A creek runs below the town and farmland stretches into the background.
Caption via NYC Water: General view of the Gilboa Dam site looking easterly showing the village of Gilboa and Schoharie Creek. The church spire is at elevation 1125, five feet below the future Schoharie Reservoir flow line and on the approximate center line of the dam. September 23, 1919. Source: NYC Water via Flickr. Link.
A hand drawn map of the Schoharie Reservoir and the surrounding watershed. It is seen in relationship to the Ashokan Reservoir, which sits below it, and the Hudson River, which is south east of the Schoharie. Decorative borders and the "board of Water supply of the City of New York" logo are part of the map.
Map and profile showing the manner of obtaining from Schoharie Creek an additional supply of water for the City of New York, Dec. 21,1915. Source: NYC Water via Flickr. Link.

“Village life ended in the early twentieth century. While major non-agricultural industry bypassed Gilboa, New York City had become one of the world’s centers of industry. Calls for increased sanitation and water sources strained the city’s local resources and prompted plans for Catskill dams and reservoirs. By tapping water sources in the Catskills, New York City could increase its access to clean water. For those remaining in the Village of Gilboa, the city’s offer to buy their property became an opportunity for a better life outside the village. With the village purchased and abandoned, New York City’s Water Bureau began construction of the Gilboa dam in 1917 and finished in 1927. The dam’s resulting reservoir submerged most of the village and over the years, trees and brush reclaimed the area around the dam. Gilboa’s farms, roads, and building foundations became overgrown, hiding the village’s historic past. Those who lived in the village have long since passed, and much of the memory of life in the village during the 1800s has faded away. However, the village’s unwritten history awaits rediscovery, and that process has begun.”

— From Northern Catskills History: Bringing Communities Together with a Common HeritageLink.

A black and white photo of a picturesque water fall underneath a small steel bridge.
Caption via NYC Water: Manorkill Falls 96 years ago today, when the Board of Water Supply was building Gilboa Dam. Still visible from the Prattsville Road bridge in Conesville, this waterfall flowed into Schoharie Creek south of the dam site. The steel truss bridge was part of the old highway from Prattsville to Gilboa and brand new when this photograph was taken. Four years later, the dam and Schoharie Reservoir were completed, providing 600 million gallons of water per day to New York City. April 25, 1923. Source: NYC Water via Flickr. Link.
A black and white panoramic photo of a rural valley landscape with a small village situated at the base of a large dam wall under construction.
The site of the Schoharie Reservoir before Gilboa was cleared. NYC Water description: Panoramic view of the Gilboa Dam and vicinity, taken from top of the hill south of the village. October 1, 1925. Source: NYC Water via Flickr. Link.
The same photo as above but with the town buildings cleared away.
Gilboa cleared. NYC Water description: Panoramic view of the Gilboa Dam and vicinity, taken from the hill south of Gilboa village. The dam and dike are practically complete. Note the site of the former village of Gilboa, with all buildings cleared. December 15, 1925. Source: NYC Water via Flickr. Link.
A scan of a black and white document showing a simple map of New York state, locating Schoharie County, with the outline of the county enlarged beside NY state. Below is topographic map of Schoharie Reservoir.
Excerpt from Inspection Report, National Dam Safety Program, Gilboa Dam, Mohawk River Basin, Schoharie County, NY, 1978. Source: Defence Technical Information Center via Internet Archive. Link.
A black and white photo taken from high on a hill above a dam and dam wall. There are a couple of old cars parked on the dirt road in the foreground. Mountains and valleys stretch into the background.
Gilboa Dam and Reservoir, view southeast from elevation. Gilboa, 1928. Source: New York State Archives. Link.
A black and white aerial photo of Schoharie dam including the dam wall in the foreground, and mountains and valleys in the background.
Aerial view of the Schoharie Reservoir, looking south, 1937. A dam blocks the near end of the reservoir. The Catskill Mountains loom in the distance. Source: New York State Archives. Link.
A color photo of a grey rock close up. Outlines of twigs are embedded in the rock surface, colored black with some gold or yellow colorations. A blue metal background is seen in the top right corner.
Wikimedia commons description: Aneurophyton fossil land plants from the Devonian at Gilboa, southeastern New York State, USA. These are branches from an extinct group of vascular plants, the aneurophytalean progymnosperms. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Link.
A black and white close up  photo of a rock with fossils embedded in the surface. The fossils resemble long centipede insects with scales and many barb-like legs along the edges of the form.
Wikimedia commons description: Archaeosigillaria fossil land plant from the Devonian at Gilboa, southeastern New York State, USA. Archaeosigillaria is a lycopod, the best-known plant group in the Paleozoic fossil record. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Link.

Fossil Forests of Gilboa

Gilboa contains one of the oldest known fossil forests in the world.

“In 1869 a large flood, termed a ‘freshet’ scoured the river banks and exposed rocks, leading to the discovery of the first fossils…To provide raw materials for the dam, the rocks along the riverbank were quarried. This uncovered many more fossils.”- From, a palaeontology podcast that interviewed Professor William Stein of Bingampton University who has published research on Gilboa’s forests. Palaeocast also references information provided by the New York State Museum in Albany, NY. Link.

Over time, as many more fossils were uncovered, researchers have gained a better understanding of the kinds of trees that populate the region and been able to map out the forrest that once occupied Gilboa. When it still stood, the Gilboa’s forest was similar to the present-day palm forests located in warmer regions like Central America.

“The Gilboa trees, called Eospermatopteris, date back to the Devonian Period (roughly 380 – 385 million years ago). Eospermatopteris was one of the first plants on Earth to have a tree-like form. It resembled a fern – there was no wood on the tree – and grew to be about 30 feet tall.”- From “Re-examining the Earth’s Oldest Trees,” a New York State Museum article on paleobiology. Link.

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