It is the time when tourists from New York City, Boston, and even Chicago as well as other locations in the general vicinity would come to relax and rejoice in the bucolic scenery and grand vistas of the Catskill Mountains which were in Greene County, New York. In the middle 1800 ́s roads were bad and most travel to the hotels near and in the mountains was by stage over independently-owned turnpike toll roads. Early attempts by entrepreneurs and visionaries were fraught with delay and failure as they attempted to put the “Iron Horse” to work replacing the stage. One project that actually got to the point of operation even though it wasn ́t completed was the Canajoharie & Catskill Rail Road. This very early railroad lasted about two years, from 1838 to 1840 and then went bankrupt.
By 1880, several hotels had been built along the ridge in the heart of the Catskills. While they weren ́t as elegant or well-located as the Catskill Mountain House which was built on a ledge overlooking the Hudson River Valley, they provided increased opportunity for another group of entrepreneurs. This new group had forgotten about the old C&C and began to plan to bring more people to the mountain hotels via railroads. Another entrepreneur from Pennsylvania, George Harding, began building an even grander hotel than Beach ́s Catskill Mountain House just south of it and overlooking the same valley. He opened the Kaaterskill Hotel in 1882 and immediately began to work to get a railroad connecting to his hotel.
The owner of the Catskill Mountain House as well as the Day Line and Evening Line Steam ship companies ́ owners and investors planned and began building the Catskill Mountain Railroad. This railroad would run from where the steamships docked at “The Landing” at the mouth of the Catskill Creek and the Hudson River to the foot of the escarpment below the Catskill Mountain House. From there, tourists would take a stage up the Mountain House Road to the Catskill Mountain House preferably, or to other hotels. Their goal was to provide fast and comfortable transportation to as close as they could get to the Catskill Mountain House. With the threat of the Kaaterskill Hotel and the other railroads imminent, the Catskill Mountain Railroad was built in 1881 and opened through South Cairo on the old Catskill &Canajoharie road bed, and then late in 1882 on to Lawrenceville at the foot of the mountain. As the railroad looked forward to a good year in 1883 as its first full season of operation, it still needed more revenue to be fiscally viable.
This is the background of the times in which the events of this tale take place in two weeks in early April, 1883.
Lester Overmeyer was born early in the 19th century into the hotel business in Coxsackie and worked in his family ́s hotel for many years and then went to work for the hoteliers that leased the Mountain House Hotel on :South Mountain for some time. While there, he decided he ́d like to buy that hotel and build it into his own business. When he lost the opportunity to purchase it to C.L. Beach, he vowed to get it back someday, somehow.
As the years passed, he became successful in New York City and invested in hotels in competition with Beach ́s Mountain House. He even built his own hotel in Tannersville to compete with Beach and participates in Harding ́s Kaaterskill Hotel venture as a way to indulge his hatred of Beach. However, Beach is much more successful and aggressive than Lester had foreseen. When he learns of Beach ́s attempts to build a new railroad to the Mountain House, he decides must take action to keep him from becoming even more successful in competing with Lester ́s investments.
About the time he made this decision, a young, brand new Methodist minister, Riley Gillen, comes to Leeds, New York. It just so happens, he used to be a police officer in New York City, but for some reason he does not like to share with anyone, decided to make a major career change.