T. Gardner Knox
W.M. Nesbit


From the personal collection of Sylvia Hasenkopf

W.M. Nesbit
”Mountain House”

Palenville Aug 17, 1900

Greene Co, NY

Dear Willie:

Your letter of the 13th reached me yesterday. I had been wondering where your family would go since I heard that the “Laurel House” was deserted. I must say you went further than any of us had conjectured.

When I left you Frid I saw that it would be impossible on account of the dense smoke to return to the “Kaaterskill” by the path which I came. So I took “No. 3” which is about one quarter of a mile this way. I had to leg it like fun to get through then for the smoke was very strong.

When I reached the “Kaaterskill” the excitement was running very high. The fire, as every one could see, was headed right for the hotel and the wind was pushing it along right smart. All the guests were gathered on the lawn to the west of the house half scared to death. When I issued from the woods one wanted to know all about the fire but I hurried along after a few monosyllables for I knew that mother would be anxious knowing that I had to take the path near the fire.

The first load of fire-fighters was leaving the grounds in a wagon when I arrived. They are very active at the “Kaaterskill” quite in contrast to the “Laurel House”. I felt sure that the people would to leave the “Laurel H” unless the wind changed but said nothing for I knew you would go when it was necessary.

At different places going down the mountain I stopped to view things but to see the fire growing larger. When I reached Palenville everyone was on the tip-toe of expectancy. Various rumors had reached the place.

Late Frid. Night Dr. Holcomb came down the mountain and reported the fire line as being two miles long which was correct. We could not see the flames from here but the smoke was fierce.

On Sat. the wind died away for the morning but in the afternoon sprang up again and “L.H.” The Kaaterskill people had turned the fire and it swept past them below what is known as the “Cliff Road”. On Sat. night the flames could be seen from our place. Meanwhile the great fire on the “South Mt.” Sprang up afresh about 9 o’clock to the east of us another blaze reddened the sky ~ It was the burning of a house this time; one of Rows off toward the “Rip Van Winkle” place. As you may imagine, the Palenvillians were becoming anxious for the fire was on three sides of us and everything as dry as fonder.

The fires burned all day Sunday. Word came that the “Kaaterskill” was safe but the “L.H.” was still in grave danger. The “K” had two fire engines transported from “Kingston” by the R.R.

Monday morning the rain came. You can bet there was a sigh of relief with the first drop. It continued all day clearing during the night. On Tuesday mother and I went to Saugerties. While returning we say that the fires had both commenced again. Wednesday we had regular soakers and the fires ceased for good. The one in the “Kaaterskill Clove” had made its way to the gorge on the west of “Indian Head”. One man named “Layman” was burned to death and another named “Ford” was badly burned. The one on “South Mountain: covered a large extent of territory but injured nobody.

Layman’s death was sad and horrible. He, with Ford, made his way up the face of a cliff in order to escape the flames which they were fighting. The cliff was a hard one to climb and much time was spent in the ascent. When they reached the top it was but to see that the fire had been quicker and that they would have to jump back into the flames beneath which by this time had somewhat abated in force. Ford sprang out unhesitatingly but Layman lingered for some unknown reason. After much difficulty Ford reached a place of safety. Layman did not reach the fire lines that day. Search was made and his body, with face charred beyond recognition, was found at the foot of the cliff. He was lying near a stump and by a hole in his neck was seen that in jumping he had run this through his jaw.

I am sorry to hear that you fled to so great a distance. Why didn’t you go to Halifax?

With best wishes I remain,

Sincerely yours,

T. Gardner Knox

Aug. 16, 1900

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