Sullivan County Historical Society History Preserver Award 2009
Edward Van Put
Some of us are fortunate enough to discover at an early age those chief interests that will form our lives. Edward Van Put remembers the influence that a commonplace event had on his life when he was twelve years old. His uncle took him fly fishing and Ed found the experience so fascinating that he soon became “hooked” on trout streams. At an early age he had met his life work.
With a little experience he learned that the finest trout fishing was to be found here in Sullivan County and whenever a weekend was available, he would leave his home in northern New Jersey to come up to the Catskills to be close to streams such as the Beaverkill and Willowemoc. At first his fishing days were limited, but finally in 1965 he moved up to Livingston Manor. In order to support himself he worked for several years in Sullivan’s Department Store in Liberty but, unfortunately, learned that a busy place like Sullivan’s did not leave much time for fishing. The result was that he decided to follow his inner feelings and seek a job more closely related to the world of trout fishing. Despite stiff competition he passed a state examination and accepted a position with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
In those years when he was busy with a job, a new family and working on his fishing skills, he still found time for reading. He recalls the sense of discovery he had when he came across authors like Alf Evers and Manville Wakefield who had a knack for making Catskill history vivid and interesting and he realized how much information was available in books to add to the practical knowledge he was acquiring on the job. He particularly enjoyed Wakefield’s “To the Mountains by Rail” which included a story about a dispute involving fishing rights along the Neversink River. His curiosity to learn more details about the incident led him to old copies of the Liberty Register and a friendship with Liberty historian Del Van Etten who helped him to find his way amidst local archives.
The invention of the electronic copier enabled Ed to begin accumulating lots of material about the Catskills, but as the stacks of paper increased in size, he began to realize that to have a page copied from a newspaper fifty years old didn’t add to anyone’s knowledge. Without realizing how much work would be required, Ed gradually became a writer and over the years assisted by his wife, Judy O’Brien Van Put, he learned the disciplines of research and the ability to weave that research into book form.
He realized that he was not interested in simply rewriting stories that other writers had already covered. He wanted to get as close to events as he could and this meant he had to spend a lot of time in local archives. He relates that over the years in order to understand the effect of trout fishing on the area he had to read portions of some forty newspapers, as many of these papers contained stories about trout fishing in the Catskills. The newspapers, many of which had become defunct, whetted his appetite for more knowledge and he turned to public and private archives. He estimates that over a quarter of a century he and Judy were able to take advantage of the historical resources of some seventeen archives including the Library of Congress, the New York City and New York State Public Libraries and the Smithsonian Institute, as well as university archives such as Yale and Cornell. Some archives could be visited, but from others he received material via inter-library loan.
In 1996 after long years of research he published “Beaverkill: The History of A River and its People” and in 2007 published another book about the larger area known for trout fishing entitled “Trout Fishing in the Catskills” in which he discusses how trout fishing in these mountain streams can be traced back to the 1830’s and how it planted the seed of the county’s tourist industry. John Conway, the Sullivan County historian, writes, “It is my humble opinion that these two books rank only behind James Eldridge Quinlan’s “History of Sullivan County” and Manville Wakefield’s “To the Mountains by Rail” in importance among local history books.