The Northriver research website is an excellent source for those who are
interested in genealogy, or the history of Durham, NY. It is also
useful for other towns in the county, and how they may have relevance
to one another. There is a search engine, and a table of contents listing
much useful information. Visit the site to appreciate the full range of
possibilities. The Durham Historic Preservation Commission is grateful
to Sylvia Hasenkopf for granting us permission to provide this link http://www.northriverresearch.com/
Much of Durham’s early history was shaped by its geography. Located about twenty-four miles northwest of the village of Catskill and about thirty miles southwest of Albany, the state capitol, the Town is irregular in shape. Its 49 square miles, or 31,000 acres slope to the northeast out of the Catskill mountains to the Catskill Creek basin. There are numerous streams running down into the Catskill Creek in an area once heavily forested with hemlock trees. Hemlock bark was the basic raw material needed by the leather tanning industry which emerged in the area in the early 1800’s and in neighboring communities with names like Tannersville and Gloversville. Leather tanning required only the bark of the hemlock tree, and much surplus wood became available as a by-product. Mills for working wood, grain and iron were located along the stream banks prior to the 20th century and were responsible for much of the Town’s prosperity, especially in the hamlet of Oak Hill.
The Catskill Creek flows down the center-line of the valley, southeastward through Preston Hollow and Cooksburg in the town of Rensselaerville (Albany County) through Oak Hill and East Durham in the town of Durham.
Below East Durham, the valley broadens considerably, and Catskill Creek flows through the flatter portions of the towns of Cairo and Catskill, emptying into the Hudson River at the Village of Catskill.
From the mountains (more than two thousand feet in elevation) on the west side of the town of Durham, there are breathtaking vistas of the valley and foothills, encompassing five states. From the valley floor (approximately 500 feet elevation) one has scenic views of the wall of mountains to the west. The alignment of the valley forms a gateway from the Mid-Hudson Region northwestward to Schoharie County in central New York State.
The foothills of the Catskills spread across the western end of the Town of Durham rising from the Catskill Creek. The highest elevation is found near the northwest corner on Mt. Pisgah at 2,912 feet. The typical elevations in the settled parts of the town, however, are between 500 and 1,900 feet: East Durham is at 510 feet, Oak Hill: 650, Durham hamlet: 840, Cornwallville: 950, and East Windham: 1,940 feet. The lowest elevation of 380 feet is found where the Catskill Creek exits the town south of East Durham.