Most of the village land was purchased from the natives in 1684. At the end of the American Revolution there were only ten houses in the community. The village was incorporated in 1806. Catskill is one of only twelve villages in New York still incorporated under a charter, the other villages having incorporated or re-incorporated under the provisions of Village Law.
Thomas Cole (1801–1848), founder of the Hudson River School of painting, was a longtime resident. The historic site Cole House is preserved and has tours available. It is located near the approach for the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.
George Decker, the General and Chief of Staff US Army during the Kennedy Administration, was born in Catskill.