To most, Irving Jaffee will best be remembered for the two gold medals he won in the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid. To others, he will forever be the man over whom two legendary Catskill hotels went to court one winter.
Jaffee was among the greatest speed skaters of his generation. He turned in the fastest time in the 10,000 meters at the 1928 Olympics in St. Moritz, only to have the event canceled without an official winner because unseasonably warm temperatures had thawed the ice. Four years later, in Lake Placid, Jaffe won gold medals in both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races as American men swept all four speed skating events. Continue reading
While the tourism industry has prospered in Sullivan County, New York for more than 150 years now, the concept of fall foliage as a tourism tool is relatively new.
The idea of promoting the changing colors of the leaves on the trees to encourage tourists to visit an area did not exist much at all before the late 1930s, and although both the Berkshires in Massachusetts and the Poconos in Pennsylvania were promoting fall foliage tours as far back as the 1940s, the Catskills did not begin to cash in on the idea until the 1950s. Continue reading
Many of the participants at the 14th Annual Catskills Preservation and History Conference at the Liberty Museum & Arts Center in Liberty, NY last month were quite surprised to see and hear about the magnitude of Sullivan County’s resort industry during its heyday.
The opening presentation featured an in depth retrospective of the Delano Hotel in Monticello by Marvin Rappaport, grandson of the founder. Continue reading
Loch Sheldrake, or Sheldrake Pond, as it was known before many of the ponds in Sullivan County became lakes overnight as part of the late 19th century tourism boom, is one of the deepest bodies of water in the region.
It was a favorite dumping ground for Murder, Inc. when the enforcement arm of organized crime plied its trade in the mountains, and it is believed that at least one of the bodies deposited there has never been found. Continue reading
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site will host five Hudson River School Art Trail hikes.
These guided hikes go to the painting sites of the 19th-century artist Thomas Cole and his contemporaries including Frederic Church, Jasper Cropsey, Sanford Gifford, and Asher B. Durand. Participants will be able to see the same views that appear in famous landscape paintings. Continue reading
The Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner has officially opened the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center on Route 28 in the Hamlet of Mt. Tremper, Town of Shandaken, Ulster County, which is expected to serve as a gateway for visitors to Catskills Forest Preserve to learn about the area’s outdoor recreation opportunities, its ecology, and according to a press release, its history. Continue reading
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is opening its doors for an Information Open House on Sunday, February 15 at 12:30 pm for a one-hour program for all those interested in volunteering as a tour guide.
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site, located in Catskill, New York, is currently seeking volunteers to conduct tours of the house and studio. The organization is also recruiting Art Trail guides for their popular hiking program on the Hudson River School Art Trail where the views in 19th-century landscape paintings can be seen today in the Catskill Mountains. Volunteers are also needed for gardening and helping out at events. Continue reading
On March 25, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the keynote address at the annual Rabbinical Assembly Convention at the renowned Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake in the Sullivan County Catskills. Ten days later he was dead.
King had come to the Concord to address the gathering of conservative rabbis to honor his long-time friend, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who had accompanied King and others in the historic 1961 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and who was being feted that might by his colleagues as a belated 60th birthday celebration. As he took the podium following his introduction, King was greeted warmly by those in attendance, who sang the civil rights song, “We Shall Overcome” in Hebrew. Continue reading
With its delicious food and warm hospitality, the Red Apple Rest was a legendary pit stop on the trek from New York City to the Catskills starting in the 1930s. Reuben Freed’s restaurant, staffed primarily by family and friends – or strangers who eventually became family – was in operation for more than fifty years.
Reuben’s daughter Elaine grew up in the Red Apple, and she brings the restaurant back to life in Stop At The Red Apple: The Restaurant on Route 17 (SUNY Press, 2014) of vignettes, interviews, photos, and memorabilia. It’s a memoir, yes, but also an immigrant success story, love story, and memorial to a slice of bygone New York history and popular culture. Continue reading
Time was that the Sullivan County Catskills were as popular as any summer tourist destination in the country. And as far back as the 19th century, some enterprising hotel owners attempted to translate that popularity into year around success.
Boosted by the patronage of those seeking a cure from tuberculosis, in the 1880s the Ontario and Western Railway began advertising the area as a winter health resort, publishing its annual “Winter Homes” brochure in addition to the popular “Summer Homes” booklet. Continue reading
The now long defunct Flagler Hotel in Sullivan County’s Fallsburg had a rich tradition as one of the region’s premier resorts, and for decades was a trend setter in the industry.
In 1920, the Flagler introduced the distinctive stucco covered, parapet and Palladian window dominated architectural style now known as Sullivan County Mission. Soon, virtually every other Sullivan County hotel was following suit. Continue reading
Even those who are not particularly astute observers of the current battle for casino licenses have recognized that the struggle has devolved into one in which some of those in the running have resorted to pointing out how desperate they are.
Sullivan and Ulster Counties seem to be in the lead in this dubious category, and although it will likely be worth it if it lands a casino for one or both, it remains to be seen what the long term impact of such reverse promotion will be, especially if no casinos are forthcoming. Continue reading
In the middle of September of 1959, more than160 of the world’s most prominent scientists– eight of whom would go on to earn a Nobel prize– gathered at a remote mountain lodge for three days of discussions that have become known as “the conference that changed the world.”
The remote mountain lodge that played host to this groundbreaking get together was not in the Swiss Alps or the Himalayas of Tibet, but in Sullivan County, New York. Continue reading
Many of the 75 or so people at the recent 13th Annual Catskills History and Preservation Conference at the Liberty Museum & Arts Center were shocked to hear that the Sullivan County’s heralded resort industry has been in decline since 1965.
That’s not unusual. Most newcomers– and even some old timers who should know better– find it hard to believe that the county’s heyday was over by the mid-1960s. Many cite the existence of dozens of hotels in the 1970s as proof that it couldn’t possibly be so.
And yet these days most historians who have done any research at all agree that the Golden Age of Sullivan County’s tourism industry, which began around 1940, came to an end around 1965, and they cite a number of reasons for choosing that particular year. Continue reading
Chappaqua doesn’t exist. So says Ken Jackson of Columbia University, a longtime advocate calling for New York State to promote New York history. This might seem strange to the many people who have heard of Chappaqua, and those who know someone who lives there. It might also seem strange because Jackson himself lives in Chappaqua.
Well, not exactly. Chappaqua is not a municipality. There are no Chappaqua mayor, police, court or any of the other government services we normally associate with a municipality in New York State. Chappaqua doesn’t have a municipal historian because it is not a municipality; it’s a hamlet, located in the Town of New Castle. Continue reading
The Liberty Museum & Arts Center has announced the schedule for their 13th annual Catskills Preservation and History Conference, to be held at the Museum in Liberty, Sullivan County, NY, on Sunday, August 24.
The theme of this year’s conference is “500 Hotels! Tourism in the Sullivan County Catskills: Past, Present and Future.” The full day event includes a driving and walking tour in the morning, and programs and panel discussions throughout the day, culminating in the presentation of the Second Annual Catskills Preservation Award and the opening reception for the “Pollack’s Hotel Exhibit” at 7 PM. Continue reading
While Sullivan County was not officially formed until 1809, the region’s history as a popular healing environment dates back considerably before that.
From the earliest visits of the Lenape, who constructed their sweat lodges among the willow trees on the banks of the Delaware to the tuberculosis sufferers who searched for a cure in the cool mountain climate, hundreds of thousands of people have visited the area because of its clean air and pure water.
From about 1890 to 1915, the county enjoyed a prosperous period of tourism—today called the Silver Age— based almost entirely on those concepts of fresh air and pure water. In fact, for decades the Ontario & Western Railway’s promotional campaign for the area was based on the slogan, “Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’” This was often followed by the trident reminder ‘pure air, pure water, pure milk.” Continue reading
In the wake of the recent decision by Foxwoods Catskills Resort not to submit an application for a destination casino in Liberty — some in Sullivan County are wringing their hands. There are many comments being circulated along the lines of, “the last one out turn off the lights…”
Notwithstanding the fact that there are still two viable casino projects in the works for Sullivan County, perhaps it is a good time for a history lesson for all of those who are beginning to feel a bit desperate about the area’s future prospects. And since the Foxwoods proposal that will not be submitted to the State Gaming Commission involved the Grossinger’s property, once home to what was arguably the most famous resort in the world, perhaps it is appropriate that the history lesson begins there. Continue reading
The new exhibition of landscape masterpieces by Frederic Church and Thomas Cole is now open at the Thomas Cole Historic Site, featuring twenty artworks from 1844-1850, focusing on the early work of Church when he began studying with Cole in Catskill, New York.
The exhibition, on view through November 2, 2014, includes plein air studies by Church when he was an 18-year-old apprentice as well as large, highly finished and stunningly skillful paintings that were completed just a few years later. Compare Church’s work to Cole’s from the same time period as they covered the same territory together. Continue reading
A new book, Cutters to Motor Coaches: Pioneering Commercial Transportation in the Catskills (Fast Pencil, 2014) by Michael W. Duttweiler explores the evolution of commercial motorized transportation in rural Western Sullivan County, New York through the story of a family business.
Along the way, it outlines major phases in the history of Sullivan County tourism, influences of the Ontario and Western Rail Road, and changes brought about by increased regulation of commercial transportation, the Great Depression, and World War II. Continue reading