Tag Archives: Catskills

Thomas Cole Site’s Inaugural Exhibit In “New Studio” Features Architecture


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New Studio oldThe Thomas Cole National Historic Site has announced the inaugural art exhibition in its “New Studio” building at the former home of Thomas Cole (1801-1848), founder of the first distinctly American art movement.

The New Studio, built in 1846, was designed by Cole, and demolished in 1973 before the historic site became a museum. The reconstruction, to be officially unveiled with the opening of the exhibition on May 1, 2016, provides the Site with museum-quality climate-controlled space for displaying art. The upcoming show will be the first to take advantage of that new capacity. Continue reading

Boxing History And The Catskills


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Frank_Moran_cropHundreds of fighters, champions and also-rans alike, have come to the verdant Sullivan County countryside over the years to train for upcoming fights, providing the Catskills with a permanent link to the sport.  And that link transcends the fact that heavyweight contender Ed “Gunboat” Smith grew up in Obernberg, heavyweight champ Jimmy Braddock owned a home in North Branch, and featherweight champ Abe Attell, generally regarded as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in history, is buried in Beaverkill.

It has not been recorded when the first professional fighter came to the county to train, but there is lots of information from which to make an educated guess.  While it isn’t clear whether or not he ever actually trained in the county, Robert Prometheus Fitzsimmons, the undersized British fighter who wrested the heavyweight crown from Gentlemen Jim Corbett in 1897, is known to have frequented many of the Silver Age resorts in the region, primarily those favored by New York City’s policemen and firemen. That probably meant Brophy’s Mountain House in Hurleyville, which was so closely associated with New York’s Finest and New York’s Bravest prior to its demise in a fire in 1910 that is was often referred to as Brophy’s Mad House, due to the unrestrained antics of the off-duty officers. Continue reading

Sullivan County’s ‘White Christmas’ Connection


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WhiteRoeAerialThe Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont did not bear much of a resemblance to a Catskills’ hotel of that era, and Dean Jagger’s General Tom Waverly was definitely not much like a Sullivan County hotel owner, but the movie “White Christmas” has a strong local flavor nonetheless.

The titular tune of the top grossing film of 1954, of course, was conceived and written right here in Lew Beach, and the movie’s thin plot line was really little more than a vehicle for county resident Irving Berlin’s music. And then there is Danny Kaye, sharing the lead with the inimitable Bing Crosby –  who sings Berlin’s most memorable song for the third time on screen– as well as Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen.

But except for two separate twists of fate, Kaye may not have been part of “White Christmas” at all.  Continue reading

A New Book About Catskills History


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catskillshistoryStephen M. Silverman grew up in Los Angeles and admits he knew nothing about the Catskills before coming to New York to attend college. And yet, despite that rather late introduction to the area, he has managed to write what promises to become one of the most important books about the region, released last month by Knopf.

In fact, from the first glimpse of its colorful dust jacket to the final profound phrase on the last page of text, The Catskills: Its History and How it Changed America is about as impressive a book as you are likely to find on this or any subject.  The history is comprehensive, covering virtually everything from the Hardenbergh Patent to Washington Irving to hydraulic fracturing to casinos; the illustrations are magnificent, including some of the most breathtaking renderings of Asher Durand and Thomas Cole; and the sources are impeccable, most notably hours and hours of videotaped interviews with respected modern authorities. Continue reading

1932 Olympics: Speed Skater Spawned Suit


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JaffeeTo 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

Alfred B. Street And The Rise of Foliage Tourism


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StreetWhile 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

Knapp’s Folly: Sullivan County’s Columbia Hotel


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ColumbiaAerial1940Many 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

Sullivan County’s Honeymoon Murder


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PittsburghPhilLoch 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

New Catskills Interpretive Center Opened


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Catskills Interpretive CenterThe 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

Thomas Cole Site Hosting Volunteer Info Open House


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Thomas-cole-houseThe 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

Martin Luther King In The Catskills, 1968


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king-concordOn 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

A Stop At The Red Apple Restaurant


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Stop At The Red Apple RestWith 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

Winter Recreation Resorts In The Catskills


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GrossingerTobogganTime 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

Catskills: New Uses For Old Hotels


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Flagler'64CloseUpThe 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

Casino Push Recalls 1960s Catskills Nuke Project


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Sullivan County Nuclear PlantEven 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

The Catskills Conference That Changed The World


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shawanga (1)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

Catskills Resorts: The Beginning of the End


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NewRoxy1964Many 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! Peter Feinman On Place


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ChappaquaFD4Chappaqua 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

13th Catskills Preservation And History Conference


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Conferencephoto2013The 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