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March 15th, 2012:

The Rise and Fall of the Catskills

Sometimes called the “Blue Mountains”, to balance out with Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the Catskills were talked about as early as the 1600′s. Maps from 1655 show them being referred to as Kat Kills. In Dutch “kat” often refers to fortifications, and “kill” to rivers or streams.

The population boom started with a man known as Jacob the Jew. In 1773 he became the first Jewish landholder in the Catskills when we bought a plot of land in Livingston, NY. Shortly after, in the early 1800′s, the popularity of the area with Jewish immigrants took off. It started with a resort, the House on the Pine Orchard, near the Kaaterskill Falls. Then came the Concord Resort Hotel. One after another Jewish immigrants migrated north from New York City, and resorts where many stand up comics got their start appeared (including Woody Allen, Billy Crystal, and Jerry Seinfeld). The area hit its peak between 1920 and 1960 to become known as Borscht Belt, or the Jewish Alps.

Well-known resorts of the area included Brickman’s, Brown’s, The Concord, Friar Tuck Inn, Gibber’s, Gilbert’s, Grossinger’s, Granit, the Heiden Hotel, Irvington, Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club, the Nevele, The Laurels Hotel and Country Club, The Pines Resort, Raleigh, the Overlook, the Tamarack Lodge, Stevensville and the Windsor.

Two of the most popular resorts were Grossinger’s Catskill Resort and The Concord Resort Hotel. Grossinger’s became a popular skiing destination, and the first in the world to use artificial snow. By 1972 it had grown to 35 buildings serving over 150,000 guests a year. It had its own airstrip and post office. Unfortunately, by the 1980′s it lost popularity and closed its doors in 1986.

The Concord Resort Hotel went bankrupt in 2005 and was demolished in 2008. As it turns out, the owner who purchased the Concord Resort Hotel and Grossinger’s plans to develop a new $600 million resort.

I found several websites with some interesting photos. You can view more pictures of the Concord hotel in its prime, and a few after bankruptcy, at the bottom of this Huffington Post article. Photos of the abandoned Tamarack Lodge can be found here, here, and here.

When I read about a possible upcoming resurgence I was worried that the beautiful scenic views would be hindered by construction and buildings, because I’ve been to three abandoned hotel sites that were on mountain tops. Luckily most of the ones listed above are miles and miles away from the mountains, and the property of hotels formerly in the mountains have been bought by the state.

The first one I saw was the Catskill Mountain House which hit its prime from 1850 – 1900 and was visited by very prominent people including three presidents (U.S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur, and Theodore Roosevelt). Its decline started in the early 1900′s. The site has been cleared and now has a gatepost and sweeping views of the Hudson Valley.

Less than a mile away from the Catskill Mountain House was the Kaaterskill Hotel. Its origin is fairly interesting, which I will copy verbatim from the Catskill Mountaineer:

“In the summer of 1880, George Harding was vacationing at the Catskill Mountain House near North and South Lake in the Catskill Mountains. His daughter was on a diet of no red meat, and on this particular day, the Catskill Mountain House was only serving Roast Beef. Mr Harding demanded that the waiter bring his daugher fried chicken. The waiter refused to bring them fried chicken. After some heated debate, the owner of the Catskill Mountain House, Charles Beach, was called in to settle the dispute. Still George Harding wouldn’t hear of the denial of his request. Finally, Charles Beach told George Harding that if he wanted fried chicken, he should build his own hotel. George Harding checked out of the Catskill Mountain House, and started to planning to build a bigger and better hotel then the Catskill Mountain House (which was very famous) that would serve Fried Chicken. George Harding purchased a large track of land less then a mile from the Catskill Mountain House on the summit of South Mountain. The following year, he opened the Kaaterskill Hotel. The competition between Beach and Harding became well known as the “Fried Chicken War”.”

The other hotel I’ve seen is the Overlook Mountain House. This hotel competed with the Catskill Mountain House, and was burned down (a second time) in a fire in 1923. The remains of this hotel are still there and can be seen by a trail on the southeast side of Indian Head Mountain.

I’ve made a Google Map of the resorts and hotels. Red indicate they are out of business or abandoned, and green means some aspect of it is still operational:

 


View Catskill Resorts in a larger map