Like many Golden Age resorts, Grossinger's
began as a farmhouse that took in boarders,
but by 1940 had begun to grow into the most
famous of all the Sullivan County hotels.
Features of the old Nichols House can still be
seen in the photo of what was once the hotel's
by John Conway
May 23, 2014
THE GOLDEN AGE ARRIVES
For many years, especially in the days before the year around resort was common place in Sullivan County, the summer season always began on Memorial Day. Although June was typically a slow month, and special incentives were usually offered to spur reservations, Memorial Day weekend was always the target for completing renovations and other preparations, and its arrival was the signal that "the season" had begun.
Under ideal circumstances, a strong Memorial Day weekend could provide the impetus for the weeks ahead. A strong June was important to the financial success of the resorts, and early publicity played a key part. Exposure in such publications as the Resort & Travel Magazine put out each June by the New York Journal-American newspaper was critical, and played a major role in setting the tone for the summer.
Take the 1940 issue, for example. By perusing its pages, one could learn what changes many Sullivan County hotels had made over the winter months and what new amenities might await tourists that season. In between ads for Atlantic City, Ocean City, Maryland, Lake George and Saratoga Springs, Sullivan County hotels were well represented. Small listings extolled the virtues of the Trojan Lake Lodge in Livingston Manor, the Mongaup House in Ferndale, the Royal Oak Farm in Narrowsburg, the Rockland House in Roscoe, and the Lake Rest Hotel on Shandalee Lake. Larger, more elaborate ads sang the praises of the more well-known resorts such as Grossinger’s, the Flagler, and the Tennanah Lake House.
Although by 1940, Sullivan County hotels stood poised to enter their Golden Age, not all establishments were so quick to make the transition and some vestiges of those features that made the area so popular with tourists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were still apparent. The Mt. Brook Farm in Neversink, for example, touted its 1900 feet elevation and its shaded lawns, promising guests "milk, butter, and poultry off our farm," as well as mountain spring water. The Riverview Farm in Narrowsburg advertised "large porches" overlooking the Delaware River, and an "excellent table, supplied with fresh vegetables and dairy products. Chicken dinners twice weekly." This was definitely Silver Age stuff.
But elsewhere, top-notch entertainment and organized athletic competition had become the order of the day, and it was the exception rather than the rule to see mention of the natural beauty or romantic legends that had long been the staple of Catskill hotel advertising. The hotels that dotted the county’s landscape were by then more often referring to themselves as "resorts" or "country clubs" than by the previously prolific "farm" or "house."
While some of these hotels dated back to the turn of the century or earlier in one incarnation or another, they had undergone major transitions during the period between 1915 and 1940. Most were now owned and operated by Jewish families and were advertising for Jewish guests. That would have been quite unusual 25 years before and completely unheard of altogether prior to 1899.
A sampling of press releases from the magazine leaves little doubt what Sullivan County hotels were selling in 1940.
"The management of the Nemerson, South Fallsburg, N.Y., has planned a round of activities with tournaments in handball, tennis and ping pong. Especially interesting are the boat races to be held on Nemerson Lake, with a free weekend given to the winners.
"Plans are being completed whereby a completely new policy of entertainment and athletic activity will be inaugurated for the current season at the Flagler Hotel and Country Club, South Fallsburg, N.Y., according to L. Allen Kirschbaum, managing director. The entertainment staff, which includes Mack Newman, Eddie Lambert, Dale Rhodes, and Paula Victor, will be augmented each week by stellar talent from the stage, screen, and radio, for the shows given on Saturday and Sunday nights.
"The Sha-wan-ga Lodge Honeymoon Club, High View, N.Y., composed of couples who spent their honeymoons or first met at the Lodge, will hold their first annual election meeting on Sunday, June 16.
"The versatile Jackie Green has been signed by the Waldemere Hotel, Livingston Manor, N.Y., to entertain guests throughout the season. A Broadway musical and dramatic cast has also been engaged to present original dramatizations and musical productions in the Waldemere Playhouse.
"Billy Reed, dancer and actor, returns to the Grossinger Hotel and Country Club, Ferndale, N.Y., for his third successive year as Director of Activities.
"The New York State Jewish War Veterans of America will hold their annual convention at the Laurels Country Club, Sackett Lake, Monticello, N.Y., June7, 8, and 9.
"Management of the Young’s Gap Hotel has built a Kiddie Kamp to provide facilities for children of guests who wish to have their children near them."
The Golden Age, with its stucco exteriors, state-of-the-art playhouses, professional social staffs, and concrete swimming pools, had definitely arrived.
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Visit his website at sullivanretrospect.com and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.