100th Anniversary of Kaplan Farm

By Ellis Tobin
I am one of the many great-grandchildren of Israel Isaac and Leah Kaplan, of Little Red Kill road, Fleischmanns. At the turn of the 20th century, my great-grandparents escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe, came to Ellis Island, and settled in Fleischmanns to become one of the unique and rare breeds of Jewish Catskill mountain farmers.

On the weekend of July 21 and 22, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kaplans’ Farm. While it hasn’t actually been a working farm for many years, my relatives still refer to it in those affectionate terms.

Prospects were poor
My great-grandparents were very poor, and when the 100-acre parcel of land was sold to them in 1912, the bank had anticipated that Israel Isaac and Leah would ultimately fail and foreclose on the property, at which time the bank would turn around and sell it to some other poor, unsuspecting immigrant who possessed little more than a dream. Apparently, that was a common practice back in those days.

The bank didn’t reckon on the pluck and multiple offspring (18, although only eight survived beyond early childhood) of my great grandparents. With the help of their sons and daughters, Israel Isaac and Leah worked the rocky soil, and got enough crops to grow to keep the cows, chickens and children happy. They kept adding on to the farmhouse and word got out that they took in summer boarders. The farmhouse became the Sunny View Hotel. Meanwhile, Israel Isaac (aka Zeideh) plowed the fields with his team of horses, hand-milked the cows and generally avoided the hospitality aspects of the little hotel.

Leah (aka Bubbeh) hung out with her grandchildren as they swam in the pond, played in the barn, and got into all sorts of mischief. For many years, Bubbeh and Zeideh would spend long, lonely winters - just the two of them - on the farm, living in the one room that contained a potbelly stove. They would eagerly await the return of summer, and the joyous frenzy of children, grandchildren and guests.

Congregation founder
Zeideh was one of the founding members of Congregation B’nai Israel in Fleischmanns. There is a plaque on the wall of the temple commemorating his role in the building of the shul, and it’s fitting that several years ago one of his grandsons, Bernard, was instrumental in having the shul placed on the National Historic Register of Buildings.

On Saturday, July 21, the shul will be packed with Zeideh and Bubbeh’s descendants. My great-grandparents never received a formal education, and were monetarily very poor. The Sunny View Hotel burned down in 1930, but they persevered, and continued to farm the land until old age and infirmity made it too difficult to do so. Several of their children attended the one-room schoolhouse about a mile up the Little Red Kill road where they received lessons from headmaster, Berdine Streeter.

Catskills vacations
Many of Bubbeh and Zeideh’s descendants are now doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, artists, professors, teachers and successful business people. Many of us spent our childhood summer vacations on the farm, and continue to retain a strong attachment to the old place.

Many of us continue to vacation on the farm, and several have put up permanent homes there. Interestingly, the spring-fed swimming pond remains full, maintained by a family of beavers, and much too cold to swim in.

I wonder how my mom and her cousins managed to swim in it 80 years ago? Perhaps, under the watchful eye of Bubbeh, the water was much warmer back then. 

Most, (sadly, not all) of us will be up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of “Kaplan’s Farm” by two, simple, pious and hardworking immigrants who had a dream, and saw their dream come true.