A Catskill Catalog: Jan. 20, 2010
Drive up state Road 270 into the Catskills one fair-weather day in 1907. 270: that’s how the 1907 Automobile Blue Book refers to the road into the mountains from Kingston, the road north of the brand-new Ashokan Reservoir, our Route 28. The road that travels south of the reservoir, our 28A, was 271.
Remember, the speed limit is 15 mph. My friend’s grandfather told me his Pope-Toledo car only goes 12 mph, so we’ll take our time, take in the rustic scenery. What’s the hurry? There are lots of nice places to stay along the way.
Surely, we will make it through West Hurley and Beechford, across the narrow, high-sided wooden bridge that carries us across the stream into the Town of Shandaken. That’s just east of the Mount Pleasant train station. Motoring is such an improvement over those smoke-belching trains, so much more, I don’t know, modern and sporting and free. No schedules! No waiting! No strangers you’d have to talk to!
The Corners is just ahead. The Howland House is convenient for motorists, located just above the road at The Corner. In the 21st Century, it will be La Duchesse Anne restaurant and inn. Across the brook, The Brookside House offers food and lodging, too. It went on to become the original home of La Duchesse Anne, but burned down in the late 20th Century.
Now the narrow macadam road follows the Esopus Creek along its north side.
We could check into the Washington Inn in Phoenicia, the big old hotel on the rise overlooking the village. But, we probably won’t. The grand old four-story wooden hotel had seen better days by the automobile era. We would be blissfully unaware, on our 1907 drive, that the old dowager was to burn to the ground one night the following May. That hotel had had a great history.
In 1875, Hudson River steamship tycoon Thomas Cornell took over the fledgling rail line along the Esopus, renaming it the Ulster & Delaware. Cornell put his son-in-law in charge. Samuel Coykendall was an aggressive businessman who offered to help finance other entrepreneurs in the hotel business – as long as the newly constructed hotels were on his rail line.
Captain Jacob Tremper was a Kingston riverboat operator and business associate of Cornell and Coykendall. He agreed to build a first-class hotel, one as nice as any in the Catskills. Construction began in the fall of 1877 and the magnificent Tremper House opened, grandly, May 23, 1878.
The Tremper House in the late 1870s was state of the art. Passenger and baggage elevators made taking the stairs so 1860! There were 130 rooms, a dining room outfitted in fine linen, china, and silver, parlors, a walking piazza, and finely manicured grounds. It was, when it opened, top shelf.
But, by the time early motorists were driving into Phoenicia, the hotel had fallen into disrepair. For a couple of years, Dr. Judson R. Benedict ran it as a “High Class Resort for Invalids,” advertised a “Milk and Rest Cure,” even providing “Separate apartments for the treatment and cure of Drug Habits.” Locals didn’t like the sound of contagion that went with all this, and pressured Benedict to leave. By 1904, the broken-down old Tremper House was rechristened the Washington Inn.
That’s when we passed it and decided to keep driving. A couple miles west of Phoenicia is The La Fayette, a boarding house operated by Miss Annie Cogan.
Much later, the Norway Ski Club will inhabit the building.
Up in Big Indian, we could stop at the Marsh Cottage, which much later would house several restaurants, including the Val D’Isere. In 2010, it would be advertised as a turnkey-ready business for sale.
Pine Hill has a bunch of hotels. The renowned Guigou House had established Pine Hill as a destination resort back in the 1850s. In 1879, it had been modernized and expanded, perhaps in response to the competition of the newly opened Tremper House. By the early 1900s, the founding Guigou family had sold out, and the 250-guest-capacity hotel had been rechristened the Mountain Inn. But, alas, it burned down in 1903, the fate of so many old wood-frame hotels.
The Colonial Inn, on Main Street in Pine Hill, would be a great place for us to stop on our 1907 automobile trip. Built in 1811, the Colonial Inn welcomes hungry travelers still today. That’s a 200-year-old Inn in Pine Hill! (Do yourself a little favor in 2010. Check out the weekend buffet.)
We could stay at the Hotel Washington in Griffin’s Corners, a village still a few years away from being renamed Fleischmanns. One hundred seventy-five guests could stay in the five-story building on the hill where Brush Ridge Road meets Main Street. The impressive stone-stair entryway to the hotel still invites us.
I say, let’s make our way to Arkville and stay at the Locust Grove Hotel. They advertise “Fresh Milk, Butter, Poultry, Eggs, and Vegetables,” so the food should be good. I’m hungry. It’s hours since we left Kingston. Besides, the Locust Grove used to be the mansion of Edward Livingston, one of the aristocratic proprietors of the Catskills. Supposedly, he lost the house in a poker game. They say Lord Willoughby of Brooklyn once owned it. I’ll bet he played poker.
Locust Grove was just east of Arkville, on the north side of the state road. It was torn down in 1964. We can find a garage in Arkville, maybe, to take care of the car. Let’s stay.