Historic home to be retreat

By Joe Moskowitz
Decades before Grossingers, the Concord, and all of the other great Sullivan County resorts that made up what became known as “The Borscht Belt,” there was Fleischmanns. A local community organization might call it “Fleischmanns First.” And it was. But the introduction of the automobile and the construction of Route 17 made it faster and easier to get to Sullivan County and that area became synonymous with “the Catskills.”

The original name was Griffin Corners, but then the Fleischmanns family came to town. Andes resident Leigh Melander, PhD is now in the process of restoring the last remnant of the Fleischmanns’ family compound to its former glory.

On Tuesday, Dr. Melander was immersed in an application to get the property listed in the New York State and United States registers of historical places. The more she has learned about the Fleischmanns family, the more she is fascinated by their history and the village; which took their name.

Lots of properties
The Fleischmanns family was extremely wealthy. They owned distilleries and Fleischmanns Yeast. She says they were just as wealthy and just as generous and just as willing to show off their money as the Astors or the Rockefellers or the Goulds, but the Fleischmanns were Jewish and in 19th Century America, that kept many doors shut to them, including those at popular resort communities like Saratoga Springs. So members of the Fleischmanns family followed other middle, upper middle class, and just plain rich Jewish people to Griffin Corners, where the locals were far more welcoming.

Charles, Louis and Max Fleischmanns built the ballpark in Fleischmanns. They owned the major league Cincinnati Reds and for entertainment would have big league ringers clobbering local teams. They also built the compound. Of the five original majestic mansions, only the “smaller” one, 8,000 square feet, remains. That is where Leigh Melander is creating “Spillian.”

It sits on 32 acres of land. Not far from the train station where the Fleischmanns family might have a marching band greet them after they arrived from New York. Spillian, Dr. Melander says, is a Middle English word that means to play, to jest, and to revel. Those are among the things she has planned. It will be a conference center, a retreat, a place for weddings, and gatherings of all kinds. But first the renovation has to be completed.
She says it needs a lot of work and she is getting help. She just learned that she has been awarded a $25,000 MARK Project, Middletown small business development grant. That will go toward the construction of a commercial kitchen.

If all goes well, Dr. Melander hopes to have “Spillian” open next spring so all can play, jest, revel and get an idea what life was like for the family that gave the village its name and more.