28 August 2006

At the Catskills conference: A tour of faded glory

We went on a three-hour tour of the Catskills on a wet Saturday afternoon, driving past the remains of hotels and bungalow colonies of all sizes that had catered to Jewish vacationers in the golden days.

Today we saw land where only memories remain, the boarded-up windows and empty shells. In other cases, formerly famous resorts have been transformed into Orthodox and Hasidic yeshivot, schools, camps and homes.

Every seat on the bus was filled by those who had spent a large part of their lives here, mostly during summer holidays.

Said one visitor, “It was like seeing Indian ruins.”

We stopped for a tour of the small family-owned Mayflower Hotel, built in the 1920s. It had become the Pentecostal Bethel Sunshine Camp, but was abandoned about a decade ago. It's in surprisingly good exterior shape, but many interiors were not as well-preserved.

“It was a genuinely depressing sight,” said a New Jersey resident who spent many summers in Kauneonga Lake, adding that the county should require that the abandoned empty shells be torn down.

A high point was seeing Hurleyville, whose main street was lined with large, beautifully restored Victorian homes and antique shops.

Other towns, like Woodbourne, are lined with shops catering to the religious communities, with branches of businesses from Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, as well as kosher food suppliers.

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