The arrival of the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad in 1871 opened Mountain Dale to tourism and an influx of Jewish immigrants. This transformed the rural farming hamlet, originally known as Sandburgh, into a vacation destination. In 1880, the hamlet officially changed its name to Mountain Dale and the railroad became known as the O&W Railway. At its peak during the 1920s through the 1960s, Mountain Dale was host to about 34 hotels and 75 bungalow colonies. Passenger travel on the railroad ended in 1953, however visitors still arrived by car and bus via Route 17 to destinations such as The Evergreen Hotel and Rashkin’s Little Falls Hotel, which billed its waterfall as the “Niagara of Sullivan County.” Bungalow colonies such as Regal Wankref Country Colonies, Paradise Cottages, Crystal Lake Bungalows, Hymie Gordon’s, and Camp Eva hosted summer visitors of all ages. '
Sean Wall-Carty, Deputy Supervisor, Town of Fallsburg
Leni Binder, Resident of Town of Fallsburg for 81 years, former Sullivan County Legislator, Current Deputy Mayor and Trustee of the Village of Woodridge.
Isaac Jeffreys, Marker Project
Marisa Scheinfeld, Marker Project
Mountain Dale was established in the 1790s as a farming community called Sandburg. In 1868 the arrival of the New York Ontario & Western Railroad provided a prosperous agricultural industry through agriculture. In 1880, the hamlet officially changed its name to Mountain Dale. The railroad also gave a rise to influx of Jewish immigrants to the area to support the farming community.
Archie Kinberg and his family were one of the first Jewish farmers in Ellenville at the turn of the 19th century. He recounted that during the first ten years after he was born in 1900, the only Jews in the area lived fifteen miles from his family farm in Mountain Dale. He remembers driving to Mountain Dale once a month to purchase Jewish provisions (Catskill Culture, Phil Brown).
One of the first farms that began taking in summer boarders and transitioning into a hotel was Forman’s Manor, which was owned by Harry and Ida Forman and opened in 1920 and closed around 1955. The operational years of Forman’s Manor highlight the peak years of operation for about 34 other hotels and 75 bungalow colonies that existed in the hamlet.
Some of the notable hotels were The Evergreen Hotel and Rashkin’s Little Falls Hotel, which billed its waterfall as the “Niagara of Sullivan County.” Other notable hotels were located on Park Hill Road which included the Park House Hotel, Maple Shade, New Prospect Hotel, Nasso Hotel, and Star Pleasure Hotel.
In addition to the hotels, bungalow colonies such as Camp Eva, Crystal Lake Bungalows, Hammer’s Bungalow Colony, Hemlock Grove Bungalow Colony, Hymie Gordon’s, Mirth Bungalow Colony, Paradise Cottages, Regal Wankref Country Colonies, and many others hosted summer visitors of all ages.
One of the unique bungalow colonies in Mountain dale was Mother’s Camp Eva. The camp was founded by Eva Levi who was a social worker in New York City and taught English to immigrant women who were attending night school. Other women began helping Eva with her efforts of teaching English to foreigners and established five clubs across the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. Sometime in the 1930s, Eva Levi and the organizers of the clubs decided to establish a camp and bungalow colony in the Catskills and established Camp Eva in Mountain Dale. Notable songwriters Laura Nyro and Alan Merrill attended Camp Eva in 1963 and 1964.
Notable actor and comedian Alan King worked as an MC at the New Prospect during his high school summers.
Isaac Bashevis Singer had his first American vacation after recently emigrating from Poland to Mountain Dale in 1937. The vacation played a major role in his transition to becoming a major American writer as it inspired his short story “The Yearning Heifer” which immortalizes the traditional small farmer putting up New York City boarders.
Mountain Dale also gained notoriety in 1970 for the failed attempt of creating another large-scale music festival following Woodstock: Bach to Rock Festival. The festival was supposed to include a combination of classical performances with notable opera stars such as Jan Peerce and Roberta Peters as well as headline rock acts such as the Grateful Dead and Ritchie Havens. Despite the support of the Town of Fallsburg and the Catskill Mountain Resort Association, the festival was struck down in court for fears of the influx of drugs and immorality that occurred at the Woodstock festival.
Despite The NYO&W Railroad ending service in 1956, visitors continued to visit the region by car and bus via the newly constructed Route 17. However, likewise to many other smaller Borscht Belt communities, tourism to the area began to decline in the late 1960s and 1970s as vacationers began to flock to year-round resorts in other areas.
Mountain Dale has seen a great rebirth in recent years as the downtown has been revitalized with new restaurants, shops, and art galleries.
The Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project aims to present these extended stories as the most accurate and inclusive as possible. If you have more information or a memory about the town or a particular hotel, bungalow colony, or camp that we may have missed, please drop us a line!
My first experience with gastronomic pairing was matzo ball soup and Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda in the sprawling kitchen of my grandparents' Catskill Mountains hotel. While
this cacophonous staging area for a 140-seat dining room may not seem conducive to a
contemplative tasting experience, every flavour and aroma I experienced during those
years is etched into my memory. As in many cultures, food was the emotional linchpin of
the "Jewish Alps", and a hunk of sweet-noodle pudding or raisin-crammed rugelach was
the currency with which to express love.
The commanding presence of my grandmother, Ida Forman, was synonymous with that
legendary Borscht Belt cuisine, for me as well as for three generations of guests at Harry
Forman's Manor. In her paprika-smeared chef's apron, straps gathered with an enormous
safety pin to accommodate her 4-foot-9, 80-pound frame, Ida ran her kitchen with the
panache of a Barnum & Bailey ringmaster. But even while folding dough for blintzes and
barking at some hapless waiter to pick up another plate of lox, she could always find a
moment to dispatch an extra pile of lukshen - Yiddish for noodles - for my soup or send
over a chewy Toll House cookie studded with hunks of chocolate.
In fact, my grandparents were renowned in the Catskills for setting a bountiful table. Ida's
opulent spin on Eastern European dishes plumped up by America's abundant agriculture -
roast chicken shimmering with paprika gravy, or the cold sorrel-scented potato soup
known as shav - kept Forman's Manor packed for almost 40 years.
We were a family of pioneers, I'd always been told, as my grandparents were among the
first Jewish immigrants to open a hotel in the Catskills. Arriving in America at the dawn
of the 20th century, they were hungry to own land, a privilege that had been denied to
Jews in Russia. So around 1920, with a little cash and even less experience, but possessed
of a fearsome will to succeed in this new world, they bought a chicken farm 160
kilometres north of New York City's Lower East Side.
A few years later, they snatched a better opportunity: hosting the rush of city dwellers
who came to Sullivan County seeking a breath of country air. While other farmers ran
kuchalayns - sparse rooms with kitchen privileges - my grandmother knew her way
around a boiled brisket and was one of the first to offer three copious feeds a day - dishes
like hefty mounds of roughly cut chicken liver studded with globules of schmaltz
(rendered chicken fat) and the rosy beet soup that gave the Borscht Belt its name. So even
as their guests demanded American-style amenities such as tennis courts and a swimming
pool, it was food like Ida's tzimmes - an almost medieval-style sweet beef stew that might
include sweet potatoes, prunes, carrots and cinnamon - that provided the sentimental
touchstone they craved.
The 1950s was the Borscht Belt's heyday, a time when the immigrants who fled the
Russian pogroms as children finally secured a toehold in America's middle class. And it
was my grandmother's culinary largesse - the way she blanketed plump chunks of pickled
herring with cupfuls of silken cream and crowded soup plates with so many meat-filled
kreplach it was hard to find the liquid - that was a symbol of just how far they had come.
To me Ida's hotel kitchen was a thrill ride, a place where silverware thundered from sink
to drying bin; where the mixer churned a mountain of strudel dough; and where waiters
hoisted trays heavily laden with delicacies like gefilte fish, jelly omelettes or the
unexpectedly flavourful boiled meat known as flanken precariously over the cooks'
heads. With my privileged status as the owners' granddaughter, I roamed this hectic
workplace as self-importantly as if I'd been granted an all-access pass to a Rolling Stones
While the service at Forman's Manor was swift and accommodating, a room full of self-
made businessmen - who had scrapped their way to a comfortable clearing in the garment
business or the pickle trade or to a rarefied oasis peddling furs - was a demanding crowd.
Every rag-trade entrepreneur considered himself a chicken-soup sommelier. Still, my
grandparents managed to create an atmosphere that was part extended family table, part
boot camp - with a return rate any Four Seasons would envy.
Still, even the most trying guests agreed that my grandmother was the keystone of the
hotel's delicate chemistry. With the stamina of an Olympian, she rose at 3 a.m. to stoke
the ovens and pack coffee into the industrial-size percolator - along with a few raw eggs
to clarify the brew. And by the time I would arrive at breakfast, she was already behind
the long metal work counter basting a battalion of chickens for dinner and reminding
every perspiring waiter and butterfingered busboy that while they might be esteemed
scholars for nine months of the year, right now they'd better focus on the pickled herring.
By the mid-1950s, however, the vicious pace had taken its toll on my grandfather's health
and Ida and Harry retired.
On the surface, they accomplished everything they had set out to do: My father's dental
practice was flourishing and he was a founding father of the split-level suburbs.
But Ida never could find her place in this new order. The concept of gardening or leafing
through a magazine or taking in a movie for pleasure alone seemed quite mad to someone
who had run a good-sized business all her life. Ida never understood how to cook for a
family of four, only for a dining room of more than a hundred. So perhaps we shouldn't
have been surprised when in her later years Ida's mind bobbed back to the time she
inspired awe by turning out a thousand plates of food a day. For years after my
grandfather died and the grandchildren went off to college, Ida could still be found in
front of her stove churning out stuffed chickens, boiling cauldrons of soup and filling
blintzes for the ghostly cadres still hungry for a piece of the shtetl.
Chester Hill House
Cold Spring House
Dubitsky's and Rosenblatt's Rooming House (formerly Coloniel House)
Empire Mountain House
Grand Central Hotel
High Cliff House
Linden Lawn Hotel
Little Falls Hotel
Mountain Peak Lodge
New Prospect Hotel
Park House Hotel
Perlin's Star House
Rausch's Overbrook House
Royal Mountain Hotel
Sam Slobodow's Hotel
St. Moritz House
Star Pleasure Hotel
Sun Ray House
Courtesy of Phil Brown and the Catskills Institute
Blumberg's Beechwood Colony
Colonial House (later Dubitsky's & Rosenblatt's)
Doctor Locker's Bungalows
Empire Mountain House
Fawn Lake Colony
Hammerman's Modern Rooms & Bungalows
High Mountain House
Lorraine House (aka Rubinson's Bungalows)
Maliga's (later Chesler's)
Melock Grove Estates
Minzer's Hollywood Bungalows
Mount Brook Bungalows
Nasso Country Club
Ostrow's (later Colony Park)
Pleasure Hill House
Rausch's Overlook House
Red Barn Resort
Regal Wankref Country Colonies
Sun Ray Bungalows
Zivitz Hollywood Bungalows
Courtesy of Phil Brown and the Catskills Institute
Day & Night: Return to the Borscht Belt presents the work of photographers Marisa Scheinfeld & Isaac Jeffreys alongside archival material from the famed era. The juxtaposition of Scheinfeld's naturally lit style versus Jeffreys theatrical, staged approach offers a manifold celebration of the Borscht Belt in its most contemporary state. Coupled with their work, a curated selection of rare objects and ephemera provides a glimpse into the era in its heyday.
This project is made possible with funding from a Sullivan County Arts & Heritage Grant, funded by the Sullivan County Legislature and administered by Delaware Valley Arts Alliance.
Special thanks to Raymon Elozua and the Grocery Store Gallery.