Catskill Mountain House, circa late 1850's

The Catskill Mountain House (1824-1963)

On September 18, 1822 a group of Catskill merchants held a ball high atop the Catskill escarpment at a place on South Mountain known as the Pine Orchard. A ball room 60 feet long was built between two existing buildings. Prominent citizens from Albany to Newburgh gathered to enjoy the festivities and the view of the Hudson Valley. The real purpose of the ball was to gain additional investors for the construction of a hotel on the site. And it worked. After the ball, they formed the Catskill Mountain Association. The Mountain House was built in fall and winter of 1823, and opened in the summer of 1824. Click here for an account of a visit to the Mountain House in 1826.

In 1839, Charles Beach, son of Erastus Beach, who owned the stage coach service from Catskill to the Mountain House, leased the hotel from the Association. During an economic downturn in 1845, Beach bought the hotel for $5000 at a sheriff's tax auction. During this period, Beach substantially rebuilt the Mountain House, changing the Federalist design into the neo-classical structure that became famous. Under Beach's ownership, the Mountain House dominated tourism in the Catskills. It was not until the 1880's that hotels were built to rival it in size and grandeur. The Kaaterskill Hotel, the Grand Hotel in Highmount, and the expanded Laurel House, plus the smaller hotels that sprang up everywhere, all competed with Mountain House for guests.

One advantage the newer hotels had was ease of access. Most were built close to rail stations, where the Mountain House was accessed by a day long stage ride. In 1892, the Mountain House built the Otis Elevating Railway to bring guests up the 1630' escarpment from Palenville. But the railway was expensive to operate and maintain, and was sold for scrap in 1918, the same year the Catskill Mountain railroad was scrapped. Charles Beach had died in 1902, and over the next 16 years, so did his sons. The end of the Beach's' control of the Mountain House coincided with dramatic changes in the Catskills. No longer did New York's elite come to the Catskills. Now it was the middle classes that came, and they preferred the smaller, less expensive hotels. The Mountain House hung on until the start of World War II, but the season of 1941 would be it's last. Though the owner, Milo Claude Moseman, was devoted, perhaps obsessed, with saving the hotel, in the end he was unsuccessful. In 1962 the State of New York acquired the property, and the hotel, severely damaged by weather, years of neglect and an unfinished attempt to renovate the hotel in 1952-1953, was burned by the New York State DEC on Jan. 25, 1963.

Facts and dates are from Roland Van Zandt's "The Catskill Mountain House" or Alf Evers' "The Catskills: From Wilderness to Woodstock"

Video of a visit to the Mountain House site

Slide show of Thomas Nast's "Sketches Among The Catskill Mountains"

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