The ghost of Minnewaska: Glory days gone by

The post about the eight abandoned hotels reminded me of the glory days gone by hotel where I worked one summer during college. Wildmere was a wondrous expansive wooden hotel that first opened in 1887.

Perched on the top of the limestone cliffs of Lake Minnewaska in upstate New York near New Paltz, it was a regal testament to monied folk.

When it was in its prime, the hotel gleamed white from fresh paint. When I worked there, it was at the tail end of fading. As with the hotels in the abandoned hotel post at ProTraveller, as the economy shifts, keeping up with beauty is not easy.

Paint flaked. Dripping pipes in the basement created puddles one had to gingerly step through on the way to the laundry room.

Once, the dishwasher broke down in the middle of dinner creating a predicament for the wait staff who were serving five-course meals.

There were holes in table cloths, so placing the vase of handpicked wildflowers in just the right place was a strategic necessity.

When the large industrial sized toaster broke during breakfast one morning, we fought over the four-slice toaster. I remember one waiter throwing a piece of toast at another waiter in a fit of frustration.

The staff was so disgruntled with the management that people stole items to make up for the bad treatment. Someone stole a grandfather clock out of the hallway, for example.

I can’t imagine what the guests thought. Once described in a review as elegance fading into shabbiness, for awhile, the hotel was able to hide its secrets with a garnish of a slow pace, glimpses of a Great Gatsby-like life and the spectacular setting.

In their heyday, these two hotels were jewels of the Shawangunk Mountains at the foothill of the Catskill Mountains. Wealthy people from New York City would come up for the weekends or longer for a vacation of pampering.

The wooden wrap-around porches were perfect for rocking on, and you’ve never seen a more beautiful lake. The water is the most gorgeous blue. When the sun is shining the limestone gleams bright. People could boat, swim and take carriage rides around it.

Eventually, stemming the tide of a dying hotel was futile. The hotel burned to the ground one night after it had already been closed for good. Interestingly, this was the same fate of the other hotel that once stood on the property. Cliff House, Wildmere’s companion was the first to open. It was built on another side of Lake Minnewaska, but burned well before my summer of waitressing.

I’m not sure exactly why each burned, but the circumstances were mysterious. In all honesty, wooden hotels up on a mountain miles from a fire station are no match for a fire, even in the best of circumstances. I felt bad for the owners since they always did right by me, and it must have been awful to lose such splendor, however down-trodden.

Even when it was getting ready to close, you could almost picture women in big hats drinking lemonade while watching their children play croquet on the lawn. It was that kind of place.

After the hotels burned and the family was out of options, the state of New York bought the land. Now called Minnewaska State Preserve, it is open to the public. I try to head up here every summer. There is one section for swimming in the lake. Back when, we swam off the rocks on the opposite end.

The carriage road still goes around the lake which makes for a pleasant walk. Whenever I’m at Minnewaska, I look at the expanse of green and rock where Wildmere used to be and feel a bit nostalgic for the good old days where guests rocked on the porch and the wait staff threw toast.

For more photographs and information about the history of Minnewaska, check out the Lake Minnewaska Web site. It is filled with details. I really did love the place, thinking back.