Highlighted by the establishment of the Catskill Mountain House in the 1820s, and furthered by the construction of subsequent resorts and boarding houses, the Catskill Mountains enjoyed a lively seasonal tourist industry that continued largely unabated throughout most of the nineteenth century. Mead’s Mountain House was representative of the smaller, less ostentatious boarding houses that sprang up in the region to serve a more middle-class clientele of tourists. This church, the Church of the Holy Transfiguration was originally constructed in 1891 in association with Mead’s Mountain House as a modest place of worship for guests of the Mead family’s boarding house and those of the nearby Overlook Mountain House. The chapel was constructed in 1891 and modestly built, constructed with a wood balloon frame above a fieldstone foundation with detailing reminiscent of the rustic aesthetic, popular in the Adirondacks to the north. In the 1960s, Father Francis, the much-beloved “hippie priest”, here welcomed hippies who had congregated in town during those years that culminated in the famous art and music festival. Fr. Francis began the practice of this lesser known branch of Catholicism, which acknowledges the Pope as an earthly spiritual leader but, unlike classical Roman Catholicism, does not consider the Pope to be supreme or infallible. The small chapel remains as a quirky and important piece of local history.
As Woodstock New York surged in popularity as a retreat for American and European artists, savvy businessmen from Manhattan could not help themselves but to envision ways to make a little extra money. Morris Newgold and his son, Gabriel of New York City who purchased the Overlook Mountain House in 1917, sought to expand their upstate lodging empire and built a secondary establishment in the village of Woodstock, the Colony Hotel. The Colony Hotel serve as a more modest establishment to the grand Overlook Mountain House atop Overlook Mountain and would be a staging area and a stopover point for guests coming up the Hudson River by boat or train. Guests would spend the night at the Colony and eat at its fine restaurant before making the arduous trip up the mountain to the Overlook Mountain House the next day. The Colony Hotel appears to have been Gabriel’s idea who prided himself on the new building being “pretentious” as it was much more substantial than the more modest, vernacular buildings around the village. Gerald Betz of nearby Kingston was the architect for the Colony Hotel. Construction began for the Colony Hotel in 1927, and it opened to guests the summer of 1929. Morris died in 1940 and Gabriel continued to manage the Colony until his son took over from 1945 until the 1960 but as event space for arts and antiques fairs. It became known as the Colony Arts Center. The Colony’s website goes on to state that the building sat empty almost entirely through the next forty years. It was recently restored by artists Alexia and Neil Howard who converted it to a music venue and beer garden, it is pretty amazing and a must-see for history buffs visiting Woodstock.
By 1919, artists from all over the United States and Europe were living and creating art in Woodstock, NY. As a thriving and expanding group of diverse individuals, the need for a welcoming and open-minded gallery space was quickly recognized. To facilitate this, a group of five painters established two complimentary organizations: The Woodstock Art Association (later changed to Woodstock Artists Association in 1933) who would maintain the exhibition space and set its artistic principles, and the Artists Realty Company who would finance the construction and maintenance of the physical space. The five painters being: Carl Eric Lindin (1869-1942), John F. Carlson (1874-1945), Frank Swift Chase (1886-1942), Henry Lee McFee (1886-1953) and Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979). New York City architect William A. Boring was commissioned to design the new museum and art space for the group. Boring (whos career was anything but boring) briefly worked for McKim, Mead and White for a year before starting his own practice with Edward Tilton in 1891. His most noted work is his 1897 Immigration Station on Ellis Island for which he and Tilton won the design competition as relative unknowns. The refined Colonial Revival building for the Woodstock Artists Association sits right in the middle of the village and its symmetrical façade is defined by a central double door entrance with transom and pedimented enframement. Of particular interest is the row of four elliptical windows above the double-hung windows.
One of the most unique buildings I have ever stumbled across is located in the mountain town of Woodstock, NY. Often referred to as the Trippy Tower House, the house was built over the course of 15 years by artist John Kahn, who designed sets for the Muppets and “Fraggle Rock”. The Tower House is crafted from repurposed materials such as slate, copper, aircraft grade aluminum and redwood with the property being considered his largest “sculpture” and his life’s work. The 3,518 square foot home has three bedrooms and four bathrooms across its five floors The cylindrical house was completed in 2002 and sold five years later when Kahn moved to Easter Island. Kahn sold the house to Rhoney Gissen Stanley, who was former secretary to the Grateful Dead and wife of Owsley Stanley, the Dead’s sound man and the alleged first mass producer of LSD. It was listed for sale again in 2017 for $1.2 Million.
When Dutch and German colonists began to settle along the Hudson River Valley, they brought with them their own religious beliefs and desire for community in a new home. In the Village of Woodstock in Ulster County in 1799, the Dutch settlers began meeting in homes to worship establishing a church. By 1805, they petitioned the denomination for an organized church and purchased land, which is now known as the Village Green. In the heart of Woodstock, they built the first church structure. In 1844, that building was torn down for a new, Greek Revival place of worship on the outskirts of the Green. Architecturally, the church exhibits a prominent temple front with pedimented gable and Doric portico capped by an octagonal steeple. Inside, the sanctuary is lined on the walls and ceiling with decorative, pressed tin, which is apparently from the mid-19th century. The church remains very active in local and current events.
One of the oldest extant buildings in Woodstock Village is the old Tannery Brook House. The building (or a part of it) was originally an old grist mill developed by Isaac Davis and it was later turned into a saw mill. Around the end of the Civil War, the structure was home to the village blacksmith operated by John Wigram Davis, then it was enlarged as a barn for wagons and carriages. Later, owner Peter Longendyke operated a boarding house from the building. Around 1904, the New York Art Students League is believed to have had their first summer art class in the upstairs rooms of the building. In 1935, owner Lamonte Simpkins remodeled it as “The Art Shop”. Upstairs Mr. Simpkins sold clothes, shoes and drygoods, while downstairs The Art Shop and Tannery Brook Garden Flourished. The building was rebranded as the Old Forge House, as a nod to its historic use. It remains a vernacular, and important piece of Woodstock’s rich history from sleepy industrial village to vibrant artist community.
The James Nelson Lasher House in Woodstock, NY was built by James Nelson Lasher (1829-1906) in about 1884. “Nelson” Lasher, a farmer from Bearsville, acquired 45 acres on the outskirts of the village of Woodstock and established an undertaking business on the property, in 1879. Over the next two decades, he farmed the property with his son Franklin “Frank”, who by 1890, also began to manage the undertaking business. Frank Lasher (1864-1912) may have added the Queen Anne porches and tower to the house around this time. In the early 1900s, the Lasher household consisted of Nelson and wife Elizabeth, and Frank and his wife and three children. Nelson died in 1906 and Frank died six years later, leaving the property to his son, Victor, who continued the family undertaking/funeral home business. The property was sold out of the Lasher family in 1960, but operated as a funeral home until 2019. The property has recently been eyed as a hotel and for town offices, I wonder what its future holds!
One of the largest buildings in the charming village of Woodstock, NY, is the former Krack House… I know what you are thinking, and no it was not due to illegal activity! The Krack House was developed in 1870 by Charles H. Krack (1824-1893), as a response to the success of other summer hotels built nearby as the area saw a boom in tourism. Charles Krack was born in Germany and after serving in the military there, he arrived to America in the mid-1800s. Here, he served as an overseer of a Georgia plantation, and moved to New York City after the Civil War, operating a hotel in Manhattan. He later became the owner of a floating bathhouse on New York City’s East River anchored near Grand Street, and made great money, investing it up the Hudson in Woodstock. In Ulster County, he got involved in politics. The Krack House was a summer lodging facility with food service and all the best amenities in the village. After Charles’ death in 1893, the property was eventually purchased by Stanley Brinckerhoff Longyear, who rebranded the hotel in his name, The Longyear. The building appears to now contain apartments above commercial spaces.
Buildings of New England hits the road! Occasionally, I like to explore and learn about towns and villages in places outside of New England, and one place that has always piqued my interest is Ulster County, NY. One of the more well-known towns in Ulster County is Woodstock, an absolutely vibrant and charming village in the mountains. The first European settlers in the Town of Woodstock were Dutch, along with a few Palatine Germans, who established farms on the fertile land. The town saw some industrial development along Sawkill Creek, but experienced substantial building growth in the early 20th century after the area attracted artists of all types to the area. The village saw population growth which necessitated new city facilities like a town hall and police station. In 1936, construction began on a combined town hall office and police station for the village, in the midst of the Great Depression (possibly using New Deal funds?) The Colonial Revival style building exhibits brick construction with corner quoins, Classical elements like the pediment and columned portico, and a cupola. The only notable alteration since its construction is the infill of the former fire station doors.