Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 148;
Hotel History: Mohonk Mountain House (1869), New Paltz, New York*
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
A spectacular natural setting in the heart of a 26,000-acre area in the Shawangunk Mountains makes the Mohonk Mountain House one of the most popular resorts in New York State.
Alfred and Albert Smiley, devout Quaker twin brothers, created the resort in 1869 when they bought Mohonk Lake, a tavern and 300 acres of surrounding land from John F. Stokes. As the Smileys expanded the hotel, they operated in accordance with their Quaker beliefs: no alcohol, dancing, smoking or card playing. The hotel offered concerts, prayer sessions, and lectures as well as swimming, hiking, and boating.
Under the continuous ownership and management of Smiley family members for 143 years, the Mohonk Mountain House has 267 guestrooms, three spacious dining rooms, 138 working fireplaces, 238 balconies, a spa and fitness center, and a beautiful indoor heated swimming pool. The resort features golf, tennis, horseback riding, boating, flowering gardens, a greenhouse, 125 rustic gazebos, a museum, the Sky Top Tower observation point, and an outdoor ice-skating rink.
The year-round resort accommodates individual vacationers and conferences with a full American plan wherein overnight rates include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea with cookies. In summer, an outdoor lunch buffet is available at the Granary located on a scenic cliff overlooking Lake Mohonk.
Resort guests may ride horses, go boating on the lake, play tennis, croquet, and shuffleboard, tour a historic barn and greenhouse, take carriage rides, swim or fish in the lake, receive spa treatments, visit the fitness center, play golf, listen to concerts and lectures, hike mountain trails, stroll through formal gardens and a maze, ride bikes, or go rock climbing. Winter activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice-skating.
The Mohonk Mountain House has hosted many famous visitors over the years, such as John D. Rockefeller, naturalist John Burroughs, Andrew Carnegie, and American presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. Guests have also included former First Lady Julia Grant, novelist Thomas Mann and religious leaders such as Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, Reverend Ralph W. Sockman, and Reverend Francis Edward Clark.
From 1883 to 1916, annual conferences took place at Mohonk Mountain House, sponsored by Albert Smiley, to improve the living standards of native American Indian populations. These meetings brought together government representatives of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the House and Senate committees on Indian Affairs, as well as educators, philanthropists, and Indian leaders to discuss the formulation of policy. The 22,000 records from the 34 conference reports are now at the library of Haverford College for researchers and students of American history.
The hotel also hosted the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration between 1895 and 1916, which was instrumental in creating the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands. Those conference papers were donated by the Smiley Family to Swarthmore College for future research.
The main hotel structure was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. The designation was unique because it included not only the Mountain House but also 83 other Mohonk buildings of historic significance and surrounding 7,800 acres of developed and undeveloped land. A member of Historic Hotels of America since 1991, Mohonk received an award from the United Nations Environmental Programme recognizing its 125 years of environmental stewardship.
*excerpted from my book Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi (AuthorHouse 2013)
About Stanley Turkel, CMHS
Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History.
Stanley Turkel is one of the most widely-published authors in the hospitality field. Two of his hotel books have been promoted, distributed and sold by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry and Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi). A third hotel book (Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York) was called "passionate and informative" by The New York Times. His fourth hotel book was described by The New York Times: "Nostalgia for the City's caravansaries will be kindled by Stanley Turkel's...fact-filled...Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf."
Built to Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi is available for purchase from the publisher by visiting bookstore.authorhouse.com.