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East End of Hunter by T.D. Lewis, 1886

A Brief History of Hunter, NY

The Town of Hunter contains the villages of Hunter and Tannersville, and the hamlets of Elka Park, Haines Falls and Lanesville. There are also the private communities of Onteora Park and Twilight Park.

The area was Lot 25 of the Great Patent, granted by Queen Anne to Johannes Hardenbergh and six others in 1708. In 1790's Lot 25 was purchased by John Hunter of New Rochelle, who called it Greenland because of the lush forests of Hemlock. It was renamed Edwardsville in honor of Col. Edwards after he built a large tannery there. When the tannery closed, it was renamed Hunter, in honor of the former owner. Locals joked that it was named after the town drunk, another man named John Hunter. Angry at Col. Edwards for closing the tannery, they said it was better to have the town named for a drunk rather than Edwards.

After the closing of the tannery, wood products factories provided most of the jobs in Hunter. Samuel Chichester opened a chair factory here in 1835, before moving his operation to Chichester to be closer to a fresh source of timber. J. Douglas & Company, C.W. Burgess, and George Fromer also had chair factories, Horace Baldwin made bedsteads, and George Anderson produced building lumber. These were all in the village, but there were many others spread throughout the town.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Hunter had a small but prosperous tourism trade. The turnpike that ran through the town brought guests to the Hunter House (1830) and the Breeze Lawn (1861), both widely known for their first class service. With the announcement that the railroad was coming up Stony Clove from Phoenicia, the Central House and Hunter Mountain Prospect House were built in 1880-1881. After the railroad arrived in 1882, many more (the Kaatsberg, the Ripley, the West End, etc.) followed, along with over 40 smaller boarding houses in the village alone. From the village of Hunter to Tannersville to Haines Falls, hotels and boarding houses lined the turnpike to the top of Kaaterskill Clove. Private parks in the town provided summer homes to New York City's elite. Twilight Park, Santa Cruz Park, and Sunset Park in Haines Falls, and Elka Park and Onteora Park in Tannersville, were the largest and best known.

There were many reasons for the downturn in tourism starting in the 1920's. People could travel farther and faster than in the nineteenth century, so vacationing in the Adirondacks or North Carolina was possible in the same time it used to take to get to the Catskills. Hotels were old and dated. The rooms were small, not much larger than a steamship cabin. They were designed for sleeping and changing clothes only. Bathrooms were generally shared. The hotels were made of wood, and were vulnerable to fire from lightning, candles and gas lamps. And gangsters from New York City came up to the Catskills to sell "insurance". Hotel owners who didn't pay saw their hotels go up in flames. They had simple stone foundations that moved and flexed in the winter. Every spring they would need extensive and increasingly expensive maintenance. With only a 4 to 5 month season and decreasing clientele, it became too expensive for many hotel owners to stay in business. After the railroad was scrapped in 1941, there was not much left of the tourist trade in Hunter. New, modern hotels were needed to attract the weekenders from New York City and the suburbs, and these were being built in the southern Catskills of Sullivan County. One by one, the old hotels either burned or were torn down. Restoring them was either impossible or too expensive.

In 1957 and again in 1958, the State of New York looked at building a ski resort at Hunter, to go along with its Belleayre Ski Center at Highmount. But both reports concluded that Hunter Mountain was too steep and rocky, and it would be too expensive to build there. In response, the town took out an ad in the New York Times looking for a developer to build a ski area. There was no response to the ad. In the spring of 1958, Denise McCluggan wrote an article in Ski Magazine about the town that had a mountain to give away, and had no takers. They weren't actually giving it away, but it gave the story an interesting twist. The property was owned by brothers Israel (Izzy) and Orville Slutsky, and they would be participating in the new venture. The article attracted a lot of attention, and investors, many from the Broadway community in New York City, signed up to buy stock. The Slutsky brothers' construction company built the facilities, Larchmont Construction created the artificial snowmaking facilities and two Poma-Savio chairlifts were installed. The old Alpine House (also known as the Star Hotel and later the Topps Hotel) was renovated and served as the base lodge. On Jan. 9, 1960, the Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl opened. After three years of short ski seasons, few visitors, and mounting losses, the company failed. But the Slutsky brothers would not let the idea fail. They took over the ski area, and through hard work and unrelenting marketing, each succeeding ski season was longer and had more skiers. The turning point was in Jan. 1964, when Kitty Falger, a Hunter Mountain ski instructor, appeared on the Tonight Show to teach Johnny Carson how to ski. The hilarious 20 minute sketch gave Hunter Mountain national exposure, and the ski area has been expanding ever since. Today, it is known as "the snow making capital of the world", and virtually all commerce in the village of Hunter centers around the ski area and its year round activities.

Photo: East End of Hunter by T.D. Lewis, 1886
Sources:
  • Beers History of Greene County, 1884
  • The Catskill Forest - A History by Michael Kudish, 2000
  • One Hundred Years On Resort Ridge by John Ham, 2008
  • The Sleeping Giant - The Story Of Hunter Mountain by Paul E. Pepe, 1993

 

Back to the Hunter, NY page

Back to the Gazetteer Index

 

External Links:

Mountaintop Historical Society

Town of Hunter Government

Town of Hunter Chamber of Commerce

Hunter Mountain Ski Area


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