Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Smallwood, NY

In the 1920s’ bungalow colonies began to surface in the Catskill Mountains. A.N. Smallwood caught on to this trend; and in 1928, he developed a summer retreat of log cabins with signature stone fireplaces. The place was called Mountain Lake, but it soon became Smallwood named after its founder.

Although Smallwood’s homes were originally restricted to white Christians only, this changed in the 1950's. This Catskills Mountain town is now recognized as a remnant of the Borscht Belt, the upstate area of bungalows and summer camps frequented by middle and upper class Jewish New Yorkers. Here, this ethnic group could escape the unpleasant heat of the city in the summers before the widespread adoption of air conditioning. It was also a place where Jews, who were not always welcome in upscale resorts, could vacation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended this discrimination in the tourism industry and contributed to the decline of bungalow colonies like Smallwood. Travel patterns changed, vacation options broadened.

In its day, Smallwood was once bustling resort. Evidence can still be seen today. There’s a closed up general store and abandoned auto repair shop. Smallwood never got recognition for its proximity to the town of Bethel, home of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Even today, it’s a community tucked back in off Route 17B, hardly noticed except by the people who now live there year-round and others who simply got off the broken down bus and left it set as a festival artifact.

Photographer Jonathan Hyman is a friendly resident of Smallwood who was willing to gab with us about this New York hamlet. He took time to lead us through the maze of roads and point out the original log faced cabins with stone fireplaces. He recommended the blueberry pancakes at Blanche’s Diner, a fine choice indeed.

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