The Brookside Hotel Buildings

This is a story I wrote to describe the Brookside Hotel and how it grew to my grandson, Nathan, who was born after it had closed. I have taken some information from my father, Nathan Friedman, and mother Sadie Friedman as well as my memories to try to describe the various building which made up the hotel, when they were built and in general how the little farm house my grandfather Isadore bought in 1936 grew into the Brookside Hotel.

The Brookside Hotel ceased to exist in 1984 when a fire destroyed what was then the Main House, I thought people would enjoy reading a short description and history of the buildings which once made up what I have referred to as my parents’ hotel. The Brookside hotel started when my grandfather bought a farm house with about nine rooms on the Stonykill Road in Kerhonkson, NY in 1936. This building along with about three acres of land was the foundation and starting point for a business that grew over the years to be able to house over two hundred people and serve almost three hundred in the dining

I don’t have any idea when the “Old House” or original farm house was built but its rooms were rented out from 1936 to 1984 when the hotel closed after the fire. There were small wash bowls or sinks in each room as was common in many small resorts in the Catskills at the time, but I believe there were only two bathrooms in the building, one upstairs and one downstairs. A large room had been converted into the kitchen and another became a ‘dining room’ for the few guests who came to stay. In 1937 several outside showers were built for the guests. In the 1970s a small house, the Trachman Cottage, my parents had purchased from neighbors in 1957 to enlarge the approach to the hotel was moved to make way for the indoor pool. It was attached to the Old House adding four more rooms. The farm house had a front porch which looked out on the small road past the hotel, had a dark basement my brother Barry says would
scare him whenever he had to go there with my father. It had a small brook or stream along one side and had a pond in back people used for swimming.

The “Main House” was the first building to be built for the hotel and became the second building in the hotel in 1940. The lumber for the building came from dismantling the barn already there on the property. The original plan of the building was box-like but as with all plans it was modified and it soon included a
dining room, kitchen and seven rooms on the second floor with an attic where employees could sleep. What I find interesting is my father used his experiences helping with the construction of this building and the next one, the Red House, to be able to do almost all the construction of later hotel buildings by himself. He was a very strong young man at the time but really didn’t know anything about construction and by watching and helping he learned the craft of carpentry and construction.

My father described the construction in some of his writings. “This prompted Poppa to plan for a bigger and better Brookside for the following season. That next spring construction was started on a new building on the spot where the old red barn was standing. It was the chore of the boys, my brothers and I, with the help of our neighbor, an old bachelor farmer whom we called ‘Uncle Levi’, to take the old barn own. Not only was this a lesson in demolition, but a history lesson as well. The old barn had been built perhaps fifty years or more before we arrived on the scene. The foundation was just stones laid one on top of the other. The heavy timbers upon which the barn was built were tree trunks with the ends notched so that one fit into the other.

Just as we had seen pictures of log cabins the early settlers used to build. The boards which made up the sides of the barn were from twelve inches to eighteen inches wide and twenty feet long. These were stood on end; the lower end being secured to the ‘sill’ and the upper end secured to another set of notched tree trunks which we were told was called ‘upper sill’. Attached to the upper sill were the roof rafters which were also made from tree trunks. The wide boards ‘Uncle Levi’ showed us to have been milled by hand. We could see the cutting marks of a two-handed saw. Our old-timer neighbor, Uncle Levi, explained how the tree trunk was set on a high frame and a two-man team, one above the one below, would saw the tree trunk into the various widths. A most difficult and exacting task. We tried to salvage as many of these boards as possible. The new building, which was given out in contract to a professional carpenter, quickly began to take shape. From the original plan for a building size of twenty feet by thirty
feet for only a kitchen and dining room, the plan was expanded into a building thirty feet by thirty-six feet. Not only were the perimeter dimensions enlarged, but also the height. There was now a two-story building with an attic where the family and additional help could sleep. The lower floor held the kitchen and dining area. The upper floor had seven guest bedrooms and two toilets in the hall. Of the seven bedrooms there were two bedrooms that shared a bathroom. This was really becoming modern! The Brookside Inn had finally outgrown Itcheh’s Place. Expansion seemed to be the thing to do. Even before the season was over, plans were made to add onto the new building a separate kitchen, as more dining room space was needed. Business for Poppa was good, and it proved that we were now really in the boarding house business.”

Over the years there was an addition of a ‘new kitchen’ so the dining area could be enlarged and the addition of a back porch where guests could play cards or other games if the weather wasn’t good. I have some memories of this ‘Main House’ especially of the kitchen where my Bubbie Esther was in charge.
The kitchen had two major areas, the front part had a large stove and serving area where the waiters would pick up the hot food being served. In the back was a smaller cooking area with a wood stove which was my Bubbie’s favorite place to cook along with a large walk-in cooler where meat, vegetables, milk and other food which needed refrigeration was kept. I always worried about getting ‘locked in’ the cooler whenever I had to go in to get anything.

In 1951 my father further enlarged the building by adding a large addition which doubled the size of the dining room. There was now a formal lobby where people could sit while waiting for the dining room to open or check in. The lobby was the first time I saw my father’s ‘design imagination’ at work. He had to figure out an easy (inexpensive) way to cover the fluorescent lights which were on the ceiling of the lobby. His solution was to design plywood ‘clouds’, free form shapes, to hide the bare lights and allowed for ‘indirect’ lighting, much more pleasant than the glare of the bare bulbs. In 1960 there was a small fire and the building suffered minor damage to some rooms and the attic area. Of course, there is really no such thing as minor damage since there is always damage from the water sprayed into the building from the fire hoses while fighting the fire. The fire occurred one Saturday afternoon. I have a very vivid memory of the day because my parents were to leave on their first vacation in years, a cruise from New York City, the same afternoon. I had gone to watch a college football game at West Point, Army versus Villanova, with one of my high school teachers and had just been dropped off at my driveway when I saw several fire engines in the hotel driveway. I ran over and found my grandfather, friends and our neighbors watching the Kerhonkson Volunteer Fire Department putting out the flames! After the fire was out, there was a debate about whether or not to call my parents as their boat was going to sail in an hour. Everyone decided they would make sure the building was secure from the weather and the damage reported to the insurance company and not to bother my parents. They felt it would be better to let them go an enjoy their vacation.

In 1962 there was a much more destructive fire I have written about in another story which totally destroyed the building. It was replaced with a ‘new’ Main House. The building was expanded several times over the years with the addition of an indoor swimming pool in 1965 with additional guest rooms. A second story of rooms were added later as well as a night club area for shows. Again, my father’s eye for design could be seen in the ceiling of what was named, ‘The No Name Room’. He used cloth material circled in the center of the room and pinned to the edges of the ceiling to cover the concrete and steel which supported the first floor and dining room. It was a design many people complemented him about over the years. He added a lower lobby area which allowed for guests to walk from the dining room to all the various buildings without going outdoors. This was necessary in the winter when guests didn’t want to have to get into their coats and boots to go to eat.

The third building added to the hotel was the “Red House”, named because it was painted red. It was originally built as a chicken coop in 1942. But by the time it was completed and chickens were being raised my father had been drafted and my parents’ plan of owning a chicken farm were derailed. My mother wrote about the construction and changes in plans that occurred in her writings. “The building of the coop is another story. Pop found an old carpenter, Mr. Berkovsky, that he knew and brought him up to the place to work, room and board included. The building was built with second hand lumber that Nate purchased in Brooklyn. It was wartime and new lumber was rationed or difficult to come by and very expensive. Nate had a truckload of heavy timber brought up for $500. The building was ugly but it served its purpose and soon, the chickens would start producing eggs.” After the war my parents felt chicken farming wasn’t going to be possible and the building was converted into 16 guest rooms. Again, each room had a small sink in the room. There were two sets of ‘semi-private’ rooms with a shared bathroom and one private room, the height of luxury. Just like the Old House, there were also outside showers built outside the Red House for the convenience of the guests.

Again, from Sadie’s writings.
“The plan was to convert the chicken coop into a sixteen bedroom house with one private room and four semi-private rooms and the rest with bath nearby. This was done with all second hand lumber and bathroom and plumbing fixtures. The old wood was covered with the cheapest shingles. Since money
was so scarce, the Friedman’s always took the cheapest route which always turned out to be expensive in the end. The building was always an eyesore especially after more modern building went up all around it. There was always a deadline to meet. The men worked almost 20 hours a day to get the building ready and the rest of the place in order.” The Red House was the last time my father would need to hire someone else to construct a building for the hotel. He had learned over the years watching and doing and now did the work himself. It was difficult, planning and designing the buildings as well as all the hard work of construction on his part, but it reduced expenses which was very important for the continued
success of the hotel. In addition to carpentry, he learned how to do electrical wiring and plumbing work and was able to do some of that work on these projects. Again, it saved money and time. The next construction project was a small gazebo built in 1946. It was located between the Red House and the Main House and was a place for people to sit and play cards away from the sun. It stood in place for years even as the hotel grew in size. All the newer buildings and construction seemed to encircle it.

In 1953 my father constructed a building used as the ‘Day Camp’ building. A place where the children at the hotel could be taken for arts and crafts, especially when the weather was rainy or cold. The building replaced the back porch of the Main House as a place for children to be kept busy during the bad weather. The day camp was a ‘service’ of the hotel. Parents sent their children there and they were kept busy with projects, games, and activities supervised by counselors, hopefully keeping them out of trouble and out of their parent’s hair. At night the counselors would routinely check on the children on a scheduled basis so parents could enjoy some of the evening activities without worrying about their children.

These last two projects were small potatoes to what my father attempted next. In 1955 he built a large cavernous building we named the “Casino”. A building used for evening activities such as shows, dancing to our new resident band, movies, and the usual Borscht Belt activities like talent night, game night, kiddie
shows, and bingo to name a few. These were all designed to provide guest with activities in the evening. Nate, entertainment was much different than today. Guest rooms did not have television or radios, and if you can believe it, there were no streaming media because there were no devices such as Ipads, tablets, cell phones or computers yet. The Casino was a large wooden building with a high peaked roof. My father built a small stage with rooms on each side where the band and female counselors slept. The rest of the building was open so people could either sit and watch shows or dance. He put a small concession area in the back which was where I started my first hotel job, running the concession with my grandfather. How my father carried the large beams and rafters up ladders by himself to build the roof is still a mystery to me, but he did it. All by his lonesome self over the winter. There was a lot of building over the coming years as my parents worked to not only expand the number of guest rooms from the thirty or so rooms they were able to rent to guests but to make more rooms with their own private bathroom available.

More and more guests coming to the hotels in the area had different expectations and whereas before they were willing to rent a room and share a bath or shower now many guests, especially those coming to stay with their families, were demanding and expecting rooms with private bathrooms. My parents felt they needed to build these ‘private’ rooms to be competitive. Before adding the next new buildings, the hotel had one private room with a bathroom and about six rooms called ‘semi-private’ where a bathroom was shared by two rooms. Now every room they built would be a larger room with a private bathroom. In 1956 there was major construction at the hotel over the winter and spring. First my father built a new building named the “Vacationer” a motel style building with ten rooms that filled a long space between the Main House and the Red House. He had to move some small bungalows which had been located there, but it wasn’t a problem to him. The biggest problem was the building was at least 250 feet long and while the field looked level once my father started to do the actual building and construction, he soon realized it wasn’t level at all. One end of the building was at ground level, and the other end was over ten feet in the air. That wouldn’t work for lots of reasons especially as it would be a very attractive hazard for children jumping off the front of the building. He decided to ‘break’ the building in half and put in a short stairwell about halfway down the building so most of the building wasn’t too high above ground.

At the same time my father and mother felt they had to build an ‘inground’ swimming pool so guests would be able to swim in clean water and not the brook which had been dammed since 1937. The brook was a lot of fun, but you had to share the water with frogs, salamanders, tadpoles, snakes and other animals. In addition, when you stood up and put your feet down there were lots of squishy leaves that made you think you had stepped on something. Building the pool required a bulldozer, dynamite and
lots of cement trucks driving across the lawn to pour cement into all the wood forms. Ultimately it was completed right before the July 4th holiday weekend. My father had to put the hotel band to work painting the pool so he could get the fire department to come to fill it before the guests arrived. In 1959 my father built another building, the Isador, named after his father which contained more guest rooms with private bathrooms. This one story building had about ten rooms and was very popular with our guests. One funny story about this building was when my father spent several days putting up mirrors in
each bathroom above the sinks. My mother came in to see the finished work and said to him, “Nate, you have to redo all the mirrors, no one will be able to see themselves in the mirror, they
are too high.” He was a tall man and he positioned the mirrors at a height so he could see himself perfectly, but no one shorter than he would see themselves. A number of years later he added
a second story with more rooms with private bathrooms so more guests could be accommodated.
Other than the rebuilding of the Main House in 1962 after the fire I mention above this story is completed. The new Main House was built within three months and was the only project my father hired other people to help with the construction. There were always small projects that had to be done over the years like handball courts or renovating rooms but this story has tried to describe the major construction projects at the hotel over the years. Ultimately, the buildings partially encircled the property of the hotel so as you drove up the road you could see almost all of the building. It was a pleasant scene in the summer with people lounging around the pool or sitting on the lawn playing cards or other games.

After the fire closed the hotel in 1984 there was one further ‘construction’ project my father had to accomplish. My father had to ‘deconstruct’ all the remaining buildings. He took his time removing fixtures and anything else which could be salvaged and then tackled the actual demolition of the buildings. It took a long time and took a toll on him. One time when we were visiting, he told Ann it was a difficult time for him because he knew every nail he removed from a wall or a piece of wood was one he had put in. After he was done, the land the hotel had occupied slowly returned to nature and today if you drive past on the Stonykill Road, it is very difficult to know The Brookside Hotel had ever existed on that very spot.

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