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Retrospect

A Historical Movement Monday 

John Conway
Posted 8/27/21

There wasn’t much to the community known as Hurleyville when the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad decided to locate a station there in the 1870s. Around 1805 or so, an enterprising hunter …

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Retrospect

A Historical Movement Monday 

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There wasn’t much to the community known as Hurleyville when the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad decided to locate a station there in the 1870s. Around 1805 or so, an enterprising hunter named William Hurley had decided that his property was ideally situated to become a town of great importance, being located on the only road connecting Thompsonville, Monticello and Liberty, and began calling the new community he envisioned Hurleyville.

But Hurley had miscalculated, and soon equally enterprising and more resourceful men had engineered new routes connecting the major towns in the new county. Hurleyville, meanwhile, consisted of just one house: Hurley’s. Historian James Eldridge Quinlan, writing in 1873, noted that in the early years of the century "deer and wolves and panthers abounded in its vicinity after they had left the surrounding settlements, and the population of Hurleyville consisted principally of muskrats, raccoons, and foxes. During all its days of desolation, it retained the name bestowed upon it by the old hunter and continued to perpetuate his memory."

Hurleyville grew slowly, and what little growth it did experience was severely set back when diphtheria struck the area in 1861, killing nine children of Doctor Benjamin Kile, and many others. So the settlement had changed little by 1872, when the railroad arrived. Quinlan wrote that with the arrival of the rail line, Hurleyville had become "a lively hamlet, and the day is not distant when the dream of its pioneer-settler will become a pleasant reality."

In 1886, by which time the Midland had become the Ontario & Western Railway, Sullivan County stood poised on the brink of what was to become the Silver Age of its resort industry, and the Hurleyville area was home to nine farmhouses that accepted summer boarders. Still, it seemed destined to become a resort center of considerable stature and notoriety.

By 1907, there were 34 listings under Hurleyville in the O&W "Summer Homes" publication, including one, the Mountain View Farm House owned by Mrs. Mary Brophy, that had a particularly colorful reputation. Known as "Brophy’s Mad House" it was frequented by firemen and policemen from New York City, who liked to "let their hair down" when they came to the mountains. The place burned down in 1910, but the road on which it stood still bears the Brophy name.

In keeping with the trend throughout Sullivan County, what had been strictly Gentile hotels and boardinghouses began to pass into Jewish hands around 1910. The trend was noted in a 1912 newspaper story detailing the sale of a local hotel. "The Hotel Waldorf at Hurleyville was recently sold to some Hebrews of that village," the story began. And in 1919, a headline announced, "Hebrews Buy Smith Farm: Pay Thirty-Six Thousand." That story went on to note that the new owners planned to scale back on the farming and to take in summer boarders.

With the influx of Jewish vacationers in the early years of the 20th century, it became common to see notations such as "Catholic and Protestant churches nearby" in the railroad travel guide, to indicate a Gentile establishment and "Dietary Laws Observed" to denote a Jewish resort.

Despite the growth of the Jewish resorts throughout Sullivan County in ensuing years, the most famous of the Hurleyville area resorts in the Golden Age remained the Knapp family’s Columbia Farm Hotel, or simply the Columbia, as it became popularly known. The hotel was built in 1891 by John H. Knapp, and was the oldest continually operating hotel in Sullivan County when it closed in 1969. Much of the hotel burned in a suspicious fire on Christmas Eve, 1971.

These are just some of the stories to be covered in the upcoming Movement Mondays walk-and-talk along the Milk Train Trail in Hurleyville on Monday, August 30. Movement Mondays is the brainchild of Bold Gold Media New York general manager, Dawn Ciorciari, in collaboration with Sullivan 180, the Sullivan O&W Rail Trail Alliance, and the Fallsburg Youth Commission. The walk is from 6 – 8 p.m. and is free and open to the public. It leaves from the east side trailhead by the basketball courts just off main Street.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com. He will narrate the Movement Mondays walk-and-talk in Hurleyville on August 30 beginning at 6 p.m.

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