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A sign of history

Sullivan County’s Borscht Belt era honored

By Patricio Robayo
Posted 12/20/22

FALLSBURG—Marisa Scheinfeld has made it her mission to preserve the memories and history of the Borscht Belt era, where resorts, hotels and motels once filled the mountains and valleys of the …

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A sign of history

Sullivan County’s Borscht Belt era honored


FALLSBURG—Marisa Scheinfeld has made it her mission to preserve the memories and history of the Borscht Belt era, where resorts, hotels and motels once filled the mountains and valleys of the Catskills.

In some time after 2016, after publishing her book, The Borscht Belt, a book of documentary photography that explores the remains of the hotels that came to define the Jewish American history in the Catskills, she was connected by way of Sullivan County’s Historian John Conway  with Jerry Klinger, who is the head of the Jewish American Society, about the potential of placing historical markers throughout Sullivan County.

And after years of planning and conversation, two of the first historic place markers will be installed in the Town of Fallsburg next summer.

“The Borscht Belt is really one of the most important chapters in Sullivan County history, and it deserves to be celebrated,” said Scheinfeld.

While Scheinfeld wanted to work on this project sooner, the birth of her first child and the worldwide pandemic halted any movement on the project.

As she was raising her son, Scheinfeld said that during 2021 and 2022 she would get emails from Klinger about other markers being placed in different parts of the country. She told herself the time was right for her to get involved and make the historical markers a reality.

Scheinfeld’s connection to the Catskills and the Borscht Belt is strong. Her grandparents met in South Fallsburg during the height of the era, and her parents honeymooned at the Nevele Grand Hotel. Scheinfeld herself worked as a lifeguard towards the tail end of the era at the Concord Hotel.

During the period, Sullivan County had hundreds of hotels that hosted many celebrities, comedians and athletes. As air travel became more popular, however, fewer folks came to the Catskills for vacation, which led to a steep decline in the industry.

Out of the hundreds of hotels that once spanned the landscape of the Catskills, very few remain, and those that do have been repurposed by different organizations, while other hotels are laid in ruin or have been demolished.

The Borscht Belt historical markers will highlight significant areas throughout Sullivan County and provide insight into the history and impact of the resorts on the county and country.

Scheinfeld is not working alone. Along with Klinger, she is working with other historians and visual makers to help bring this project to life, such as Louis Inghilterra, Kelli Huggins, and Scott Eckers.

Inghilterra, a senior interior architecture and historic preservation student at Colorado State University, said he had been fascinated with the Borscht Belt since he was very young after discovering photos of the abandoned Pines Resort on the internet.

“Since then, I have been captivated by the amazing history of the area that deserves to be recognized and celebrated. The history of the Borscht Belt is not just a story of Jewish heritage from the New York City Region, but it relates to so many other aspects of life during the 20th century, such as architecture, music, comedy, sports and family dynamics,” Inghilterra said.

The first two markers are planned to be installed and unveiled during the summer of 2023, one in Mountaindale and the other at the intersection of Old Falls Road and Route 42.

Mountaindale was one of the first stops in Sullivan County on the O & W railroad system and was a bustling hamlet once. The marker will speak of that history and the many hotels in the hamlet.

At the same time, the Old Falls marker will speak about the history of the hotels and bungalows that once lined the road.

Fallsburg’s Deputy Supervisor, Sean Wall-Carty, said, “The town is happy to support this initiative. It’s a historical reminder about the heritage of Fallsburg.”

The Jewish Historical Society will fully fund the markers, and the cost to the town would be for the installation. Scheinfeld said she is developing a volunteer team that would be needed to help maintain the markers once they are installed.

Scheinfeld said they hope to have 10 to 15 markers placed throughout Sullivan County, which will help create a trail guide where tourists can drive around and discover the history.

Scheinfeld said she hopes one day there will be an actual Borscht Belt museum in Sullivan County that will bring together all the memories and artifacts from the era under one roof.

Furthermore, the markers will offer information about the area and be interactive, where visitors can learn more just by scanning a QR code with their cell phones.

Inghilterra said he plans to create a digital extension to the marker project that would include an interactive digital map with photos and each resort’s history. Using his architecture software skills, Inghilterra will create a digital recreational model of the iconic buildings from the era.

“With the Borscht Belt Historical Marker project, we can finally pay homage and celebrate the history of the resorts, hotels, and bungalow colonies that made up this region,” added Inghilterra.

Scheinfeld said once multiple markers are placed throughout the county - with other locations being in Monticello, Liberty, Loch Sheldrake, and more - she plans to develop an audio tour that can include stories and songs from the era.

The audio driving tour will help guide visitors to the markers and give an oral history of the area as you cruise down the road.

The markers themselves will be 30 inches high and 42 inches wide and can include up to four images of maps and/or logos placed on existing public lands.

By using public lands, Scheinfeld hopes this will attract foot traffic from residents and tourists who will not only engage with the markers but also support the local business, shopping and restaurants.

Scheinfeld said that Sullivan County Historian, John Conway, would act as the official co-signer for the markers project to ensure accuracy.

She added, “I think now in this new era, this new chapter of Sullivan County with this renaissance happening, there’s a lot of interest now to celebrate the past.”

For more information, visit: https://borschtbelthistoricalmarkerproject.org.


2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • billkapito

    This idea is great, but the County Museum in

    Hurleyville already has many items that show

    Articles from as far back as the late 1800a to

    1900s. Many off articles have been donated.

    I myself have donated many items and remember

    The railroad and hotels even in Ulster County.

    Most of the hotels came to our station for tires

    And repairs and I went to school with many of

    The sons and daughters.

    Met many of the owners and most of my met

    Or went with them to New York City.

    I even met many sport legends and movie and

    TV starts, an war heroes.

    So don’t forget our County Museum!

    Bill Kapito

    Thursday, December 22, 2022 Report this

  • Rachel Cunningham

    I am so grateful to Marissa Scheinfeld, John Conway, and countless volunteers who are pitching in and uniting to celebrate and mark the unique history of Sullivan County and the Catskills. As one of the Cunningham girls who grew up and worked at the Stevensville Hotel in Swan Lake, I'm delighted to see the Stevensville receive its Borscht Belt Historical Marker recently. Public ceremonies and historical markers are essential for embracing and preserving the diverse and rich histories all Americans - and her immigrants - have to offer the nation. Our diversity is our strength. Three Cheers to ALL involved the Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project. Thank you!

    Monday, October 16, 2023 Report this