There are some baseball enthusiasts who consider Willie Mays the greatest all-around player in the game's history, and for a time in the 1950s, the slugging outfielder of the then-New York Giants was …
There are some baseball enthusiasts who consider Willie Mays the greatest all-around player in the game's history, and for a time in the 1950s, the slugging outfielder of the then-New York Giants was a property owner in Sullivan County.
In fact, the Say Hey Kid was not only the owner of lot #255, he was the pitchman for Lucky Lake Estates, the housing development near Narrowsburg that billed itself as “America's first and only inter-racial lake colony community.”
And while Willie Mays was no doubt the best known of the celebrities associated with the development, he was by no means the only one. Aggressive advertising of the homesites aimed at working class African Americans typically included unabashed name-dropping, and personalities from musicians Bill Doggett and Noble Sissle to actress Hilda Simms were often cited as property owners.
Lucky Lake Estates was developed around Luxton Lake, a 2-1/2 mile long section of Ten Mile River that had been dammed up, and in the 1900s provided recreation for a few small boarding houses—the Homestead, owned by Robert Huebner was probably the best known—not unlike hundreds of others in Sullivan County at the time. The lake was named for George Luxton, who had owned most of the property around it. When the boarding houses closed, developers got the idea to divide up the property and sell small homesites.
For $100 down and 37 cents a day, one could purchase a lot, and many did, some building modest homes suitable for vacation living. The developers turned one of the old boarding houses into a clubhouse, which became the center of social activity, often hopping to the wee hours of the morning on summer weekends.
Perhaps one of the most innovative gimmicks used to sell the lots was a paid advertisement that ran regularly in the popular African American newspaper, the New York Age. The ad was designed to look like an entertainment column along the lines of those written by Walter Winchell or Ed Sullivan.
The “column” was called “Shooting the Breeze” and appeared with the byline, Mr. Lucky. The first one appeared in June of 1957, and was entitled, “Introducing Mr. Lucky.”
“Call me Mr. Lucky, because I never believed I could ever own my own little estate in such a place as this,” the column began. “10,000 square feet of high, dry land…and that's forever, with a free full warranty deed, plus title insurance.”
Mr. Lucky went on to tout the private clubhouse—for members only—the five miles of shore line (which was sometimes advertised as six miles), the great fishing, and the 400 acres of private hunting land. And, of course, he name-dropped, mentioning each of the aforementioned celebrities, and then some.
At its peak, about 300 lots were sold, and a vibrant community existed there for a number of years, made up mostly of summer residents, but also a handful of year-around families. But heavy truck traffic over the aging dam eventually caused it to crack, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation decided it was unsafe in 1983. They ordered the dam removed, and the lake immediately disappeared, much to the consternation of the homeowners there.
Without the lake, many homeowners simply abandoned their properties, and without sufficient members to financially support it, the clubhouse was soon closed. Homeowners banded together to sue the Town of Tusten and the developer for $20 million at one point, but lost. That was the end of Lucky Lake Estates, the self-proclaimed “first and only inter-racial lake colony community.”
But even though the lake is gone, the picturesque Ten Mile River still flows through the development, and a number of property owners remain, with new ones trickling in. A revived Luxton Lake Property Owners Association has regained ownership of the old clubhouse, and a renaissance could be in the making.
The story of Lucky Lake Estates is told quite well in the informative 2009 documentary short, “Lucky Lake,” by film maker Tina Spangler, a Luxton Lake resident who has compiled a considerable amount of the community's history. The film is available for viewing on You Tube.
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Thursday, March 4 at 6 p.m. he will present the program “For Work and Land: The Irish Come to Sullivan County” via ZOOM for the Ethelbert B. Crawford Public Library in Monticello. Call the library at 845-794-4660 for registration information.