It is probably safe to say that the participants in last Sunday’s bus trip to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway and the closing of the second annual Festival of …
It is probably safe to say that the participants in last Sunday’s bus trip to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway and the closing of the second annual Festival of the Founding Fish were surprised by many things they heard that day, but perhaps by nothing as much as by the story of “the perfect summer.”
The bus trip from Port Jervis to Hancock and back lasted from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and featured stops at the site of The Delaware Company’s ongoing Kate Project in Barryville, at the Cochecton Preservation Society’s restored train station in Cochecton, in Hancock, and in Callicoon. The trip featured narration by this columnist, your Sullivan County Historian, who manifested his favorite Rudyard Kipling quote, “if history was taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
But a “perfect summer?”
Local history aficionados today sometimes talk about the “heyday” of the Sullivan County resort industry as occurring in the 1960s or even the early 1970s, but it takes only a cursory examination of the evidence to see that it was at least a decade before.
And simply in terms of occupancy percentage for both hotels and bungalows, it would be hard to beat the summer of 1952, which is sometimes referred to as “the perfect summer.”
“Summer Bungalow Season in County Found to be ‘Greatest in History’” a headline in the September 18, 1952 edition of the Liberty Register newspaper announced. “Rentals Were 100 Per Cent, Secretary of Organization Says.”
“The bungalow industry in Sullivan County, believed to be the largest in New York State, enjoyed the greatest season in its history, Harry Siegel of Mountaindale, executive secretary of the Bungalow and Rooming House Association of Sullivan County, said today,” the article began. “Rentals were 100 percent, a general increase of six percent over last year, Mr. Siegel said, with almost 22 percent of the vacationists emanating from points outside of New York, such as Philadelphia and Boston.”
The article also referenced an earlier announcement by the Sullivan County Hotel Association and the New York State Department of Commerce that indicated hotel occupancy in the county for the summer of 1952 was up between 25 and 30 percent over the summer before.
Siegel told the Register that there were 50,000 units available for rent in the county between bungalows and rooming houses, and that the recent surge in demand made it obvious that between 1,500 and 2,000 more units were needed. Siegel said he expected that between 1,000 and 1,500 new units would be added before the 1953 season began, and that “plans are also being made for construction of at least 45 new swimming pools, in addition to 80 new pools built for the 1952 season.”
One week before the bungalow association’s report, Morris Abraham, executive secretary of the Sullivan County Hotel Association, had heralded similar news about the larger resorts’ 1952 season, announcing that the county’s hotels had not a single room to spare for the six weeks that traditionally constituted the height of the summer season.
“For six weeks during July and August, Mr. Abraham said, the county’s 534 resort hotels—the largest concentration of such hotels in the world—with 34,000 rooms, operated at 100 percent capacity,” the Register reported on September 11, 1952. “He estimated the number of visitors at 1,000,000, although he said vacation stays were shorter than usual by 40 percent.”
The Register said bank deposits in the county and telephone activity also supported the contention that the 1952 season was historically busy.
True to Siegel’s prediction, new growth was evident after the 1952 resort season ended, and in its May 10, 1953 edition, the New York Times reported that accommodations in Sullivan County for the upcoming season included 538 hotels, 50,000 bungalows, and 1,000 rooming houses.
The Times reported that hotel rates in the county in 1953 “averaged $65 a week, American plan. Some of the smaller places operate on a $40 basis, while others—only one or two—have a tariff schedule that runs up to $165.”
The article, by reporter Bernard Kalb, also noted that there were about 2,000 bungalow colonies in the county, averaging about 25 bungalows each, and that the average rooming house in the county contained about 25 rooms. The bungalows, Kalb reported “are renting for anywhere between $300 and $850 for the season, and an average-priced apartment in a rooming house is going for $175 to $250.”
Advanced bookings for the 1953 season were running about 20 percent ahead of the year before, according to the article, but apparently that summer was not as busy as 1952, because when the end of the season rolled around there was no ballyhooed announcement from either of the Associations about any new records being broken.
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at email@example.com.
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