Hurleyville businessman John Harms Knapp and his wife, Mary C. Brophy Knapp founded the Columbia Farms Hotel on the summit overlooking the hamlet in 1891. Locals, not convinced the business would …
Hurleyville businessman John Harms Knapp and his wife, Mary C. Brophy Knapp founded the Columbia Farms Hotel on the summit overlooking the hamlet in 1891. Locals, not convinced the business would ever be viable, called it “Knapp’s Folly.”
Knapp, an 1874 graduate of Eastman Business College, had previously operated a general store in Hurleyville, while his wife had a hotel background, her family having operated the popular Mountain View House (also occasionally known as Brophy’s Mad House) in Hurleyville. That resort, particularly popular with New York City policemen and firemen, burned in 1910.
The Columbia was constructed to take advantage of its location, with 250 feet of verandas providing an incredible panorama for guests. The hill was nearly barren of trees in those days, but Knapp planted a number of maples around the property. Like many of the early Sullivan County hotels, the Columbia included a working farm, which housed a dairy complete with Guernsey cows. Guests were treated to milk, butter, eggs, poultry, maple sugar, and vegetables, all grown or produced on the premises. By 1898, the Columbia was able to accommodate 150 guests, many of whom would check in for six or eight weeks at a time, often bringing their own staff of maids and governesses with them.
A 1905 brochure indicates the hotel charged from $10 to $16 per week for single persons, from $18 to $24 for two persons, and entertained transients for from $2 to $3 a day. Free transportation was provided from the O&W Railway’s Luzon station in Hurleyville, and “positively no consumptives” were accommodated.
“Wide piazzas and balconies surround the main building,” the brochure announced. “It is modern in style, comfortably furnished, and replete with every convenience calculated to enhance the comfort and pleasure of our guests.
“The public rooms are commodious, the sleeping apartments large, light, and well furnished. Connecting rooms and ‘rooms en suite’ with private bath and toilet are also available. The building is heated with steam and lighted with gas. Hot and cold water, baths and lavatories and toilet rooms are on every floor. We have the best sanitary plumbing. Both water and ice are obtained from one of the largest and best springs in the country.”
Knapp suffered a stroke, and died in 1912, and his wife took over until her own passing in 1936. By that time, their son, Benjamin G. Knapp had already taken control, and the hotel included a swimming pool, erected in 1923-- the first pool in the county completely independent of any direct water supply-- and a nine-hole golf course, opened in 1932.
Ben Knapp almost immediately added 12 additional rooms, all with private baths, and a large dance pavilion. Within a few years, he had added 12 more rooms with private baths, and eventually constructed a new lobby, dining room, night club, and a second golf course.
By the time Ben Knapp died in 1960, the hotel had added 30 more rooms. In 1963, the Columbia, at the time being run by Ben’s three sons, John J., Ben, and William, joined the growing trend in the county to stay open all year around. The hotel also added another building with 25 rooms, and a ski hill.
When the Columbia celebrated its 75th anniversary in the summer of 1966 with a number of special events, there were big plans for the future.
That year, the hotel’s weekly rates ranged from $87 to $126 for a full American plan, which included three meals a day. The Columbia could accommodate about 330 guests, and featured an Olympic sized swimming pool, two golf courses, and tennis courts. The brothers promised to continue the traditional homey atmosphere of the hotel.
“We plan to make it a quaint old-fashioned looking resort with every modern facility,” they told a local newspaper. There were plans for an indoor pool, additional suites, a new night club, and more public space for conventions and meetings, but every attempt would be made, they noted, to avoid turning the place into “one of those modernistic, glass and steel structures which eliminate the personal touch so much a tradition of their 75-year old hotel.”
But unbeknownst to the Knapps, as well as most of the other hotel owners in the county, the resort industry here was about to enter hard times. By 1969, the Columbia had closed, and filed for bankruptcy protection. In September of 1970, Ray Parker, president of the Concord Hotel, purchased the hotel for $111,000.
A suspicious fire claimed the main building of the Columbia on Christmas Eve in 1971. The flames were visible from Liberty, and the red glow in the sky could be seen from as far away as Livingston Manor. The cause of the fire was never determined.
The story of the Columbia, one of nearly 40 hotels operating in the Hurleyville area at one time, will be just one of the topics covered when the 7h Annual Hurleyville History Hike steps off as part of the Holiday in Hurleyville festivities on Saturday, December 2.
The hike begins promptly at 1 p.m. from the parking lot just west of Main Street and heads toward Ferndale. It is free and open to the public.
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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