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The Catskills Attractions Association

John Conway - Sullivan County Historian
Posted 3/13/20

As spring approached in March of 1961, a brand new organization was gearing up to increase tourism in the Sullivan County Catskills. And it did not involve a single hotel.

The Catskill Attractions …

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The Catskills Attractions Association

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As spring approached in March of 1961, a brand new organization was gearing up to increase tourism in the Sullivan County Catskills. And it did not involve a single hotel.

The Catskill Attractions Association had been formed just a few weeks before at a meeting at the Monticello Village Hall. There were ten charter members, representing tourist attractions in and around the county, but by design, no hotels. The attractions included Monticello Raceway, Wonder Mountain in Liberty, Fun Fare in Harris, Cimarron City of Monticello, Fort Delaware of Narrowsburg, the Grahamsville-Peekamoose Railroad and the White Lake Speedway. Out of county members included Museum Village of Monroe, Warwick Game Farm and Sterling Forest.

The organization was the brainchild of former Raceway publicity director Art Sugarman, who became the new group's Executive Secretary. Its stated purpose, according to an article in the February 9, 1961 edition of the Liberty Register newspaper announcing its formation, was to develop “a cooperative effort to encourage tourist travel into the region and to furnish a meeting ground for the amusement industry to discuss its problems.”

The article noted that the group was modeled after a similar organization in the Adirondacks. A slate of officers was elected at a subsequent meeting in Monticello, and according to the Register's February 23 edition, “Harold W. Hargreaves III of Saugerties was elected president. Mr. Hargreaves is the general manager of the proposed Wonder Mountain Park scheduled to be constructed near Liberty.

“Other officers were named as follows: Robert Rosenberg of Woodridge, representing Cimarron City at Monticello, vice president, Manville B. Wakefield, owner of the Grahamsville - Peekamoose Railroad, Grahamsville, secretary, and Anthony DiLorenzo, Sr., President of Sullivan Affiliates, Inc., which operates Fun Fare near Harris, treasurer.”

Interestingly, the organization was formed as the member attractions struggled to finance advertising and promotional campaigns in the wake of a shifting local economy, and a cooperative effort was seen as the only viable solution. That same shifting economy would prove to be the group's eventual undoing, as the famed “Kennedy Slide” economic downturn of late 1961 tightened credit and reigned in investments, claiming one of the Association's most visible members.

Wonder Mountain had actually begun life more than two years earlier as Mystic Mountain, a multi-million dollar amusement center planned for 200 plus acres at the top of Walnut Mountain in Liberty, on what the Liberty Register called “Sullivan County's highest and most picturesque site, from whose peak a view is available extending over 65 miles into four states.”

Following a corporate reorganizing and infusion of cash, along with a name change, the “fantastic wonderland” designed to rival the famed Disneyland Amusement Park in California, was supposed to open in May of 1961, but it did not. Touted as the largest family theme park in upstate New York, combining fantasy, history, adventure, and learning together with every variety of recreation and fun, it languished in the planning stages for more than four years but was never built.

In fact, by 1963, American Playlands, Inc. the group behind the park, was actively trying to sell their Walnut Mountain property to the state of New York for construction of a ski area that they insisted had the potential to be “the Switzerland of lower New York State.” However, after months of negotiations, that sale failed to materialize even with the intervention of influential assemblyman Hyman “Bucky” Mintz. A subsequent attempt to get the town of Liberty to develop the property into a ski area was also unsuccessful.

By that time, several high profile Liberty businesses, such as the Fuelane Corporation and Dairymen's League had both laid off a significant number of employees and Sullivan County was in even more desperate need of the economic shot in the arm Mystic Mountain was supposed to have been and no amount of cooperative advertising seemed likely to help.

The county's economy, dominated as it was by the hotel industry, had begun to show signs of stress as far back as 1958, when the so-called fortress hotels began to appear. The county's unemployment rate had been increasing steadily, from 4.8 percent in 1958 to 5.1 percent in 1959 to 5.7 percent in 1960 and 6.7 percent in 1961. By 1962, the Sullivan County Board of Supervisors noted in a report that the county “is one of the State's least industrialized counties because of its false sense of economic sufficiency in its resort and poultry industries. The error has only recently been widely recognized.”

As the county's economy contracted, discretionary spending decreased and tourism suffered. Most of the amusement attractions fell on hard times. Cimarron City closed after the 1964 season, Fort Delaware hung on as a private business until 1970, when it was taken over by county government, and Fun Fare, which had attracted more than 3,500 patrons to its grand opening in July of 1960, eventually shut down its half-mile train ride, its golf driving range and its Ferris Wheel, and ended up as just a roller skating rink before the decade had ended.

Stripped of its members one by one, the Catskill Attractions Association was defunct even before that.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com. For more on Cimarron City and Mystic Mountain/Wonder Mountain, purchase his new book, In Further Retrospect. He will be presenting a program and selling and signing the book at the Sullivan County Museum, 265 Main St., Hurleyville at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, and at the Sunshine Hall Library in Eldred at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 28.

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