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The House by the Side of the Road

John Conway - Sullivan County Historian
Posted 5/21/21

It was May 21, 1964, and 500 prominent Liberty residents gathered in the new high school auditorium on Buckley Street in the village to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of one of the area's most …

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The House by the Side of the Road

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It was May 21, 1964, and 500 prominent Liberty residents gathered in the new high school auditorium on Buckley Street in the village to celebrate the Golden Anniversary of one of the area's most successful businesses.

“The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Grossinger, started in 1914 in a small boarding house and now grown to a world-famous panoply of buildings and grounds, known everywhere for its warmth and hospitality,” the Liberty Register announced in a front page above-the-fold story in the following day's edition.

The tribute was not so much one honoring the hotel and its world famous reputation, however, as it was recognizing the Grossinger family, who, as the Register noted “have lived in a house by the side of the road and have been friends to man.”

Those words, taken from the 1897 poem, “The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss, were inscribed on a plaque presented to the family at the end of the 90-minute program.

Jennie Grossinger, the matriarch of the famed hostelry, who had once sewed buttonholes in a New York City factory for $1.50 a week, was on hand to accept the plaque, flanked by her children Paul Grossinger and Elaine Grossinger Etess. One of the three children of the hotel's founders, Jennie had been there from the beginning, and had presided over the exponential growth of the resort in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Her father, Selig Grossinger had paid $450 for the run down Longbrook Farm in 1914, with no intention of running a boardinghouse, let alone a famous hotel. He had purchased a farm and had expected to make his living from the soil. This proved to be a difficult task, and the family discussed, but was divided over, the prospect of adding to their meager income by taking in boarders. It was Jennie's husband, Harry Grossinger, who made the decision that the family should become hoteliers, and it was her mother, Malke, who had been born into a family of innkeepers in Eastern Europe, who made that decision a wise one.

But it was Jennie who would ultimately make the hotel one of the most famous in the world, and she graciously accepted the bronze plaque that evening, expressing “deep appreciation for the tribute” paid the family. Liberty District Principal David E. Panebaker made the presentation, reading from the inscription penned by local newspaperman George A. Yeager.

“Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man,” the inscription began. “1914 - 1964.”

“To the Grossinger family on the 50th anniversary of their renowned resort—their enterprise has stimulated and enriched the economic life of the area—their influence has reached into the state, the nation, and parts of the world—their kindness and good will has formed a bond of affection between them and the people of our community—they live in a house by the side of the road and they are friends to man! From their neighbors in the village and town of Liberty.”

Speakers for the evening included Joseph Fersch, chairman of the group of citizens who organized the event, Mr. Panebaker, Liberty Supervisor William E. Pearson, Liberty mayor Robert Klugman, journalist and author Quentin Reynolds (whom the paper identified as “collaborating on a biography of Jennie Grossinger”), and Dr. Emanuel Singer, “a life-long friend of the family and a representative of Wilberforce University, the oldest Negro university in the country, which has conferred a doctorate of humanities on Mrs. Grossinger,“ according to the Register account.

Retired New York State Court of Appeals Judge Sydney F. Foster acted as Master of Ceremonies.

Jennie Grossinger died in 1972. The hotel was sold in 1986, and after several failed attempts to resurrect the property, the buildings were demolished in 2018.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. Email him at jconway52@hotmail.com.

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