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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Calendar > Arts and Culture

Scenic overlook recalls Lake Jeff Hotel

By Kathy Daley - reporter / photographer

By: Contributed photo
1930s bathers romp at Lake Jefferson in the shadow of the Lake Jeff Hotel. Starting out as a pond, the lake off Route 52 was created by a 1927 dam whose purpose was to make a bathing beach for the hotel. Still, hotel owners typically had to bulldoze silt out on a regular basis.
JEFFERSONVILLE — With barely bits of its foundation remaining, the Lake Jefferson Hotel still manages to linger in the memories of locals and non-locals who dined and danced there, swam in the lake in warm weather and ice skated in winter.
From the 1930s until the late 1990s, the hotel on the outskirts of the Village of Jeffersonville served as a vacation destination and a lively social center.
“I grew up in Livingston Manor, and in the 1960s we would come over the mountain to the Lake Jeff Hotel for barbecues and clam bakes and to swim in the lake,” said Jeffersonville Village Clerk Colleen Freitas.
Recently, Freitas came up with the idea of creating a welcoming new entryway on Route 52 that would also honor the old hotel, which burned to the ground in 2002 after being shuttered for four years.
On Monday, with funds from Sullivan Renaissance, the Village completed work on a scenic overlook at the edge of Lake Jefferson, situated just opposite the green and white Village of Jeffersonville sign on Route 52. A kiosk features people's photos and written memories of Lake Jeff Hotel and a railing backed by tempered glass invites drivers to stop for a peaceful glance at the lake that once rang with the laughs and shouts of delighted swimmers.

“I think the Lake Jeff Hotel is collectively held in people's hearts and minds with good memories of the past,” said Freitas.
The Sullivan County Record, a newspaper from Jeffersonville's past, records the first formal social function at the newly built hotel on December 31, 1929. That was the American Legion's New Year's Eve public dance.
Eventually, the hotel featured a soda fountain, dance hall, bowling alley and barber shop.
“Dancing Every Night on Lake Jefferson Hotel on Lake Jefferson. Music by Norm Loeffeland His 6-Piece Rythmaires,” said an advertisement in a Sullivan County Record's August 1955 edition.
For 30 years beginning in the mid-1960s, best-selling author Oliver Sacks often left his home in New York City to spend time at the hotel.
Sacks was a physician and professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine, but he is probably best known for his books “Awakenings,” later made into a movie with Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” In the acknowledgements of “An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales,” Sacks references the Lake Jefferson Hotel as one of his favorite places for writing.
“I especially loved the old bar on Saturday nights, which was full of colorful figures, yarning and drinking, during the 1970s and '80s,” said Sacks to local journalist Barbara Gref after the 2002 fire, “and the old photos which showed the early history of the hotel, its glory days, when everyone went to the Catskills.”
The hotel's bar, which was a relic from the 1939 World's Fair in Flushing, was removed from the premises before the 2002 fire and has new life at the Dancing Cat Saloon on Route 17B in Bethel.
Gref, who lives on Lake Jeff with her husband Kevin, interviewed Sacks for the 2003-2004 Jeffersonville Journal. She reported that Sacks was such a frequent visitor to the hotel, owned first by Otto Hoering and then by Lou and Frieda Grupp, that he took a downstairs apartment in the hotel. There Sacks did his literary work on a typewriter and carried a smaller one for writing lakeside.
“I'm thrilled (about the scenic overlook),” said Gref. “They've really turned a bit of an eyesore into something truly attractive.”
Freitas hopes that Sullivan Renaissance feels the same way. Jeffersonville is in the running with four other municipalities for additional money, including the top prize of $250,000. Other contenders are Monticello, Mamakating, the Town of Thompson and the Town of Fallsburg. This Friday, Aug. 5, Jeffersonville will host an on-site visit from Sullivan Renaissance officials with the winners announced on August 7 at the annual award ceremony at Bethel Woods Event Gallery.

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