A Vacation at Mohonk Mountain House
Here we are at the beginning of August, and it is hot out there. Where do you go to get away from it all? Some people like to be by the shore, some enjoy a trip to an amusement park, while others would rather head deep into the woods for some hiking or camping. In the mid-19th century, two twin brothers came up with the idea that a vacation in the woods, with a shore, and some amusement (with a touch of luxury), was the perfect combination for the summer getaway. When Albert Smiley purchased a ten-room tavern on Lake Mohonk, he likely did not imagine that his vision would continue to prosper to this day, over a century later.
Albert K. Smiley was a schoolteacher who, like many teachers in the summer months, wanted to find a place that would not only relax his body but also give some refreshment to his soul (he was a Quaker, after all). His brother Alfred had stumbled upon a small tavern by a lake in the Shawangunk Mountains and convinced him to come and see it for himself. Albert used all of his savings, some money from his wife Eliza, and a bank loan to purchase the old Stokes tavern along with 280 acres of land around the lake in 1869. From 1869 until Albert died in 1912, the old tavern was expanded into a grand castle with 300 rooms, several miles of trails, and beautifully manicured gardens. It became the place where well-to-do Poughkeepsians (among others) would venture off away from the noise and heat of the city.
There were several rules to follow when staying at the Mohonk Mountain House, including no gambling, no dancing, no dogs, and the big one: no alcohol. It was a temperance house, as the brochures pointed out, and the Smiley brothers were very much against the consumption of liquors of any kind. The resort didn’t apply for a liquor license until the 1960s, and in 2006 a bar was quietly added to the building. Another rule that had to be observed was that visitors could not come or go on Sundays, as that was a day for rest and worship.
The entire point of a season spent at Mohonk, whether in 1870 or 2022, is to get out and enjoy the gifts of nature. “The peculiar charm of the Shawangunk range of mountains differs essentially from that of any other range in the eastern states; for, while others rise to greater heights and present longer skylines, nowhere is there anything so unusual and romantic.” As the 1903 brochure pointed out, this particular spot is filled with deep ravines and cliffs, “a chaos of boulders hidden away in silent forests,” and remarkable lakes and waterfalls.
While the Victorian vibe has been preserved, for the most part, at the resort, the Victorian price tag is quite another story. In 1900, if you wanted to stay in the best double room, with a private bath, and a servant, a week’s stay would cost you a total of $74 altogether ($50 for the room, $12 for the private bath, $12 for the servant, meals included). When adjusted for inflation from 1900 to 2022, that’s about $2,610 in today’s money for a week at the resort. Not cheap, but a reasonable expectation for a week’s vacation. However, the cost of a stay at the resort today is well over $1000 just for one night.
Additional activities have been added over the years, including a golf course that was added in 1897, a history museum that opened in 1972, and a spa in 2005. The property has been expanded over the years, and now includes a preserve that is home to more than 1,400 plant and animal species, and protects over 8,000 acres of land. Both the preserve and the Mountain House were designated as National Historic Landmarks in 1986.
The New York Times, “Makeover at Mohonk,” 24 Feb 2006
Lake Mohonk Mountain House Catalogs, Weekly Bulletins, 1888 – 1956, Local History Collections
Mohonk-1888 – Print showing Mohonk Mountain House in 1888. LH Collections
U07LD26 – Photograph showing Lake Mohonk & the Mohonk Mountain House. LH Collections
1038-1PC7 – Color-tinted photograph of the Mohonk Mountain House, with the gardens in the foreground. LH Collections
Mohonk-swimming – Photo of the bathing beach at Lake Mohonk. LH Collections
Mohonk-riding – Photo of men riding horses up to the Albert K. Smiley Memorial Tower which was built in 1923. LH Collections