Smallwood: A Patch-work Quilt of Memories compiled and edited by Member June M. Barrett for the 75th Anniversary of Smallwood Journal, August 2003
When asked to put together a brief history of Smallwood I realized that rather than write a dry narrative, it would be better to showcase our hamlet by sharing memories from the many folks who have been so generous in doing so. My utmost thanks go to Ruth Surat who gathered memories from Harry Eldridge, Walter Broom, Meddie Schwamberger and Emma Dietrich. Thanks to Bea Schoch, former Historian of the Town of Bethel and Marion Stanton Vassmer, present Historian of Bethel, to Harry Eldridge, Lester Jackson.
Some of the older Smallwoodites are quite familiar with the Brief History of Smallwood by Col. Harry Conroy (see below) which has appeared here and there in Smallwood publications. I will, however, try to quilt together patches and bits and pieces of treasured memories, into a story of Smallwood.
Just a little narrative first for setting. According to accepted writings, the Lenape Indians were the first inhabitants of Bethel, therefore of Smallwood, making their homes around the many lakes and beside the streams with which we are familiar. The first pioneers, it is said, were the Pintlers, who settled in White Lake circa 1798. "The history of our area is really the history of America."
Smallwood, originally known as Mountain Lakes Development was the dream of A.N. Smallwood who discovered and bought an area in 1928, so rich in forests, streams and wildlife that he knew could become the mountain escape for many middle income families during long hot city summers. Some of the land had already been developed with clapboard houses in the High View area and over on Ruthway. Other land was bought from local farmers such as the Ballards, the Mitchell's, Mattisons, and from the Eldridges. According to Col. Conroy, Mr. Smallwood started selling lots in 1929. It has been remembered by some, that families set up tents for the summer while cabins were being built. As paths and trails were cleared many more cabins began to appear. No electricity, no bathrooms, no in-house water in those early days. A stream and pond was dammed to form Mountain Lake a.k.a. Smallwood Lake.
Ruth Surat's earliest memory of being in Smallwood "was waking up listening to the rain on our white clapboard unfinished bungalow . . . it was June of 1929. The inside of our house was unfinished, one room, not divided and no ceiling . . . no heat, no electricity and an ugly outhouse in the rear." Clothing, including baby diapers were washed in the stream. ". . . drinking water came from a spring . . . down Brookside." The waterfalls was the place to shower and wash one's hair. Many youngsters played together at the nearby Ballard Farm and delighted in bringing the warm milk home before it soured. The men, on weekends, got together for softball games in a field at Pierce and Pine Grove and enjoyed sharing a barrel of beer. Weekends were filled with ball games, barbecues, and fun. Ruth mentioned that they had no cars as the dads would return to the city in them. Needed services all came from a local iceman, and "Mrs. Jeszeck delivered milk in the mornings, fruit and vegetables in the afternoon."
Interesting, that Mr. Smallwood advertised Mountain Lakes in the New York Times and offered a tour of the property, an inspection of the model cabins which started at $300, and ended the visit with a barbecue. Marion Vassmer of Vassmer's General Store, and present Bethel Historian, remembers that her father, Roy Stanton, worked for Mr. Smallwood from 1929 on as Foreman of much of the building that was being done. Stanton was even responsible for building advertising signs for the new Smallwood community and going down to place them in the Ramapo area; and he also was the person who built the mausoleum in which Mr. Smallwood and his dog are buried.
The Smallwood Post Office was founded in 1933, Mr. De Camp the first Postmaster. A new High View Store was opened in the same year. The High View Lodge was built, and then the Lake Hill Lodge was built on property bought from the Eldridges. A furniture store, a barber shop, meat and grocery store and a sweet shop were added. The little summer community was growing in leaps and bounds. There were dances every Saturday night at the lodges, and special German and Irish Nights, barn dances and even "masked balls." The Lake Hill Lodge had a bar and dining room with waitresses who were lodged right on the property for the summer. Fran Lubniewski told me she waited tables there one summer where she met her Ed. And, our present President of The Civic Association, Herman Wiener, bused tables and then bartended. The lake, now dammed, had bathhouses, a raft to swim to and from. The first lifeguards were Emma Dietrich and Harry Eldridge. There were two outdoor movie theaters which featured the latest movies. A golf course and the tennis courts were available to all residents. There were numerous guest houses near the lodge and a stable of riding horses nearby. Smallwood was a "gated" community; and any entering had to have identification to be allowed in. There were 20 mounted troopers who patrolled Smallwood. "Mr. Smallwood had a birthday celebration every Labor Day weekend which resulted in many parties: children's party at the beach, free ice cream, a barbecue in High View and raffles with many prizes.
Marion Vassmer pointed out that Smallwood, from its initiation, also gave so many local people, like her father, jobs during the depression years of the early 30s. Bea Schoch mentioned that her father was a distributer of chemical toilets when they began to take the place of the old outhouse privies. My own uncle, Ralph Philips, from Ferndale, was part of the work crew who dug out and created Gabriel Lake, known affectionately as ''Mosquito pond". As the summer community continued to grow, more and more local people had work during the buiilding seasons; and city folks began to enjoy coming up to the lodges for winter sports too. There was a toboggan run that was built by Roy Stanton, Marion Vassmer's father, and of course there was always skating on the lake. Ruth Surat also remembers the lake lit up at night with large floodlights, and seeing people pulled across the lake on chairs with runners attached.
There were many clubs to join: Garden, Bridge, Horse racing on Wednesdays, Smallwood Guild, Ceramic Club, Mary Francisco's painting group, Smallwood Sluggers and the Parents Association. There was a restaurant at the entrance to Smallwood from Pine Grove Road where Harry Eldridge and his group called The Golden River Boys had square- dancing. There was Jeszecks, and Mulligans, which formerly was the Wild Deer. The Lake Hill Lodge had slot machines which had to be hidden in the attic and woods when the troopers were alerted to check for them.
Ruth remembers "Mr.Smallwood in a wheelchair with a great St Bernard dog named Hector often at his side. He was married to Ruth, a former Ziegfield girl and lived at the top of the hill on Pine Grove where MaryAnn Burke now lives." Marion mentioned that Mrs. Smallwood had Afghan dogs and eventually a little poodle. Mr. Smallwood died in 1942, and was buried in the mausoleum built by Mr. Stanton, right near what most call "Minnie Falls".
There are so many names given me, telling anecdotes, some written down as were Ruth Surat's, others by word of mouth, from Small-woodites as well as Bethelites like Marion Stanton Vassmer and Bea Schoch. Names like Meddie (Kelly) Schwamberger whose father, a custodian in the NYC School System, came here in 1929, settled on Overlook Drive, and raised 10 children. Meddie met Otto, married him in 1943 and in 1948 bought property from the "Mattison/Foster Farm" and built the gas station. Meddie's father and brother built the store and post office on what was formerly Maple Avenue, now called Sgt Brucher Road. Charlie Sabini turned the old High View sweet shop into a grocery store and ran that for years. Emma Dietrich, also an early resident of the area since 1929, and as was mentioned, was the first lifeguard at the lake and also hostess at the Lake Hill Lodge. Ann LaPolt was a waitress and her husband Ralph, Post Master. Florence Chatelain worked the gift shop and wrote a Smallwood Column for The Democrat. Harry Eldridge's grandfather had a farm at the site of the Lake Hill Lodge. He had been a member of the 143 Volunteers in the Civil War who marched with Sherman across Georgia. Harry as well as being one of the original lifeguards, was also an original member of the Smallwood Fire Department, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2002. Marion Vassmer's family, the Stantons had many memories of happy times here in the early years of Smallwood. Some very fine families from Sullivan County, and even as close as Monticello, had summer homes on the lake. My own family from Forestburgh, often visited the McNeelys, founders of the Hamilton Avenue Hospital, who were friends of my grandparents.
Would love to go on and on, making this a quilt of great size for a great community--sadly time and space are limited for words, certainly not for memories. Our family has 40 years of those, small compared to others. All of us continue to make seasonal memories with family, neighbors, and friends at shared gatherings, walking around the same lake, swimming at the same beach, fishing and boating in the same waters and doing many of the same things done for 75 years. It is with great pride, we see Smallwood coming back to some of its "glory days". New memories to be made playing at the new Recreation Park at tennis, bocci, basketball and softball. New plans for establishing another garden club, a walking club; and a new clubhouse is on the horizon. Now that so many summer homes have become all year round, we have those invigorating days of flaming colors in Fall, perfect for hiking; then ice-skating, snow shoeing and skiing nearby in Winter . . . and oh yes, the beauty of holiday lights and luminaria . . . and the long days of winter waiting for the first sights and sounds of Spring. Memories, wonderful ones, long past, present and so many more to comeundefinedall made, and to be made within our very own hamlet of Smallwood.
A Brief History of Smallwood written by Harry Conroy (appeared in the 1953-1954 Smallwood Year Book, published by The Smallwood Civic Association)
It is generally thought that the first residents of the land that is now Smallwood, New York, were the Delaware Indians. History shows that this was the land of the Iroquois; at least they were settled here in 1609 when the French explorer Samuel Champlain found them. The Delaware were a tribe belonging to the Algonquin family, living, when first known, on the banks of the Delaware River. They occupied Eastern Pennsylvania and most of New Jersey and it is possible that at times they might have ranged up to the headwaters of the Delaware. However, this was territory of the Algonquians and must have been dangerous ground for the Delaware, as the two tribes were enemies.
The Iroquois were one of the most important groups of native North Americans. They were comprised of a league of five tribes, the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and later the Tuscaroras. To them the English applied the names, Five Nations and Six Nations. During the American Revolution, all of the Iroquois, except the Oneidas and a few of the Tuscaroras, aided the English. The Mohawk and Cayuga, led by the Mohawk Chief, Joseph Brant, left a bloody trail through the valleys in the vicinity of Smallwood.
Our vacation land is well steeped in early American history. These woodlands have heard the twang of the Iroquois bow. These pine misted hills have seen the camp fire smoke of Algonquin war parties, have heard the war cries of Brant and his Indian Raiders, and the crack of the Dutch settler’s flint-lock has he fought for his home. They have, sheltered deserting Hessian soldiers and runaway slaves. These woods have witnessed the hardship and daring of General Sullivan and his soldiers during the Revolution. The rise and fall of small industries, like tanneries, grist mills and saw mills; the hardships of the early settlers, the people who carved out the wooden scoop shovels “the scoopers,” the trapper, the farmer and all the rest who have left us a heritage we may be justly proud of.
Mr. A. N. Smallwood first became interested in our present community in 1928. He liked the location, the high altitude and the wooded hills. He was a promoter who could see its future possibilities this garden spot, set down with a lavish hand by old Mother Nature, was waiting to be discovered by the right person. There is a famous saying, “When God creates an occasion, he creates a man to serve it.” And so it was when A. N. Smallwood looked across the broad expanses of beautiful mountains and cool inviting waters and dreamed of its possibilities; the man and the occasion met.
The first cabin built by the Smallwood Company was in the Highview section in 1929. From then on cabins popped up all over the place. Tracts of land were acquired from Mitchell, Ballard and others and the Mountain Lakes Country Club, owned and operated by the Affiliated Country Clubs, Inc., 9 East 45th Street, New York City, was a going concern, and on every hand delightful cabins appeared amid wigwams of unregimented pines.
Late in the summer of 1933, Uncle Sam located a Post Office at Mountain Lakes and called it “Smallwood, NY.” In 1936, over 150 new cabins were constructed, and as many more purchasd cabin sites for later construction. The new owners represented Westchester, Long Island, Brooklyn, The Bronx and many parts of New Jersey. They included physicians, lawyers, bankers, executives, professors, artists, authors, school teachers, musicians, actors, radio stars and many other fine representative people. In June 1936, Mr. Smallwood announced the addition of almost 2,000 acres. The land purchased included water rights on a 14-mile lake, known as Mongaup lake, and about two miles of water front on the Mongaup River. The purchase price was said to be in the neighborhood of $100,000 and represented some of the finest sites in Smallwood.
In 1937 and 1938, Smallwood continued to grow, and someone made the statement, “It may be Small-wood, but it is big in spite of its name.” There was bus service in and around the community, outdoor movies, stores, sweet shops, s stable of riding horses, and a picturesque golf course that lured many.
In 1939, 1940 and 1941, the Smallwood Company was building better and bigger homes. A full construction yard was well stocked and no job was too big.
In October of 1942, Mr. Smallwood passed away and was laid to rest by the brook of pines in the land he loved. His widow, Mrs. Ruth Smallwood, continued to operate the Smallwood Company until the spring of 1946 when she sold. The new owners were not very successful and in 1949 the property again returned to Mrs. Smallwood through foreclosure proceedings.
The operation of the club houses, stores, beach, etc. were carried on by Mrs. Smallwood for a short time, but the burden was rather heavy and in 1950, Mrs. Smallwood told Dr. W. H. Bouchard, who was then the President of the Civic Association of Smallwood, that she would like to sell her holdings. Dr. Bouchard brought this matter to the attention of the Civic Association and a resolution was adopted by the body, “to look into this matter and see if it was feasible to purchase the property.”
It appears that while The Civic Association sponsored the purchase of Smallwood and its facilities, they did not care to act on this proposition as an Association. There were many people in Smallwood who were not members of The Civic Association and it was the opinion that if Smallwood was to be purchased, non-members as well as members might desire a voice in the matter.
Early in the summer of 1959, an Organizing Committee of about 50 men and women met and decided to negotiate with Mrs. Smallwood for the purchase and price. This was accomplished and shortly thereafter the purchase was presented at a general meeting of property owners, who approved of the purchase and many subscribed generously to the appeal for funds for the initial down payment, made in October 1950.
Time and space (in the original publication) does not permit the writer to name the many members of the original Organizing Committee who did so much of the “space” work, who gave their time and money are still in there “digging” with few exceptions.
Soon after the initial payment was made, The Holding Corporation of Smallwood was organized and incorporated and took title to the property on February 16, 1951. The original Board of Director for the Holding Corporation were; Mr. Norman O. Elwert, Mr. Alcide Prosdocimi, Mrs. Daniel Callahan, Mr. J. Crawford Rivers, Mr. John H. Merkel, Mr. Claude L. Clary, Mr. Fred Schwabmayer, Mr. Henry Jankowski, Mr. Albert Kassay.
The problems of the Holding Corporation seemed to have no end. The lake over-flowed the dam, washed out the beach and almost swept away the nearby Sweet Shop. A wind storm broke large store windows and flatted the outdoor movie enclosure. In addition, all facilities were in a very bad state of repair, having been neglected for years. To ready these facilities and obtain new equipment for the upcoming summer was a gigantic task. Members of the new Holding Corporation, non-members, and special committees rolled up their sleeves and went to work, sacrificing their personal and business interests.
About the time that the Holding Corporation was born, an Organizing Committee was set up and the Pine Grove Country Club was organized to operate the Club Houses. Here there were more “headaches,” more hard work. Connected with this operation are many committees and many volunteer workers who give freely of their personal time to serve the club members. It must be said that these people are a credit to Smallwood.
Despite the obstacle of combating vandalism, and the lack of cooperation of many of the property owners, The Holding Corporation of Smallwood, and The Board of Directors of Pine Grove Country Club are moving resolutely forward, determined to establish their objective of a fine law-abiding residential community, for the good of all.
Much progress has been made in road improvement. Many of our roads have been hard surfaced and are open for traffic all winter.
The community now comprises over eight square miles, with over 1,500 lots and 1,126 cabins and homes, and about 40 miles of road, and much undeveloped property.
The reader may, at some time, have driven through Central Park in New York, perhaps entering at 59th Street, and coming out at 110th Street. In width it takes in an area from Central Park West to Fifth Avenue, about 840 acres of land. Well, just visualize a tract about eight times larger than New York’s famous Central Park and you will have an excellent idea of the size of Smallwood. It is a winter playground as well as a summer vacation land. Winter sets in earnestly, cold but dry, and all winter sports may be enjoyed.
For hunting it is a sportsman’s paradise. Any sportsman who has a home in Smallwood never need suffer the want for his favorite sport in season. The head of a mounted buck, shot in Smallwood, is a common sight in many cabins. Situated just a bit South of the center of Sullivan County widely known for its trout steams. Smallwood is the hub of the finest country an angler could home to find.
This is no means a full story of Smallwood. The story of Smallwood is the story of America, the story of the pioneer. His story is the spirit of daring and courage, gladdened by adventure, strengthened by faith. In all these qualities we find the spirit which has tamed the wilderness and built a nation. The pioneer lives today s dawn breaks on a new era. There are still trails to be blazed, difficulties to be met and adventures to be undertaken.