Sylvan Grove

Posted: Sunday November 20, 2011

The Borscht Belt region of upstate New York State remains as an oasis of shuttered hotels, boarded bungalow colonies, and stagnant summer camps; surviving from a 1960's era, long past its prime. Sprawling resort campuses rot amongst the backdrop of the Catskill Mountain range. Gone are the guests and lodgers who once flocked to the open county side eager to retreat from the busy city life, replaced now by vandals and explorers eager to venture into the defunct vacation metropolis.

The biggest and most well known of the resorts remain in ruins. Doors and windows smashed open by the throngs of curious, have allowed the harsh New York winters to transform carpet clad interior rooms and massive indoor pools into wastelands mimicking some type of overgrown greenhouse. Much of the smaller, lesser known resorts sit vacant, destroyed only by negligence and the subsequent decay.

It's a rare sight to to see any progress transpire of the Borscht Belt. No longer is there appeal or reason for the average vacationer to make the long drive up to the mountains. Only one exhibiting a sense of adventure or something more cynical would contemplate wasting gas to make the treck up, if only to wander through the ruins. And to a great extent this is what has become of the Borscht Belt; a playground for the curious, an eye sore for the blind.

A surprise came to me while driving through the belt one summer morning upon spotting an old lodge off the side of a lonely road. The trimmed grass and manicured property remained in stark contrast to the typical expectations of a vacant Catskill lot. The lettering on the lodge read, Sylvan Grove, but the structure while certainly vacant, was in near immaculate condition. After a few minutes of poking around, an old automobile pulled up to the property. The driver's window rolled down and a perfectly maned husky dog poked its head out, but not before the weathered voice of an old man spoke out with a thick Polish accent, asking if he could be of any assistance.

I responded that I was just admiring the property, but must have said something right as he pushed the dog aside and I noticed a slight smile appear over his tattered face. He placed a stack of lottery tickets he had been gripping in his hand down, as if to talk in a relaxed manner. The man began to explain that he was in the process of restoring the old lodge, but it was not the original building. He seemed elated that there was someone else who also admired the structure, and he kindly welcomed us to stay on the property to take pictures. His window soon rolled up as he drove off, perhaps in hope of collecting a winning fortune.

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