Mohonk Mountain House
1000 Mountain Rest Road
New Paltz, NY 12561
Skytop Tower and one time fire lookout built as a memorial to Albert K. Smiley – patriach of the Smiley Family. Offers views of six states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts. Built of local stone, construction started in 1921, and finished in 1923.
The Early Years.
On a beautiful fall day in 1869, Alfred Homans Smiley, with family and friends, took an excursion to Paltz Point (now known as Sky Top.) On this mountainside outside of New Paltz, they discovered 280 acres of rugged terrain, a lake, and a small tavern owned and operated by John F. Stokes. It was the kind of place Alfred’s twin brother Albert Keith Smiley had always dreamed of for a summer retreat. Within weeks, Albert bought the property for $28,000 and with the help of Alfred began transforming and expanding the original tavern into Mohonk Mountain House. Albert’s first guests were so enchanted with the natural surroundings and hospitality that they wanted to spend the entire "season" at Mohonk Mountain House.
Mohonk is a corruption of the Delaware Indian word Mogonck, which some believe to mean "lake in the sky."
This was a Quaker hotel upon opening, and temperance was observed. Dancing and public card playing was prohibited. Instead, the lodge offered nature walks, lectures, evening concerts, boating, fishing, bowling and a ten-minute prayer service every morning after breakfast.
The founder of Mohonk, Albert Smiley, was born in Kennebec Country, Maine with his identical twin brother Alfred, to Quaker parents with Scottish and English ancestors. The Smiley twins became ardent scholars, dedicated Quakers, and nature lovers, and graduated from Haverford College to become teachers and then principals at the Friends School in Providence, Rhode Island. Alfred later moved to Poughkeepsie, New York with the intention of farming – until he made his fortuitous outing to Paltz Point in 1869. Albert served as owner and host of the Mountain House and Alfred as on-site manager in the early years. After Alfred left to start his own Mountain Houses on Minnewaska Lake, the twins’ half-brother David jointed Albert in the managing of Mohonk Mountain House.
David Smiley (1855-1930), the twins’ half-brother and Philadelphia schoolteacher, joined Albert in 1881 as General Manager with his wife Effie. He made Mohonk almost self-sufficient in its ability to provide electrical and heating power, along with some fresh vegetables and meat. He was responsible for constructing several buildings and for road and trail designs.
From 1879 to 1910, the once small lakeside inn grew to its present architectural form. Albert Smiley gradually bought the surrounding land and farms to create a 7,500-acre estate. He said, "I have treated this property, the result of seventy-six purchases, as a landscape artist does his canvas, only my canvas covers seven square miles." With the help of architects, stonemasons, carpenters, gardeners, and local laborers, Albert and Alfred (and later Daniel Smiley) designed and constructed Mohonk Mountain House along with its gardens, gazebos, landscape, and more than 60 miles of carriage roads, trails, and paths.
During the decade of the 1870’s, building improvements were a priority, and Mohonk was enlarged to include an addition housing the Dining Room and the Rock Building, a frame structure built on rock. In the 1880’s and into the early 1900s, Daniel Smiley, with the help of noted architects Napoleon LeBrun and James E. Ware, fashioned the Mountain House into a Victorian and Edwardian architectural delight.
A wealth of activities and events make up Mohonk’s history. As a mostly self-sufficient Mountain House well into the twentieth century, Mohonk had its own farms, dairies, sawmill carriages and driving roads, boys’ school, icehouse and ice harvest, telegraph office, and powerhouse.
In Mohonk’s earliest years, guests had to call for room service by using speaking tubes installed in the hallways. In 1883, an electric call bell system was installed in 165 guest rooms. Keep in mind electric lights were not introduced until ten years later in 1893.
The Bell Board, located in the Lake Lounge, registered signals from guest rooms requesting room service. It operated on its own low-voltage, battery powered electric supply system using "bell wire" to connect guest rooms with the Bell Board. Each room was provided with a little card that indicated how many times to push the ‘bell Button’ for each service provided: for example, two times for ice water, or three times to request a porter. The signal would activate a mechanical indicator on the board, alerting the bellman to which room was calling. After reviewing the type of request displayed in the round, wooden box on their desk, the bellman performed the task and pushed a button to learn the request from the board. Eventually telephones were installed in the guest rooms, and this bell system became obsolete.
The principal architects were Napoleon LeBrun who designed most of the frame section of the 1/8 mile long hotel and James Edward Ware who designed the towered stone section.
The present Mountain House consists of nine buildings built over a period of 31 years from 1879 to 1910.
In 1887-88 the Central Building was constructed with Napoleon LeBrun & Sons of New York City as its architects. Four years later the Grove Building, and the Kitchen and Dining Room Building was added with LeBrun in charge. LeBrun served as the architect for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower at One Madison Avenue in Manhattan. The tower was modeled after the Campanile in Venice, Italy.
The Stone Building was built in two sections and at great expense; the first section was completed in 1899, the second in 1902. Ware was known for his work in designing fireproof warehouses and the Osborne Apartment building in Manhattan.
The main dining hall, with its high ceiling and clerestory windows came into use in 1893. It was enlarged in 1910.
The architects LeBrun and Ware, along with input from the twins’ half-brother Daniel, fashioned Mohonk Mountain House into a Victorian and Edwardian architectural marvel.
Mohonk Lake’s elevation is 1,245 feet above sea level, it is 534′ at its widest and 2,119′ long and covers 17 acres. At its deepest it is 61′. The lake has had 24′ of sediment deposited since the last glacier.
Uplifted millions of years ago, the visible quartz rock was cracked and split along a fault line that runs through the lake. 20,000 years ago, a mile high glacier scooped out the lake basin, scraping down into the shale beneath. That shale now buffers the lake and keeps it neutral, supporting fish and aquatic life. Mohonk Lake is a "sky lake" meaning most of its water comes directly from the sky, and from a small 40-acre watershed. Mohonk Lake is often green from the millions of tiny green plankton. At times reflections from the sky may give the lake a blue or gray hue.
The Smiley Connection – Mohonk, NY – Redlands, California.
In 1879 President Hayes appointed Albert Keith Smiley to the board of Indian commissioners on which he served until his death. It was his interest in Indian affairs that brought him to California for the first time in 1889. He was chairman of a committee to select lands for the many Native California Indian tribes.
Redlands, California became the winter home of Albert K. Smiley and his identical twin Alfred. During the 1890’s the twins bought 220 acres atop a ridge of hills overlooking the town of Redlands, and beyond it, the towering San Bernardino Mountains. The land was arid, but they built houses and a reservoir to store water that they piped over a distance of three miles to the ridge. Over the next five years, they constructed five miles of roadway, planted 1,200 varieties of shrubs, trees and flowers and created an orange grove. They name their property Canyon Crest Park and opened it to the public for free. The popular name for it became Smiley Heights.
In the first decade of the 20th century the park’s fame spread nationally. Tourist companies and railroads featured the park in their brochures, national magazines published pictorial views, and lecturer showed lantern slides. Automobiles were not allowed. Tours were conducted in 9-passenger tallyhos. The Great Depression of 1929 caused the park to be closed to the public.
In 1896 Alfred H. Smiley laid out a summer resort known as Fredalba Park, (name derived from Alfred and Albert) near the summit of the mountain range north of Redlands, at an elevation of 5,500 feet. Fredalba had 107 acres of woodland in the San Bernardino Mountains. At that time many of Redlands’ citizens spent summer months at this near-by resort, which is easy of access by good wagon road.
The brothers’ philanthropy extended beyond their park and orchard. Albert also established, at his own expense, a downtown park that he landscaped. He then built on it a library that he presented to the city in 1898 for use by the public. It was named the Albert K. Smiley Public Library. In 1906 he provides funds for a new wing to the building. Alfred served as the head of the Library’s Board of Directors until his death in 1903. He gave it liberal financial support, especially for the purchase of books. Both brothers were active in many other civic projects. To this day, the brothers are known as "patron saints of Redlands." Albert K. Smiley died on December 2, 1912, at his winter home in Redlands, California, aged eighty-four.
The Later Years.
Mohonk Mountain House has been managed and stewarded by the Smiley family since its inception in 1869. The family has preserved and fostered many of the values and ideals of Albert Smiley while guiding Mohonk toward the twenty-first century and ensuring its survival.
In 1973, the seven-story hotel, with 261 guestrooms and 138 working fireplaces was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and in 1986 was recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
Earlier in 1966 the family began conveying over 5,000 surrounding acres to the Mohonk Preserve (at that time called the Mohonk Trust) to be maintained as a nature preserve for recreation, education and research. In 1996, on the 125th anniversary of Mohonk Mountain House, the United Nations Environment Programme recognized the Mountain House and the Smiley family "for generations of dedicated leadership and commitment to the protection and enhancement of the environment and for their inestimable contribution to the cause of peace, justice, and sustainable human development."
In 1988 Mohonk Mountain House owners Smiley Brothers Inc., named Donald D. Woodworth (Cornell School of Hotel Administration ’57) president. Before that, Mohonk president Bernard Gavin resigned in a cloud of mystery.
In 1990, fourth generation family member Bert Smiley, great-grandnephew of founder Albert K. Smiley, became president of Mohonk Mountain House. Bert Smiley earned a Ph.D. in economics at Princeton, and for several years was an economist in Washington. He returned home to Mohonk full-time in 1990.
Jacquelyn Appeldorn is the Mohonk Mountain House General Manager. Jackie has served in this position for 11 years and oversees a staff of up to 750 full-time and part-time employees. While in college she worked in the Mohonk Mountain House dining room.
Jim Palmeri was appointed Executive Chef at the Mohonk Mountain House in 2007. Chef Palmeri was most recently the executive chef for the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort. He is a graduate of the Culinary School of Kendall College in Chicago.
The Spa at Mohonk, a $13 million, 30,000-square-foot addition, opened in 2005.
Photos and text compiled by Dick Johnson
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