Abandoned: The Borcht Belt

It’s been a long while since I’ve gotten out to do some urban exploring (or, in the following example, rural exploration). Me and the sweetie recently had a Catskills weekend, hitting up the old “Borscht Belt”, the term given to the region where in the middle part of the 20th century, many Jews from New York City and surrounding areas would come for vacation and leisure. With the advent of cheaper airfares, the resorts, such as the Tamarack, The Pines, and Grosssinger’s, among others, eventually saw business decline and they went out of business. With the exception of Grossinger’s (unless I’m missing something), they’ve all been torn down or burned down. The Tamarack, which we wanted to visit, burned down last month, on my birthday.

On the northern part of the Catskills, in the area between the Catskills and the Adirondacks, lies the small town of Sharon Springs. Back in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, when the “restorative health spa” craze was all the rage (and, in many cases, on par with patent medicines in terms of actual efficacy), Sharon Springs was quite the hotspot, with its natural sulfur springs.  The town was replete with massive hotels and boarding houses (many of which, after the Holocaust), catered to an immigrant Jewish clientele.

One of the many sulfur springs in the town.

Much more, and slideshows, below the jump.

Unfortunately, after the craze died out, as well as with the increase of competing options brought on by cheaper airfare and extravagances like Disneyland, the town went into a long decline, and almost all of the boarding houses closed up, where they sit around the town in various states of disrepair. Some are half collapsed, some have burned, and a few are still structurally sound, but who knows for how much longer? The town is trying its best to revitalize, due to its location to Cooperstown and Howe Caverns, among other things.

Two of the less decrepit boarding houses were the Hotel Columbia, and Hotel Adler. I could see both of them from the B&B we were staying at. The Columbia was the more modest of the two, so we looked at that, first:

One of the things we noticed and read about was how, when the hotels started getting less and less visitors, they’d close down the highest floors. Eventually, they stopped maintaining them, too. We saw beer cans in a janitor’s closet on the top floor that were the old steel kind that you had to open with a churchkey. Considering those were over 40 years old and the hotel was open until the 90′s, that’s a long time for a janitor’s closet to be ignored.

Next up was the Hotel Adler, which I believe was the biggest and most well-known. It closed in the mid-2000′s. It was humongous, as you can see from the slideshow below. The colors in this place were amazing. It’s like they redecorated it in 1973 and never bothered to again in the remaining three decades it stayed open. In the entire basement was a bunch of spa tubs, at least 40 or so.

What is tragic about these places is, even though they are structurally still salvageable for now, there is no incentive to do so, given their massive size. As nice as Sharon Springs is, there simply is no need for a massive hotel there, let alone two or three more. A few years ago, a group of Korean businessmen bought the Adler, the Columbia, the Imperial Springs, and a few other properties in town, with promises of rebuilding and revitalizing them. Somewhere along the way, they must have realized the folly of their decisions, as all of the properties sit in a state of decay, a reminder of a very different time. I will not be surprised at all to find out in the next few years that the Adler and/or Columbia have burned to the ground. That’s how these things often pan out.

Before getting to Sharon Springs, we went to Grossinger’s Resort, the last of the great Borscht Belt resorts. In its heyday of the 1950′s and 1960′s, it was the place to be:

Although there is a country club/golf course that is still in operation, the remaining buildings of the resort lie in an advanced state of decay. It’s been picked pretty clean in terms of what’s been left behind, but it was still most certainly worth the trip. Both of the massive swimming pools are still in there, as well as the clubhouse and the beauty salon in the basement of the indoor pool room. The indoor pool was something to see, as the ferns and mosses were growing along one side of it:

There’s a lot more on Grossinger’s here:

Wonderful Borscht Belt Memories

Catskill Archive

Grossinger’s 1919-1986

There’s also more on the Adler and Columbia here:

Kingston Lounge: Hotel Adler

Kingston Lounge: Hotel Columbia

Sharon Springs Spas


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