Filed Under Resorts & Lodging

Catskill Mountain House

or La Casa del Monte

Among its many thousands of guests, the famous Catskill Mountain House served a well-heeled Spanish, Latin American, and Latino clientèle

The first of the grand resorts in the Catskills region, the Catskill Mountain House opened to the public in 1824 and quickly rose to become one of the most famous hotels in nineteenth-century America. Built on an impressive mountaintop ledge, known as Pine Orchard, in the hamlet of Haines Falls, the hotel’s spectacular vistas were immortalized by the American Romantic movement. In the bestselling 1823 novel The Pioneers, James Fenimore Cooper describes the awe-inspiring view at Pine Orchard as revealing “Creation”; it was a place to witness “all that God had done or man could do, far as eye could reach.” The Catskill Mountain House and its sublime views inspired the Hudson River School artists, many of whom stayed there, including Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church. In operation until 1941, the hotel attracted numerous other notable guests, including Spanish, Latin American, and Latino diplomats, politicians, writers, and wealthy businessmen.

The Cuban national hero and poet José Martí (1853–1895) visited the Catskill Mountain House, or, as he refered to it, "la Casa del Monte," during a summer weekend in 1888. Martí vividly describes its stunning signature views in a newspaper article: “desde donde, como del tope de enorme anfiteatro, se divisa la maravilla del valle del Hudson, con su río como el mar, lleno de los vapores blancos veraniegos, y sus retazos de selva, y sus trigales ya cobrizos.” In August 1891, Martí’s personal secretary and close friend, who would later become a government minister in the Republic of Cuba, Gonzalo de Quesada Aróstegui (18681915), stayed there. A Cuban raised in New York City, Quesada Aróstegui authored numerous works of non-fiction, including Our War with Spain and the Conquest of the Philippines, America's Battle for Cuba's Freedom, Free Cuba and Arbitration in Latin America. He also published essays, reviews, and crónicas, and served on the editorial board of Patria, the official newspaper of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. In 1910, Tomás Andrés Estrada Palma, the son of Cuba’s first president, honeymooned with his Mexican-born bride, Helen Douglas Browne, at the Catskill Mountain House. Estrada carved his name with the date 1910 in a scenic rock outcropping on the hotel grounds. It is still visible today among the property’s ruins.

Given its longevity and popularity with well-heeled visitors, the Catskill Mountain House underwent several expansions during its more than a century of operation. It was initially built in a restrained Federal style with a modest number of accommodations. In 1845, it was remodeled, acquiring a more fashionable neoclassical façade framed by large columns and an expansive veranda facing the overlook. At its peak, the Catskill Mountain House had some 300 rooms that could accommodate more than 500 guests. Besides the stunning views, which were especially striking at sunrise, the hotel offered access to placid lakes, trails, overlooks, and brooks. Guests enjoyed its many luxurious amenities, which included “a beauty parlor, an in-house physician, a book and stationery shop, a bakery, a bowling alley, a billiard room, a resident orchestra, a solarium, a casino, and a full post office.” The restaurant and grand gilded ballroom were also major attractions.

Comparable only to a few other establishments in size and grandeur, the Catskill Mountain House was nevertheless much more isolated than its rivals. Whereas most large hotels in the region were built close to rail stations or roads, the Mountains House, perched on an escarpment 1,630 feet above the valley, was accessible only by a daylong stage ride, until 1892, when a cable funicular railroad was connected to the site, facilitating access and greatly reducing travel time.

In June 1849, an anonymous Spanish-American writer shared his impressions of the imposing Catskill Mountain House in a serialized travel account published in the New York Hispanic periodical La Crónica. He wrote, “Desde una distancia considerable atrae las miradas del viajero, en la orilla Oeste del Hudson, la montaña llamada Catskill, rodeada de una neblina no tan opaca que no permita descubrir un hotel blanco y espacioso, situado en el mismo vértice, al cual se ha dado el nombre de Mountain House, o Casa de la Montaña.” The writer emphasized the popularity of the Catskill Mountain House during the summer season and encouraged his Spanish-speaking readership to visit, noting that there were many affordable conveyances transporting travelers to the property. Those who made the uphill trek were rewarded upon arrival: “Desde la Casa de la Montaña puede recorrer la vista una distancia de más de 60 millas, y gozar de una de las perspectivas más pintorescas.” This view, which memorably inspired some of the earliest, distinctively “American” literary and artistic movements, also roused the spirits and imaginations of the Spanish, Latin American, and Latino guests—including politicians, independence leaders, and writers—who stayed there.

Images

Catskill Mountain House
Catskill Mountain House Black & white photograph of the Catskill Mountain House in 1892, with a party of guests in the foreground. Creator: A. Loeffler Date: 1892
Graffito
Graffito The carving of "T. Estrada Palma" with the date August 1910 in a scenic rocky outcropping on the grounds of the Catskill Mountain House. Tomás Andrés Estrada Palma, the son of Cuba’s first president, was then honeymooning at the hotel with his Mexican-born wife, Helen Douglas Browne. Source: smugmug.com Creator: Michael Clifford Date: March 28, 2011

Location

Demolished. Its ruins are accessible via a short hike from the North-South Lake State Campground.

Metadata

Cristina Pérez Jiménez, “Catskill Mountain House,” Discover the Latino Catskills, accessed April 18, 2024, http://discover.latinocatskills.com/items/show/22.