Overlook Mountain House

Overlook Mountain House, from south. January 12, 2000.

    The Catskill Mountains were America's premier resort area starting in the 1820s up until the 1920s. The high elevations offered clean air and sublime views of some of the greatest scenery in the world. In the early 1800s it was thought that America could not compare with the vistas offered in Europe. The work of the Hudson River School of painters, such as Thomas Cole, and writers such as James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving helped popularize the Catskills as a tourist attraction. The work of these painters and writers was part of a larger process of creating a sense of nationalism through uniquely American myths, stories, legends and landscapes that people could identify with their own land.  Meaning that, the United States had and created an identity as every bit unique as did European states, and the views offered by the Catskills were no less breath-taking or sublime or picturesque than what Europe had to offer.  

Second incarnation of the Overlook Mountain House, ca. 1907.

  In other words, it was soon fashionable to visit places such as the Catskills, instead of taking your vacation to Europe. The “see and be seen” crowd had a new place to be seen. The most famous of all the Catskill resorts was the Catskill Mountain House, begun in 1827, and added onto in stages. The Catskill Mountain House set the standard for which all other area hotels were compared to, even when it was surpassed in size. Other hotels sprang up in due time.


    Overlook Mountain is located outside of the town of Woodstock, NY, where the age of Aquarius is alive and well, if a little played out amongst the many kitsch shops in town. If you are heading west into town, make the right at the downtown intersection, and keep going uphill until you come to the trail head, opposite the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery.

    The first attempt at building a resort on Overlook Mountain occurred in 1833, when it was known as South Peak or Woodstock Mountain. James Booth attempted his version of the Catskill Mountain House, starting with a temporary mountain house which he wished to expand. He, and many others who followed, failed. Through the Civil War, the Catskill Mountain House was still the leading first-class resort hotel.


    The current Overlook Mountain House was the third hotel on the site. Designer and builder Lewis B. Wagonen of Kingston, NY, constructed the first in 1871. The Mountain House accommodated 300 guests, and was destroyed by fire in 1875. It was rebuilt in 1878 by the Kiersted Brothers of Saugerties, and soon there was competition with other first class hotels, including the Hotel Kaaterskill, Laurel House, and the Grand Hotel. Overlook was used irregularly between 1887 and 1917, when Morris Newgold purchased the hotel. The second incarnation of the Overlook Mountain House was destroyed by fire in 1923. Architect Frank P. Amato was hired to redesign and rebuild the hotel. It was quickly rebuilt in concrete, but never completed. Also constructed were a chapel, a power station, stables, and an underground ice and water facility. The Lodge or "1928 house" was still incomplete, however, by 1939.  Newgold suffered financial difficulty, and it was hard to transport guests to the site (of all the famous Catskill Mountain hotels, Overlook had the highest elevation and did not have direct access to a rail line). Around this time, New York State acquired much of Overlook Mountain. The hotel was boarded up in 1940, and apparently damaged by fire in 1941. However, architectural details and a roof-top tower survived intact until brought down by a final blaze in the mid 1960s.

    Through natural decay and with the help of the State of New York, the old resorts physically disappeared. The most infamous case was the destruction of the Catskill Mountain House. After it closed in 1942, the hotel was sold to a developer who gutted the house for what could be saved of fixtures and plumbing, the house disappeared section by section. In 1963, the State of New York burned what was left of the house. In its place, the State erected a plaque to let visitors know about that ultimate act of vandalism

    The Overlook House suffered a similar fate. The hotel went through the usual series of theft, vandalism and exposure to the elements. All of the other structures are now in ruins too. At least Overlook survives in some way. Concerns have been raised about the Mountain House, with solutions ranging from putting up fencing around it, to tearing it down. The "do-nothing" approach prevails for now. Ultimately, preserving  the ruin is far better than demolishing it like the Catskill Mountain House. 

Aerial view of the Overlook Mountain House ruins. October 2004.

    Besides the Mountain House and Lodge, there are foundation ruins of at least three other buildings, and the walls of a fourth building close by. Coming up the Overlook Trail the first view of the Mountain House is from the south. The house is rectangular, with the long axis running west-east. Built in to the side of the hill, the west end is only three stories while the east end is 4 stories. The Mountain House is visible through the trees as you round the bend and make the last 500 feet of the hike. It appears almost black through the trees. An empty fountain and staircase remain in front. To the left are the ruins of another building, this one with an collapsed chimney and fireplace. On a trail past that structure are the foundations of yet another building. The Lodge is directly north of the Mountain House, separated by about twenty feet.

    The Lodge is interesting in its own right. This building was used by the family of the owners, and for their guests, according to one of the many articles posted on the inside wall of the Mountain House. It still retains its metal window sash, some of which are swung open as if it is too hot for whomever is currently inhabiting the building. 1928, the date of construction, is written in relief on the top of the east front, but it is slowly eroding. Inside, you can see the basement walls. 

Overlook Mountain Lodge

    Inside the Mountain House, glued to the walls, are biodegradable reproductions of photographs and newspaper articles documenting the various stages of the Mountain Houses and the ultimate decay of the most recent structure. I received this e-mail September 2000: “The images on the walls at Overlook are an art installation in situ and portable by 2nd generation Woodstock artist Sarah Greer Mecklem. Her installation has received exhibitions at the Woodstock Guild's Kleinert James Gallery (1995) and The Center for Photography at Woodstock, and possibly elsewhere. Very worth seeing.”

The "ghost" in the headline of this article refers to the hotel ruins, not a supernatural entity.

With information from: this site.
And from style September 19, 1982. “Ghost of Overlook Mountain.”

Yaz’ Hudson Valley Ruins 
and Abandoned Buildings, etc.

Yaz’ Hudson Valley Ruins and Abandoned Buildings, etc.

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This page copyright © 2000 by Robert J.Yasinsac. 
Reproduction of these photos without the permission of Robert Yasinsac is prohibited.