Treasures of NAASR's Mardigian Library:
"Having a Grand Time": Armenian Summer Resorts in the Catskills, Revisited
Wherever you are reading this, it is probably hot—perhaps very hot—so we thought a getaway to a cool, shady place with the chance of a swim might provide some relief, and it is in that spirit that we offer a NAASR Library Treasures mini-feature on Armenian summer resorts in the Catskills of days gone by.

We know, of course, that the Catskills were not the only place Armenians went to gather together and beat the heat—Cape Cod and Asbury Park, NJ, were two other major destinations—but at least for this feature we will stay on the Catskilli jampan.

Many of the items in this feature come from the collection of the late Edward (Yervant) Alexanian (1895-1983) and Grace Alexanian (1912-96) and were donated to NAASR, along with many other important materials, by their daughter Adrienne Alexanian of New York City. (For more about the Sebastia-born Yervant Alexanian, see his remarkable memoir Forced into Genocide: Memoirs of an Armenian Soldier in the Ottoman Turkish Army, edited by his daughter [Transaction Publishers, 2017].) We are deeply grateful to the family for collecting and preserving these items.

If any readers have similar pieces of ephemera relating to these now long-gone establishments, please be in touch!
Above: "Having a Grand Time": Souvenir postcard from the Waverly Hotel in Tannersville, NY (Greene County), sent to Edward and Grace Alexanian, dated possibly 1955. The hotel was owned by J. Melkon Ohannesian (NAASR Mardigian Library, from the collection of Edward Alexanian.)
A typical Armenian scene in the Catskills, Aug. 30, 1932. Edward Alexanian is the man in a dark suit and tie standing in the center of the photo. (NAASR Mardigian Library, from the collection of Edward Alexanian.)
American Jews had the Borscht Belt—a network of summer resorts in New York’s Catskill Mountain area, broadly defined, encompassing parts of Sullivan, Orange, Ulster, and Greene counties. We are not sure if there is an analogous Armenian equivalent term—the Shish Kebab Belt, perhaps?—but a smaller number of Armenian-owned resorts in the same geographical area flourished in the same period—the 1920s through the 1960s, more or less.
Ad for the Mar-Mara Hotel in Tannersville, NY (Baykar Amsatert, July 1958)
We are not aware of any in-depth research on this aspect of Armenian-American life which still lingers in the memories of many, but special mention should be made of a special issue (Summer 2003) of the late and lamented Ararat: A Quarterly on “The Summers That Were,” guest co-edited by Astrid Dadourian and Harry Keyishian, which is a valuable source of information and recollections. As Keyishian wrote, "The Catskills were a place for New Yorkers to spend extended time with Boston cousins, to learn traditional games with which to pass the time and make new friends from all over, to live in the friendly but unfamiliar atmosphere of a resort town during lovely summers."

For those who were not old enough to experience it first hand, there are many questions: Did Armenian and Jewish vacationers mingle? Did Kharpertsis, say, frequent some resorts and Sebastatsis others? Were political divisions set aside or was partisan politics a problem? Did mid-west and west coast Armenians make the trip east? It is to be hoped that future researcher will undertake additional work to bring this era to life.

Compiled by Ani Babaian and Marc Mamigonian
Front and back covers of a 12-page promotional booklet for Shady Hill House in Hunter, NY (Greene County), owned at that time by Mihran Tutunjian. (NAASR Mardigian Library, from the collection of Edward Alexanian.)

Click on the top image to view the full pdf.
These two similar photographs of the "Shady Hill Gang" were taken in Aug. 1934 and belonged to Mariam (Tashjian) Sarkisian (1884-1956), the great-grandmother of Marc Mamigonian. Mariam, her husband Giragos (1872-1935), and two of their children, Zabelle (1904-94) and Sarkis (1907-95), appear in both photos. Also visible in the photo on the left, seated in front with his arms around his legs, is young Jack Medzorian (1926-2020), the late long-serving member of the NAASR Board of Directors. We can only speculate why most of the people appear dressed for a brisk fall day in August. (From the collection of Marc A. Mamigonian)
Left: A group of Shady Hill vacationers. (NAASR Mardigian Library, from the collection of Edward Alexanian.) Right: advertisement for Shady Hill House in Hayasdani Gochnag, July 5, 1952.
Cover and page from a promotional booklet (1938) for Lorraine Lodge, in Lawrenceville (Greene County), east of Hunter and south of Woodstock. (NAASR Mardigian Library, from the collection of Edward Alexanian.) Click on the top image to view a pdf of the full booklet.
Cover and page from a promotional booklet for American Hotel in Tannersville, providing a visual and verbal look at the resort and its amenities. (NAASR Mardigian Library, from the collection of Edward Alexanian.) Click on the top image to view a pdf of the full booklet.
Despite its decidedly Hibernian name, at least by the 1930s O'Hara House was an Armenian establishment in Lexington, NY (Greene County). Diana Alexanian Jalelian, whose family stayed at the O’Hara House starting in 1943, writing in Ararat Quarterly, recalls seeing the adults "playing rummy, poker, pinochle, and scambeel at the card tables in the specially designated, smoke-filed ‘card room’” and “much conversation in Armenian, Turkish, and English in a nostalgic atmosphere during which people shared stories of their prior lives before their immigration." (NAASR Mardigian Library, from the collection of Edward Alexanian.)
Of the establishment advertised on the right, "Dokt. Toroseani Lernayin Dune" (Dr. Torosian's Mountain House) in Esopus, NY (Ulster County), we know nothing specific. This ad appeared in Hayasdani Gochnag (May 29, 1926). Note the advertisement on the left for Hotel Erivan in Asbury Park, NJ.
Such was the popularity of the Catskills resorts that a song was created--like any folk song, no one seems to know who wrote it--which was variously known as "Catskillin Yerke" (The Catskills Song) or "Catskilli Jampan" ("The Catskill Road"). Perhaps the most famous version, and the only one we are aware of that was recorded during the "golden age" of the Armenian Catskills, was released in the 1940s by the Philadelphia-based Arziv Orchestra. The NAASR library has several copies in its collection.

To hear the record and to read more about this group, click here.

The Ararat Quarterly feature referenced above provides a similar but not identical set of lyrics; click here to view.

A very similar version to the Arziv Orchestra's was recorded in the 1970s by another Philadelphia group, The Vosbikian Band on their lp Armenian Dance Favorites, where they combine it with the old favorite "Soodeh Soodeh." Undoubtedly, though, it figured in the repertoire of many Armenian "kef" bands.
Two looks at the Hillside Lodge in Tannersville, owned by Frank C. Zotian. The top postcard is undated but we would estimate it is from the 1940s or 1950s; the ad from the Hairenik Daily is from July 10, 1960, announcing the reopening of a new facility on the same location, which can be seen in the lower postcard received by Edward Alexanian in August 1964. (NAASR Mardigian Library, from the collection of Edward Alexanian.)
This advertisement from Hayasdani Gotchnag, July 29, 1933, shows some of the choices available to Armenians for summer holidays.
The above film clip was shot by Aram Parnagian, grandfather of Marc Mamigonian, on 16mm film at Shady Hill House ca. 1953. Marc's grandmother Siranoosh and mother Evelyn and aunt Elaine also appear in the clip along with other Shady Hill patrons. Do you recognize anyone? Are they dancing to the tune of "Catskillin Yerke"?
Advertisements in the June 29, 1932, issue of Hairenik Daily, including O'Hara House, Mountain Summit House, and Shady Hill House.
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