While tensions brew between North and South during the 1850s, an idea brews in the mind of an Ulster County farmer. His idea is simple yet grand: establish a must-see destination at a remarkable lake high atop the Shawangunk Mountains.
Visitors to Mohonk Lake saw a very different place during the Civil War. Robi Josephson, author of Mohonk: Mountain House and Preserve, traces the earliest days of the mountain house tradition there. She tells how John F. Stokes started the mountain house tradition at Mohonk Lake, wrestling with a rocky terrain and, within ten years, attracting visitors from as far as Long Island and Pennsylvania. During his lifetime, Stokes was called a man of “enterprise and courage.”
Ms. Josephson sees those words also applying to those who scratched a living from the Shawangunks and fought a civil war far from their mountain homes. Some of those Civil War soldiers came from now-vanished villages near Mohonk. When the war ended in 1865, survivors returned to the mountain, and Americans—1,400 that year—celebrated with a visit to the Lake Mohonk House of John F. Stokes. Such was his hospitality that guests dubbed Mohonk’s host “Uncle John.” By decade’s end, Mohonk Lake was as popular as ever, but in 1869 Uncle John sold out to Albert K. Smiley, a Quaker and educator from Providence, Rhode Island. Albert and his twin brother, Alfred H. Smiley, thus began a new chapter at Mohonk Lake, one their descendants continue more than 140 years later.
Robi Josephson will be selling and signing copies of her book Mohonk, a picture history in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series published in 2002. She will also have available An Unforgiving Land: Hardscrabble Life in the Trapps, a Vanished Shawangunk Mountain Hamlet, co-authored with Bob Larsen (Black Dome Press 2013).
Attendees are also invited to view Bevier House Museum’s collection of Civil War artifacts related to Ulster County on the museum’s second floor. On display are field drums, documents, photographs, clothing, maps and arms.
$7 per person/free to UCHS members