Boarding houses began to develop in the Catskill Mountains in the late 1800s as working-class families sought refuge from the dirty, unhealthy city in the mountains. Lodgers would rent one or more rooms for one or more nights, and meals were usually not included in the tab.
The earliest boarding houses were on farms that enabled rural families to supplement their farm income. In some instances, farmhouses would be enlarged, or entirely new structures would be built to accommodate guests. Like tenements in New York City, the boarding houses typically had shared bathrooms and flexible spaces, where living rooms could double as bedrooms or workrooms. Privacy was a luxury.
One classic example of a boarding house is Welch’s Kenosha Dell House which was abandoned circa 1995.
Nearby is the 29-bedroom Kenoza House on the former 55-acre Quirk homestead, surrounded by rolling farmland and woods. Opened circa 1907 by John W. Armbrust, the Kenoza sought relief to those seeking a holiday from the city and offered boating and fishing amenities along Kenoza Lake.
Sims and his wife, Kirsten Foster, acquired Kenoza in September 2017 with plans to renovate the building to cater to Millennials looking for an authentic back-to-nature, farm-to-table getaway. It would include 18 guest rooms and a restaurant in the house, 12 one-bedroom cabins, a horse barn on six fenced acres of pasture, and a lakeside event building. The Fosters have had success with other establishments in the Catskills, including The Arnold House, which opened with a restaurant in 2014 atop a mountain in Shandelee; Nine River Road, which opened in a renovated old residence overlooking the Delaware River in Callicoon; and the North Branch Country Inn and restaurant, named one of the “Best Bed and Breakfast Inns in America” by Time Out New York magazine.
Lastly, the West Shore House was built circa 1902 and offered bathing, fishing, tennis, baseball, and dancing amenities for its guests and regular hayrides to Kenoza Lake, while the surrounding community offered anglers, rowers, bathers, and swimmers plenty of opportunity in its showcase lake. A local festival offered moving picture tents, carousels, card parties, and dances in August.
Additions to the West Shore House were completed in 1920 and 1940, and the facility was closed circa 1993 when it was operating as an apartment building.
There are many other fine examples of classic, abandoned boarding houses in the Catskills, but these three represent some of the finest that I have come across in years of travel.