Boarding houses began to develop in the Catskills in the late 1800s as working-class families sought refuge from the dirty, unhealthy city in the mountains. 1 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. 1 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.
The advent of the automobile led to fewer stays at boarding houses as it became more feasible for tourists to conduct day trips without the need for overnight accommodations. Additionally, by the middle of the 20th century, expectations for family privacy and guest services made taking in boarders unappealing. 1 It also became uneconomical as new motels began to take the place of boarding houses.
The Vienna Inn, a nine-bedroom boarding house, was an exception and continued to be used as both a boarding house and apartment until circa 1991.
- Scheer, Virginia. “The Farmhouse as Boarding House.” Voices, 2000.