Forward Thinking

My Journey to Borscht Belt Ruins

By Abigail Jones

  • Print
  • Share Share
Abigail Jones
What’s left of the outdoor pool at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort and Hotel in Liberty, N.Y.

When I set out to write a story on the Catskills — its famed legacy, its tremendous decline and what the future holds — I knew I wanted to spend a couple of days upstate, talking with locals who witnessed the area in its heyday and seeing what’s left of it for myself.

Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld, who has spent the past three years documenting the ruins of the great Borscht Belt resorts and bungalow colonies, agreed to take me around. We decided to visit two of the most widely-recognized resorts, the Concord in Kiamesha Lake and Grossinger’s in Liberty. I imagined setting up shop next to a quiet lake and conducting interviews on gorgeous scenic expanses. My colleague, Yermi Brenner, would film the video.

Little did I know, exploring the ruins of these legendary hotels was not such a simple endeavor.

Everyone seems to have a Catskills story. Do you? Send us your memories and photos at catskills@forward.com.

The Concord is entirely demolished, as you’ll see in the photo slideshow below. At Grossinger’s, the buildings are in such a state of decay that ceilings and floors have fallen through. The rooms that are still standing are covered in broken glass, rubble, foundation and filth. In the winter, snow accumulates through windows and gaping holes in the roofs, and ice freezes over what’s left of the floors.

In the spring and summer, there is rain, grass and weeds. Roads and walking paths are so overgrown it’s as if they never existed. And an unsavory troupe of paint ballers, squatters, scrappers and homeless sneak in unannounced. The local police keep close watch. At one of Scheinfeld’s first photo shoots, at the Pines, in South Fallsburg, N.Y., three police cars showed up; the officers told her to leave.

“Let’s face it, I’m a woman; if I’m going to encounter a homeless man or someone on crack or drugs…” Scheinfeld said, trailing off. “That’s one of the most frustrating things: I can’t do it alone. In the morning if I want to go shoot, I have to call my friend and he’s got to get up and meet me. Sometimes I wish I was very big and scary.”

Toting backpacks and wearing hiking boots, long pants and layers, Scheinfeld, Brenner and I set out for a day of urban exploring. These photos take you behind the scenes of that experience. You can read more about the history, heyday and decline of these great hotels in “Rediscovering the Beauty Amid the Ruins of the Once-Glorious Catskills.”

Abigail Jones is the senior editor and head of special projects at the Forward. Find her on Twitter @abigaildj.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: marisa scheinfeld, catskills, borscht belt

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.