Forward Thinking

My Journey to Borscht Belt Ruins

By Abigail Jones

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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.


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