The last 30 or so years have seen the end of an entertainment era in the Poconos by evidence of places like this. Resorts left behind to the ravages of time and nature.
We change our ways of how we entertain ourselves like hair styles and clothing. The ever increasing speed at which technology offers us choices have left resorts scrambling to adapt to the changing times with many of them losing the race. Though some historic places have found ways to survive, such as the Skytop Lodge from 1928, much of what the Poconos had offered over the last several decades are gone now.
There was another era the Poconos saw come and go and it was made up of the very first resorts this part of the country had ever seen. We’re going to walk among the ruins of two giants of the late 19th century Poconos hotels where upper class Victorians once vacationed along with some celebrities and even a president. These places are remembered in articles and photographs today but their surviving structures still sit alone in the woods nearly forgotten by all. In this video, we get off the bike and go hike to have a look at what remains from an era no one alive today had been a part of.
The first of the resort hotels, The Kittatinny, sat 180 feet above the Delaware River and opened in its still unfinished state in 1832 holding 25 guests escaping the heat from New York City and its surrounding areas by train. By the time the civil war came to an end, it is said that it then held up to 250 guests. The Resort Point Overlook along rt. 611 has many cars pulling in throughout the day, but there is very little information at the site and it is clear by the behavior of the visitors that they don’t realize they’re standing on the very spot of this once grand hotel.
The most obvious artifact and yet so overlooked, are the remains of one of the hotel’s beautiful fountains that stood in front of the hotel. A short walk down the parking lot in the direction of rt. 611 northbound will bring you to a stream just inside the woods which runs on all but the driest of days. This is Caldeno Brook which flowed through the kitchens of the hotel to cool its perishables and provide running water. Carefully moving deeper into the woods reveals the hotel’s ovens and artifacts of the hotel’s powerhouse and ruins of other structures. We noticed the bricks came from the old Dennings Point Brick Works, the same place that provided bricks for the original Yankees stadium. Before leaving this site, we noticed a hole in the ground among some of the structures. We have no idea what it was, but holding a phone down in the hole for a photo revealed this basin like structure. We learned the area was excavated back in 1968, perhaps we’ll learn more about those findings when the Antoine Dutot Museum opens back up this Spring for its 2018 season.
From here we crossed route 611 where you’ll find the only sign with any information about this area at the base of an old set of stone stairs. The hotel guests would walk these stairs and view gardens alongside the stream that lead up to Lake Lenape and the ruins of the great Water Gap House. We improvised a bit to make it up to Lake Road and I’m sure someone with better knowledge about the trails in the area could of guided us down an easier route.
Fred Astaire and his sister Estelle are pictured here canoeing Lake Lenape back when the Water Gap House was in its prime. Today the lake is a lonely place as it no longer serves as the scenic reservoir it once was for these fine hotels.
Walking the path up to the site of the Water Gap House you begin to notice formations in the ground to let you know you’re heading in the right direction. Celebrities, and even President Teddy Roosevelt were known to have stayed here. We’re not experts, but the area seems to be an archaeologists dream with its walls, some visible, others buried, water pipes, stairs, and brick fixtures. We walked around and tried to imagine what had occurred at the very places we stood. Meals were eaten, business decisions made, politics were discussed. With the past, you can physically occupy every space with the exception of the dimension of time. But that doesn’t stop you from wishing for just one moment you step into that time and feel what it was like when the place was so alive.
It is believed that the advent of the automobile contributed to the eventual demise of these two hotels. No longer were people bound to being dropped off by train but could explore further on their own as they ventured deeper into the state of Pennsylvania and drove elsewhere as well. The Water Gap House burned to the ground in 1915 in one of the largest fires the county had ever seen. The Kittantiny ended its reign in 1931 in the same manner the Water Gap House did. One may wonder if these were started deliberately as a way out from deteriorating conditions of the buildings that were most likely showing their age by then or maybe it was a combination of that along with guests moving on to other vacation locations.
Times change so suddenly sometimes it leaves behind its past like monuments. Sometimes when I look around the Poconos I’m reminded of the old west ghost towns where either gold or oil ran out overnight and its occupants were gone the next day with hardly a moment to pack up. Some of the resorts have been cleaned up but still many remain to be gradually swallowed by the earth. The Kittatiny and the Water Gap House are reminders that this is not the first time the Poconos have seen something like this. It’s a shame though to see such a grand era of the 19th century be buried both literally and figuratively. As Theodore Roosevelt who once visited the Water Gap House said, “I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.”