New Catskill resort rises from the rubble

THOMPSON, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A forgotten world in the Catskills is being revived with the construction of a new wellness resort.

The Catskills were once the tourist destination for tens-of-thousands of Jewish New Yorkers. At one time, there were as many as 400 resorts, but now, most are rotting and abandoned, and a new resort is rising from the rubble.

An Indian billionaire purchased the grounds of Kutsher’s Country Club – one of the last grand resorts to close. Veria Lifestyle is building a $90 million wellness resort catering to New York City folks looking for some peace, quiet and healing.

The deserted grounds of Jewish resorts are a forgotten world that lies abandoned and decaying. They were once home to a joyous era depicted in the beloved film “Dirty Dancing.”

If you fast-forward to the credits, you’ll see the name of a Catskill icon, Jackie Horner. The character “Penny” was loosely based on Horner, who shared her stories of teaching dance in the Castkills with the film’s writer. To this day, she’s only seen the film based on her life once.

“After I got through the opening and a little bit of the first filming I cried,” she said. “I said, ‘Oh, they did such a beautiful job.’”

Horner’s home is like walking into a time capsule filled with memories of dancing and of the Jewish vacationland that is no more.

“These were those big gorgeous hotels, and now they look like garbage,” she said.

Smashed windows and graffiti – a far cry from the lavish hotels that drew the rich and famous from New York City and became a catalyst for stand-up comedy. Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers even got their start in the Catskills.

But the laughter has fallen silent. The resorts have been reclaimed by nature and vandals. But on the grounds of one of the last grand resorts to close is new activity.

A towering 300,000 square foot yoga and wellness resort is in its final stages of construction. Project Manager Abhay Jain said it’s a reincarnation of what once was there: a place for people to relax and recharge.

Walking down the high-ceilinged, marbled hallways, Jain showed the 131 guest rooms and a showcase kitchen where guests will learn how to make healthy meals. Like the old resorts, everything is included from meals to activities such as water aerobics.

The new pool construction is a stark contrast to the eerie photos captured by photographer Marisa Scheinfeld.

“Wow, how did this get to be the way that it looks, the way that it appears?” she pondered. “How much time does that take? Why was it neglected? Who neglected it?”

Scheinfeld grew up spending time at the resorts she now photographs. She called it bittersweet and hoped the sound of hammers means a rebirth for the Catskills.

“We’re really at the crux of a vast revitalization of this area,” said Thompson Town Supervisor William Reiber.

He said Kutsher’s Country Club used to account for up to 70 percent of the small town’s economy.

“It went away gradually, and it was a long blow to the area, you know,” he said. “The area definitely fell into a long-term recession.”

The wellness center should create 250 jobs and have a multiplier effect on other service industries – a changing landscape that was even alluded to in “Dirty Dancing.” But the images of decay aren’t the memories dancing through Horner’s mind.

“No, we don’t want to remember it that way,” she said.

Instead, she’ll remember that special time exactly how it’s portrayed in the film, which ensures those memories will never fade.

“It’s just my story and my love, and we want to sort of, like, save it,” she said.

Marisa Scheinfeld’s book, “The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland” can be found HERE. Look for her traveling photography exhibit coming soon to the Capital Region.

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