A Mythic Re­vival

THE SOLE SUR­VIVOR OF A ONCE- FA­BLED EN­CLAVE, THE HOUSE NOW CALLED SPILLIAN IN­SPIRES A NEW GEN­ER­A­TION OF HAPPY REVELERS.

Old House Journal - - Contents - BY MARY ELLEN POL­SON / PHOTOS BY STEVE GROSS & SU­SAN DA­LEY

A New York moun­tain camp built in 1885 evolves once more.

Hav­ing made a for­tune in com­pressed yeast, broth­ers Charles L. and Max Fleis­chmann of Cincin­nati were search­ing, in the 1880s, for a sum­mer re­treat for their fam­i­lies. They found it in a 160-acre spread above the tiny vil­lage of Grif­fin’s Cor­ners in the Catskill

Moun­tains of New York. Soon the broth­ers and their three other sib­lings all had built sum­mer cot­tages here, bring­ing their wives and as many as 20 chil­dren with them every sum­mer.

Set on a knoll over­look­ing the val­ley, Max Fleis­chmann’s house is a gra­cious yet ram­bling blend of the Shin­gle and Stick Styles. “It was one of seven or eight houses on this hill­side,” says Leigh Me­lander, who to­day co-owns the house with her hus­band, Mark Somer­field. “It’s the only one still stand­ing.”

Civic-minded, ad­ven­tur­ous, wildly en­thu­si­as­tic about sports and the arts, the fam­ily’s in­flu­ence cre­ated a boom for the lit­tle vil­lage, where ho­tels sprang up around a man­made lake. The peo­ple of Grif­fin’s Cor­ners (even­tu­ally re­named Fleis­chmanns) wel­comed not only the Fleis­chmanns, Jewish émi­grés from Hun­gary via Vi­enna, but also Jewish and East­ern Euro­pean fam­i­lies with enough money to es­cape the sum­mer heat in New York

City. “They came here and felt ac­cepted,” Leigh says.

Given the na­ture of Fleis­chmanns to­day, the scale of that boom is sur­pris­ing. “There would be 10,000 peo­ple on a Fri­day night on the streets of town,” Leigh says.

The Fleis­chmann fam­i­lies ar­rived for the sum­mer by pri­vate rail­road car, which dropped them off at their own per­sonal de­pot at the foot of the moun­tain. Liver­ied car­riages picked them up while the town band, in spank­ing-fresh uni­forms sup­plied by the Fleis­chmanns, “played them up the hill.”

They brought their friends, too. An­ton Seidl, artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera and later con­duc­tor of the New York Phil­har­monic, sum­mered in his own Queen Anne cot­tage on the grounds. The Fleis­chmann fam­ily—who owned the Cincin­nati Reds base­ball team and, se­cretly, the Philadel­phia Phillies— started a sum­mer base­ball league here, the Moun­tain Ath­letic

Club, which still plays to­day. The com­pound was close enough to Saratoga Springs for Charles’s son Julius to play the horses al­most daily; the lo­ca­tion was a short train ride from the Hud­son River, where var­i­ous fam­ily mem­bers built and kept yachts. The chil­dren were en­ter­tained by a heated swim­ming pool, a pri­vate deer park, and an enor­mous in­door rid­ing rink. There are sto­ries about how Julius and his brother, Max Jr., “would trick ride through the vil­lage for the amuse­ment of the lo­cals.”

The golden age lasted un­til World War I, af­ter which fam­ily mem­bers, now well into the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, moved to Long Is­land’s Gold Coast, to the coast of Cal­i­for­nia, or on to nearcon­tin­u­ous sa­faris in Africa. Max’s house be­came a ho­tel in the 1920s, when it was owned by the fam­ily of Gertrude Edel­stein, later fa­mous on ra­dio and TV as Molly of “The Gold­bergs.” The ho­tel con­tin­ued to at­tract cre­ative peo­ple, notably mu­si­cal and artis­tic guests from Broad­way and Tin Pan Al­ley. Af­ter World War II, Max’s house be­came the Led­erer Park House, where for 18 years rab­bini­cal schol­ars came from all over the world to have “philo­soph­i­cal dis­cus­sions of what it meant to be Jewish af­ter the Holo­caust,” Leigh says. “I don’t know if there were Ha­sidim in at­ten­dance or not, but it’s one of the rea­sons there is a Ha­sidic

“We wanted it to feel like a house that loved for gen­er­a­tions, has been which it is. The first time we had an event, my fa­ther was here; he said to me, ‘Leigh, lis­ten. The house is singing.’”

com­mu­nity here to­day.”

The house passed through other own­ers, in­clud­ing a New York City woman who saved the struc­ture, sta­bi­liz­ing the foun­da­tion and re­plac­ing the roof, be­fore Cal­i­for­ni­ans Leigh and Mark ar­rived here on a Jan­uary day in 2012. Filled with fur­ni­ture and junk, the house had been un­oc­cu­pied for at least 20 years.

Spillian is the name of Mark and Leigh’s busi­ness ven­ture; they see the house and its set­ting as a place for imag­i­na­tive gath­er­ings. The word Spillian is Old English for “to play, to jest, or to revel.” This is not a full-time inn. Guests are in­vited only for events or for spe­cial gath­er­ings de­signed to in­te­grate play, imag­i­na­tion, spon­tane­ity, im­promptu per­for­mance, and of course good food and drink. Re­cent week­end events in­cluded For­age Your Feast; The Mighty Hag­gis, a “se­ri­ously silly” cel­e­bra­tion of Scots poet Robert Burns; and Trout Tales, a chance to be coached in fly-fish­ing tech­niques in the moun­tain streams.

Leigh and Mark store dishes and sil­ver­ware in the pur­pose­built china closet in the din­ing room, which is the heart of the house. Bins are marked “milk” and “meat” to keep sil­ver­ware sep­a­rate and kosher. Not long af­ter they ar­rived, the cou­ple got a visit from for­mer owner Mrs. Led­erer’s 90-year-old daugh­ter. She told them she had hand-let­tered the bins as a child.

LEFT The ram­bling sum­mer cot­tage, built some­time around 1885 for Max Fleis­chmann, was de­signed by Theodore G. Stein, an ar­chi­tect who mar­ried into the fam­ily. OP­PO­SITE The porch at Spillian is fur­nished with rock­ing chairs and a hand­ful of cher­ished wicker ta­bles dat­ing from the house’s his­tory as a ho­tel.

Most of the vin­tage and an­tique fur­ni­ture was found on­line, then picked up by the own­ers by truck dur­ing road trips.

LEFT Guests of­ten gather by the fire­place. In the nook lead­ing up­stairs sit an an­tique harp and a spel­ter maiden, long de­tached from the newel post in her for­mer home.

RIGHT An al­cove in the par­lor is dec­o­rated with a mu­ral lush with wis­te­ria blos­soms.

ABOVE A grape vi­gnette is painted over the an­tique buf­fet. OP­PO­SITE (bot­tom) Leigh Me­lander found chan­de­liers for the din­ing room on­line. Once they were stripped to the frame­work, she re­strung them eco­nom­i­cally with glass beads.

TOP LEFT Ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails in the eaves and gable are orig­i­nal or have been care­fully re­paired. The mo­tif in the top gable, Leigh says, “kind of looks like a meno­rah, doesn’t it?”

LEFT A rus­tic gazebo re­mains on the prop­erty.

ABOVE Dis­tant moun­tains are the view from a sec­ond­storey bal­cony. When the Fleis­chmanns ar­rived, the view would have been as wide as he hori­zon; trees have been en­croach­ing for more than a cen­tury.

More On­line Visit an­other sto­ried old fam­ily re­treat: old­house­on­line. com/house­tours/restoringa­diron­dack-camp ABOVE In a guest room dec­o­rated to com­mem­o­rate The Se­cret Gar­den, a fa­vorite book, climb­ing roses form a wreath over the work­ing fire­place.

LEFT The Chi­nese-in­flu­enced Lo­tus Room is fur­nished with an­tique Chi­nese ta­bles and trunks.

FAR LEFT (top) In homage to the idea of the Vic­to­rian trav­eler, the Jules Verne Room has its own bal­cony and long moun­tain views. • (bot­tom) Many guest rooms at Spillian have fire­places; this one also has a bow win­dow.

RIGHT A stained-glass tran­som, a tiled, an­tique wash­stand, and re­pro­duc­tion Pre-Raphaelite tapestries fur­nish the William Mor­ris room.

BOT­TOM Wher­ever pos­si­ble, early claw­foot tubs and mar­ble-topped basins are still in use.

BE­LOW Most floors in the bath­rooms are done in black and white hex tile, prob­a­bly dat­ing to the house’s ho­tel era. “A friend of ours came over with an old tooth­brush, days on end, to clean it,” one owner says.

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