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