“Before Belleayre”: A History of Highmount

Actress Julia Marlowe’s Wild Acres

Weingart Summer School students at the pool

The surprising history of Highmount, known to most as the Route 28 jumping off point for Belleayre Ski Center, will be the topic of a free illustrated presentation in Margaretville Saturday, June 17 at 7 p.m.

“Before Belleayre” will be offered by the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown at the HSM hall, 778 Cemetery Rd., Margaretville as part of Headwaters History Days and the state-wide Path Through History Weekend.

The program, by HSM President Diane Galusha, will reveal tales of the rich, famous and forgotten of Highmount, a community that straddled two towns, two counties, two watersheds, and in many ways, two cultures: old, established families whose lives centered around farm, forest, quarry and stream, and wealthy city dwellers who created a Highmount of extravagant summer homes and opulent hotels where art and music reigned.

Several area elders provided first-hand recollections of early to mid-20th century Highmount. Newspaper accounts, memoirs, family histories and other sources were also mined to create an informative historical tour that includes some 100 rarely seen images.

The talk will also feature two short film clips – a 1906 train ride around the famous double horseshoe curve on the Ulster & Delaware Railroad between Pine Hill and Highmount, and a 1930s spring outing by intrepid skiers who first had to climb up the Peekamoose Trail on Belleayre Mountain before schussing back down through the trees.

Meet Civil War soldiers and shopkeepers, artists and musicians, speculators and industrialists in this lively presentation. The talk will introduce viewers to wealthy summer residents like shipping executive John Munro, his fellow Scotsman and neighbor, physician Alexander Skene, newspaper publisher Herbert Gunnison, brewer George Jetter, and Manhattan real estate tycoon Harris Mandelbaum.

Opera diva Amelita Galli-Curci and Shakespearean actress Julia Marlowe were among the celebrities who built homes in Highmount. Others spent time at local hotels, including the magnificent Grand Hotel, which dominated the side of Summit Mountain (Monka Hill) for more than 80 years.

The program will also discuss the little known history of a once-prominent summer camp for boys, the Weingart Institute, whose alumni included future composers and lyricists Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart. The property is remembered by later generations as the Highmount Country Club.