SPRING GLEN – Forty years ago was the summer of America's bicentennial. It was a hot summer, albeit not as bad as the next would be down in New York City, where all of the residents of a certain Spring Glen bungalow colony will be celebrating their 40th anniversary as a co-op entity this weekend.
The place, those gathered around in lawn chairs on this sunny Saturday morning are saying, was originally known as Slavin's, founded in the late 1930s. Someone hands over a framed copy of an early advertisement eschewing the glories of a pool, food stores within walking distance, and the proximity of the Empire State Music Festival, a late-1950s Ellenville event that briefly brought up such classical music stalwarts as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Fiedler, Leopold Stokowski, and composer Carl Orff. The number given was Ellenville 479 J2.
"The bungalows were in different sizes and shapes and Joel Efrin, who bought the place from Ira and Molly Slavin, decided to shift the place over," one of the men says, recounting how he had started coming up in 1973 when one still rented for the summer. "The units were self-contained, and I remember there being very little electrical power back then. You couldn't run a toaster and an iron at the same time."
"There were a lot of brown outs," adds another woman and everyone laughs at the memories of a time before each bungalow got its own meters.
Efrin moved three Spring Glen colonies to co-ops at the same time, looking to avoid the fate of so many other of the relics of an earlier age before air conditioning and cheap airfares. He held on to the colony in question's main house, which he rented out some summers to waiters from the nearby Homowack, which several folk remembered going to regularly back when they were kids.
People remember life back then, as young families bought small un-winterized homes in the $5,000 range, or "the price of a used car" as one early advertisement put it. There was Ole Jar's, the Scandinavian-run grocery still running under new ownership today. A penny arcade. The nearby County Line Restaurant, within walking distance. The ruins of old Camp Aishal, across 209. The story that once ran in the Brooklyn Phoenix about the borough's newest neighborhood way up in the Catskills.
"The Short Line Bus still drops people off right out front, and some wives would go pick up their husbands on the weekends down at the train station in Middletown," a man recalls. "But most of us drove. In its heyday there were thirty-two kids here all summer long."
Asking around the group it turns out that most are from Brooklyn, Park Slope in particular, and all are from somewhere in the NYC area, often with connections they'd discover once summering in Ulster County. Careers ranged from teachers and school social workers to construction and nursing... although all but a handful are retired now, hosting grandchildren as often as they can.
One woman talks about what it was like to get her four boys out of their Manhattan apartment when school closed. Others proudly noted the additions they'd made over the years, or discussed former alliances between couples... all are close friends at this point.
There's a co-op board that approves exterior changes to the bungalows, as well as those times when a new resident wants to buy in (usually they've rented first, having gotten to know the place through existing members). The waiting list, it's pointed out, is about three years at this point. And prices for bungalows range within a $25,000 to $55,000 range, depending on size and the amount of renovation that's been done.
The current board president, outside of who's bungalow we all sit, talks about how her place had been vacant for a decade when she bought it. The previous owner had stopped coming up; time passed.
An original owner remembers what a difference it made when lines were put in for water and gas service. Another woman recalls how the waters rose into the main yard during Irene... but then went down without all that much damage. An older man mentions how he'd come up on weekends "so I could fight with my wife." He added that he's since written a book to her following her passing a few years earlier.
Some people admitted having moved to this colony from others in Spring Glen, based on its warmth... and the fact that it had kids.
What do people do all summer long now that their kids have grown? The concert series at Phillipsport's Poplar Grove Cemetery and Community Center gets mentioned, along with Shadowland, which everyone supports avidly. Folks go in groups to the local libraries, or on field trips to Bethel and Phoenicia, Kingston and the Delaware River. A lot of people love to hike the local trails. They swim, play tennis, compete over the word game Quiddler. All mentioned reading this newspaper weekly, even throughout the months they're not here, to get suggestions about events.
"A lot of us just like to eat al fresco, or have dinner potlucks," a woman notes. "It's nice to do nothing, to put together a jigsaw puzzle or play cards over beer or gin and tonics."
Others talk about how much they love supporting the most local of businesses, and the number of great new restaurants opening up in Ellenville.
"There seems to be a rebirth of this great area," says one of the original owners, who'd visited even before the bungalows went co-op. He goes on to talk about stories he's been reading about other bungalow colonies in the region that have gone co-op, and started attracting new "hipster" Brooklyn families. Someone else notes how nice it is to see a reversal from those days when earlier bungalow renters reached ages where they could do nothing but walk away.
"It gives us relief, coming up here, from hard lives in the City for half each year," says a woman who admits liking a life where moves are few, and comforts accentuated. "We're all good friends here."
The woman's husband notes how they, and others, sometimes drive up each winter just to look at their country homes.
It keeps them alive in their souls, she adds. It's part of them.