Spillian History: A Superb Catskills Great Camp
“Fleischmanns, in Delaware County, has a large park that is the home of the Fleischmann family during the Summer. The grounds in this park are considered the finest in the Catskills and the residences are in keeping with the grounds.”
The New York Times, 1907
Built in the early 1880’s by the Fleischmanns Yeast family, who were an extraordinary example of the sprawling, brilliantly-big visioned ambition of the Industrial Revolution, Spillian was part of a 160 acre compound with half a dozen or more mansions. Each of the five siblings from the first generation of Fleischmanns, immigrants from Eastern Europe, had a summer “cottage” here, as did two of the oldest sons.
The property is a classic version of Stick Style Architecture — a transitional style moving from Victorian to the 20th Century Arts and Crafts Movement. We are still digging to see if we can discover the architect for the buildings, but are increasingly thinking that they were designed by a major architect of the period. When the Fleischmanns arrived in the Catskills to build this property, they had a major national company and were making a point about creating their own elegant rustic mountain experience during an era of heavy anti-Semitism. We’ll keep you posted if we find anything conclusive! We’re in the process of getting the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house is remarkably intact, with clear pine paneling throughout and extraordinary hand painted murals on the walls that date from the Fleischmann era. Conservators looking at them have told us that they are unique. As you walk the grounds, you’ll see an exquisite ice house, a spring house, a second cottage built for summer housing in the early 20th Century that awaits renovation, and the remnants of many of the buildings and landscape design elements that the Fleischmanns built, including the Glade, which is a forest-wrapped remnant of one of their tennis courts, and the Meadow’s stone stage, which has been built into the side of the mountain on the old foundation of another ice house.
When the Fleischmann family sold between 1913 and 1915, the property got broken into smaller pieces and became a summer hotel for many years and a variety of owners, notably the family of Gertrude Berg, the creator and star of The Goldbergs radio and television show; and the Lederer family, who hosted decades of internationally acclaimed Talmudic scholars after World War II. An extended family, the Rainises, bought and loved the house and remaining acreage as a multi-generational summer home, and then it was sold to a woman who began to renovate it as a Japanese meditation center. It sat empty for almost twenty years before Spillian partners Leigh Melander and Mark Somerfield purchased it in 2012. Mark spent almost 18 months bringing it back to life and we opened it as Spillian: A Place to Revel in October, 2013.
We’re working on a short video of the Fleischmann family and the property’s history, but in the meantime, enjoy this marvelously Victorian description of their property…
“Some years ago several members of the Fleischmann family, in search of rural quiet and picturesque scenery, visited this retired neighborhood, and, charmed with its pure air, high altitudes, and care-banishing influences, resolved that their first visit should by no means be their last. Accordingly, about 1882, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Fleischmann and Mr. and Mrs. Leopold Bleier came to the locality, and purchased a part of the old farm then owned by John M. Blish, building pleasant summer cottages, well adapted to the requirements of health and pleasure seekers. They were soon joined by others, among them Charles Fleischmann, Carl Edelheim, Mrs. Max Fleischmann, Anton Seidl, Louis Josephthal, and Carl Hermann. Bernard Ullman and Henry Mierlander added to the architectural beauties of the place by establishing spacious and picturesque homes on the mountain side, Mr. Charles Fleischmann building three more large and tasteful dwellings.
The grounds surrounding these attractive residences are exquisitely laid out, teeming with flowers and shrubbery, and broken here and there with convenient walks and well-graded carriage drives. A large deer park, in which ramble at will some choice specimens of their kind, adds greatly to the interest of the landscape. Swimming Pond, supplied with pure mountain spring water, is a convenience that has not been forgotten; neither have commodious stables and carriage houses. Another most interesting and luxurious feature of this realm of pleasance is a fine riding-school in a magnificently equipped hall, with a commodious gallery, in which the friends of the riders can sit and watch their graceful evolutions. There are costly paintings on the walls, which are elsewhere tastefully draped with rich bunting; and four large chandeliers provide brilliant illumination for evening pleasures. A portable floor has also been provided for dancing, and an orchestra of skilled musicians from New York is kept in good practice throughout the season. The railroad station, a tasteful structure, erected by the liberality of the Fleischmanns, invites the attention of the passing traveller. The surrounding grounds attest the work of an artist in landscape gardening.
This charming spot, whose natural beauties have been so enhanced by a boundless liberality, directed by cultivated taste, is yet but in embryo. The plans for the future are well calculated to dwarf the achievements of the past; and in the choice and secluded settlement of “Fleischmanns,” nestling in the shadow of the romantic Catskills, redolent of health, innocent gaiety, and cultured ease, we may view a place where sordid cares are excluded and the rude turmoil of life’s battle stilled, its faint echoes only touching the chord of remembrance, as the reverberations of the swift express, with its varied freight of human interests, hopes, and passions, break softly on the air and lose themselves in the rural solitudes.”
Biographical Review Publishing Company 1895