As my mom and I walked through the streets of Sharon Springs, New York, last weekend, we were struck by the number of abandoned buildings and homes in the region: enormous hotels, once bustling with activity and happiness, now stand empty, overgrown with vinery, mildew and moss.
Far from being 'scary,' we found these architectural artifacts to be utterly fascinating. We wanted to know more about them, how they came to be and how they fell apart.
This little cottage is just one example of dozens of the town's touristy past. Trees are actually trees growing inside this old structure with branches reaching out of the windows to attain the light.
Sharon Springs was founded in the early 1800s after the construction of the Great Western Turnpike that linked the wilderness to the west with the centers of trade along the Hudson River to the east. At the heart of Schoharie County lies the town of Sharon Springs, named for the numerous springs in the region, which were believed to have healing powers because of their mineral richness. (Native Americans were said to have known the healing powers of the waters here.)
By the end of that century, the springs in this small village had become world-renowned and the town of Sharon Springs was incorporated in 1871. The town drew numerous wealthy socialites from New York City seeking a country respite. Massive hotels and large cottages were erected in the foothills to accommodate their seasonal stays.
The main springs in Sharon contain sulphur, magnesia, blue stone and chalybeate. These waters were used in luxurious bath houses for relaxation therapy and were also used to treat conditions like arthritis.
By the 1920s, the village boasted more than 60 hotels and rooming houses, which accommodated more than 10,000 visitors in the summer months. The town went through a fallow period during the Great Depression when the wealthy took their holidays in neighbouring Saratoga, which boasted a robust and profitable horse-racing industry. In the 1950s, the town became a destination for wealthy Jews, who were banned from staying in Saratoga. The town was revitalized again by the Hasidic Jewish community. (The town's diverse religious history is evident here, too, with a Masonic temple, a small Jewish temple and a church in town.)
As the surrounding regions began to grow and modernize, Sharon Springs lost its appeal to many vacationers and the town could no longer sustain itself. Hotels were closed by the dozen. Cottages were abandoned and the town, once again, fell into a state of disrepair and desolation.
The revitalization of the American Hotel in 1996 played a key role in the town's current resurrection. Now, several businesses exist on the main street, including several gift shops, a gallery and a cafe. While my mother and I were there, we noticed how busy the town is, despite it's somewhat desperate-looking surroundings. We could feel the energy and happiness of the people here and it seems that the town is on a successful rebound. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the town sees a new period of prosperity.
This is one of the massive hotels that was built in the 1920s during the town's height of success. It stands today gray and abandoned and in complete disrepair with overgrown shrubbery masking its lower portion.
I imagine this door once led to a quaint and welcoming reception area in this old hotel - one of many that now sits dark and empty.The texture on the walls was striking. I was so curious to see what was behind that sagging curtain.There are numerous properties for sale in the town with large houses that are practically begging for a little TLC. This house, above, is an example of a successful restoration effort by the family that now happily resides here.The Cobbler & Company store, just across the street from the American Hotel, is a quaint and beautiful little shop, which opened not long after the American opened its doors to guests. It is one of several new businesses in town that are boasting successful returns on their investment in Sharon Springs. The shop owner, Maureen, is a lovely lady who sells all manner of goods. Open for business is a sentiment one sees more and more often in Sharon Springs these days, which is so exciting.