Lake Minnewaska Mountain House/The Cliff House

In All, Bonus Content, Rochester by Gunks Through Time4 Comments

During the decade after the purchase of Lake Mohonk in 1869 and the initial development of a hotel there, Alfred H. Smiley, one of the twins, scouted out property to the south.

In 1875, he purchased 2200 acres around and including what was then called Coxing Pond and renamed it Lake Minnewaska. In 1879, he opened the Lake Minnewaska Mountain House in the Town of Rochester with a four story building that subsequently gained renown as The Cliff House on the east side of the lake, then enlarged it in 1881 to accommodate 250 guests. At an elevation greater than that of the Lake Mohonk Mountain House, Cliff House boasted even more expansive valley and mountain views.

After a long decline, Cliff House was abandoned in 1972 due to disrepair and soaring maintenance costs. Subsequently, the owner Kenneth B. Phillips, Sr., who had acquired the property from the Smiley family in 1955 and had struggled with innovations to make it profitable, was in bankruptcy. At the New Year in 1978, Cliff House burned to the ground in a spectacular fire that according to news reports brought “shock and regret” to those in the valleys who had valued the venerable resort.

Then: Library of Congress

Now: Carol Rietsma



    I worked at Minnewaska i my college years.Had some of the best times of my life there.Met wonderful workers and guests,I think it aided in my development
    JOHN MORONE 1962 AND 63

  2. Chuck

    Never forget our visits to Cliff House in the 1960s. Never forget my first view of that lake with its aqua color. I can still see the lilacs at the entrance and feel the quietness of the hall; See the lounges with the rotating book stands and, of course, the dining room where we wrote our own orders from the menu. As teenager, I was enraptured at being able to order anything and everything for breakfast! What times, What quiet, peace.

  3. Alice Manfredini

    During the 1950s and 1960s, members of our church (Second Presbyterian Church in Newark, NJ) used to go on retreat to The Cliff House in Lake Minnewaska. How we loved going there! The atmosphere of the area was so quiet, peaceful and romantic. I would explore on my own and imagined myself to be like Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond. Those retreats were like nothing I had ever experienced. I wish I could relive the memories….but time and tragic events have made that impossible. How sad to hear that the mountain houses are gone forever…burned down by careless acts. I know the area has been revitalized with new hotels and entertainment, but I’ve decided it’s best to go back only in my dreams and let the old memories remain intact.

  4. Ted Gedeon

    Worked the stable at Minnewaska in 1965 Gave horse back rides and carriage rides as far as Lake Mohunk. Cliff house and Wildmere were beautiful. Don’t see a pic of table rock but I took one with Wildmere in the background which the store lady said she’d make a postcard of. Wonder if ones out there?

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