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Warren County Bicentennial

Floyd Bennett speaking at Shepard Park

Dude Ranches

In 1931 a new type of guest accommodation was introduced in Thurman when Vern and Lu Walter bought the old Centerbar property on French Hill near the base of Crane Mountain and created what some his descendents say was the first dude ranch in Warren County. It grew to be a lovely place with a growing clientele, and guests returned to visit, hike, ride, swim and just relax. Whether it was the first or not, many of the older boarding houses, like Moose Mountain Lodge and Fra-Joe Lodge, recognized the potential of the ranch motif, and reinvented themselves as “ranches.” Other new dude establishments were opened, as well. Our largest was Sun Canyon Ranch, founded in 1937 as “Boulder Greens Dude Ranch” on the Silas Tucker farm by Alan Mitcheltree and Robert Venton, Sr. The name was changed to Sun Canyon after Venton bought out his partner. Massive log structures, a swimming pool, large stone stable full of horses, real wranglers from out west, and the dudes and dudettes freshly arrived off the train or in shiny automobiles all completed the picture.

Guests liked to mosey over to the nearby Northwoods, a location now known as 188 Bear Pond Road. This massive log lodge with stone fireplace was built in 1944 by German immigrants Jake and Hilda Drexel, with some help from local workmen. Their son says they wanted to build a place for people to “come and just have fun,” enjoying the large dance floor, live music, food and beverages. With a hitching rail out front, the Northwoods was a natural watering hole for trail rides, allowing riders to stop and wash the trail dust from their throats. On weekends the Northwoods became a mecca for round and square dancers from miles around. It showcased area musicians and callers, like Cy Flewelling, Bob and Tom Lloyd with Ernie Brown (The Country Gentlemen), Winnie Mae, Jimmy Hamblin, Jimmy Miller and Ralph Smith (The Saddlemates), as well as Jack Carson, Abe Combs and others. Age and illness took its toll on the couple, and in 1968 they sold the property. In ensuing years it changed hands several times, serving briefly as the Robert Petro School and Research Center, dedicated to the study of parapsychology. In 1996 it was purchased by Julie Gallup Cook, who struggled to restore the Northwoods and breathe new life into this motel, restaurant, bar and dancing site, but in 2002 the doors closed again. After a brief interlude with another operator, the property lay idle until Jan and Joanna Kosz, immigrants from Poland who were well-known Lake George restrauteurs, reopened it in 2003 as Taste of Poland. As of this writing in 2012, it is still under their ownership.

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