Mohonk Mountain House
Collection, ca. 1880-2012; bulk 1900-1950


Quantity: 3 boxes (1.0 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Purchase; aGatherin'; West Sand Lake, N.Y., March 2014
Processed By: Regina Berry, Student Assistant, State University of New York at Albany for Manuscripts & Special Collections, January 2015

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Organizational History:

1911 promotional brochure for Mohonk Mountain House
Promotional brochure for Lake Mohonk Mountain House from 1911.

Founded by twin brothers Alfred and Albert Smiley in 1869, Mohonk Mountain House is a Victorian castle resort situated on the Shawagunk Ridge in New Paltz, New York, surrounded by thousands of acres of unspoiled natural beauty.  The original building started as a modest ten-room tavern on 280 acres. Today, it has seven stories and can accommodate nearly 600 guests.

Albert and Alfred Smiley were born in Vassalboro, Maine, on March 17, 1828, to Daniel and Phoebe Smiley.  The boys were raised as Quakers, holding education in high regard, graduated from Haverford College, a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, in 1849, and became principals at the Friend's School in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1860.  In 1868 Alfred, wanting more space for his six children, bought a farm in Poughkeepsie, New York.

When Alfred saw the Mohonk property, he thought it was perfect for the summer home that Albert had been planning for his late years. When Albert arrived at Mohonk, he “fell in love with the scenery and felt sure of its development.”  He bought the land and the lake from John F. Stokes for $28,000, which was negotiated down from the original $40,000 request. Albert had saved $14,000 and borrowed the rest. Thus, though he had originally wanted Mohonk as a home, he entered the hotel business to help pay off his debt. In the summer of 1870 the Smiley brothers remodeled Stokes's original tavern to accommodate around 40 guests.  Alfred and Albert decided to run the hotel based on Quaker beliefs and implemented a ban on alcohol, card playing, and dancing. Stokes was sure they would lose money and suggested adding a bar and racetrack, but the Smileys continued with their own vision. They encouraged a variety of alternative activities such as nature walks, concerts, boating, tennis, golf, horseback riding, fishing, and optional prayer and church services.

The fame of the mountain house spread and the house expanded in size several times, along with the estate. A year after opening, the Smileys enlarged the house to accommodate additional guests and installed a telegraph office in 1873.  Throughout the decade, increasing patronage led to the building of additional sections such as the dining room building, the bowling saloon, and the Rock building as well as the enlargement of the laundry and ice house. To protect Mohonk from the potentially damaging actions of his neighbors, such as cutting down trees, Smiley started buying the farms surrounding his original purchase.  Each year, Smiley purchased additional pieces of land so that from around 300 acres, the hotel and estate grew to three thousand acres in 1879 and eventually to ten thousand acres.

In addition to the temperance activities, Mohonk Mountain House also reflected Albert Smiley's concern for solving social problems. One of the issues at the time was the treatment of American Indians, and one of Smiley's goals was to help them and their right to a full life.  In 1883 he organized the first annual Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian.  His Quaker beliefs also made him dedicated to the cause of peace. In 1895 he convened the first of many annual conferences on international arbitration. The purpose of these meetings was to provide a forum for national and international leaders to meet and discuss world problems in an effort to find alternatives to war. The conferences continued through 1916 and included notable attendees such as President William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, and the secretaries of state of successive administrations. These conferences highlighted a concern for peaceful conflict resolution that has been credited with giving impetus to The Hague Conference movement. The United Nations of today can trace its roots back to The Hague conferences.
After Alfred's death in 1908 and Albert's death in 1912, members of the Smiley family have continued to own and operate Mohonk Mountain House.  Daniel Smiley (1907-2001) established a natural science research center on the property; Keith Smiley (1910-2001) convened Mohonk Consultationsexternal link to confer on issues related to the environment; Ruth Smiley (1910-2004) was tireless in her efforts to interpret nature for guests. Albert K. Smiley, president of Mohonk Mountain House since 1990, is the great-grand-nephew of Mohonk's founder.

Scope and Content Note:

This collection is comprised of (1) business correspondence to and from the brothers, Alfred and Albert Smiley, regarding the publicity and management of their hotel; and (2) material that reflects the activities taking place at Mohonk Mountain House and the guest experience there.  Of particular interest are the annual promotional booklets, which provide yearly descriptions of the resort and the activities available there and include many photographs.  These reveal changes at the resort over several decades.  Similarly, a series of dinner menus covering select years from 1899 to 1963 provides a glimpse of the dining experience and culinary tastes of guests over the years.  The publication “Impressions of Mohonk,” by John Willy, written in 1923, tells much of the story of the extended Smiley family (and includes a family photograph, ca. 1911), and the evolution of the resort, including description of its “modern” innovations.  Another publication, “A Vanished People, or the American Indian” by William C. Hart, contains writings and poems about Native Americans and also examples of business advertising from the 1920s.  One of the oldest items in the collection is the 117-page booklet, “Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian,” from 1887.  It reports in detail on the discussions and deliberations of the attendees at the three-day event.

Related Information:

Two other Mohonk Mountain House collections are in existence:

  1. Lake Mohonk Mountain House Records, 1870-1968,external link (80 cu. ft.) at the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, N.Y.
  2. Mohonk Mountain House Records, 1834-1988; bulk 1869-1988, at Mohonk Mountain House, Mohonk Lake, New Paltz, N.Y.

Box and Folder List:

Box Folder Description
1 1 Re: Printing Brochures, Calendars, etc., 1880, 1901-1905  (33 items)
1 2 Re: Printing Brochures, Calendars, etc., 1907-1920  (27 items)
1 3 Re Distribution of Brochures, ca. 1902-1917  (60 items)
1 4 With Hotel Guests, 1896-1918  (34 items)
1 5 Re: Publicity and Recommendations by other Hotels/Resorts, 1903-1925 
(31 items)
1 6 With Railroad and Hotel Directory Companies, 1903-1912  (36 items)
1 7 Re: Ordering of Directories, 1871-1925  ( 22 items)
1 8 With Tour Operators, 1902-1909  (8 items)
1 9 Re: Publicity and Photographers, 1903-1912  (20 items)
1 10 Re: Publicity and Advertising, 1902-1913  (40 items)
1 11 Re: Publicity and Advertising, 1902-1913 (continued)  (47 items)
1 12 Blank Stationery, undated  (4 items)
    Resort Information
2 1 Day Visitor Brochures, 1933-1955, undated  ( 8 items)
2 2 Conferences and Conventions, 1907-1938  (6 items)
2 3 Event Announcements, 1933-1965  (20 items)
2 4 Event: Admiral Robley D. Evans Retirement, 1908  (1 item)
2 5 Event: Friends of the Indian Conference (117 pages), September 1887  (1 item)
2 6 Gehring Hotel Guide, 1920  (1 item)
2 7 Guest Information Brochures, 1999, 2012, undated  (4 items)
2 8 Hotel Menus, 1899, undated  (23 items)
2 9 Hotel Menus, 1918  (15 items)
2 10 Hotel Menus, 1920, 1929  (12 items)
2 11 Hotel Menus, May 1932  (16 items)
2 12 Hotel Menus, June 1932  (28 items)
2 13 Hotel Menus, June 1932 cont.  (20 items)
2 14 Hotel Menus, October 1932, 1937  (11 items)
2 15 Hotel Menus, 1938  (25 items)
2 16 Hotel Menus, 1942-1944  (35 items)
2 17 Hotel Menu, 1963  (1 item)
3 1 Mohonk Lake Tennis Club, 1922-1968  (19 items)
3 2 Mohonk Trail Rides, 1932-1941  (13 items)
3 3 Promotional Booklet, 1894  (1 item)
3 4 Promotional Booklet, 1901  (1 item)
3 5 Promotional Booklet, 1910  (1 item)
3 6 Promotional Booklet, 1911  (1 item)
3 7 Promotional Booklet, 1912  (1 item)
3 8 Promotional Booklet, 1919  (1 item)
3 9 Promotional Booklet, 1931  (1 item)
3 10 Promotional Booklet, 1934  (1 item)
3 11 Promotional Booklet, 1938  (1 item)
3 12 Promotional Booklets, 1988, 1989  (2 items)
3 13 Promotional Calendars, 1925-1929  (4 items)
3 14 Promotional Calendars, 1932-1939  (7 items)
3 15 Promotional Calendars, 1940-1950  (9 items)
3 16 Publication: “A Vanished People or the American Indian” by William C. Hart
(136 pages), 1924  (1 item)
3 17 Publication: “Impressions of Mohonk” by John Willy (10 pages), 1923  (1 item)
3 18 Rate Schedules, 1932-1939,   (9 items)
3 19 Rate Schedules, 1940-1949,   (18 items)
3 20 Rate Schedules, 1950-1958, undated   (15 items)
3 21 Souvenir Postcards and Miscellaneous, 1907-1951, undated  (9 items)
Last Updated: September 22, 2016