WAWARSING – A recent fire, which heavily damaged the shingled lodge at the entrance to Yama Farms on Route 55, in Wawarsing, has drawn attention once more to the gradual destruction of what was once a widely renowned resort of unique architectural quality and interest, a rare kind of jewel that once cast a golden light over the Town of Wawarsing.
Yama Farms Inn, or Yama-No-Uchi (Home in the Mountains) was in every way unique when it was built in 1913. The planning for it included a two year visit to Japan by Olive Brown Sarre, who designed much of it, for complete immersion in Japanese culture.
The prime mover behind Yama Farms Inn was Frank Seaman, a very successful advertising man in New York during the first decade of the 20th century. He travelled in Japan as well and developed a passion for things Japanese.
During its heyday, the Inn was frequented by tycoons like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, as well as by naturalists and authors, like John Burroughs. At that time there were links across the Rondout Valley to Mohonk Mountain House and the Smiley family, too.
Yama Farms Inn flourished through the 1920s and survived the depression. However, after Seaman's death in 1939 the property was sold. New owners came in, who perhaps in the anti-Japanese fervor of the time, felt obliged to change the name to the Copa Country Club.
William Winters, who maintains the excellent website devoted to Yama Farms Inn at yamafarms.com worked there for a while during the "Copa" period and he remembers it well.
"I was fourteen then, this was 1944, and I got a job caddying, then I became a stable boy, and then moved indoors and became a bellhop. It was still a resort then. And it was amazing. All the craftsmen who worked there, the masons, the carpenters, they were all old school and they had great skills."
Wendy Harris, co-author of Yama Farms, A Most Unusual Catskill Resort says, "The local artisans who built the structures were all trained by Olive Sarre in traditional Japanese carpentry techniques."
Marion Dumond, the retired Director of Ellenville Public Library and Museum and a former town historian, says, "Yama, in its day was so unique — every facet of it. There was a combination of romance and almost mysticism about the intellectual structure of Yama Farms Inn."
"Twenty five years after it closed, Yama's reputation still lived on in Wawarsing, where people were identified as 'having worked at Yama.'"
Alas, after the Copa Country Club period, the resort descended in a slow death spiral, through times when it was called the "Shangri La" and then the "Glama."
The owners had neither the money, nor the sensibility of the builders, and the structures gradually fell into disrepair. Through the final decades of the 20th century, the once magnificent resort went steadily downhill.
William Rhoads, Professor Emeritus of Art History at SUNY New Paltz, notes that "the Town of Wawarsing has lost more than its share of architecturally important structures."
Wendy Harris and William Rhoads visited the site at the end of June, this year. This was after the fire at the gatehouse.
"That building," explains Harris, "was an excellent example of Arts and Crafts architecture, a style of design made famous by Gustav Stickley and his followers."
During that visit in June, Harris and Rhoads discovered that the centerpiece of Yama Farms Inn, the spectacular Arts & Crafts residence known as "the Hut" had also suffered partial demolition.
They spoke with the present owner of the property, Ireneuz Kalinowski, and learned to their distress that he intended to "erase all traces of Yama Farms and its history."
Mr. Kalinowski, whose command of English is limited, refused to be interviewed for this article, stating that he would not speak with "bad newspaper, it is capitalist."
However, it appears that Mr. Kalinowski has no faith in the local laws of Wawarsing, either, when it comes to things like permitting. Certainly Wawarsing's building inspectors have not been contacted by Mr. Kalinowski concerning any plans he may have for "erasing" what is left of Yama Farms Inn.
Winters says, "The only thing left, really on those grounds, is the stone work for the stables, the water mill and the old tea house. The masonry was wonderful work, they probably used the Rosendale cement, too."
The structures that survive are some of the staff housing buildings, currently used as rental housing by Mr. Kalinowski. The main house, which once spread across the top of the hill above Route 55, burned down in 1967.
In 1976, Winters visited the site. "I went up there and took some pictures for a little album I was publishing. And at that time some of the wooden structures were still intact. The tea house was still there, so was the water mill, and of course, the Hut."
If things continue and if Mr. Kalinowski completes his plan for erasure, then it seems quite likely that by 2013, the centenary of Yama Farms Inn will see virtually nothing left of it, whatsoever.