Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summers in "The Country"

Photo: Anna Henneberg and Alfred Austin with children Patricia, Joan, Josephine and Judy, 1940, Grahamsville, NY. Digital photograph. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, Illinois. 2009.

[This post was written for the 74th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Jasia]

This year's swimsuit edition of the COG does not focus on me at as it did last year - but on my family and how they escaped the heat of New York City during the summer. While they came up for the summer, as it turns out, they stayed for a lifetime.

Summer has always been a magical season especially in those unforgiving places like the Catskill Mountains where I grew up. It was unusual, but not out of the realm of possibilities to have snow for Halloween and still have snow for Memorial Day. So when summer burst forth in all its glory so did the residents of "the country" as it was called, both permanent and temporary.

My mother was one of those "city people" as we used to call them but after over 50 years of living in the Catskills I think she and most of her siblings qualify as "country people." The Catskills have long been a haven for residents of New York City during the summer, especially those seeking to escape the heat and humidity of the city. What started out as a cure for tuberculosis residents in many places like Loomis Sanitarium in my hometown of Liberty, New York turned into a lifestyle especially after the turn of the 20th century.

Many residents discovered that "city people" would pay a premium to rent rooms or outbuildings on their farms as long as they could enjoy the fresh air and the fresh food. Once the concept caught on, many farmers built boarding houses to handle the large number of guests and even advertised in the New York newspapers.

Bungalow colonies like Lansmans started with small single room buildings constructed around a lake or swimming pool. These "resorts" were "self-catering" meaning that they had a small stove and a sink where meals could be prepared. Usually there were activities organized for the children and it was common to have mothers stay with the children all summer while the husbands came up from "the City" on Friday evenings and returned on Sunday nights.

The photo above shows my grandparents Anna Henneberg and Alfred Austin at a location near Grahamsville, NY that advertised itself as "cabins." For many people, a bungalow colony was patronized by mostly Jewish or Polish immigrants and was way too social and crowded. Some like my family preferred cabins that were close to a lake or river and you didn't feel like you had to get to know your neighbors - it was up to you. There were no organized activities such as bingo nights or movie nights, but if you wanted to set up a firepit when the chill set in, that was a good way to socialize and get to know others. And kids never lacked for things to do or other children with whom to play.

In the photo above my grandfather would have been about 33 years old and was following in a tradition that his parents, John Ralph Austin and Therese McGinnes had started more than 15 years earlier. In the photo below, my grandfather is shown in a rowboat on a lake with his brothers Gregory (left) and Malcolm (right). Judging from Malcolm's birthday I would put this photo at about 1934.

Photo: Gregory, Alfred and Malcolm Austin, abt 1934, location unknown. Digital photograph. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, Illinois. 2009.

It appears that men were still wearing the one piece wool bathing suits that they did in my great-grandfather John Ralph Austin's time as shown here below:

Photo: John Ralph Austin, abt. 1913, Coney Island, New York. Digital photograph. Privately held by Thomas MacEntee, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Chicago, Illinois. 2009.

In my great-grandfather's time, the best getaway was Coney Island which was much closer to the Bronx where he was living with his parents William Dence Austin and Catherine O'Keefe. For many, getting up to "the country" in the Catskills was either done by train or involved an all-day trip by car.

Summers were always too, too short when I was growing up and perhaps that is just the perspective of a child. The season holds such vivid memories for me especially the time spent at my great-grandparents farm house in Grahamsville, New York. While bathing suits were common and they were often seen laying out on stone fences or clothes lines to dry, the cool country air meant that you sometimes needed something more to keep you warm.


Jasia said...

Great article, T. I can imagine how welcoming the cooler country air was to those who had to try to survive NYC in the summer, pre-air conditioning!

I knew of several families, my best friend's included, whose moms and kids spent the summers "up north" (northern Michigan) while the dads visited on the weekends. I always thought that was so cool and wished my family had such a place to get away to.

Now that we have a place in St Joe my husband is encouraging me to do the same thing, spend the whole summer there and he'll visit on weekends. I've given it some thought but it's not as easy for me. Even with having caved in and gotten broad band at the condo it wouldn't be easy for me to do all my web design work there. And I certainly can't move all my genealogy stuff up there just for the summer either. It's fun to dream about though!

I love the men's swimsuits! Great retrospective!

Jean B. Duncan said...

Enjoyed reading your post.It's great that you have the image of your grandfather as a boy in a rowboat!
My grandparents left potato farming to operate a small lakeside general store with some cabins in northern Maine in the late 1940's. From then into the 1960's, eight small cabins were rented out in the summer to families from "away" which gave me a chance to meet kids from other places.
Unfortunately the whole set of buildings were torn down in 2006 so now it all is truly a sweet memory.

Bill West said...

I enjoyed this a lot.The change
of styles in the swimsuits was interesting.

Around Boston, the well to do headed to the North Shore or the WhiteMountains in New Hampshire for the summer while the blue collar folks headed to the less expensive South Shore towns like Quincy or Hull, areas that were known as the "Irish Riviera"!