The year was 1869, and Albert Smiley, co-principal of the Friends Boarding School in Providence, RI, was ready to retire. In September of that year, his twin brother, Alfred, found the perfect spot: Lake Mohonk, in New Paltz. Alfred telegraphed Albert to come take a look. At first he said he was too busy, but his brother kept the pressure on, and eventually he made the trip.
The rest, as they say, is history. More specifically, the history of the Mohonk Mountain House, which celebrates 150 years this year.
Albert bought the 10-room Stokes Tavern and land on Lake Mohonk, with $14,000 of his own money, $300 from his wife, Eliza, and a $14,000 bank loan. They renovated and expanded the inn and opened, with room for 40 guests, in June 1870. It continued to expand over the years. The current dining room was completed in 1893, the Lake Lounge and parlor in 1899, both with the latest technology: electricity.
The Dining Room Circle extension was completed in 1910, and the Mountain House was virtually complete until the modern era. At its height, it offered 300 rooms (now down to 259) and its Victorian elegance has remained to this day.
Befitting his Quaker beliefs, Albert Smiley turned the Mountain House into a center for progressive thought. From 1895 through 1916, he hosted the annual Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration, the forerunners of The Hague Conferences, which helped lead to the League of Nations and later the United Nations. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912 for these efforts.
Among the many world leaders who have visited the Mountain House are five former Presidents of the United States: Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Bill Clinton. John D. Rockefeller and Booker T. Washington were guests, and Andrew Carnegie’s photograph, with a hand-written note to Albert Smiley, still hangs on the wall.
The Smiley family has continued to run the resort; it is now led by fifth-generation descendants Eric Gullickson, its president, and Tom Smiley, the CEO. “As fifth generation Smiley family members, we are committed to continuing the 150 year tradition of preserving the land and the Mohonk experience for future generations,” Gullickson says.
His cousin Smiley adds, “It’s a thrill for us to see guests enjoying this natural wonderland today just as our ancestors did during our very first year.”