In the catalog of historic moments in the Hudson Valley’s history, the Borscht Belt era shines. It was during this time, roughly from the 1920s to the 1980s and 1990s, that the foothills of the Catskill Mountains became known as one of the country’s top vacation destinations. In a location that spanned across Sullivan and Ulster counties, families flocked to iconic hotels (think Grossinger’s and the Concord) like never before. As they did, they helped create a space that celebrated Jewish-American culture, spotlighted standup comedy, and became a hub for sports.
Today, The Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project wants to bring back memories of the era. Launched in 2022, the project aims to commemorate the locations that had a significant impact on Borscht Belt history with the hopes of educating and inspiring future generations.
It has the perfect team to do so, too. Marisa Scheinfeld, the project’s founder and director, is also a talented photographer and the author of The Borscht Belt: America’s Jewish Vacationland. She’s joined by co-founder and research and archival coordinator Louis Inghilterra, a Borscht Belt historian; Jerry Klinger, the president and founder of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation; historian and copywriter Kelli Huggins; visual coordinator Isaac Jeffreys, a photographer with a focus on the Hudson Valley and Catskills; Sullivan County historian John Conway; and historian and educator Scott Eckers.
For Scheinfeld in particular, it seemed like only a matter of time before she stepped into the project. After a childhood spent in the Catskills, she published her first book on the Borscht Belt and is currently at work on a book about hidden, unknown, and unseen histories in the Catskills and the Hudson Valley. Now based in northern Westchester, she explains how, after being first approached by Klinger to launch a marker project in 2018, they reconnected in 2022 and decided to get to work on it.
“I put together a team and immediately realized that while we wanted to make this historical marker trail, the project could be and should be bigger,” she explains. She and her team began brainstorming ways to extend the project to include immersive experiences and additional programming. They launched their first marker in Monticello in May, with plans to introduce a total of 20 to the community over the next few years.
“The Borscht Belt Historic Marker Project is a historic marker trail and a variety of compendium programs created by myself [and] a group of locals, artists, and historians who are seeking to dedicate historic places where the Borscht Belt transpired,” she observes of the project’s overall vision.
Already, the group is hard at work placing markers in public spaces in towns along the Borscht Belt. The project dedicated its first marker in May, with two more dedications in August, in Mountain Dale and Swan Lake, respectively. At the dedications, she and her team plan a spread of programming that includes everything from dedications to concerts and art shows. By next summer, Scheinfeld anticipates they will have nine markers placed, with the full 20 established by summer 2025. Once all the markers are set and ready, the group will launch a self-guided driving audio tour to go with it.
So where are the markers exactly? They are or will be in towns along the Borscht Belt in both Sullivan and Ulster counties. The one in Monticello was placed in May and resides at 479 Broadway, where it commemorates the 60-plus hotels and 133 bungalow colonies that called the town home. The Mountain Dale marker was placed on August 13 at the community board across from the post office, with the Swan Lake Marker ceremony to follow on August 20 at Swan Lake Park. After that, additional marker locations will include Fallsburg/Route 42, Resorts World Casino, Woodridge, Hurleyville, South Fallsburg, and Kauneonga Lake to start.
When reflecting upon the project’s significance in the community, Scheinfeld notes the impact of the Catskills upon so many lives.
“It’s really about the Catskills at large,” she notes. “So many people from the Hudson Valley know about the Catskills, have been to the Catskills, vacationed in the Catskills. Maybe they’ve heard about the Borscht Belt and they want to go see the places and the lists of hotels and bungalow colonies that our markers have on them. We hope this will be a really interesting project not only for older generations but for younger generations.”
With the continuous rollout of markers, which feature images and QR codes to provide additional information on each site, as well as the driving tour, the Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project does its part to preserve a sliver of history that was and continues to be impactful in the Hudson Valley region’s past, present, and future.
“We hope not only are the markers educational, [but] they teach about history, they promote education, they’re celebratory, and they become something that exists for generations to come,” she says.
The next marker dedication takes place on August 20 in Swan Lake and is free to attend. To learn more about the Borscht Belt Historical Marker Project and its upcoming events, visit the website.