Monroe County Resorts by Susan Kopczynski

MONROE COUNTY – The Old and Near Vacation

Even before the Civil War, Monroe County was a place to visit. The picturesque Delaware Water Gap attracted vacationers and inspired artists and poets.

Attracted by co-religionists who settled here, Quakers from Philadelphia began to come for vacations as early as 1820. In 1829, Antoine Dutot who founded the village of Delaware Water Gap and built the first hotel named the Kittatinny House. In these early years, only the wealthy had the time and money to take a holiday. Because of poor accessibility, many avoided the Pocono’s and went to the more fashionable Hudson River valley, the White Mountains of New Hampshire or the shore resorts. Those that did come here came for country living and did not care about status or fashion.

In 1856, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad was completed, changing Monroe County forever. Service from New York City brought vacationers to the Pocono’s to join the earlier ones from Philadelphia. After the Civil War, service was improved. Travel time was shortened to four hours and eight stations were added.

The railroad also made the area more accessible to a broader range of people – less educated and less fussy or affluent. What attracted them were the pure mountain air, sweet clean water and quiet healthy country lifestyle. It was a respite from the hectic, stressful, unhealthy city.

In 1877, the New York Times estimated that the 35 mile stretch along the Delaware River from Milford to Delaware Water Gap expanded by 5,000 people during the summer. To accommodate this influx, more and more boarding houses were built. According to the railroad’s resort directories, Monroe County had 152 hotels and boarding houses in 1905. Four years later, there were 204. While Delaware Water Gap was the focal point, resorts spread north to Bushkill and Milford and west towards Cresco.

There was a place for everyone. For those who could not afford the resorts, there were boarding houses. To supplement their income, farmers opened their homes to vacationers. Some of the wealthy built their own summer homes or bought or renovated older homes.

With train travel time down to three or four hours, some came just for a day or a weekend. Businessmen from the city could establish their families for the summer and join them for the weekend. Those who preferred the resorts “dry” and free of vices could go the Quaker resorts such as Buckhill Falls or Pocono Manor and simply enjoy nature, solitude and a healthy lifestyle.

As time went on, more emphasis was placed on recreational activities such as boating, golf, tennis, fishing, hunting, swimming, horseback riding, croquet and even bowling. Bicycling became all the rage around 1900 with clubs sponsoring trips to the area. Walks to scenic spots and waterfalls were popular. Besides recreation, there was entertainment. Amusement rides, music programs and even vaudeville shows were offered.
Promoting the resorts was the Monroe County Resort Association established in 1902. They were successful beyond their wildest dreams. So many vacationers came to Monroe County in 1902 that 20,000 visitors were turned away by the resorts. Resorts had to place people on cots in halls, parlors and cellars. The famous and not so famous flocked to the Pocono’s. Among the former was William Cullen Bryant, Joseph Jefferson (the actor), and John D. Rockefeller. Theodore Roosevelt stopped overnight at the Kittatinny House.

With the advent of the automobile, the American vacation changed. Instead of summer long stays at a resort, vacationers opted for shorter stays with weekend jaunts. Large resorts tried to compensate by staying open and offering year round activities. Resorts further west in the Pocono Mountains began to offer skiing, skating, tobogganing and sledding. Camping also became popular as a cheap vacation. By World War I, the resort industry was declining.

Modernization, innovation and uniqueness helped the big resorts survive Prohibition and the Great Depression during the 1920’s and 1930’s. But by 1938, Delaware Water Gap had only five resorts listed by the Chamber of Commerce. Instead of being a vacation destination, the town became “the gateway to the playground of the East”. By the end of the Depression, the term Pocono’s came into general use. During World War II, rationing of food items, tires and gasoline, as well as labor shortages, impacted the resorts. After the War, the interstate highway system eased travel to Monroe County. New York City was now just a two hour drive along Interstate 80.

The use of artificial snow machines, made the ski resorts less dependent on Mother Nature. In the 1950’s, new resorts that catered to honeymooners sprang up offering heart shaped or sunken roman tubs. By 1969, there were 25 such resorts with an average of 2000 guests per week. The changing youth culture of the 1960’s, brought a decline of the singles and honeymoon resorts. The new visitors wanted indoor swimming pools and nightclubs. Year round conventions business required that as well.

Today, the area still attracts visitors. Arriving by car from New York City or Philadelphia, they seek a quick, easy and inexpensive getaway for the day or weekend. The outdoor enthusiasts still bird watch, fish, hunt, hike and canoe along the river. Camping is still popular and there are many shows and festivals to enjoy. Some have built summer homes. Many visitors become year round residents making Monroe County one of the fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania.

Extracted from Better in the Poconos by Lawrence Squeri, University Park, PA, The State University Press, 2002.


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