Up until March 25, 2014, one hundred fifty nine West Main Street had a lot of meaning, now it is just a memory that sits across from the Old Stamford Cemetery. Yes, it has been three years since the Rexmere Hotel, “Queen of the Catskills”, burned down. It took less than a year to build, and less than an hour to be in a smoldering heap on the ground. Now it is just a lovely piece of property.
Stamford-in-the-Catskills was alive with activity when the construction of the Rexmere began in October 1897. The name of the hotel comes from Rex meaning king and mere for meadow, “King of the Meadow” and opened for business July 15,1898. Total cost of the building was about $75,000. Dr. S.E. Churchill, owner and proprietor, advertised his Rexmere in most of the city newspapers in the Northeast, with an emphasis on the Brooklyn and NYC papers. His new hotel was capable of accommodating 300-400 guests, preferably rich city people. The usual season for the hotel was about Memorial Day to Labor Day. Liquor was not served at the Rexmere but wine was allowed in later years.
March 8, 1998 (Stamford Mirror)- The dimensions of the main building are 41′ X 148′ and the eastern extension 28′ X 41′. The veranda on entire front 12′ wide and the veranda on the east front is 10′ X 117′, two stories high. The central part of the building will be seven stories high, and the ends will be six. The dining room will be 41′ X 56′. The principal story will be finished in quarter oak and plate glass, and the other stories in Tennessee chestnut. Toilet and bath rooms adjoin every room and hot and cold water in every corridor. It will have an elevator (said to be the first passenger elevator in the whole area) run by a 30 horse power boiler and 20 horse power engine. Heated throughout by steam, hot air and open fireplaces. Lighted with electric and gas. Water for drinking and cooking will be supplied by springs on the Churchill Farm. Building will have a slate roof and four 30 foot flag poles. Contains 300 rooms and has 400 windows. Much of this information has been obtained from Major George C. Gibbs, supervising architect. (Major Gibbs, who served in the 3rd NY Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War, was a contractor in the Stamford area from the 1860’s -1906. Besides the Rexmere he also planned and built Churchill Hall in 1882, and all the Churchill cottages, the last being Dr. Churchills residence the Colonial. Gibbs was born 1832 and died 1914, and is buried in Woodhill Cemetery in Franklin, OH, which is where his wife Laura was from.)
In 1900 A.H. Fenn, champion golfer, laid out the golf links (looking towards Rte. 23) and 10 years later a swimming pool was installed. Alexander Ott was the manager and promoter of the pool activities.
June 1903 Brooklyn Eagle- advertisement- “Queen of the Catskills” Elevation 1,800 feet. Free from fogs (I doubled checked a few ads, and yes it said “fogs”), mosquitoes and malaria. Amusements: golf, fishing, boating, tennis, bowling and dancing etc. delightful drives. Pure sparkling spring water. The hotel accommodations are equal to the finest hostelries in this country.
February 1908 (Delaware Gazette)- The Rexmere, including Churchill Park, golf links etc. has been leased by Dr. S. E. Churchill to Charles W. Moffatt and Carr W. Peet.
Dr. Stephen E. Churchill died October 29,1917 and is buried in Stamford Cemetery.
1919 Schoharie Republican (SR)- Walton- Ralph W. Smith has patented an electrically driven saw capable of making 250 strokes a minute. He has the contract to remodel the Rexmere and Churchill Hall.
September 1922 Catskill Mountain News (CMN)- The swimming pool at the Rexmere has been patronized by over 12,000 people during the season. (local residents could swim there for .25)
I believe August 16, 1924 was the second year that the “Queen of the Catskills” swim suit beauty contest was held at the Rexmere. There were 15 prizes offered and the winner would get an all expense paid trip to enter the National Beauty pageant in Atlantic City, NJ. Girls ages 16-35 from Delaware, Otsego, Schoharie, Albany, Greene, Ulster and Sullivan counties were eligible to enter the contest.
Winners of the beauty contest were: Mrs. Irving Green for most beautiful figure, Miss Marion Keveny for most symmetrical form, Miss Margaret Ritchie for best all-around, Miss Elaine Warren for most elaborate costume and Charlotte Corbin for most unusual costume.
September 1925 (Windham Journal)- Herbert H. Mase sold his Gralynn Hotel at Miami, FL for $1,250.000. Mr. Mase is a native of Prattsville and is the managing director of the Rexmere-Churchill Hall hotel in the summer.
Johnny Weismuller worked as swimming instructor from 1926-1929 before becoming “Tarzan of the Apes” or an Olympic swimming champion.
November 1925 (SR)- Stamford- A reward of $250 is offered for the capture of the vandals who forced entrance into the Rexmere, destroying property, but failing to secure the silverware stored in the safe.
July 1926 (Stamford Mirror-Recorder)- In spite of the extremely chilly weather a crowd of eager water-sports fans taxed the capacity of the Rexmere Swimming Casino and gathered at the pool to see “Stubby” Kruger of Miami, FL, the comedy king of the water, in action.- John Billias, celebrated chef, is now affiliated with the Rexmere-Churchill Hall string of hotels, which are operated by H.H. Mase and assisted by William J. Lowe.
September 1929 (SR)- Churchill Hall, owned since 1919 by the Rexmere-Churchill Hall Association, has been sold to H.H. Mase, who has been managing director of both the Rexmere and Churchill Hall until this year.
August 1940 (CMN)- Stamfords annual water carnival and beauty pageant, climaxed by the crowning of Miss Catskill Mountains, will be held at the Rexmere pool. Frank Wardwell is in charge of the pool.
April 1954 (Binghamton Press)- Priests of the Redemptorist Order have bought the Rexmere as a summer vacation center for seminarians, price more than $50,000.- A NYC attorney, a trustee for the Nicholas P. Young estate owners of the hotel, said the sale was arranged through a Brooklyn real estate firm. (Young was part of the Rexmere-Churchill Hall Association)
February 1965 (CMN)- The former Rexmere hotel property was purchased by the Murphy foundation from the Redemption Order. Murphy will restore three lakes on the 75 acre property as an additional village water source.
November 10, 1965 officially started the Rural Supplementary Educational Center. The Board of Cooperative Educational Services and District Superintendent Melvin C. Carpenter submitted the first application to the Office of Education in Washington, DC for a federal Grant of money under P.L. 89-10, Title III, to initially finance the project.
October 1966 (CMN)- Positions available at Education Center- contact Dr. Frank W. Cyr, Director.
January 1968 (Otsego Farmer)- The building and property of the Rexmere Hotel has been donated to the Catskill Mountains Educational Center by Fred P. Murphy, who once caddied for golfers at the hotel which he purchased from the Redemptorist Fathers of New York in 1965.
The Catskill Mountains Educational Center is a non-profit educational corporation, chartered by the Regents of the University of New York under the Education Law.
March 1969 (CMN)- Notice to Bidders- for TV Monitor, 16mm Film projector, film splicer and stabilizing amplifier. Bids received by Rural Supplementary Education Center, Rexmere Park.
In 1998 a big centennial celebration took place and a book was compiled “The Rexmere at 100” to go along with the event. Centennial Committee co-chairman were Rodger Oesterle and Dr. Joshpe.
In April 2011 the Otsego Northern Catskills Board of Cooperative Educational Services (ONC BOCES) staff started moving out of the the Frank W. Cyr Center due to declining enrollment in its component districts. The Rexmere had minimal use after ONC moved out.
On March 25, 2014 the “King of the Meadow”started to burn about 11AM and was fully engulfed and collapsing into itself within about half an hour. Approximately 300 firefighters and six million gallons of water were utilized to fully douse the fire. At the time of the fire the building was (and now the land still is) owned by the Catskill Mountain Education Center but is was under contract to be sold to Hunt Slonem of NYC. The estimated value of the Rexmere was $600,000.
I worked for ONC-BOCES about 10 years ago as the Records Management Clerk and was often in the basement organizing the old files. The records were kept at the far end of the basement so as I walked about 100 feet by the old horse stalls and an assortment of bygone paraphernalia I would imagine what went on 100 years ago.
By Karen Cuccinello, Archivist at the Stamford Village Library.