You can tell the economic story of New York’s Catskill Mountains region over the last century through the patch of land my maternal grandfather grew up on. Max and Minnie Lebowitz, my great-grandparents, who immigrated from Hungary, moved up to the country to escape the Lower East Side’s infamously crowded conditions and grind out a meager existence on a 62-acre farm. The sparsely populated village of Fallsburg, N.Y., where my grandfather was raised, was storybook-typical: a one-room schoolhouse that you had to walk miles in the snow to attend and a local sheriff who looked the other way as local preteens illegally drove cars to get to the faraway high school and drove tractors on their parents’ land.
Over time, the farm, which had begun taking in summertime boarders escaping New York City’s oppressive humidity, morphed into the Lebowitz Pine View, one of the hotel resorts of the famed “Borscht Belt”—so named for the density of observant Eastern European Jewish enclaves. Tennis courts and a swimming pool were constructed, my grandfather returned every summer to run the kitchen, and my mother and her cousins reminisce fondly about stirring up trouble there.
But by the 1970s the resorts were falling on hard times. Cheap travel opened up more exotic destinations, air conditioning allowed people to stay in the city, and women entering the workplace shortened summer vacations. Upstate New York was left with dim economic prospects, except for one thing: prisons. As urban crime escalated, politicians and judges responded with longer prison sentences, and New York City was generating more prisoners every year but had no space to house them. New York state’s prison population has spiraled upwards from less than 13,000 in 1970 to more than 70,000 today. So in 1983, the state took over my family’s property and shuttered the resort to build access roads to Sullivan Correctional Facility, a maximum-security addition to neighboring Woodbourne Correctional."
From Ben Adler’s really nice story of the evolution of his family farm into a state prison. (via newsweek)
Hey Newsweek- I can relate to this one. My family used to own a different hotel & resort in the Catskills in the middle of the last century. Apparently it was quite the place to be if you were a middle-class Jewish family back then. Now, it survives as a number of rotting, decrepit buildings and Grossinger’s Golf Course.