To the Editor:
Ross Padluck’s letter to the editor (published on Saturday, May 1 in the Times Herald Record) about a developer’s proposal to tear down the White Lake Mansion House was right on target. In fact, as good a case as Padluck makes for saving the venerable hotel, he only cites part of the story.
Padluck observed that “built in 1848 in the Greek Revival style, the mansion is one of Sullivan County’s oldest surviving hotel buildings.
In fact, the White Lake Mansion House is the oldest summer hotel still standing in Sullivan County, and its link to the very beginning of the resort industry in the county that became known for its resort industry is undeniable. Writing about White Lake, James Eldridge Quinlan notes in his History of Sullivan County, published in 1873, that “for many years a few summer boarders frequented the place. In 1846, J. B. Finlay put up the first hotel for the special benefit of this class of people…But the business was not remunerative until the Mansion House was built [in 1848].”
So, at least according to Quinlan, who has written what is generally accepted as the bible of Sullivan County history, the White Lake Mansion House was the first profitable summer hotel in the county. The hotel remains in mostly original condition and is on its original site. It was a favorite of the early fishermen and golfers who spent their summers in the region, and there is anecdotal evidence that renown bootlegger Waxey Gordon was once a partner in the business. The Mansion House would rank high on any historic preservation thermometer, and for this reason alone restoration of the mansion should be the only option.
But there is so much more. Sullivan County– and the town of Bethel in particular– has made great strides in expounding a “green” agenda with an emphasis on sustainability. Repeated studies have shown that it takes approximately 25% less energy to restore an old building than to replace it, and research from The Center for Urban Policy suggests that it costs up to33% less to rehabilitate a building– no matter how much work is needed– than to demolish it and build new.
Think of it this way: Virtually everyone in America has gotten behind the recycling effort– no matter how inconvenient, cans, bottles, and plastic bags are recycled every day– but they have not embraced the reuse of buildings with the same zeal. Yet, as preservationist Donovan Rypkema points out, tearing down a single 20′x120′ building wipes out the benefit of recycling over 1.3 million cans, and that’s just in the impact the demolition has on landfills, it does not take into account the energy expended.
Rypkema writes: “Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources. First, we are throwing away thousands of dollars of embodied energy. Second, we are replacing it with materials vastly more consumptive of energy. What are most historic houses built from? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber. What are among the least energy consumptive of materials? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber.
What are major components of new buildings? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum. What are among the most energy consumptive of materials? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum. Third, recurring embodied energy savings increase dramatically as a building life stretches over fifty years. You’re a fool or a fraud if you say you are an environmentally conscious builder and yet are throwing away historic buildings, and their components.”
Still, it must be left up to each community to determine what level of significance is appropriate for preservation. A historian can only point out the importance of a building. The people have to decide to save it. Saving the White Lake Mansion House is a no-brainer for anyone who is listening. Let us see who is and who isn’t.
John Conway – Sullivan County Historian
*Editor’s note – To read more about this issue check out these links-
“White Lake Mansion House to be torn down” – Watershed Post
“Developer plans new resort in White Lake – Town supervisor optimistic about hotel, spa combo” – The Times Herald Record
“Mansion worth restoring” – Russ Padluck’s letter to the editor – Times Herald Record
“The Town of Bethel Planning Board is comprised of seven volunteer members and two alternate members of our community.
The Board meets once a month on the second Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Bethel Senior Center, 3594 Route 55, Kauneonga Lake. Work sessions are held at 7 p.m. prior to the day of the meeting.
The Board has oversight of applications for Special Uses and Subdivision of land. The Agenda is coordinated by the Building Department.” Click on the link for further information. http://www.town.bethel.ny.us/