In 1912 my father, William P. Smithem, was in poor health and was advised to leave the farm at Crystal Run, Orange County, New York. That fall we visited the Charles Evans family, friends of many years, at their cottage at Yankee Lake. While there, Dad and Lee Hunter made a deal to trade our farm for the Hunter's Camp on the south road at Yankee Lake. This camp consisted of 4 small cabins, each just large enough to sleep two people, and 3 large cabins with two or three beds each. Another building had a dining room and two small bedrooms, a rustic dance hall, and a small barn at the top of the hill, with a shed attached.
In March of 1913, we moved to camp by horse and wagon. Then Dad and my brothers built an ice house and a large dining room and kitchen near the lake. With a cook, dishwasher, and two waitresses, they served Sunday dinners to many people, and fed boarders during the week. The dining hall had a large fieldstone fireplace, and after the boarding season closed, we spent hours visiting with family and friends before the fire. Burt Culver of Westbrookville (in later years at Wurtsboro) sold milk at the lake and at the summer's end he loved to spend evenings with Dad and the boys. Claude and Ted drove the horses and wagons to the Village and train station for people and their trunks.
In 1914 Dad had a store built with four rooms above for the family, and received permission to have a U.S. Post Office through the summer – the first Post Office at Yankee Lake. My sister, Elizabeth, and Mama ran the store and Post Office.
Claude, with our first auto, a Speedwell, made trips to Mamakating Station for the mail. On the way back, when in sight of the lake, he would sound the siren and people around the lake would start for the store by boat and canoe.
Saturday night, folks came to the dance hall and danced to music provided by our old Victrola. With so few cars at the time, it was the only entertainment to be had, and all seemed to enjoy themselves. Few lake properties had sandy beaches, so many came to swim at our spot. It wasn't the best, but better than rocks and stumps. Every winter the ice and storms carried away part of our dock, diving board and sand, so each Spring Dad had to replace it.
Two summers, the Schrade Knife Works' Men's Club of Walden, New York took over the whole camp for a weekend. Even though we were short of beds, some of the men were content to sleep in the dance hall on hay and blankets. They were lovely folks and we shall never forget them. The Reverend Sizoo came with them and held church services under the trees by the old dining hall. In later years, after pastoring a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dr. Sizoo preached for some time in the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City.
We had many good friends at Yankee Lake, especially the German musicians who were there long before we came. Four played in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for years. Max Baer (cello), Carlos Hasselbrink (first violin), A. Wieger (bass violin), and Julius Siemers (second violin). I can't remember if Frank Rhulender played or not. Willie Heyney was a fine organist. The first four would enjoy a quiet summer vacation. A week or two before the opera season opened, you could hear them warming up and it was a joy to stand near the camps and listen. My brothers grew tired of work at the lake and wanted year round employment, so Dad bought the house and lots on the southwest corner of 17 and 209 in Wurtsboro.
In July 1915 my uncle, Samuel Van Fleet of Middletown, made the cement blocks for Smithem's Garage.
1916 - 1917
William Von Berg of Middletown, New York ran the Yankee Lake camp. The fall of 1917, Ted was in the U.S. Army. Early in 1918, Claude was called so Dad was left to manage the garage. Needing money to run the garage business, Dad decided to sell the lake property. The Yankee Lake Company had the opportunity to buy, but decided they could not raise the money. So, it was cut up into lots and the camp and what was left of the Protz land sold. The Protz land ran both sides of the south road from the Russ Cottage to the Rocky Cove. Only one small cottage was opposite the entrance to our camp. This was owned by Mr. And Mrs. Parcsells, very nice people from EIlenville. I have heard that Walter Best lives ay Montgomery and if you could phone or see him he might have much to tell about the lake. His folks ran the hotel near the dam, and were there before we moved to the lake. The address is:
Route 17 K
Rural Delivery 1, Box 819
Montgomery, New York 12549
Phone: (914) 457-5222