The Historic & Charming American Hotel

Saturday, May 31, 2014
Once upon a time, back in 1847, in the tiny village of Sharon Springs, NY, a hotel was built by Nicholas LaRue .  Sharon Springs, located in Schoharie County,  was once known for its "springs".  These springs were once considered to be "the fountains of youth" and the village once housed several spas and hotels and bustled with activity and visitors.  Those days came and went and eventually the town fell deserted for the most part, including the grand American Hotel.  After being vacant for more than 30 years, Doug Plummer and Garth Roberts purchased the American at a tax sale for the bargain price of $18,000 back in 1996.   After an extensive renovation, a good deal of time and TLC, the American Hotel opened its doors in 2001.

This past week I was able to take a bus trip sponsored by the Friends of the Clifton Park/Halfmoon Public Library in conjunction to their Two Towns-One Book program.  This program was designed to "bring people together through the shared reading and discussion of a common book".  This year the book was, The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir?
As part of the year-long celebration of this wonderful book, the Friends of the Library hosted a variety of related events.....including hosting the author Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge, (well known as the Fabulous Beekman Boys), and a fun and informative talk by Doug Plummer, co-owner of the American Hotel and............Mayor of the Village of Sharon Springs.  I was first introduced to Doug - "Paul Bunyon in a kilt" (you've got to read the book to understand that) when I read The Bucolic Plague.  I knew then that Doug was a "full of life, love and humor kind of guy" but being with Doug at his talk, and when he hosted our bus group for lunch at the American, Doug can only be described as a visit to Disney World for a three year much fun, you never want it to end.   Doug is one of those people who, in his first sentence, makes you feel as if you've been friends forever.  He is easy going, pee-your-pants funny in the most natural, unassuming way and genuinely warm and friendly.  He may be an inn-keeper, a restaurateur, a comedian and a mayor, but he easily could run for president of the U.S. and win and I told him so during our visit.  After five minutes with him, you wish he was your big brother.  But this blog isn't about's about the amazing American Hotel.  (Sorry Doug!)
 We left Clifton Park at 8:00 a.m. bound for Sharon Springs.  Now let me say, our "intended destination" was the Beekman 1802 Farm, the setting of the Bucolic Plague, but since this was a year of related events and Doug and Garth are frequently featured in Josh's memoir, it was only fitting that a visit to the American be part of our trip.   Our visit was intended to be a lunch stop, but Doug graciously (and I mean generously) allowed our tour of two buses, 80 people to stop there first to use the restrooms!  I said it was generous!!!   Once we were all "relieved," on to the farm we went before finally coming back to the American for lunch.

During lunch, Austin, who is clearly more than a waiter at the American broke out in song and gave us a Broadway worthy rendition of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning"!   He seriously IS more than a waiter....and like Doug, he is full of charm, wit and personality.

Doug came in during our entree course and gave us a brief, but funny, history of the village including stories about the resident ghosts....not only at the American, but around the village as well. 

 Our meals were delicious, beginning with either a cream of asparagus soup or fresh spring green salad, followed by one of 4 entrees offered our group of 80 and a delicious layer cake for dessert.    My entree was pork with braised red cabbage.  My hubby ordered chicken breast with basil, tomato and mozzarella, and my mom had the three cheese, baked stuffed crepes.  All were delicious and expertly prepared and served to our group which ate in two sittings.  Although we were late in arriving from the farm, the staff were efficient but never made us feel rushed to make room for the second half of our group.  Although the American can seat a good number - it could not accommodate our large crowd in one sitting, which was fine as those in the second sitting enjoyed wandering the town's wonderful shops.  In turn, after our meal, we had time to browse and although I rarely buy "stuff" these days, I found plenty to buy in Sharon Springs.  Be sure to watch for an upcoming blog about the town and it's other offerings, as well as a blog featuring the Beekman 1802 Farm.

 The atmosphere at the American Hotel is inviting, cozy, classy and full of interesting things to look at.  When you visit, be sure to ask Doug to tell you the story behind this portrait, which is displayed the coat closet.
I actually have a brighter version of this photo, but I thought this was more fitting?  Don't you agree, Doug?

 The American Hotel is on the National Registry of Historic Places.  In addition Doug and Garth have been the recipients of the:

The Preservation League Of New York State 
    "Excellence In Historic Preservation Award" 2002

 The New York State Office Of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation "New York State Historic Preservation Award" 2003

The Otsego & Schoharie County 
    "Preservation Award" 2002

 This front desk was crafted from a number of trees, of different varieties, that were cut down when Doug & Garth bought the property.  What a beautiful way to make use of what might have otherwise been discarded!!

Note the Certificate of Excellence Award from Trip Advisor!!!

I may only live a little over an hour away, but I'm feeling compelled to spend a  night at the American Hotel.   When doing some research for this blog, I read a number of reviews on Trip Advisor.  Every one raved about the accommodations, the ambiance, the delicious breakfast and every single review mentioned Doug and Garth and how warm and welcoming they are to each and every guest.  Every one made mention of feeling like Doug and Garth were old and dear friends - from the moment they arrived at the American!  What a compliment that is and having spent just a couple of hours there, I can fully agree with all the reviewers.  Sharon Springs and the American Hotel are a well kept secret (or were until the Fabulous Beekman Boys arrived in Sharon Springs and met Doug and Garth.   Take a trip to Schoharie County and see what everyone's talking about!  You will not be disappointed.  Please use the links provided below to visit the American Hotel website, as well as the Village of Sharon Springs.  And stay tuned for an upcoming blog on the Beekman 1802 Farm.....another truly beautiful and interesting treasure in NYS.

To view the photos in a slide show format - click on any photo.  Once you are at the show, just click the pics along the bottom of the page to move from photo to photo.   

A Little Castle By the Sea

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

If I were to ask you who comes to mind when I ask you to name a famous inventor, who would you name?   Thomas Edison?  Benjamin Franklin?  Alexander Graham Bell?  How about John Hays Hammond?  Ever heard of him?  Second only to Thomas Edison in his number of patents, Dr. Hammond produced over 400 patents and the ideas for over 800 inventions.  John Hammond was one of America's premier inventors.  His most important work was the development of remote control via radio waves, which earned him the title, "The Father of Remote Control."  Betcha didn't know that!!!  While Hammond was clearly intelligent and accomplished, what I believe is his most impressive accomplishment is his design and construction of Hammond Castle.
Hammond Castle was constructed between 1926 and 1929 for the bargain price of $500,000 and was intended as a wedding present for his wife Irene Fenton Hammond to prove how much he loved her.  It was also to serve as his home and place to display his collection of Roman, medieval, and Renaissance artifacts.  You might expect to find Hammond Castle in England or Ireland, but probably not in seaside Gloucester on the Atlantic coast.  Yet, visitors to Hammond are transported to a different time and place and probably forget where they are while inside of this amazing structure.  We first visited Hammond several years ago when our girls were in their early tweens and we have gone back at least 3 more times.  It's just that captivating!  When you tour Hammond, you are able to explore  many rooms (map supplied) including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, two guest bedrooms, the inventions exhibit room, the library, the War room, the kitchens, the Natalie Hays Hammond exhibit room, servants quarters, as well as several smaller rooms and passage ways including a secret passageway.  Each room is filled with artifacts Hammond had collected from all over the world.  One such artifact is the skull of what is believed to have been a crew member of Christopher Columbus!
Skull of Crewman of Christopher Columbus

One of my favorite features of the castle is the pool which is in the indoor courtyard.   The pool was modeled after a Roman impluvium pool which would have been used as a foot bath in a wealthy Roman home.  With the movement on one lever, this pool and it's 30,000 gallons of fresh water could be changed into sea water.  That isn't the only cool thing about this pool......Read framed description below.

Sitting Room off of the Great Hall

Courtyard Pool

Bedroom window overlooking the Courtyard Pool
Hammond Castle also houses a large pipe organ - so large its pipes reach 8 stories high!  Unfortunately the organ is no longer operable, but on some days recorded organ music plays in the Great Hall.
Hammond Castle is a must-see if you are ever in or near Gloucester, MA.  Whether you are roaming around the massive interior of the castle, or exploring the grounds which includes the cat yard, Hammond's grave site or the spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, you'll be transported to a different time and place.  Hard to believe the admission to this treasure is only $15 a person, seniors 65+ $12 and children 6-12 are $10.  In researching Hammond Castle, I came across a fabulous video which features many rooms of the castle and a wonderful narration about Hammond, his accomplishments and his collection.   Please take seven minutes to watch it.  You Tube Video Featuring Hammond Castle  You won't be disappointed and I'm pretty confident Hammond Castle will be added to your bucket list. 

John Hays Hammond's grave (after it was moved from adjoining property in 2008.

Just one of the many gargoyles found throughout the castle interior and exterior.

Hammond's Organ - pipes rise 8 stories high!

Great Hall - Doors at the end lead to the Courtyard.

Holding On & Letting Go

Monday, May 26, 2014

When I first married this quote with this photo of our granddaughter, Elena, I did so simply because I thought they went well together.   This morning as I was laying in bed in that dreamy state that comes upon wakening but before we feel alert enough to get up, I got to thinking about this statement.  It was then that I realized how much it applies to in LIFE.

We hold on to "things", material things.... clothes we keep season after season but never actually wear.  We hold on to old "stuff" like nuts and bolts, the stuff in our junk drawers that came with things we've assembled, stuff we don't need but are convinced, "we might someday".    We hold on to things from our past that takes up space in our hope chests and closets, stuff that has sentimental value even if we never look at it.  Some stuff we hold onto is good stuff - old photos, our kids drawings, greeting cards from loved ones.  For all these things, there may be good reasons for hanging on.............and reasons to let go.

Then there's other stuff we hang on to, like memories.   Those may be good memories or they might be bad memories.  Sometimes those memories fuel our happiness and then there are those memories that only serve to upset us.  For example, it might be difficult for a widow to partake in an activity she once enjoyed with her deceased husband because the memories make it too painful to do or enjoy without him.  Sometimes memories remind us of a place or time that no longer exists.  I remember when our daughter and her family first moved to Indiana, it was so painful to see grandparents out with their grandchildren because it reminded me of when we had the joy of that experience.  Sometimes troubling experiences in our past make it difficult to let go and live without fear of those experiences reoccurring.  Our daughter was diagnosed as a Type I diabetic at ten months of age.   During her growing years and into her young adulthood she had many severe low blood sugars, some accompanied by seizures.  Those were difficult and trying times as parents.  Even today when she is much less brittle, whenever she is on the brink of being "low",  it is very difficult for me to just let her treat the low without feeling anxious and afraid that the treatment won't be fast enough and she might slip into a seizure.   This, of course, makes my daughter angry because I am over reacting and because it feels to her like I don't have confidence in her control over the situation.  Yet ..... my memories make it difficult to reprogram my response.

Other things we hang on to are things people have said or done that have hurt us.  Those things may have been yesterday, or they may have been years ago.  Yet some things stick to us like those stamps on our hands we get at events we attend - easy to go on and hard to remove.   I think the things that hurt us are the hardest to let go.  We can't change the past, and holding on to the those hurts and grudges doesn't lessen the pain they caused.  Yet we hold onto them as if placing them in a monument in our hearts will somehow prevent them from hurting us in the future.  While it might  remind us to be more careful with our feelings in the future, is that really how we want to live our lives, constantly on guard from possible hurts and disappointments?  It reminds me of those dating years when we had our first real, heart shattering break-up and thought we'd never love again because we could never live through the pain again.   Thankfully we let go of that pain and tried again.

I'm sure if you think about it, you can think about many more examples of what hanging on and letting go means in your life.  What I propose we do is consider which of those things we hang on to are really worth the effort and perhaps the discomfort it causes to hang on.   Is your life happier, more content, more calm with clenched fists and fear?   Maybe so, but maybe not.  Today, let go of something that isn't enhancing your life and hang it really matters (because it does) to the things and people who do!
This is my husband's old bike.....which he's saving.....for something.
Post Script:  Some time after this post was written, my husband donated his bike to the Hemmings Motor News Museum in Bennington VT.

Thank you for allowing me to share by photos and thoughts with you!  And Have a Great Day!!!

Celebrity at the Local Ice Cream Stand

Saturday, May 24, 2014
I've talked in my blog before about photo excursions taking us to unexpected places, and across the paths of unexpected people.  Tonight was one of those occasions.   The clouds had parted and the sun was on its way to setting, so I suggested to John that we take a drive to the river hoping we might catch a pretty sunset.    Although the sky was pretty with wispy clouds which reflected nicely on the river, the sun had dipped behind some heavy  lower cloud cover so it looked as though a sunset wasn't in the cards tonight.  Since we were already out, I suggested a stop for soft ice cream at our favorite snack bar, Devoe's Rainbow Delights.  As we were about to park, I noticed a van next to us..........

MC - Merry Christmas

Not exactly what you'd expect to see on the 25th of May, nor was the man at the ice cream counter.....

Naturally I was curious about this Santa look-alike.......heck, he could have been the "real" Santa.  As you might expect, Santa drew a lot of attention from the evening ice cream crowd.  At one point he went to a van as it was leaving and visited with the passengers inside.  As he was about to finally get back into his vehicle (where Mrs. Claus had been patiently waiting for her celebrity husband to finish greeting his fans), I decided to introduce myself in hopes of getting to know this "Santa Claus".

It seems our Santa was Fred Clark, Sr, otherwise known as the Saratoga Santa.  Fred bears a striking resemblance to the real "Santa", don't you think?
He might even believe he "is" the real Santa.   After working for 31 yrs in the Saratoga School District, Fred now makes his livelihood lighting up the smiles of children and adults during the holidays - and beyond.  It was clear tonight that it doesn't matter what time of year it is, people, young and old, are excited when they see Santa Claus - especially at their local ice cream bar.  Mr. Claus was gracious and eager to share his stories and photos with us.  He actually had a photo album of himself and various children in his van, as well as business cards - both adult versions and some for kids too! 

    ............and the Kid card
 What a delight it was to meet this kind and generous man who spends his days making joy for believers, young and old.  Even though Mr. & Mrs. Claus had come to Devoe's for maple cream ice cream, which was last week's flavor of the week and no longer available, they visited with patrons and posed for pictures and graciously answered questions from the paparazzi (me).   One of the fun facts Santa shared with us was that he is one of 17 children - all born of the "same mother and father."   He was very proud of that and why wouldn't he be?   In a day of disposable marriages, a couple staying together after raising 17 kids is pretty remarkable.  How blessed I am to have happened upon such a special human being!   Once I got home, I googled 'Saratoga Santa'.  It seems Santa is pretty popular around these parts.  Some of you may have even run into him at the Victorian Stroll in Saratoga.  There are hundreds of images of him on the internet, an interview done by Time Warner Cable and articles of his appearances all over the area.  He's done commercials for Mohawk Honda and an upcoming commercial for Hoffman Car Wash.  Santa is available for hire at office parties, nursing home visits, schools, house calls and more.  I can imagine he keeps pretty busy since he's the best looking Santa I've ever seen and trust me, at my age, I've seen a lot.  It might be of interest to note that Saratoga Santa's career began when his wife convinced him to enter a "Santa-Look-Alike contest several years ago.   Goes to show, wives always know!  

My only disappointment was that we hadn't run into him there last week when we were there with Elena.  What a thrill that would have been!!  So next time you're inclined to stay home and veg in your recliner, consider getting out.  You never know who God has planned to be in your path.  It might even be Santa!

 These two images borrowed off the internet.

 And John with Santa.........

Thank you for allowing me to share by photos and thoughts with you!  And Have a Great Day!!!

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