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Discover tranquility at an upstate New York castle

Fewer then 10% of family businesses in America succeed to the fourth generation, but Mohonk Mountain House in New York State, celebrating its 140th Anniversary this year, is run by not only fourth but also fifth generation members. Since 1869 this spacious Hudson Valley resort has been owned and operated by the Smiley family, beginning with Alfred Smiley who came to visit and bought the property with his twin brother Albert.

Located on top of Shawangunk Ridge, one of the most famous rock climbing areas of North America, Mohonk Mountain House is a sprawling Victorian castle set in 2,200 acres of National Historic Landmark property and the adjoining 6,400-acre Mohonk Preserve.  Sixty five-year-old Albert (Bert) Smiley, great-grand-nephew of Albert, is president of the Mohonk Family Corporation, and his wife, Nina, is director of marketing. She also teaches resort guests how to meditate (the book she co-wrote, The Three-Minute Meditator, is now in its fifth printing). "Mohonk was holistic before the word was invented," says Nina. "From the beginning, Albert and Alfred offered recreation and renewal of body mind and spirit in a natural setting". 

Born in 1828 into a Quaker family in Kennebec County, Maine, Albert and Alfred Smiley were brought up with a sense of mission and stewardship, and grew up to become college instructors. At the age of 41, Alfred Smiley went hiking to a mountain not far from New Paltz, New York. From the summit, he could look out onto spectacular views of the Catskill Mountains and unspoiled countryside; he could almost see New York City, only 90 miles away.  Alfred spent the night at a small 10-room tavern on the shore of nearby Lake Mohonk. That night, he learned that the tavern, lake, and property were for sale. Passionate about the untamed wilderness and its potential for growth, he and his brother bought the package with 300 acres of land for $28,000.

The brothers renovated the tavern, added 30 rooms and began their new career of resort ownership. Word of mouth attracted guests to the stunningly beautiful property where they could wander year-round on hiking trails, sit in the shade of wooden summer houses (small cupolas overlooking the lake), swim and boat in the summer and ice-skate in winter. 

Family stewardship continued when Daniel Smiley, the twins' 25-year-old half brother, became manager in 1881. He helped add electric lights, private bathrooms, a post office, livery stable, lawn tennis and golf to the resort. When Albert Smiley died in 1912 Daniel took over as proprietor. On his death in 1930, two second-generation brothers took over. By 1947 the Partnership had expanded to include three third-generation family members. The not-for-profit Mohonk Family Trust was created in 1963 and the fourth generation became part of management.

Presently, fourth and fifth generation Smileys run Mohonk Mountain House with the same commitment as the original twin proprietors to remain a steward of the environment.  In 1994, the resort received an award from the United Nations for 125 years of Stewardship, and the Nature Conservancy has designated the property one of the Earth's "Last Great Places."  Carriage roads, trails, and gardens have been created in the last 140 years, but care has been taken to make sure the spectacular natural setting is preserved.

While Mohonk's rooms and suites have been modernised, and even offer high-speed wireless internet access, many guests continue to come primarily because the resort maintains its Victorian character. Much of the carved woodwork, period furnishings and wood burning fireplaces in the guest rooms and parlors are original, and the Smiley Family Parlor, original a Quaker Meeting Room, is open to the public once a day, part of an historical tour of the property.

Four years ago a 30,000-square-foot Spa was built with steam room, sauna, outdoor heated mineral pool and an indoor swimming pool. Guests can take fitness classes and yoga, skate on a massive outdoor skating rink, hike on 85 miles of trails, take horseback or carriage rides, mountain bike, rock climb, play tennis or golf, go swimming and boating, stroll the manicured gardens, visit the authentic museum barn or watch the sunset in their room or suite complete with a fireplace and a balcony looking over the lake and mountains.

There are presently 16 sixth-generation family members (ranging from one to 16 years old) ready to continue the family tradition of stewardship. "The child you see playing outside may be a sixth-generation Smiley getting some 'grass roots' experience," says president Bert Smiley, sitting on the porch overlooking the velvety green lawn.

So what is the future for Mohonk? "To continue to be the same, only better, which allows us to be the same," says Nina Smiley. She then adds, "keeping the heart the same, and changing the details.


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