In many ways, Sunset Acres in Parksville, was typical of a small 1960s Catskills resort, offering guests “beautiful lobbies, filtered swimming pool, a comfortable large dining room, tennis and handball courts, a large social hall, all sports activities, dancing, and superb cuisine.”
Operated by William and Celestine Mardenborough, the summer-only hotel advertised that it combined “a real holiday spirit of fun with a homelike atmosphere of comfort, convenience, and relaxation.”
“From poolside to dining room, the spirit of congeniality is shared with your fellow guests,” an attractive brochure advertising the hotel boasted. “You’ll laugh and be happy at this mountain paradise, choice of refined vacationists.”
At this point, not a lot is known about Sunset Acres. Initial research does not turn up mention of it in back issues of the local newspapers, and it has never been featured in any of the myriad books about the Catskills resorts.
It is not even clear exactly how long the hotel was in operation, although it is known that it was open in the summers of 1965 and 1966, as there are records of William Mardenborough
being granted a liquor license by the state of New York for on-premises consumption at “Sunset Acres on Benton Hollow Road in Parkville” in time for the Memorial Day Weekend each of those years.
It is clear that, unlike the Forestview Lodge in the town of Bethel, an earlier resort owned by the Harden family, who were African Americans but apparently rarely entertained African American guests, Sunset Acres catered to an African American clientele.
Professional photographer Isaac Jeffreys, who has been a major player in the ongoing Borscht Belt historic marker project being spearheaded by Marisa Scheinfeld, has provided much of the information that is currently available about the hotel, but Jeffreys says he discovered what he knows about the place mostly by happenstance.
“I originally saw a brochure posted on eBay last year from a seller in Liberty, and made a mental note that it was a resort worth noting given its clientele,” he said. “Over the summer, I was aimlessly driving down Parksville road, made a sharp left onto Benton Hollow, and saw an entire hotel complex sitting in a very unusually overgrown area. Once I took my pictures of it, I made the connection to it being the Sunset house a few weeks later.”
Jeffreys says that after he discovered that the Sunset Acres buildings are still standing, he came across a postcard of the place, showing the main house and the pool. He was gracious enough to share the brochure and the postcard.
“Sunset Acres offers you swimming in our own private filtered pool, all sports activities, dancing, weekend entertainment, a delectable cuisine, and delightful accommodations,” the brochure promised. “Rooms, by the way, are the finest anywhere! Large and airy, fully steam heated, with plenty of light, hot and cold running water, and excellent inner spring mattresses. Rooms are subject to double occupancy. We guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself at Sunset Acres. Join us soon.”
The hotel was located “one-and-a-half miles from Route 17,” and prospective guests were advised to “turn left at the Gail Motel pool to Benton Hollow Road and Sunset Acres.”
As with its contemporary Sullivan County hotels, food apparently played an important role at Sunset Acres. The brochure mentions the cuisine multiple times, and devotes considerable space to it.
“Delicious! Delightful! Delectable!” a headline at the top of one page of the brochure announces. “And there are even more ways to describe our food,” it continues underneath. “Memorable meals. Dream desserts. Really good-to-the-last-drop coffee. Our menus are exceptionally good and varied, carefully prepared by an expert chef… served in our large, comfortable dining room where courteous hospitality surrounds you.”
The brochure then lists the kinds of food guests can expect at Sunset Acres: “Fresh vegetables, fresh milk, fresh meats, creamy butter, fresh eggs, fresh chickens.”
Although research is continuing, that is about all that is known about Sunset Acres right now. As one of just a handful of African American resorts in the Catskills region, let alone in Sullivan County, it occupies a unique place in our history and its full story deserves to be told, so stay tuned.
Photo: The main house and the pool at Sunset Acres in Parksville.