The Catskills Retreat of a Jewish Philanthropist, Yours for $825K


    If you have ever fantasized about being a gracious innkeeper, here’s a sprawling Queen Anne in the Catskills that boasts a detail-filled interior and a connection with a Jewish builder, real estate mogul and important philanthropist.

    Built in 1904 by Harry Fischel in Hunter, N.Y. the house on the market at 7872 Main Street is a testament to Fischel’s creating a life for himself in America while not forgetting those less fortunate.

    By the time that Harry Fischel settled into the first summer in his country home in 1904, he had established himself quite well in his adopted country. After emigrating to America from Russian in 1885 at the age of 19, he used the limited architecture training he had received to try and make his way in New York. He settled on the Lower East Side and toiled for a carpenter during the day while working on his English and architecture skills in night school and sending as much money back home to his parents as possible.

    7872 main street

    In a 1928 biography titled “Forty Years of Struggle for a Principle,” based on Fischel’s own writings, his poverty and trouble finding work as an immigrant are portrayed as a man intent on honoring his Orthodox beliefs while trying to make his way in the world. He was eventually able to obtain a position with the firm Schneider & Herter, but even at a firm that catered to Jewish clients, he was unable to take the Sabbath off, even when he offered to take a reduction in pay.

    He left the firm and became intrigued by the potential for profit in purchasing oddly sized lots rejected by other builders. With money earned from construction jobs, he was able to begin acquiring lots. He designed and built tenements to occupy the lots with a concern for, according to his biographer, the health and safety of those who would dwell there. He was able to sell at a profit and was on his way to building the fortune that would allow him to build a country house — and, more importantly, dedicate his time and money to philanthropic endeavors.

    The list of his philanthropic work and the organizations he supported is long, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Beth Israel Hospital, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Yeshiva University. During World War I, he served as the treasurer for the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War. Of his building projects, one of the most frequently mentioned in biographical entries on him, including one in “Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook,” is his 1903 construction of the Grand Theatre, the first modern Yiddish theater in New York. The building, which stood at the corner of Grand and Chrystie streets, was demolished in 1930.

    harry fischel

    A 1916 ad for the Central Committee listing Harry Fischel. Image via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

    Harry had married Jane Brass, a fellow Russian immigrant working as a dressmaker, in 1887. Jane, according to the biography, possessed “that same religious zeal and love for her faith” as Harry. After beginning their married life in relatively meager circumstances, once Harry’s business took off Jane too was able to devote time to supporting philanthropic causes.

    In the early 20th century, the Fischels purchased land in Hunter to construct a country home, joining other Jewish families who made the Catskills their summer colony. Unfortunately, the house is barely mentioned in his 1928 biography. Instead, it merely notes that he purchased land to build a house and occupied it beginning in 1904.

    The nomination form for the property’s listing on the National Register provides a few more details, including that the decidedly sprawling house started as a much more modest 1840s Greek Revival. Fischel apparently purchased the house and incorporated the dwelling into a massive 1904 expansion. The addition of an octagonal corner tower and a two-story wing and pavilion along with patterned shingles and fretwork transformed Greek Revival into Queen Anne. The report mentions that some of the elements of the original house remain, including the entrance with pilasters and sidelights and, on the interior, a parlor door surround and mantel. The lush interior is largely a result of the 1904 renovation.

    hunter ny

    The circa 1840s house depicted in 1890, before the transformation by Fischel. Lithography by L. R. Burleigh via Library of Congress

    No architect or designer is named in the report and there isn’t any speculation whether Fischel himself was behind the design. A man who made his fortune as a builder and developer, he certainly would have had the knowledge himself or access to a raft of skilled professionals.

    Because it was used as a summer residence, census records show the Fischel Family, Harry and Jane and their four daughters, not in Hunter but at their primary residence on East 93rd Street in Manhattan. Without a deeper dive into family archives, it is difficult to know how frequently the family summered at the house and how many house guests lounged on the gracious two-story porches.

    7872 main street

    Fischel continued his support of Jewish religious life in Hunter by assisting in the construction of the wood frame Hunter Synagogue, Congregation Anshe Kol Yisroal, constructed between 1909 and 1914. Queen Anne in style but modest in scale, it sits directly across Main Street from the Fischel house.

    The Fischel summer home stayed in the family until 1993 — Jane Fischel died in 1935 and Harry, who had remarried, died in Jerusalem in 1948. At some point, the house acquired the name Fairlawn. The name isn’t referred to in the National Register nomination but it intriguingly appears on a 1927 Sanborn map where the house is labeled as “Fairlawn Summer Boarding.” A bit of digging didn’t turn up much information but the Fairlawn name did continue at the house.

    After being sold by the Fischel descendants, the house was converted into the Fairlawn Inn. The transformation seems to have left the early 20th century charm of the interior intact.

    7872 main street

    The inn now has nine en-suite guest rooms in addition to the innkeeper’s quarters. Whether you choose to play the innkeeper or take over the house for a grand country home is up to you and the town codes.

    7872 main street

    The interior has been furnished to embrace the lushness of the time. A listing photo of a parlor gives a glimpse at the staircase, with a richly detailed newel post and turned balusters.

    7872 main street

    The dining room really shows off a carpenter’s skill with matchstick designed walls and ceiling. There’s only a sliver of the mantel showing but it appears to be a detailed original. If you want to drool over more photos or get some better angles, the website for the inn shows off more woodwork, including a bank of glass-fronted china cabinets in the dining room.

    7872 main street

    As expected in a home being used as an inn, there are multiple parlors and entertainment spaces.

    7872 main street

    The kitchen introduces a bit of an Arts & Crafts vibe with a stencil-like border, tile work and wood cabinetry.

    7872 main street

    A number of the guest rooms are described as having fireplaces, although none are pictured. It’s also not clear from the listing photos what the private innkeeper’s digs look like.

    7872 main street

    There are a total of 10 baths in the house, some with either a shower or tub only. The ones shown in the listing have period charm with cast iron tubs and period or period-inspired fixtures.

    7872 main street

    Outside there is a patio with a fire pit, gardens and, of course, views of the surrounding mountains. There are plenty of other attractions nearby, including Hunter Mountain, with hiking, skiing and other activities, as well as the Mountain Top Arboretum, a public garden with an elevation of 2,400 feet.

    The house is listed for $825,000 by Raj Kumar of Select Sotheby’s International Realty.

    7872 main street

    7872 main street

    7872 main street

    7872 main street

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