KERHONKSON–All the buckaroos have packed it up and gone home, and the buildings that once teemed with happy vacationers are dark and empty.
Pinegrove Ranch and Family Resort at 30 Cherrytown Road closed quietly in late September, marking the end of a longtime family destination.
The 600-acre dude ranch that had been operational since 1971 was known for its horseback riding, outdoor pools and water slides, rock climbing, campfires, line dancing and western hospitality.
On Sept. 29, a meeting was held to announce the closure. All 104 employees were handed their checks and thanked for their service, according to a former worker.
“Everybody was talking about it. It was a shock,” said Sloan Bryant Miller, a dishwasher for 15 years. “It’s heartbreaking. People used to come to work laughing. We had so much fun here. It’s depressing.”
The all-season tourist attraction was run by prominent Ulster County businessman David O’Halloran, who died on May 29 during a vacation in the Bahamas. He was 56.
Rochester Town Supervisor Carl Chipman called the closing a “tremendous loss” to the community.
“It’s like losing a member of your family,” he said. “Pinegrove was so invested in the community when David and Donna (O’Halloran’s wife) owned it. Little League would have their outings there. He always made the place available for the community. As a matter of fact, we had swim practices there, so it’s really an important part of our community.”
Pinegrove was the second largest private employer in the town–just behind the Hudson Valley Resort and Spa on Granite Road in Kerhonkson, Chipman said.
“Other than employing so many people, there’s a lot of business that came out of that. You’d go down to Stewart’s or any of the gas stations, and you’d see employees on breaks, getting stuff, not to mention the fact that the horses had to eat,” Chipman said.
“They needed hay, and the local farmers would sell hay, and they leased land to some of the farmers, so there was quite a bit of activity in the local economy.
“In the town of Rochester, our local economy is balanced between tourism and agriculture, and something like the resort is agri-tourism, as far as I’m concerned. It’s very much part of what our heritage is, and when you lose one, it hurts. We want to be a destination that people want to go to, so this makes it less easy for us to bring people into our town.”
According to Chipman, the business was “very heavily in debt.”
“I don’t know how David managed things. Somehow he had the acumen to keep things going just the same.
“Donna is the sweetest person in the world. She lost David. She had the hardest time getting out of the Bahamas in the first place, and then she comes back here. Now, she’s got a business to run that she’s never really been involved in, and it was such a burden on her. I feel terrible for her, but it’s the end of an era, and it’s a real shame.”
Chipman said the selling price of the property with 126 guest rooms is $2.5 million
“Nobody’s come anywhere near that price. I’ve heard it go as high as $1.6 million. The bank owns everything now. Before the bank got involved, Donna had movement to sell the place, but now it’s in their hands.”
Meanwhile, two parties are eyeing the property, the supervisor said.
One is a businessman whom Chipman would not identify. The former town resident, he said, would like to maintain it as a resort and renovate it.
“I told him to contact Ulster County Economic Development and possibly look at the IDA (Industrial Development Agency) and maybe even try a PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) program, so that we can see the Pinegrove arise from this and actually become a stronger, more viable business in the long run. That’s my hope,” said Chipman, a friend of O’Halloran’s.
“I can imagine what David would want is that it stays a ranch and still stays very much invested in the community. I just know the way he looked at things, and I’m going to do my darnedest to respect those wishes.”
The other interested party is the Brooklyn-based Congregation Machneh Rav Tov, which owns a girl’s camp a mile and half from Pinegrove, Chipman said.
“They’ve been buying property up, and if they buy Pinegrove, they would basically own the first mile and a half of Cherrytown Road.
“The one thing I am very concerned about is that this … group would take it off the tax rolls and use it as a religious place. I have nothing against religion, but I do against things coming off the tax rolls because when something comes off the tax rolls, that burden is then supported by everyone else. I want to see this stay on the tax rolls and be a very viable operation that will employ local people and, hopefully, be locally controlled.”
For now, he and the townspeople are trying to come to grips with the loss–not just economic, but sentimental.
Before it became a dude ranch, the property was known simply as Pinegrove Resort, Chipman said.
“David’s brother-in-law bought it, and he ended up managing it and buying it from his brother-in-law and sister, so it remained in the family for some time.”
Years ago, tragedy had beset the previous owners, according to Chipman. A fire destroyed the helpers’ quarters and killed some of the staff.
“I remember seeing a guy run out on fire,” Chipman said. “The place was sold some time after that, and that’s when David’s family bought it, so there has been tragedy there, but that wasn’t under David’s reign. It’s been a very happy place for the community for the last few decades.”
Part of its charm was its cowboy kitsch, he said.
“It had a nice homey feel to it. It wasn’t that formal hotel sort of thing, and that was the difference when you came to the Catskills. Families came here year after year, and it was the same clientele every summer,” Chipman said.
“They only hired college students to work the dining room, so that’s where we all worked. We were family. Pinegrove had that welcome feeling that is part of our heritage in the town and the Catskills. You came here so you could kibitz and talk and walk and eat some more and play Bingo and have fun.
“People loved Pinegrove’s hokey horses and the hoedowns, and they would come back. The guy that served them last year would remember their names. Those are things we don’t have anymore in society. Pinegrove was a delightful anachronism.”