A press conference last week on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Williams Lake Hotel in Rosendale was supposed to be a “bittersweet moment” for locals with fond memories of working or playing there in decades past, in the words of project manager Tim Allred. But Anita Williams Peck, granddaughter of the hotel’s founder, first-generation Finnish immigrant Gustave Williams, was thoroughly upbeat about the transition. “I can’t wait for the new,” she said. “There was a rainbow over the lake this morning. That was my Mom and Dad telling me, ‘Go for it!’”
Mom and Dad were the late Marianne and Walter Williams. Walter worked with his father Gustave to establish the hotel in Binnewater in 1929, took over operations in 1945 and rebuilt it after the original building was razed by fire in 1953. Anita took over management upon her father’s retirement in 1987 and ran the place until 2007, when, unable to finance badly needed renovations, she began looking around for a developer.
In the meantime, generations of Rosendalers had grown up swimming in Williams Lake and often getting their first work experience on its staff. Former Ulster County Legislature chairman Richard Mathews was among them, employed by the resort from 1959 to 1964. “I did everything,” he recalled at the press event, “kitchen, waiter, bartender…” He noted that many people of his “vintage” who had worked at the hotel subsequently went on to become successful businesspeople, attorneys and other professionals, and expressed optimism that young people, including college students from SUNY Ulster and SUNY New Paltz, would find jobs at the new Williams Lake Resort being planned. “What will arise will be like Atlantis coming out of the lake instead of out of the sea,” Mathews predicted.
Besides hosting visitors from around the world and providing a beloved swimming place for local residents, Williams Lake became known as an Olympic training site for Nordic skiers in the 1970s and later among mountain bikers for its trail system. Keeping those trails open for active outdoorspeople, along with the recently reopened segment of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail that passes through the site, is part of the joint vision of Williams Peck and the new developers. She had already set aside over 400 acres of land to the Rondout/Esopus Land Conservancy, to be kept forever wild, before the Williams Lake Project developers acquired the property.
“I was very particular about who bought it,” she noted. “The Finnish tradition is if you cut down one tree, you plant two. And I was brought up in that tradition, so that’s what we did.” Selective tree-clearing for a new access road from Binnewater Road and to remove dead trees from around the property has already begun, along with asbestos abatement at the buildings slated for demolition. “The main building will come down in November, but we don’t know when yet,” said Allred. “This building has some asbestos in it, and it might take longer than we think.” Demolition is scheduled to be completed by winter.
Allred projected that the “infrastructure phase,” including installing water and sewer lines, would take place in the spring of 2016, with actual building construction possibly commencing before the end of the year. “We get to meet with the architects again. The designs need to be updated,” he said. Among other tweaks, according to Allred, the hotel and spa buildings will be nudged closer together so that resort patrons will not have to walk far to use the spa facilities.
“If we get a good amount of work done next year, the soonest we could think about opening would be sometime in 2018,” Allred said. “Today is about Anita and her family.” Williams Peck will be watching the proceedings with great interest from the window of her home on the far side of Williams Lake. “They’re going to do great things, and I want to be a part of it!” she said.