Thursday, July 31, 2008

Unity House: A Bit of Personal History

In the middle to late 1950s, my family spent two weeks every summer for a few years at Unity House in the Poconos (which was included in the term The Catskills). My late father was then a floor manager for a ladies' sports and swimwear factory and belonged to the ILGWU.

I stumbled across this site where I found this picture

and this one

and here is some explantion:

Name: Unity House
Region: Poconos
Location: Bushkill Falls Road, Pike, PA

A vacation and labor education retreat was operated here, 1919-1989, by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU). Each year it hosted several thousand visitors — including union members, retirees, and public officials — and offered cultural events significant to the labor movement. The only workers’ resort of its size in the U.S., it closed due to declining employment in the domestic apparel industry.

Unity House featured bungalows for families or small groups, an on-site doctor, a chef, and a dietician. The union built an amphitheatre for talks and seminars and brought in professors and other speakers. Members could attend lectures on current events, economics, art and literature, and social psychology. The mostly-New Yorker staff grew to several dozen people over time, including dining room servers, musicians, and a lifeguard. The ILGWU’s decision to rent the facility out to other unions made Unity House a getaway spot for the larger labor movement.

The 1950s and 1960s in many ways saw Unity House at its best. The union began bringing speakers such as Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy and labor leader George Meany. In 1956, Unity House opened a new theatre, which enabled ILGWU members to see Broadway shows. In 1962, the AFL-CIO held an executive council meeting at Unity House that again attracted a host of famous politicians and activists. In February 1969, a devastating fire gutted much of the main building.

I will search at home for photographs from that period (so, come back here in a day or two).

There were great memories from this place.

Into the lake (was it Lake Minisink? * ) I was tossed from the off-shore raft by my father as my first experience in learning how to swim.

The raft is center-right in this picture

I recall Jackie Mason as a 'tummler'. It was a great time and I really think that of the many things we did as a family at that time, this was the best, the very best. Sports, outdoors, woods, hikes, visits.

Just great.

More info here and here and more pics here.

An academic article is Wolensky, Kenneth C. 2000. “A Working Class Haven in the Pocono Mountains: Unity House -- ILGWU” [International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union]. In Canal History and Technology Proceedings 19: 69-90. Easton, Pa.: Canal History and Technology Press.



No, it seems it was Second Pond. Here


YMedad said...

My sister wrote to me:

"That was a touch of nostalgia. I remember the red plush dining room diner like benches in the children's dining room. I have good memories of those two week vacations also except for a truck which ran over my indian plaster of Paris painted mold which was lying on the floor in the sun to dry at the day camp. I also remember the deer we used to sit on and take pictures. Do you have those pictures? I have one picture upstairs on the wall of mommy, daddy, and me at the Unity House.



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Flora said...

I was a counselor at the UH daycamp in 1964

mike said...

flora worked at unity house at that time- was a waiter/busboy- have you stayed in touch with anyone?
They were great years for me. It seems so long ago

Anonymous said...

my parents ran the children's camp at unity house in the 60's. it was surely a wonderful life for my family.
Barb d.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for creating this site. My grandmother died in 2000, and while scanning our family photos for the rest of my clan, I found several photos that are labelled "Unity House, 1968", and a few with my Grandmother on her last day in a factory in 1971.

I was born in '67 and way too young to know what any of this meant and never had real opportunity to ask; so knowing what the reference to the photos means is pricless to me.

YMedad said...

So, we have proof for the justification of blogging

Anita Luna Perkins said...

I have photos of my great-grandparents and others at Unity House in 1922, if anyone is interested.

Mia Henry said...

My parents and younger brothers went to Unity House in the early to mid-1940s. I have a watercolor that was painted by a friend of my mother's named Joel Lewis Orenstein during her Unity House days. Does anybody know of him? Also, does anyone have photographs of the bungalows there? This painting is of two bungalow-type buildings, close together, with a lake in the background.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember Bill Friedman, a red-head who was a counseler at Unity House in the summer of 1955, and whose parents, Garment Workers Union officials, also summered there?

Lotsa said...


My grandfather was a co-founder of the ILGWU and Unity House. Jacob "Jack" Halpern. He was a man of the people and proud to serve.

Here's how to find me. Thanks for this posting.


Tim Halpern
Managing Partner
Comprehensive Prospect Research
80 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1010
New York, NY 10011-5126
(212)-242-2422 (Fax)
(310)-452-4520 (California)
(917)-576-0933 (Cell)

Anonymous said...

I was a camp counselor in 1959. Worked in the dinning room from 1960-1963. My sons worked as waiters from 1986-1990.

YMedad said...

great to see this is still getting hits.

the place meant a lot to a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

I was totally facinated by this piece of history. I stumbled upon Unity House this summer of 2010 as I was looking for a place to rest from 12 hours of driving. I meet the caretaker and sole survivor of this great looking place's staff. He told me that due to the lead paint in all the buildings the resort would never be able to be restored or used again. I was able to drive down to the water by the old telephone booth and down to the what looked like a snack bar and swim area which I'm sure brings back many memmeries for those of you who had the fun of staying there. I felt as if I had stepped back in time by 50 years and an erie feeling came over me. Just wanted to share.

YMedad said...

Thanks loads!

No Pictures? :-(

Gina Monaco Henry said...

My family visited there in the 80's. Those weeks there were by far some of the best memories of my life!! We miss it desperately. I'm sure it was much different by the time we were kids there in the 80's, but we absolutely adored every minute there!

Meri Broderick said...

I worked as a kid booking in the NY office on 27th street and 7th went there for Labor Day weekend a couple of times. Worked with a great lady Ruth LIptshutz,older lady with a history with the Union
brings back memories.

Bob Zimmerman said...

I was a dishwasher at Unity House the summers of "53&'54.Managers were Mr.Taxin and Mr.Mendes.Mr.Felton was maitre d'.Was paid $125/mo. plus room and board.Remember the names of some of the waiters and waitresses,Paul Shane,Ruth Schwartz,Jane Roseman.etc.Bob

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Anonymous said...

I was a switchboard operator at Unity House in the summers of 1973-74 while in college. As a summer worker, we were treated very well & everyone seemed so nice, including visitors and staff alike. Many of the summer workers were international students from other countries on a work/study program. The Unity House was an incredible experience & have always wished that I could go back sometime. Your pictures have allowed me to return for awhile. Thanks.

Minna said...

My dad was General Counsel for the ILGWU in the 1950's and 1960's and I too have many fond memories of Unity House. My family used to go there for several weekends each year when the union staff was meeting. We usually stayed in one of the bungalows, and since we were late risers would have breakfast at the "Sugar Bowl" instead of the dining room.

I also remember the Diego Rivera murals that were painted in the lobby of the main building in the upstairs area, where almost no one went.

Before the new theater was built, there was a "theater" down by the lake, and after the show on Saturday night they would clear the chairs and there would be a band and people would dance. My dad taught me the foxtrot there.

I also meet JFK when he visited before he was elected, and my dad told me that he would be the next President of the United States.

For me Unity House was always a special place and each time we left we would circle around the statute of the deer at that entrance and say good-bye.

Anonymous said...

Worked as a bellhop here in the summer of 73. Remember watching Richard Nixon resign in the new facility which had multiple TV lounges. Great place for families looking to escape the summer heat of NYC.

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Anonymous said...

I was a lifeguard in 1968. Ike was the Social Director & JJ Crown was in charge of the waterfront. Saul Gold was the Manager, His son Norman & daughter Marsha were wait staff along with Ed Birch. I remember Richie the Head Bellman. I really miss those days.

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Anonymous said...

I went to Unity House every summer from age 6 to 16.
So many wonderful memories. The rowboats on the lake, the sugar bowl, volley ball , ping pong, great meals, and friendly people .

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I worked in Unity House as a student/waiter in summer 1979. I came from ex Yugoslavia. We were students there, a lot of us from Europe. The maitre'd was mr. Kurt Korfanty from Poland. Wonderful memories.

Nancy Kauffman Hall said...

What a nostalgia trip! I worked in the office of Unity House during the summers of 1960,1961 and 1961. I also helped out in the theater. Saul Gold was the manager, Hyman Belzer was the assistant manager, and Bill Marlatt was the theater manager. Bill was also stage manager for Jose Greco's flamenco troupe during the winter. What a great summer job for a college student!

alison said...

who owns this place now? i've lived in dingmans ferry my entire life, except for right now i'm going to school in east stroudsburg... no one knows this place exists!

Fran said...

I worked in the office during the summer of 1968; Saul Gold was the manager and Faye and Jack Golden were the office managers. I was 19 years old and took long walks with Faye every morning down the road from the resort. I was a Univ of Pittsburgh student looking for summer employment and arrived at the resort in early April. There were no guests there yet, but the Goldens took me in anyway and trained me to work in the office. They were so very nice. I always wondered what happened to them. I did not go back for a second summer since I lived far away in the Pittsburgh, Pa area. I made a lot of friends among the kids who also worked in the Unity House office. Sadly, I did not keep up with those friends as I returned to college life and dont know where they are today. I can remember that one girl was from Blomsburg Pa. I am sure I knew the lifeguard in1968 since that is when I was there, but I do not recall any name at this point.

Barbara-ann McKinney said...

My dad, Fred Siems, worked for the ILG as a young man until retirement. Duing his career he went from Regional Manager In Fall River, Ma to Central States Regional Director to Exceutive Vice President. Obvuisly we spent many vacations at Unity House. My first year in college I worked in the Day Camp 1959 and then in the dinning room until 1963, When I married I introduced my husband to Unity House and he learned to love it as much as I. Our sons also spent many a vacation there and worked as waiters in the late 1980's. Took a ride down memory lane several years ago and was heart broken to see what has happened. It will always have a place in my heart.
Barbara-ann McKinney