Cathy, Caillean and I have been doing research into the origins and history of Central House. Our research is still ongoing and we may well fill in more blanks in the future. Eventually, I would like to create a whole webpage dedicated to the history of the house but I still wanted to report on what we have thus far.
We had been told by the prior owners that Central House was built in the 1850’s and originally was a tavern. We have not found anything thus far that either proves or disproves this. It’s still a very real possibility that this was so.
In order to research a house, you not only have to look at the history of the house but also of the people associated with it as well as the history of the community it is a part of. Doing a deed search as only brought limited success, so we had to go about it through indirect means.
The hamlet of Palenville did not get its name any kind of recognition as a real community until 1859. Even then, it had a decidedly poor reputation. It was described in an 1860’s publication as a “primitive wayside”. As of 1859, it had 18 dwellings, 2 taverns, a tannery and not much else. Even though the renowned Catskill Mountain House had already been there for a number of years and Palenville had a gorgeous view of it, its glory days were yet to come.
On an 1856 map of Greene County that showed the current landmarks and property owners, nothing was noted on the spot where Central House lies. On an 1867 map, the property owner listed in this spot was a farmer named John Harford. This does not rule out that Central House once was (or grew out of) an 1850’s wayside tavern. It was not uncommon then for farmers to make their own beer and sell it, thus letting their homes evolve into taverns.
By 1879, the property owner listed was Calvin Goodwin (1839-1917). Goodwin was a Civil War veteran (5th Heavy Artillery) and a teamster by trade. At the time there were many Goodwins living in Palenville, and to this day the local cemetery is known by their name. In the 1880 census, his occupation was still listed as “teamster” rather than boarding housekeeper, although he was living at this location. From this, we have inferred that Central House had not yet become Central House. The earliest mention yet found of Central House in Palenville is 1888. Therefore, we are making the assumption that the little farmhouse/tavern had mushroomed into Central House during this time. The last part of Central House to be added on was the rear wing, in which I am sitting and writing these words. It’s not much younger than the main part of the house. It probably all came together within a 10 year period.
By the turn of the last century, Central House was a very busy and popular place in Palenville. This is likely because the Goodwins made every effort to keep the place up-to-date, comfortable and yet reasonably-priced. At that time, the rooms cost $7-$10 per week as opposed to the Pine Grove, in which they cost $10-$12 per week. The Palenville Zephyr – a local paper published at the time – would list weekly arrivals to all the local inns as well as deliver some tasty gossip.
Goodwin died in 1917. Central house continued on as a successful boarding house during this time. Curiously enough, during the mid 20th century, the house passed through the hands of a number of women owners. One of these owners was the mother of our old neighbor, the late, great Kitty Garrison. Sadly, she passed away a year after Cathy and company moved in at the age of 89.
Cesare Genetelli, the patriarch of the family from Cathy and her partners purchased the property in 2002, purchased the property in 1955 and owned it until his death in 1988. The Genetelli family had run it as a boarding house and restaurant until the late 1960’s and afterward kept it for private use. After Cesare died, the property had fallen into disrepair. Cesare’s son Olindo eventually put the property on the market. He was extremely particular about it, looking for just the right buyer. After it was on the market for 10 years, he finally sold it to Cathy and the original partnership on the condition that we agree to restore the building. Apparently, he had turned down other offers – no doubt for considerably more money – from others who had wanted to tear down Central House or turn it into slum housing.
We have since made good on our promise. We have been truly *restoring* Central House rather than renovating it as all to many “restoration” jobs actually are. The original turn-of the last century linoleum floorcloths still adorn the floors of all but 3 of the bedrooms. Most of them still have the original light fixtures, although they have been rewired. The entire original footprint of the rooms remains. The original bathrooms with original beadboard stalls (complete with 1930’s graffiti!) remain. The original wooden, Victorian “fancy chairs” still adorn the porch and coffee bar areas and the original beds are still slept in. Much of the work that we had to do – barring certain updates needed for safety – was strictly cosmetic and/or finish work. After all those years the house was still structurally sound. For all the bizarre and nonsensical features on the inside which confuse even Cathy herself, the builders clearly knew what they were doing. The floors do not bounce and the stairs don’t even creak! The house was built quickly with the intent of cashing in on the Catskills tourist trade, but yet somehow the house endured.