LEBANON SPRINGS, N.Y. — The flames of the Taconic Inn kindled warm memories last week for 75-year-old Edward Crow and 62-year-old Kent Hadsell and other longtime residents.
For the levelling of the Taconic Inn, reported to have been built in 1762, brought a harsh end to the glory of Pool Hill — once the summer headquarters for the elite of the nation. Columbia Hall, center of activities, was razed in 1925; Drovers Inn (the Wyomanock Hotel) is the home of Paul Browning, and other resort buildings on the hill have fallen before time and the whims of fashion.
Ed Crow first worked at Columbia Hall as a bell boy in 1890. Though even then no longer the nation’s social capital, its more than 100 rooms were still filled all summer long. Kent Hadsell — in the days of the first automobiles — drove tourists to the smaller Taconic Inn and took them on tours through the valley and the Berkshires.
Now Mr. Crow lives on a farm within spark distance of last week’s fire and Mr. Hadsell operates a repair shop in the village. And the tourists are young Bay Staters in search of a warming Saturday night drink with never a thought of taking the cure in the warm spring waters.
It was almost 200 years ago that an ailing and haggard British Army officer was carried by friendly Mohicans over Lebanon Mountain to the warm spring famed among the Indians for its curative qualities.
The officer, one Capt. James Hitchcock of the Yorkshire Regiment, regained his strength and health after daily dips in the spring — in the year 1756.
Shunning his litter and walking stick, he returned to his duties in Hartford and later the Revolutionary War.
The stick — legend has it — was thrust into the ground next to the pool, took root and grew into a sycamore tree.
As the fame of the Lebanon Warm Spring grew, and as the sycamore raised its crown higher and higher, a resort village sprang up on the hill around the spring and in the valley below.
The first hotel was built by William Nichols in 1794, and is said to be the first resort in the United States. Caleb Hull bought the hotel, called Columbia Hall, from Nichols and each year added to the structure until the gleaming edifice stood out like an Athenian temple in the Taconic foothills. The spring was covered by a pavilion and its sides cemented in.
From 1820 on, it was the summer social center of the country. The drawl of aristocratic Southern plantation owners mixed with the Yankee twang. Statesmen and soldiers, artists and dilettantes promenaded along the half-mile of piazzas, and the 100 rooms were filled all summer.