Shepard Farm to be restored, with small business hopes for Westerlo

Shepard Farm, Westerlo, New York

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
The old barn and other buildings on Shepard Farm have been abandoned for over 20 years, but John Dolce says he would like to restore them to be used again. Ideas have been floated, including making the barn the site for a farmers’ market.

WESTERLO — Shepard Farm, a former resort and relic of the heyday of Catskill resorts in the 1940s and ’50s, has been bought by John Dolce and Steve Haaland who plan to restore it and possibly rent space to local businesses in town.

Records of the Shepard family date back to the 1830s. Originally a working farm, Shepard Farm was built in 1862, according to information provided by Westerlo town historian Dennis Fancher. It became a resort in the 1920s, and included amenities such as indoor and outdoor pools, a movie theater, and a dance hall. A “dry” resort, alcohol was prohibited due to a sentiment dating back to Prohibition; visitors were said to have kept their beer cold — and hidden — in their toilet tanks.

The resort, located at 6844 Route 32, saw its peak in the 1940s and ’50s, hosting as many as 200 guests at a time, said Fancher. The resort closed in the 1980s, and with it went the employment of resort staff as well as local bars and grocery stores that served visitors.

Today, the main employer in town is Hannay Reels, a hose and cable reel manufacturer that employs about 150 people (including, formerly, Fancher); and most amenities for residents must be purchased in neighboring towns like Greenville. John Dolce, a Rensselaerville town councilman and owner of three businesses in Westerlo, would like to change that.

Dolce and Steve Haaland of HCI Haaland Construction Inc. formed Shepard Farm LLC. They purchased the resort’s nine buildings and its 190-acre property for $150,000 from Brooklyn-based company Lucky Moose LLC, according to records in the Albany County Clerk’s online database. The 2016 county assessment rolls list the property as having a $357,143 full market value.

Originally, Lucky Moose LLC purchased the property for $750,000 after the Eastern Baptist Association of New York Inc., a religious group serving areas in Long Island and New York City, foreclosed on the property. Dolce said Lucky Moose had been trying to subdivide the property to build homes on, but ran into problems with the town and had to spend a significant amount of money to meet town codes.

Haaland was cautious when speaking of plans.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Gazing upward, Westerlo’s town historian Dennis Fancher, left, and John Dolce, look inside the barn at Shepard Farm.

 

“It’s a little up in the air right now,” he said. “A lot of thought, a lot of planning has to go into this.”

Both Dolce and Haaland did not want to disclose an estimated cost of repairs and refurbishment, but Haaland did say, “It is not going to be cheap.”

Dolce didn’t want to promise anything yet, but said he has been contacted by a number of people interested in setting up businesses at the former resort. He listed an antiques store, a painting studio, a dog-day-care facility, a preschool, a spa, a law office, a photo studio, and a gym as businesses that people would like to open in the area.

“We need these small businesses,” he said.

Dolce also floated the idea of renting the property’s large stretch of land out to farmers or even to solar companies. He noted an area at the center of the property not visible from nearby roads or most homes that could accommodate a solar array.

The process will first have to involve an environmental study and then bringing the buildings up to code, he said. Several buildings need new roofs. The structures range from 45 to over 100 years old, said Dolce, and he would like to preserve their original design.

Dolce said he wants to give people a place to work close to home. He also wants to restore the property because it is the first part of Westerlo many see if they are coming north from the town of Greenville.

“It sort of sets a tone for people coming through Westerlo,” he said.

Dolce has started working on cleaning up the buildings. He found wood cut-outs of the resort’s logo, as well as a Santa Claus with reindeer that he mounted on the wall of the barn. Lucky Moose, at the advice of its insurance company, had boarded up many of the buildings’ doors and windows, and also filled in the outdoor in-ground pool. Dolce has gone through the buildings, and has begun working mostly on refurbishing one of the smaller structures.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
A dried-up fountain sits at the corner of county routes 32 and 405, and marks the start of the Shepard Farm property. Coming from Greenville, the abandoned resort is the first thing people see entering the town of Westerlo, says John Dolce.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Pink plates with floral designs are piled up on a table in the old hotel kitchen at Shepard Farm. 

 

A tour of Shepard Farm

Inside the main building, tables and chairs that once furnished a dining area are stacked on each other in a cluster on one side of the room. Plates and menus remain stacked in the kitchen, and though the glass walls surrounding the indoor pool — now dry — were shattered, lawn chairs still surround it.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
An exit sign hangs by wires in an old hotel lobby at Shepard Farm. The Westerlo property was a farm in the 1800s before becoming a resort in the 1920s. It closed in the 1980s.

 

Many of the rooms at the former resort have remained furnished with made beds and period furniture untouched. Dolce said that the original owner, Gladys Shepard, wanted every room and its attached bathroom in one building a different color, and so each room sported a different pattern of wallpaper with corresponding drapes and upholstery. Lifting up a piece of lush green carpet with his foot, Dolce noted the still-intact hardwood floors beneath.

“I feel like a little kid at a candy store,” remarked Fancher at one point, commenting on the number of antiques found. He and his wife sell antiques.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
The banister on a staircase in Shepard Farm indicates how old the property is. Records of the Shepard family date back to the 1830s, and the farmhouse itself was built in 1862, becoming a resort in the 1920s.

 

Some hallways had a line of furniture leading up to one room where pieces of furniture were piled on top of one another. Dolce said he believed burglars had been passing these out a window, which he later secured. Other rooms had smashed porcelain sinks — some painted to match the wallpaper —, heating vents ripped out, and bare wires poking through the ceiling; the copper had been stripped from the rooms.

Other sections had been subject to mere vandalism: antique mirrors were smashed and expletives were scribbled down the length of a hallway. Dolce and Fancher lamented that Westerlo youth have nothing better to do.

Behind the main building, over a small footbridge, what was known as the honeymoon cottage had a roof that had fallen in. The movie theater’s roof was also damaged when a tree fell on it, but inside many of its seats, as well as its red curtain and stage, are unscathed. Its basement still contains pool tables and a shuffleboard court, and upstairs, reels of film sit on top of a red-painted piano in a dance hall.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Pictures of the past: Postcards depict what Shepard Farm looked like as a resort during its heyday, in the 1940s and ’50s.

The barn still contains farming equipment, and in the stables an old banner with the Eastern Baptist Association’s logo was laid out. A garage contains equipment as well as items found by Dolce, including a box labeled Johnnie Walker Red. He remarked on how he found this despite Shepard Farm’s status as a dry resort.

Another building contains a piece of very old farm equipment, as well as various wooden cutouts. The resort used to put up decorations for different times of the year. Cutouts include a jack o’ lantern as well as a cow. There also is a plastic Santa Claus and eight headless reindeer. Fancher asked Dolce if had found any of the heads.

“One,” said Dolce.

In a one building, a maid’s uniform still hangs in a closet, complete with white piping and a zipper up the front. Before leaving the building and boarding up the door, Dolce and Fancher found a framed painting addressed to an R.C. Higgs and signed “From Your Friend.” The two men propped it up against the wall so it was in view again.

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