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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 24, 2010
White Sulphur Springs into action
By Zach Simeone
BERNE The old White Sulphur Springs Hotel will soon be converted into a rural getaway for urban Christian families. Students from the Evangel Christian School in Queens, which now owns the property, came to the Hilltowns recently to see a more spacious side of New York State, and get involved in some community service activities.
“We were looking for some property to one day have almost like a campground of our own, so we could bring up families and young kids to have a little break from the city life,” said James Wong, a member of Evangel’s board of trustees, “and, at the same time, use it as a point of reference to reach out to the community as well once we’re up there. A good example is the kids having done this community work, and they really enjoyed that.”
The students stayed at the newly rebuilt Rock Road Chapel in Knox to experience life outside of the Big Apple. While they were here, Thomas Conklin, a member of the Berne Conservation Board, did some work with the kids at the Switzkill Natural Area in town.
“They helped spread almost a quarter-mile of wood chips on the new nature trail there,” Conklin said. They also helped paint and straighten the kiosk at the foot of the trail.
“Then, we went over to the Fox Creek park by the Berne store, and they helped straighten a fence that had been there for years,” Conklin said. The kids also helped plant a tree in memory of Larry Jackson, a founding member of the conservation board, and painted benches and tables at the Berne Town Park.
“The students and Jim [Wong] did a tremendous job for the town of Berne, and I can’t sing enough praise to them,” said Conklin.
Wong is a field engineer with Underwriters Laboratories Inc. “That’s my day job,” he laughed. He was asked by the church-school to oversee the development of this property into its desired form, including hiring architects and engineers, obtaining permits, and having the property rezoned from residential to commercial, he said.
“Of course, we’re a little ways off from getting it to where we want to be,” said Wong, as renovations have not yet begun. “We’re trying to do a lot of this ourselves, at minimal cost, and we’re already getting some volunteers,” Wong went on. While plans are still in the early stages, the Evangel Christian School purchased the building close to five years ago, he said.
The property had been on sale since April of 1999. It includes a 38-by-116-foot dining hall, a 50-by-102-foot chapel, and a 50-by-180-foot two-story dormitory.
It was built in the 1880s by Paul Hochstrasser as a boarding house for wealthy people from nearby cities, looking to get away to a more rural setting, much the way the Evangel Christian School would use it. This stopped in the 1910s though, Berne Historian Ralph Miller told The Enterprise back when the property went on sale.
This week, Miller recalled some of his own experiences at the White Sulphur Springs during his youth.
“We went there for our school picnics until the 1950s,” he said. “There was a concrete swimming pool there, and a park area, and they had a little ice cream and candy operation in what would be the northwest corner.”
After Hochstrasser’s death in the 1970s, the property was sold to the Pentecostal Church’s Word of Life ministries, which used the site as a summer campground for Pentecostal revival meetings.
“The religious group built that big revival hall,” said Miller. “It’s like a small church, almost an empty building where they set up chairs and had revival meetings. You could hear them singing up at my house, which is a mile and a half away. Matter of fact, I’d gone to some of them.”
If things go according to plan, the property will continue to serve as a departure for religious folk from the always-on-the-go nature of city life.