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Jewish Camps In and Around Beacon-Part 1:Camp Nitgedaiget

08/23/2021 03:23:52 PM

Aug23

Diane Lapis

Did you know that Beacon was once home to a vacation resort for Jewish progressive liberals and Communist sympathizers? Camp Nitgedaiget, (Nish-guh-die-get,) meaning “no worries” in Yiddish, was later called Camp Beacon. It operated from 1922 until the early 1950s and was located in the hamlet of Dutchess Junction, approximately two miles south of the city of Beacon on Route 9D.

A black and white painting depicting a mown path leading down a hill with trees, past a barn, and to a large wooden building with a porch. People are walking on the path in shorts and sun hats. Mountains are in the background.
A view of Camp Nitgedaiget painted by Joseph Biel in 1936

Camp Nitgedaiget’s origins, activities, even its mysterious and sudden demise, make this vanished utopia one of the more intriguing stories in our local history. The first cooperative proletarian year-round adult vacation resort in the United States,[i] its purpose was to provide an inexpensive vacation for the working class while expanding their cultural horizons and strengthening their political values.[ii]  The camp founders and patrons sympathized with labor unions and the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) in order to achieve their common goals of decent working and living conditions, civil rights, social security, and health and unemployment insurance.[iii]

The story begins around 1910, when a group of young, Yiddish-speaking immigrant garment workers, all who held similar social and political values, formed the United Workers Cooperative Association.  Their intent was to improve living conditions for its members residing in Lower East Side tenements.  The group leased an apartment house on 1815 Madison Avenue in New York City. Then in 1922, the Association purchased 250 acres of land in Beacon and developed a cooperative camp in order that its growing members could vacation in the countryside with like-minded individuals.

The success of the camp led to the construction of cooperative housing on Allerton Avenue in the Bronx, called the Coops. The camp was open to garment workers and residents of the Coops and others from the tri-state area who were engaged in a variety of working-class trades.

A black and white photo of a large Arts and Crafts style hotel building with the letters HOTEL NITGEDAIGET on its face. Old style Model T cars are parked in front. Rolling hills are in the background.

Hotel Nitgedaiget from the collection of Sandor Hopenwasser

A black and white photo of bathers standing and sitting on a narrow concrete terrace with steps leading to a pool of water. It is actually a dam created across a stream. Steep rocky sides of the ravine are visible with trees and foliage.
The camp pool in 1929 (Photo by Joe Wiener/Collection of the Tamiment Library, NYU)

The Nitgedaiget property was located on both sides of Route 9D in Beacon.  Starting modestly with only tents and dining under the stars, the camp quickly grew to accommodate up to 1,000 patrons daily.[iv] The riverside featured a four-story 56-room hotel, library, hospital, a dining hall, sports facilities, a lake, and access to fishing and boating on the Hudson.[v]  The mountainside included a pool and waterfall, business office, bungalows, platform tents, and a casino (for dancing, lectures, and entertainment).  The pool was one of the main attractions formed by a man-made dam.  There were five rows of stairs leading down into the pool enabling guests to sunbathe at the edge of the icy cold water.[vi]

Nitgedaiget attracted some of the leading entertainers, literary luminaries, and political activists of the times.  Part of a larger cultural scene from NY, these artists traveled to a variety of Jewish camps and resorts such as Unity, Kinderland, Lakeland, Boiberik, and Wo-Chi-Ca imparting leftist social and political values as well as Yiddish language and culture.[vii]  Nitgedaiget was an important venue for Yiddish theater, Marxist dramaturgy, concerts, motion pictures, and guest speakers such as Vladimir Mayakovsky - Russian writer and actor; Jacob Mestel – theater artist, writer and historian; Jules Dassin – film director; John Garfield – actor; Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Paul Robeson – singers and activists… to name a few.

A number of political and social events brought about the demise of Nitgedaiget.  The founding members’ goals were achieved through labor unions and government programs.  Many of the second-generation residents of the Coops moved from the working class to the middle class.[viii]  By 1945, the Association lost ownership of the Coops selling to a private landlord.[ix]

Many Communist sympathizers became disheartened and disillusioned with the party when the political landscape changed due to the Hitler-Stalin pact that set the stage for WWII.  The McCarthy period, starting in 1950, brought a sense of panic to left-leaning and Communist sympathizers.  Five years later, the State of New York Legislative Committee on Charitable and Philanthropic Organizations began investigations into Communist camps.[x]  Harassment and fears of violence led many camps to close or move to new locations.[xi]

Concrete stairs lead to a concrete wall behind which a pool of water sits. Leaves and tree branches are strewn over the structure and in the water. It is late fall or early spring, with many barren trees about.
The remains of the pool at Nitgedaiget, photo by Diane Lapis, 2015

Nitgedaiget closed in the early 1950s.  The buildings and property lay barren until 1963 when the hotel, dining hall, and casino burned due to arson.[xii]  Louis Ritter Realty of Beacon owned the then 186-acre property and in 1967, sold it for $300,000 to the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve. [xiii]-[xiv] It is currently nestled within a 6,000-acre natural preserve.[xv] Today, hikers walking along the Notch Trail will discover rusty handrails and moss-covered steps that were once the pool area… all that remains of this once grand utopian enterprise.[xvi]

Editor’s note:

While we know of no formal relationship between Beacon Hebrew Alliance and Camp Nitgedaiget, some Jewish merchants in Beacon did business with the camp. BHA member Albert Green remembers that his grandfather Abraham Lewis, who owned a grocery store on Main Street, supplied food to Nitgedaiget. Louis Ritter, a long-time BHA member and son of BHA founders Sarah and Jacob Ritter, had real estate dealings with the camp. We imagine that other connections between the camp and the local Jewish community probably took place. If you know of anyone who went to or was connected to Nitgedaiget, please contact Dlapis@beaconhistorical.org. There are more stories to tell!


[i] Andrew S. Dolkart, United Workers' Cooperative Colony, The Coops, Borough of the Bronx. (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1992), p. 2.

[ii] Max Lieberman, “Nitgedaiget’s Head Sets Forth Camp Position on Communism,” Beacon News, Feb 9, 1933.

[iii] The Coops, The United Workers Cooperative Colony 50th Anniversary 1927-1977, (Great Neck NY:  Semi-Centennial Coop Reunion, 1977), p. 20.

[iv] "A Cooperative Camp." The Co-operative League. Vol. XII. New York, January 1926. p 222.

[v] A. B. Magil, “Growth of a Real Working Class Camp,” Daily Worker, June 25, 1928.

[vi] Advertisement, Daily Worker, July 22, 1933.

[vii] Paul Mishler, Raising Reds: The Young Pioneers, Radical Summer Camps, and Communist Political Culture in the United States, (New York: Columbia Press, 1999), p. 94 .

[viii] The Coops, p. 20.

[ix] The Coops, p 13.

[x] Mischler p. 132

[xi] Mishler, p. 132, 133

[xii] “Camp Beacon Hotel Fire Under Probe,” Kingston Daily Freeman, August 20, 1963.

[xiii] “Beacon Hall, Casino Destroyed by Fire,” Kingston Statesmen, December, 1963.

[xiv] Lionel Cinamon to Mary Bogardus, Fishkill, New York, June 26, 1967.  From the Collections of the Beacon Historical Society, Beacon, NY.

[xv] “Rocky Unveils Plans:  Cold Spring – Beacon State Park,” Kingston Daily Freeman, November 18, 1967.

[xvi] “North Hudson Highlands State Park Trail Map,” New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, http://www.parks.ny.gov/parks, accessed March 15, 2015.

 

Do you have photos or other memorabilia that relate to BHA’s story? If so, please fill out this quick google form to let us know what you have. We will reach out to you to arrange to scan your photos or collect your artifacts. BHA’s Centennial programs are made possible, in part, with funding from the Sadie Jane Effron Cahn Beacon Hebrew Alliance Endowment of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley.

Mon, October 18 2021 12 Cheshvan 5782