by Chris Clemens
Early one morning in the Catskills I rounded the curve of a road I had never driven before. Opening up from a wooded residential landscape into a wide open sky over a quiet Swan Lake, the road soon was lined with a curiously out-of-place looking stone wall opposite from the lake. A bit further along and I encountered a sign that said, “Stone Castle” in cool, old medieval looking lettering. Thinking that this was an odd spot in Sullivan County for a royal estate, with no hesitation I pulled over to investigate and quickly learned the story of Joe Moshini and his masonry.
“Jojo”, as he was affectionately known by neighborhood children, arrived in the area around 1928 after immigrating from Italy. The black-bearded, burly mason was contracted to build a number of stone walls for the the resort hotels that once lined the roadway. The Commodore, owned by the Siegel family, once sat behind the stone wall and was large enough to house 198 guest rooms. At its peak, the resort hotel brought famous entertainers and travelers from all over. The Siegal’s asked Moshini to build them a ‘sunken garden’ that would attach the property of The Commodore to the neighboring property of the Stevensville Hotel.
The Stone Castle
That sunken garden featured a hand-crafted stone castle on a pedestal. So, that was the stone castle the sign was alerting me to! A miniature stone castle! Albeit, a really cool one.
His masonry was so popular, that Moshini was commissioned to build three others just like this castle in the area. Today, this one and one other on private property are the only two that still exist. A few of the area walls that Moshini built are still firmly in place, along with one single urn on a nearby property. I admit that I was curious enough to try and find the other remaining castle, but when I discovered how deeply on to private property it was, I chose to allow it to remain a mystery.
A mystery, much like Moshini himself. After a few years living in the area and building stonework that would stand the test of time, he moved along to take his craft elsewhere. According to the documented history available, no one knows what became of the Italian mason.
As tourism in Sullivan County began to suffer the setback of more attainable air-travel to farther-away destinations, the resort hotels like The Commodore fell out of style. After an obscure church used it for a bit in the 70’s, the local fire department set it ablaze in 1979 with hopes that the emptied property could be used for development.
Today, the land quietly rests next to Swan Lake with Moshini’s cobblestone wall and a stone relic maintained by a few volunteers dedicated to the castle’s preservation. If you’re in the area, it’s totally worth stopping to imagine thousands of tourists passing Jojo’s handiwork and to toss coins making a wish their summer vacation would never end.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens