Some may recall the 1991 film "City Slickers," starring Billy Crystal. Basically it was about a man in a mid-life crisis and some of his friends finding renewal and purpose on a cattle-driving vacation at a ranch out West.
Downsville once had a similar vacation destination, minus the cattle drives. However, the Roundup Ranch Resort was also a favorite place to spend leisure time for local residents of the Heartland of New York.
It was the spring of 1947 when the Roundup Ranch Resort opened on a couple thousand acres of land on Wilson Hollow Road and state Route 206 near Downsville. This western-style resort was created by Dr. Charles T. Markert, according to his daughter, Barbara Black.
``He always wanted to start that ever since he was a young person," Black said. "He fell in love with the area of Downsville and bought a parcel of land, which was the old Gladstone farm."
Black said she and her aunt, Betty Gunn, believe the farmhouse was one of the oldest in the Downsville area.
The Roundup Ranch started out with just the farm buildings, but then piece-by-piece, the resort grew in the coming years. Markert had a practice in New Jersey, and the family eventually moved to Downsville. Markert then brought on his brother-in-law, Thomas Gunn, to manage the resort.
The resort's focus was horseback riding, but it offered all the amenities that most major resorts in the Catskills had at the time. There was indoor and outdoor swimming, tennis, golf, shuffleboard, archery, badminton and three meals per day "" all at a very affordable rate. It was a year-round resort for part of its history, so in the winter, snowmobiling, skiing, skating and snowshoeing were popular outdoor activities. It even had a rodeo on a regular basis each Saturday night.
The guest rooms had no television sets, telephones or air conditioning. Gunn said that at times there were negative comments from newcomers about these missing features.
"You're on vacation," Gunn would tell the guests. "You don't come up here to watch TV; you come up here to have a good time. At night, it cools down here in the mountains. They'd stay, and later would tell me "" you were right."
The Roundup Ranch became very popular, and then the same families would return year after year for a week or a three-day weekend. One-day school trips became popular for high school seniors from across the region. The ranch also catered special events for senior citizens. Many a banquet or wedding party was held here.
Black said the resort was truly unique, in that it was family-owned and operated, giving the owners, employees and guests a familiarity that you'd not likely get in a corporate chain. At peak, the resort could comfortably accommodate between 90-110 guests.
According to Betty Gunn, the ranch was built on Markert's personality. "It brought people together," she said.
Black agreed. "He was the doctor during the week, and the cowboy on the weekends," she said.
Markert was known to bring guests' bags to their room, or to be seen cleaning the grounds. A guest might later find out that this man was the owner, and be very surprised by how he was involved in everything.
"The guests always came first to Dr. Markert," Gunn said. "He had to be sure that they were enjoying themselves."
Black said it was her Aunt Betty who also brought people together. Everyone interacted with the guests, which is why, Black said, that people kept coming back. Many friendships were made between guests, employees and owners that still exist today.
Local people would come to the resort in the evenings for dining, dancing and various entertainment that had been booked. During the day, the golf course was open to the public.
Gunn said that she came here with some friends one Saturday night in the late 1940s from Delhi, and that was when she met her future husband, Thomas Gunn.
Asked if there were any times that really stood out while managing the resort, Gunn said, "They all stand out. All the guests were special people."
She said she recalled that Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme spent their honeymoon there.
The ranch was sold in 1985 and the new owners remained in business for a short time. Not much later, all of the buildings were razed, except for one.
Betty Gunn said even 23 years later she still gets calls and visits from former guests. Looking back on her time at the resort, she said, "This was not work, it was pleasure."
This weekend: A bridge with a durability guarantee.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.