In the Beginning
Rocking Horse Ranch Resort was created in 1958 by Toolie and Gloria Turk. In 1962, they were joined by Toolie’s brother, Bucky. Although Toolie and Gloria were born in New York City, they became involved with horses at an early age. Gloria rode at stables in the Bronx, while Toolie’s introduction to horses came from the man who delivered ice by horse and wagon on the lower eastside of Manhattan.
The brothers were first generation Americans, their parents having emigrated from Europe. Although they went to school and held jobs in the city to support the family, weekends found them upstate working at dude ranches and Catskill hotels to earn extra money and be able to ride horses occasionally. Toolie eventually ended up managing one of these ranches, where he met Gloria.
Dude ranches were different then, without the frills that a resort offered. It was primarily just horses; accommodations were rustic and facilities weren’t family-friendly. Toolie and Gloria thought that families would love a ranch that catered to their needs, so they started looking for a place that they could convert into one. The closer they were to the city, the more expensive the places were that they looked at. Eventually they started west…and got as far as across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie, into Highland.
There, Toolie and Gloria found the only place they could afford. It was a place called “Friedman’s Shady Lawn Rest Hotel.” One of the oldest hotels in Ulster County, it had been closed for twenty years. To transform the aged hotel into a modern resort, they had to learn to be carpenters, electricians, and stone masons during the week, while catering to guests on the weekends. Occasionally the guests exchanged their working skills for a stay at Rocking Horse Ranch.
A History of Friedman’s Shady Lawn Rest Hotel
The history of Friedman’s was colorful and unique. Built in the late 1800’s, it at one time had a very loyal vacationing clientele. Guests came from New York City by taking the Hudson River Day Line boats from mid-Manhattan to Poughkeepsie. Guests were then picked up by horse and wagon and brought across the Mid-Hudson Bridge for the five mile trip to the hotel.
In the 1930’s, during Prohibition, the hotel featured prominently in gang wars. It seems that Jack “Legs” Diamond a.k.a. Gentleman Jack, the famous Irish-American racketeer, was trying to muscle in on the local boot-legging business. He used the hotel as his headquarters.
One night, while playing cards with two of the guests, he discovered that they were actually Federal Agents looking for him. There was a gunfight, after which Legs escaped and ran to hide in Albany. It was there that the rival bootleggers found and shot him after he had passed out at a hideout on Dove Street in Albany.
Business Was Booming
By 1968, after ten years of developing a regular family clientele and adding new features to the Ranch, business was booming. Rocking Horse was becoming a famous name in family resorts. Many names were considered for the Ranch at the beginning. “Rocking Horse” was chosen because it instantly evoked an image of smiling children having fun. There was also a warmth and old-world charm which seemed to fit with the idea of a family resort.
It was the first and only ranch in the country to have an indoor and outdoor pool, water skiing, snow skiing, a nightclub, and dozens of other facilities and activities. These investments were a gamble, but the dream was coming true. Every year improvements were made in order to better satisfy the guests. In 1969, a new wing of forty rooms was added to make a total of ninety rooms.
On New Year’s weekend, January 2, 1971 at 11pm, tragedy struck. About 300 guests filled the nightclub when a fire broke out. With four feet of snow on the ground, every guest was able to get out safely. In that one night, the Turks saw their life’s work and dreams go up in flames. There was nothing left standing the next morning except the chimneys and stone walls that had been lovingly created. They were left with the clothes on their backs, a smoking foundation, and less insurance than they needed.
Within two weeks they decided to do it all over again. They had succeeded before when they had nothing, and now they had experience. Most of all, it was still the kind of life they wanted to live. The “way of life” had always been the driving force.
This time the new Rocking Horse Ranch was going to be designed from the ground up, not just a makeover of someone else’s plan. With a good credit rating and a history of success, they were able to borrow enough to rebuild. An architect was hired, and ground was broken in March of 1971. Construction went on seven days a week in order to try to recapture the valuable Summer vacation season. It was confirmation of their beliefs that the Ranch opened to a full house of guests in June of that same year. In fact, the seasons that followed were so popular that twenty-four more rooms were added the next year.
Rocking Horse Ranch Moving Forward
In 1981, Steve Turk, Toolie and Gloria’s son, joined them to continue the tradition. His goal continues to be to make the resort as accommodating as possible and ensure its continued operation. Under his leadership, the Ranch has added three elevators, a 250 foot water slide, themed indoor pool, state-of-the-art snow making equipment, a 25 foot climbing wall, and has earned a three-diamond rating from AAA.
Rocking Horse Ranch also boasts a yearly invitation to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and for 12 years exhibited a national Award Winning Belgian Six-Horse Hitch.
In March 2002, Steve’s uncle Bucky retired to Florida after forty years in the business. Sadly, Steve’s father, Toolie, passed away in April of 2002 after forty-five years of dedication to the resort. Gloria is still as active as ever in the family business, and continues to see the original dream come true.
The guest list now includes the children and grandchildren of the first guests. Each season reflects improvements that build on five decades of satisfied guests. Memorial Day Weekend is the anniversary of the opening date in 1958.
The Turk family thanks our guests for all the years past, and looks forward to being your hosts for many years to come.
The Turk Family: Owner/Hosts Since 1958