History Hike: May 2021

by Win Hadley
HURLEYVILLE—The fifth annual “Hurleyville History Hike” led by Sullivan County Historian John Conway, took place in the hamlet on the afternoon of Saturday, April 24 to help commemorate national Celebrate Trails Day.
Approximately 50 people took part in the hike in perfect weather—mostly sunny skies and 62 degrees. Due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, masks were required and social distancing was mandated. Still, participants obviously enjoyed the afternoon.
The hike, which Mr. Conway insists is always “more of a saunter,” started out in front of an interpretive sign at the entrance to the large municipal parking lot one block west of Main Street. The sign explains the impact the O&W Railway had on tourism and farming in the region when it arrived in the 1870s, and Mr. Conway began his narration by elaborating on that.
“Without the railroad, Hurleyville would not have existed, certainly not as it came to be,” he said. “And like many small towns in America, including several in Sullivan County, the hamlet began to decline when the trains stopped running.”
From there, the group sauntered westward, following its leader, who addressed them with the aid of a small public address system slung over his shoulder. Further topics of discussion centered on the Native American Lenape tribe, their culture and some of their language, and the tanning industry and the role it played in the growth of the town of Fallsburg and Sullivan County.
What seemed to be the highlight of the afternoon for most of those assembled, however, came at the point where the group gathered near a mostly-buried car abandoned on the side of the trail. Mr. Conway explained that while the car likely had nothing at all to do with the mobsters who once frequented Sullivan County and Hurleyville, it was a reminder of what used to be commonplace.
The participants obviously enjoyed the Historian’s rendition of two “hits” carried out by Murder, Inc., the enforcement arm of organized crime, in Hurleyville in the 1930s. While alluding to a number of other murders, Mr. Conway specifically noted that of Charles Sherman, whose body was buried in a lime-filled grave in the dirt floor of the Drucker barn on Anawana Lake Road in 1935, and the hit on taxi driver Irving Ashkenas, whose bullet-ridden body was discovered by a Hurelyville milkman in the driveway of the Paramount Manor Hotel just outside the hamlet in 1936.
Mr. Conway mentioned the corpse of gangster Maurice Carillot, which was pulled from Loch Sheldrake in 1939, and the murder of Sol Goldstein, whose body was dumped in the lake in August of 1936 and has never been recovered.
He also told the story of the 1944 murder trial in Monticello of mobster Jack Drucker, who grew up in Hurleyville, in which both the prosecutor, District Attorney Ben Newberg, and the defense attorney, Moses Kove, were also from Hurleyville.
Mr. Conway says he is considering doing another history hike in the fall, along the rail trail heading in the opposite direction, toward South Fallsburg.