Through a dry and thirsty land, water from the Kenyon heights Pours itself out of Lake Sangra's broken heart There in the Sahara winds Jesus heard the whole world cry For the healing that would flow from His own scars... Rich Mullins, My Deliverer, 1998
In the early 1950s, the last decade before desegregation, a developer in Brooklyn bought a family estate in the Catskill Mountains of New York and subdivided it into vacation plots for African-American families. Over the next 30 years, about 100 Black families formed the vibrant Luxton Lake community or Lucky Lake as it was called.
For three decades, the families gathered around the lake in love and friendship, many on getaways from the hustle and bustle of the The Bronx and Queens. In the summertime, they swam, cooked-out and foraged for wild blueberries. In autumn, they canoed among magnificent fall colors, and in winter, they cut holes in the lake with spuds and ice-fished for pickerel and northern pike.
And, then in the early 1980s it all disappeared. A developer ran heavy machinery over the 100-year-old Luxton Lake dam and destroyed it. The town of Tusten sat back and did nothing. The weakened dam threatened downstream property, and the State of New York demolished it. In just two hours, the water drained away from Luxton Lake along with the community’s spirit. In time, most of the residents drifted away. The once-popular club house closed down. Houses fell into disrepair and Luxton Lake was no more.
Today, about 20 Black families remain in the development. A Facebook page was created to promote the memories of Luxton Lake and advocate for its future. The page manager wrote, “Luxton Lake is a place where the American dream came true…until the water was taken away.”
Luxton Lake’s Last Generation
The last generation of kids to enjoy Luxton Lake were Gen-Xers. I wanted to write this story down and share these photos from April 1971, because things have a way of disappearing from the Internet. I’ve been hanging around this Worldwide Web for nearly two decades, now, and many of my favorite blogs, Flickr accounts and Facebook pages have vanished overnight. Just like the water in Luxton “Lucky” Lake vanished. It disappeared right into the earth — one day, just gone.
But, never the memories and never the heartache over the loss.
The following is a testimonial from a woman, Michelle, who grew up on Lucky Lake. Here she bears witness to the destruction of her childhood home, the subsequent death of her father and the beautiful childhood she enjoyed in that African-American haven in the Catskills. The comment first appeared on YouTube following this short documentary about the Lake.
“It was too painful at the time to be interviewed for this film – and it is still painful to watch. This is where I grew up and our beautiful community was destroyed once the lake was drained. The “they” that destroyed the dam weren’t the black people I grew up with who lived peacefully together. It was Knudsen’s Development trucks that used our dam as a bridge in the development across from the lake – land we didn’t own and trees and land we’d never tear down. In fact, once by the old Indian-Settler burial grave, I saw bears running wildly out of the woods from all the destruction. It was an omen.
“The truth is, the town (Tusten, New York) refused our injunction to stop Knudsen from using the century old dam as a bridge for the heavy truck. This is when we found out the developer had caused more cracking and danger to the dam. Our LLPA (Luxton Lake Property Association) sued to force the town and the trucks to stop, but lost in court.
This is an all-too common story of black neighborhoods. It’s amazing that we could have been thought of as “threatening”- since we shopped in town and I went to school in town – as one of the less than 10 black people to go to Narrowsburg Central High School. But because of my amazing neighborhood’s support, I went on to graduate Valedictorian from a school that had few people of color, Jewish people, etc.
In my neighborhood of Luxton Lake Estates, we literally kept to ourselves, thriving as a community of people whom most people didn’t want to sell to – so we built our own community, with our own hands, with famous jazz musicians, Broadway dancers, ball players, writers in the wings. It was Heaven on Earth so of course, it couldn’t last.
When I was preparing for college, the dam was dynamited and my father who loved the lake more than his life, asked me to sit with him and watch the lake drain. A part of me died that day, right along with my father’s spirit. Shortly after, my dad got very ill and later died from cancer, that I know in my bones was from his immense grief. He said to me, ‘God, shug, even when you leave white people alone, it doesn’t matter, they can still destroy what you love.’
I connect the loss of the Lake with that – completely. Of any of our errors as property owners, it was to not just BUY all sides of the Lake so that no greedy developers could come in and essentially, in one fell swoop, end our way of life and ensure the end of our summer home/retirements for 70-100 of us who once resided there. There will always be blood on someone’s hands about this, but that blood is not on the hands of those of us who used to call this place OUR home.”
Photos used with permission from Luxton Lake on Facebook.