Jeanne Sager | Democrat
FIREFIGHTERS RUSH UP Bethlehem Road from their vehicles parked haphazardly along the edge of Gulf Road to the clubhouse at the Hills Resort already fully engulfed in a fire early Sunday morning. Fortunately, the main house did not catch on fire.
Hills Resort Clubhouse Consumed
By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON CENTER September 18, 2007 A piece of Sullivan County’s hospitality history was lost forever in the early hours of Sunday morning.
By the time sirens woke the residents of Callicoon Center around 3:45 a.m., the clubhouse at a turn-of-the-century boarding house turned modern day resort was fully engulfed in flames.
“When I got there, that place was already history,” said weary Callicoon Center Fire Chief Mike Sorge.
Built by the Hills family as a boarding house sometime in the early 1900s, Hills Country Inn was sold by their daughter, Marie Hill Babicj, and her husband, Bruno, to Walter and Anna Ambrozewicz in the 1970s.
For the last several years, it’s been their daughter, Ela Bue, and her husband Cima who have been working to bring Hills Country Inn back to its glory days.
Well aware that the days of Sullivan County’s Borscht Belt are over, the Bues turned the small resort in the hills of Callicoon Center into a destination for weddings, a space for celebrations.
They embraced the old style of the clubhouse, built in the 1950s, using the ‘60s decor to market the place.
WJFF Station Manager Christine Ahern, whose taken advantage of the space numerous times over the years called it “quirky and fun.”
She called on the Bues to host a national grassroots radio conference there in 2002 that’s still drawing compliments at conferences in 2007.
“People still come up and talk to me and tell me how great it was,” Ahern said. “And we did nothing. It was all Ela and Cima.
“They’re the best, the most generous, sweetest, most professional people . . . and the clubhouse was the best space.”
And now it’s gone.
The Hills played host to one of its wedding weekends Saturday, the marriage of the Gerry Foundation’s Denise Frangipane to Bill Pammer, head of planning and environmental management for Sullivan County.
The Bues told firemen the wedding party wrapped up their celebrations around 1 a.m. in the clubhouse, heading into the main house just a few hundred feet away for the night.
At 3 a.m., deejay Mike Scullion finished odds and ends in the building.
“Until we got called, there was nothing,” Sorge said. “He saw nothing.”
Sometime around 3:45 a.m., neighbor Mike Luogo, whose home abuts the Hills’ field, called 911.
By that time, it was too late.
“I heard the fire whistle go off, looked out my bedroom window, and it was all orange,” said Tony Conklin, whose house is situated just across Bethlehem Road from the Hills.
Conklin roused his parents, who scurried about waking neighbor Dottie Erlwein and moving vehicles as far as they could from the fire.
The proximity of the clubhouse to Erlwein’s house and the main house of the resort was the biggest concern for firefighters, Sorge said.
“Our main thing was the worries about the big house,” he noted. “And across the street, Dottie’s aluminum siding was pretty warm.
“But the thing was to get water on that main building to cool it down.”
The main building, which the Bues keep open year-round as a major source of their income, was filled with guests in town for the wedding who were already being evacuated when firemen arrived.
The front of the building sustained major damage, vinyl siding melting off and rain gutters warping.
As firemen battled the flames, shattering glass could be heard as each of the front windows of the main building caved from the heat.
Fortunately Sorge said some pine trees between the two buildings took a substantial portion of the heat, in essence saving the main building from worse damage.
Some of the other towering pines which have long given the resort the feeling of a private escape for its guests could been seen burning from miles away the wind sending the blackened pine needles raining down on homes and cars a city-block from the Hills.
But Sorge had visions of the trees lighting one by one, sending fire down the road.
He had fears as he rushed to the scene that the main house was the source of the blaze, that people were in trouble.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, he said, and although the clubhouse was a total loss, that’s it.
“We were just fortunate it didn’t catch the main house on fire, and everyone responded quickly,” Sorge said. “It was a good response by everybody.”
In addition to the volunteers from Sorge’s department, firemen came from Jeffersonville, North Branch and Roscoe-Rockland.
Youngsville’s firemen stood by in Jeffersonville.
Also on the scene were representatives from the Sullivan County Bureau of Fire.
The fire itself is still under investigation no cause has yet been determined.
The resort itself is still open, and beer distributors Gasko and Meyer of Lake Huntington will be teaming up with Hills this weekend for the first annual Beerfest.
Originally intended to better market the beers available in the area to beer lovers, Gasko and Meyer On Premises Supervisor Dana Ball said they picked Hills for the event because it’s a beautiful setting akin to that of Munich, home to the real Oktoberfest.
Although state law prohibits the distributorship from doing any sort of fund-raiser for its clients, Gasko and Meyer Sales Director Bruce Nober said he’d like people to realize profits for this event were always intended to go to the Hills.
Open to the public, the event is a way people can support the Bues in the wake of their tragedy.
Although people have to be 21 to partake of the alcoholic beverages, families are welcome to attend.
The event is set for Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the deck of the main house at the Hills.