The Birch Hill Game Farm was located at the top of Birch Hill, which is now the peak of the Thunder Ridge
ski trails. The Game Farm was part amusement park and part zoo, and also featured a restaurant. It was a
regional attraction that drew tourists from the surrounding area, as well as from as far South as New York City,
making it an easy day trip via the New York Central Railroad or by car via local parkways and highways.
In February, 1956, rumors began to circulate in Patterson and Pawling that a Putnam County fairgrounds might
be established in Patterson, possibly at the 500-acre farm owned by former New York State Assemblyman and present
chairman of the Putnam County Republican Committee,
D. Mallory Stephens. The Stephens farm had been in the family
for decades, and was located on NYS Route 22 at Birch Hill Road. The property was also the location of Patterson's
Little Red Schoolhouse, before it was moved to its present location on South
Street. Stephens confirmed that the farm was for sale, and that he had been contacted by a developer who indicated
that the site was under consideration for use as a fairground or game farm, similar to the popular Catskill Game Farm
in Catskill, NY. A Putnam County Fair had operated in Carmel for many years on the old Fairgrounds on Fair Street,
near NYS Route 52, but the fair was abandoned over 25 years earlier. The Game Farm grew into a project financed and
organized by over 60 Putnam County residents and businessmen.
The Birch Hill Game Farm opened on Saturday, September 1, 1956, on over 100 acres on the former Stephens Farm.
The site was an easy one-hour drive from New York City, and offered woods and fields for hiking and picnicking, and
animals that could be observed in natural surroundings. The location of the Farm at the top of Birch Hill offered
spectacular views of the surrounding area. The Farm had a feeding and petting zoo and a safari area with deer, llamas,
sheep, goats, and other small animals. Little brown bear were kept in a pit to keep them a safe distance from curious
children. There were also monkeys, fox, bison, elk, pheasants, and kangaroo. There were over 250 animals and birds
at the Park, many of which were tame and were allowed to wander the park freely to be petted by visitors. The farm
also had rides for children, one of the most popular being a miniature train ride, the Sky Chief Express,
that traveled through the park, over a trestle, though a pine tree grove, and through a natural tunnel. Other popular
rides included "Sky Fighters", a boat ride, and a large merry-go-round for younger children. Picnicking was free and
there were many outdoor barbeque grills. The park had acres of parking spaces.
By it's first anniversary in September, 1957, the attendance at the Game Farm had reached record levels, and the park
had expanded to 200 acres. The first summer season drew 75,000 visitors. Paul Lundelius, president of Birch Hill Inc. and
also Putnam County Treasurer, announced a further expansion of the Game Farm to include a winter sports area. This would
become the Birch Hill Ski Area.
The 1958 season for the Game Farm introduced new attractions and services. In August, 1958, the Game Farm added a golf
driving range with 22 tees located at the foot of the ski slopes, known as the Birch Hill Tee Park. In September, the
Game Farm announced that it would build a 20 unit, Swiss chalet style motel to be called the "Alpine". The motel was to
be built directly opposite of the Birch Hill Ski area, and would be completed by the time the Game Farm closed on
November 17, and ready for the coming ski season.
The 1959 season opened Thursday, April 16. New for 1959 was summer skiing, a miniature model-T automobile ride, a toboggan,
archery, and a mule team ride. The season would run until November. The park expected an attendance of 5,000 for the Memorial
Day weekend, an indication of the continued popularity of the park. On June 1, 1959, the Game Farm welcomed a celebrity visitor,
actress Tina Louise, who, besides a long film career, may be best known for her role as "Ginger" on the CBS television series,
"Gilligan's Island", which ran from 1964-1967. Louise was an animal and nature lover, and was interested in visiting the park
before leaving for Europe on June 3.
The Birch Hill Tee Park was renamed the Patterson Driving Range, and was owned by Blanche
and Norman Mai. The Mais were summer residents of Putnam Lake until 1949, when they became
full time residents. Blanche Mai was a member of the Putnam Lake Community Council for many years, and served as its president for
six years. She was also a member of the Putnam Lake Boat Club, a founding member of the Southeast Museum in Brewster, a member of
the Putnam Lake Fire Dept. Ladies Auxiliary and its Parade Unit, and a member of the Republican Party of Patterson and Putnam Lake.
She was a vocal opponent of the effort to separate Putnam Lake from the town of Patterson in the early 1950s, and she played an
important roll in the dedication of Memorial Field in Putnam Lake. Blanche Mai was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1906, and
attended schools in Bogota. She died on August 20, 1967 at the age of 61, after a long illness.
Animals of a different sort attracted attention to the Birch Hill neighborhood in October, 1962, when it became known that
nearly a dozen lions and tigers were being kept in a barn on Birch Hill Road, about one quarter mile from NYS Route 22. The barn
was owned by Game Farm manager Paul Lundelius and his wide, Bodina, and was located on a part of the old Stephens Farm that was
adjacent to the Game Farm. The animals were owned by Evelyn Currie, an animal trainer who performed with the animals in circuses
around the world. The barn was intended to be winter quarters for the animals, and a trailer was moved onto the property next to
the barn for the use by the animal's caretaker, Roberto Frangi. The animals were kept in separate cages and were exercised in a
large circular cage. Birch Hill residents were stunned to learn of the existence of the animals, and cited safety and zoning
concerns. The animals were apparently in the barn for two months before Lundelius applied for a zoning variance. The hearing on
the Lundelius request for a special use permit was lively. While many neighbors spoke against the permit, the Patterson Chamber
of Commerce, Patterson Building inspector Anthony Corinna, and a few Patterson residents spoke in favor of the permit. The Zoning
Board of Appeals inspected the barn, and on October 18, 1962, denied the special use permit by a 3-2 vote. Building Inspector Corinna
was instructed to enforce the current zoning regulations. Town attorney Joseph Van Keuren noted that Mr. and Mrs. Lundelius could
sue the Town in New York State Supreme Court if they wished to overturn the Zoning Board ruling. The dispute did go to court, and
the case went before Putnam County Supreme Court in January, 1963, after the Lundelius attorney asked for a change of venue. Joseph
Van Keuren acted as prosecutor. The animals did not remain.
By December, 1964, financial problems began to impact the Game Farm, and shareholders of the Birch Hill Game Farm, Inc. voted to
sell the Birch Hill Ski Area. A new corporation would be formed, known as the Birch Hill Ski Park, Inc., which would take title to the
100 acres used for the ski facility. The Game Farm would retain another 100 acres. The new corporation would issue $200,000 worth of
new stock, to be sold initially at $100/share. Anyone purchasing ten shares of stock would receive a season pass to the Ski Park.
Purchasers of 20 shares would receive a family pass. Management of the Birch Hill Game Farm, Inc. hoped that the sale would provide
money to pay existing debt, and provide capital for new attractions, such as a swimming pool and new play areas.
In 1966, the condition of the animals became controversial. An action was brought before Patterson Justice of the Peace Walter
Carey in May, 1966. Agents of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigated, and the case was postponed
until June after one of the investigating ASPCA agents came under suspicion.
In November, 1966, the firm of Barbarita and O'Connell purchased the entire 200 acre Game Farm and Ski Area from the Birch Hill Game
Farm, Inc. Barbarita and O'Connell paid $118,850 at a foreclosure sale. The Game Farm would have more bad luck in April, 1967, when fourteen
of thirty-two passengers on the Sky Chief Express train ride were injured when the train left the tracks and flipped over. Most of the
injured were taken to Putnam Community Hospital. State police investigated the accident, and defective brakes were thought to be the
cause of the accident.
The condition of the animals was in the news again in August, 1972, as some Game Farm visitors complained about how the animals were
kept. The complaints concerned the small, barren cages in which some of the animals were kept. Many zoos, including New York City's
Central Park Zoo, had heard the same complaints. The trend among zoos was to build larger habitats for the animals that more closely
resembled their natural habitats. These improved habitats improved the morale of the animals and allowed them to exercise.
Marjorie Jenkins, director of the Putnam County Humane Society, said that the Game Farm was operating its zoo within the requirements
of the law, but that the law only covered the feeding and shelter of animals, and not whether the conditions were the best for the
animals. The animals in the Game Farm zoo were thought by some to look bored and lonely, but were properly fed.
The Game Farm eventually became a casualty of poor finances and the popular and expanding Ski area, which built longer trails that
reached to the top of Birch Hill, onto the Game Farm grounds. Most of the Farm's animals were rented or leased, and returned to their
owners after the Game Farm closed. The others were sold.
A Pre-grand opening photo from the August 30, 1956 edition of the Putnam County Courier is followed by two late 1950s postcards. Children
were able to feed the very tame animals. Pictured in the plaid shirt is Dennis Keith. The two boys feeding the deer in the next photo are
David Keith (in blue) and Dwight Keith (in red).
Two ads follow from the September 6 edition of the Courier, followed by a third from the May 30,
1957 edition. None of the ads mentions the town of Patterson, the actual location of the Farm. The Sky Chief Express train
ride leaves the "Birch Hill Park Station" for its trip around the park, in the first of three postcard photos. Two postcard
views of the other rides follow. An ad from the August 14, 1958 edition of the Courier announces the opening of the golf
driving range. The ad from the August 21, 1958 edition of the Courier announces a photo contest for amateur photographers. The
next ad announces the opening of the 1959 season. It appeared in the Courier on April 16, 1959. In the next photo, Lisa Adams of
Montrose meets a newborn fawn at the Game Farm. The photo was published in the June 9, 1966 edition of the Courier. Game Farm
souvenirs are displayed in the next two photos. The first is a pennant and the second is a unique bullet shaped pencil.