Wat started as a simple cabin renovation for filmmaker Tina Spangler led to the unearthing of a “bittersweet” decades-long history.
Two hours from the bustle of New York City, tucked away along the Delaware River between the Catskill and Pocono Mountains, there lies a picturesque vacation community largely forgotten by history. For filmmaker Tina Spangler, however, Narrowsburg, N.Y. and Luxton Lake (also known as Lucky Lake) gave her the opportunity to express her creativity in a myriad of ways.
According to an Etsy blog feature, Spangler first laid eyes on this weathered 1950s cabin in 2004 through a bank foreclosure and saw a home that simply needed to be loved again. From there, she decided to leave her New York City life behind and give this fixer-upper the care it deserved. In the video, Spangler notes the abandoned cabin still had hardwood floors and was a “very simple house that didn’t have a lot of layers of paint and a lot of things that needed to be fixed,” so the task of reviving it was not as daunting as renovating other cabins, cottages, and houses might be.
Staying true to her love of all things retro for the house renovation design, Spangler adorned the cabin with items she had salvaged throughout her life, including a 1920s linoleum rug and 1930s monitor top refrigerator. When discussing her eclectic assortment of lovingly curated vintage treasures, Spangler states, “when people decorate, it’s not from one particular year. People hold onto things for decades, so I think that there’s no rules that it has to be from a certain decade or from a certain year. I think that you can throw together things that you like and make them work.” The Sullivan Renaissance named Spangler’s cottage the “Best Residential Spruce-Up” in the county in 2009, and a quick peek into the interior demonstrates that that award was well-deserved.
In return for her TLC, the Luxton Lake cabin gave Spangler the inspiration for her debut film, Lucky Lake. The reason why this cabin was abandoned is inextricably linked with the history of the area. In the 1950s and 60s, Luxton Lake was an African-American enclave and popular vacation destination. The River Reporter traces the beginnings of the area’s popularity to the end of the 1800s, but former resident and New York City drummer and singer Jimmy Smith tells the publication, “in the 1920s there was another influx of African Americans from Harlem, many of them jazz musicians, which was spearheaded by the famous Negro musician, Nobel Sissle, who built a home here.” Another former Luxton Lake resident, Melva Jackman, describes the resort to the Times Herald-Record as a “family place” and even claims that Sissle taught her how to fish. According to the documentary, other notable Luxton Lake landowners include baseball player Willie Mays and jazz musician Louis Armstrong.
Under what Spangler refers to as “mysterious circumstances” in the YouTube description for Lucky Lake, the dam was breached and Luxton Lake was drained in 1983. According to the River Reporter, “the 100-year-old dam was failing, in part because of improper use of the road over the dam by a developer who was building on lots near the lake,” which prompted the Department of Environmental Conservation to take action before it could potentially destroy the homes below. Along with Luxton Lake’s water, the lively community dried up and abandoned the area. The Times Herald-Record mentions that some residents launched a lawsuit alleging that the destruction of the dam was racially motivated, but that suit was unsuccessful.
In recent years, the area has reclaimed some of its former fervor as a vacation destination, and The Catskill Chronicle reported in 2011 that the Luxton Lake Property Owners Association (LLPOA) planned to construct a monument and reflection garden “dedicated to all who help keep the dream alive,” a reference to Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. In a post from June 3, 2015, the Luxton Lake Facebook page notified its followers that the LLPOA received a grant from Sullivan Renaissance for the maintenance of that garden.
As for Spangler, she still resides in Narrowsburg and is currently the Communications Director of the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance. If you would like to be transported back in time and experience Narrowsburg for yourself, you can stay in Spangler’s “Cutest Little House In Narrowsburg” or vintage airstream RV trailer (nicknamed the “Vintage Canned Ham”) through Airbnb, including access to her private two acres on the Ten Mile River. For more information about this historic region, feel free to visit the Luxton Lake Facebook page to view rare photos of the area in its heyday.