Regal history of the Rexmere Hotel

By Matt Porter

March 26, 2014 Updated Mar 26, 2014 at 6:44 PM EDT

Stamford, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The seven-story Rexmere Hotel stood for more than a century as an icon for the village of Stamford and the Catskills.

Historian Rodger Oesterle spent much of his life fascinated with Stamford's Rexmere Hotel.

Dr. Stephen Churchill, one of the town's most famous residents, built the hotel in 1898.

Oesterle said Churchill built the hotel to cater to his wealthy clients needing a reprieve from New York City's pollution.

"He wanted a hotel that really reflected the elegance of the time," Oesterle said.

The Rexmere became one of the most decadent hotels in the Catskills featuring the first passenger elevator outside of New York City.

It quickly earned the nickname 'Queen of the Catskills.'

"They imported the finest chefs from New York and from pastry chefs even from Europe," Oesterle said.

But by the time the 1950s hit, the hotel closed after fewer wealthy patrons visited each year.

In the 1960s, another famous resident, Frank Cyr, turned the building into a resource for education.

Cyr is notable for helping create the federal law making all school buses yellow, and was an advocate for rural education.

Cyr believed in sharing of services among rural schools which contributed to New York's BOCES schools.

"The BOCES concept was really what gave the Rexmere a transition from a hotel to more of a service location," Oesterle said.

After that, the building also became known as The Cyr Center.

But in minutes Tuesday, the 'Queen of the Catskills' burned to the ground in under half an hour.

Luckily many pieces of art and furniture were moved out just weeks before including a 50-year-old Steinway belonging to the Friends of Music society in Delaware County.

Friends of Music coordinated up to nine concerts each year at the Rexmere Hotel.

"It was used in almost every concert for the 28 years Friends of Music was at the Cyr Center," said Friends of Music board member Marianne Mukai.

In an ironic twist, historian Oesterle said the Rexmere's founder Churchill always feared his hotel's grim fate.

"He was always terribly concerned about what he called the menace for a small village like Stamford," Oesterle said, "And that was fire."

A menace that ultimately caught up with the century old relic.

The hotel was in the process of being sold by the non-profit Catskills Mountain Education Center.

The group is working with investigators to determine the cause of the fire.

It has not released any information about the future of the Rexmere site.

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