Rainbow Lodge Sign Lives

Picture of Geoff Baer with Rainbow Lodge sign

Rainbow Lodge Sign Lives

 In our daily lives we often drive by landmarks from the past and take them for granted, they become part of the background landscape that populates our experience. We rarely stop to think about their impact and value as a part of our communal consciousness. That is, until they are gone.

Many residents of Woodstock, Mt. Tremper and Phoenicia, New York have most likely driven by the old sign for the Rainbow Lodge on Route 212 dozens if not hundreds of times. It has been a faithful beacon in the night, a good old friend that you count on to bring a smile as you passed by the lodge which is set back off the road. Over the years, it has developed that lovely patina of an old sign that has weathered all kinds of storms in the winter and the brutal heat and sun of summer and still stands to tell its stories.

Recently, many of us became aware from a post on Facebook, that the sign was ordered to be taken down by the building inspector. Eve and Geoff Baer, who have owned the Lodge since 1986, followed the orders and removed the sign. What came next surprised them as much as it delighted them! The community rose up en masse and protested! “What an outrage!””How can we lose this great treasure?” Petitions were created and calls were made, and within a few miraculous days, the town supervisor, Bill McKenna, came out and told the Baers they could put the sign back up! Sighs of relief and cheers of joy poured forth and suddenly Eve and Geoff realized how much their precious sign was worth to neighbors far and wide. It was a revelation! McKenna said the sign has great value as “art”. This is something for all us sign lovers to cheer about – we’ve felt this way for decades!

With all this hoopla over the sign, it seemed the perfect moment to dig down and get the history of the sign and the Rainbow Lodge. So I spent a lovely afternoon with Eve and Geoff to gather their stories, and Geoff shared a transcript of the talk “History of the Rainbow Lodge” given by Ed and Janette Kahil at the Phoenicia Library in 2017. I then reached out and contacted Ed and Janette who also shared some wonderful photos shown here and more details. Here’s my recap of the story.

Dick Kahil was an avid fisherman who regularly fished the Beaverkill and Esopus Creeks. After WWII, he married Blanche and thought that together they could make a living focused around trout fishing. He got wind of an old boarding house just across from the Little Beaverkill Creek that had been used as a hunting and fishing camp. They leased it in 1949 and opened it up as a full time lodge business. They also offered their guests the “American Plan”: for $7.50 you got three meals a day and a row boat. Blanche didn’t have time to fish because she was too busy cooking three meals a day for the guests, cleaning the rooms and raising four boys!

They bought the property on April 1, 1951 and opened it officially as the Rainbow Lodge. The original sign was a hand-pounded copper fish, created by John Pike, a highly acclaimed local artist. It now resides on the mantle in Ed and Janette’s living room.

The sign evolved with the times, and by the early 1960’s they contacted Modjeska Signs in Kingston to create this larger and more colorful sign.

A decade later, they found a local artist named Walt Lang who created the sign that we’ve all come to know and love for 50+ years!

Watercolor of the Rainbow Lodge by John Pike

The lodge itself was a collection of different buildings which included guest housing, a converted barn, a workshop, and in the main building there was a kitchen, dining room, lounge area with a fireplace, a bar, cigarette machine and men’s and ladies restrooms. The bar was built out of a piece of rescued driftwood from the reservoir that had a lot of lures and other fishing paraphernalia hanging from it and had 6-8 bar stools. You can only imagine some of the great rousing conversations that transpired around that bar considering the guests included many notables from the sports and publishing worlds.

Fishing season started April 1st and when the leaves started to fall, hunting season began, so the lodge was busy all the way through summer up until Thanksgiving when they celebrated with a house full of hunters. Their challenge then was how to survive the cold winter months without any guests? Their grandmother had a great fruitcake recipe so they decided to give the fruitcake business a shot! In the heyday of that endeavor they made about 1,000 a year and shipped them all over the country. While I was visiting last weekend, Geoff dug through one of their upper shelves in the kitchen and pulled out one of the original fruitcake tins, dusted it off and voila – here it is along with another version which included a drawing of the lodge!

This version of the fruitcake tin had John Pike’s drawing of the Lodge on it.

After running the business for 32 years, the Kahil’s decided it was time to retire. Enter the Baer family! In 1986, Marshall Baer was out yard-sale-ing with his good friend the actress Sylvia Miles. They happened by the Rainbow Lodge and saw a “For Sale by Owner” sign. They asked to be shown around and Dick Kahil said “I’ll be happy to show you around, but a young couple has already put down a deposit, so it’s not really for sale”! Marshall replied, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but this place is going to be mine!”

A few weeks later Marshall got a call from Mr. Kahil saying the young couple had decided not to get married and didn’t want the place, “so it’s yours if you want it!” He paid the asking price and boom – The Rainbow Lodge had new owners. According to Eve, they never intended to run it as a business and she was concerned that it was a lot to manage, but was in love with the stove, the cutting board in the kitchen, and the little bridge. They transformed the lodge into an art studio and a “healing place” for their son Ian, who still resides there today.

Geoff shared that in many ways, the sign coming down and the public outcry has been enlightening for them.  They feel a lot of gratitude for what has happened and have learned more about the rich history of the lodge.

Our town supervisor has declared this sign has intrinsic value to the community as a piece of art. In many ways I find this a radically wonderful statement! This historic sign transports you back in time to an era where fishing was king. It is part of the rich fabric of this valley full of streams, tucked away in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. For anyone who grew up here or spent time here passing by this sign is a touchstone to a time that seems long gone. Soon this beloved sign will be restored to its faithful roadside home to be enjoyed for many more years by all who pass by.

  • Eve Baer
    Posted at 13:11h, 14 February Reply

    An absolutely great article
    This is a grand tribute to our community as well as to our wonderful old sign. Thank you for caring.and your amazing writing.
    We will have a party when the sign gets put back. Hope to keep in touch.
    How do I share your piece?

    • Mary Anne Erickson
      Posted at 16:05h, 14 February Reply

      Thanks so much Eve – to make you and Geoff happy with the piece really makes my day! 🙂 Lots of love to you both,
      xoxox Mary Anne
      Will make the post public so you can share it!

  • joseph guglielmetti
    Posted at 21:39h, 14 February Reply

    I grew up in Phoenicia and was taught how to fly fish when I was in single digits in age. Back then the Esopus was a mecca for fly fisherman and internationally known famous people would come to fish the waters and spend their time in places like Kahil’s and the Phoenicia Hotel and many other small hotels, camps, cottages and tents. The area was different then, self sufficient people catering to fisherman, hunters, hikers, and people just wanting to breath the clean air.

    Thank you Mary Ann for the well researched story, it brings on a small fit of nostalgia ….well done. I would like to see a whole series of sports history of the “heart of the Catskills” area.

    Joseph Guglielmetti

    • Mary Anne Erickson
      Posted at 07:22h, 15 February Reply

      Thank you Joseph. I so appreciate your wonderful comments. My grandpa was an avid fisherman in Washington State where I grew up. He had black and white snapshots all over his house of him holding up his catch – he was a big steelhead fisherman. He was so successful in a particular spot that they named that place on the map for him! He taught me how to fish as a kid. I remember just a tiny bit, what that time was like through his eyes. A simpler time, rich in feelings. And yes, that sign is a touchstone to all of that. It is precious.

  • Janine Mower
    Posted at 06:24h, 15 February Reply

    I agree 100%. The sign is a work of art to be preserved. Hopefully on site. Thank you Maryanne for researching and composing this essay about the Kahil/Baer family relationship with the location. Would love to have this shared with the Historical Society of Woodstock

    • Mary Anne Erickson
      Posted at 07:17h, 15 February Reply

      Thank you Janine. I would be honored to share it.

  • John Cornell
    Posted at 07:09h, 15 February Reply

    Love the history thanks for the story.

    • Mary Anne Erickson
      Posted at 07:17h, 15 February Reply

      Thank you for your comments.

  • Tobe Carey
    Posted at 08:34h, 15 February Reply

    Thank you for this detailed article. I was fortunate to interview Ed Kahil about the Rainbow Lodge for my documentary, Mountain River.

    • Mary Anne Erickson
      Posted at 08:41h, 15 February Reply

      Thank you Tobe – it was great chatting with you while I was tracking down details. Such wonderful memories from our area. My pleasure to discover it all.

  • Glenn Kreisberg
    Posted at 15:45h, 15 February Reply

    With all this excellent documentation of the history and people connected to this property, it would no doubt easily be found eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Just saying…

    • Mary Anne Erickson
      Posted at 06:29h, 16 February Reply

      Thank you Glenn. I will look into it.

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