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December 05, 2016
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Luxton Lake unveils monument

Contributed photo Jimmy Smith ca 1955.

NARROWSBURG, NY — The public is invited to attend a ceremony on Saturday, August 20 at 1 p.m. at the Luxton Lake Community Property, 95 Luxton Lake Road, to unveil a new community monument. Music will be provided by local musician Jimmy Smith and special guest singer, songwriter and recording artist Halley Hiatt, as well as other local musicians and entertainers.

Luxton Lake is not really a lake any more, but in the ‘50s and ‘60s, at the height of the civil rights movement, it was a summer home to many black families who enjoyed the beautiful waters to fish, swim in and relax. At night in its clubhouse musicians from the city played jazz.

At Luxton Lake Road now, near the site of the clubhouse, a large stone announces “Welcome to Luxton Lake.” A park maintained by the property owners association is manicured, peaceful, a place to reflect with a bench circled by flowers. Jean Sackett, award-winning gardener and first white female Property Owners Association president, continues to tend the flower beds that she designed and Tina Spangler helped to plant. Just beyond is a large field where community picnics and concerts take place. Bridging the roadside garden and the larger lawn are flag monuments originally erected in 1960 to recognize famous jazz legends.

There is one for James Reese Europe, the first black American officer to command troops in combat in the Great War. Europe accomplished several other firsts. He led the first performance ever given by a black orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Europe and his orchestra were offered a recording contract by Victor Records, the first ever offered to a black orchestra. His orchestra during WWI introduced to Europeans the live sound of orchestrated American ragtime, blues and a new genre called “jazz.” His untimely death in 1919 at the height of his career was marked with the first public funeral for a black citizen in New York City, with a procession that included thousands of fans, black and white.

The other original monument honors W. C. Handy, blues musician and composer and author of “St. Louis Blues.”

The new monument, bordered by a row of flowers, is “Dedicated to all who help keep the dream alive” and quotes “I have a dream,” the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 when he articulated the vision of equality among all men and women.

Community residents such as composer, bandleader, jazz composer, lyricist, bandleader and musician Noble Sissle (who served in Europe’s regiment during World War I and had a pioneering role as coauthor of the Broadway show “Shuffle Along”) will also be honored. Other names on new monument are Joseph L. Dollinger (real estate developer who began the community with Noble Sissle), Terry Lockett and Harry and Ella Shepard (clubhouse proprietors).

Two living residents—drummer and singer Jimmy Smith and respected community elder Ruth Nelson—will be honorably acknowledged with plaques.

The new monument and grounds won the 2011 Sullivan County Democrat Stewardship Award for Historic Preservation granted by the Sullivan Renaissance.

The area around the monuments is in the process of being converted into the Luxton Lake Reflection Garden. The historic slate from the former jazz-infused clubhouse foundation can be seen both in the grounds around the monument and in the garden design.

With the breaching of the dam in 1983, the lake was drained. Even though the clubhouse was taken down in 2007, Luxton Lake still lives. What was once a vital community of many black families is now a diverse community of over 40 households whose members are black, Latino, gay and white. Their pride in their history continues with the plan to continue to honor those who came before. The slate foundation from the clubhouse is a vital part of the new monument.

Luxton Lake may not be a lake any more, but its community lives on, and looks back on and honors its rich past.

You can see historical pictures of Luxton Lake, and view Tina Spangler’s documentary “Lucky Lake” on Luxton Lake’s Facebook page.

[Patricia M. Aakre is a NY poet and school librarian who has spent her summers in Narrowsburg since 1994.]