When we learned about the weeklong University of Redlands travel trip honoring the 150th anniversary of Mohonk Mountain House in New York state’s Hudson Valley, we were immediately interested.
We lived in the city of Redlands 20 years ago, then returned after retirement. As proud residents, the historic relationship between the Smiley Brothers and our hometown fascinated us—we wondered what originally attracted the brothers to Redlands from the East Coast and why they chose to do so much for this far-off community. We had read Mohonk and the Smileys: A National Historic Landmark and The Family that Created It prior to our trip and enjoyed it again on the plane to New York. Part of the trip’s unique draw was having the book’s author, Larry Burgess, as well as A.K. Smiley Public Library Heritage Room Archivist Nathan Gonzales, on-site to answer our questions.
We were delighted to meet the sixth-generation Smiley family members who currently run Mohonk, and they could not have been more gracious hosting our large group of 92! The itinerary planned and executed by the hosting team (Char Burgess, Larry Burgess, Nathan Gonzales, Todd Loza, Shelli Stockton, and Tamara Michel Josserand) was exceptional. We most appreciated the ability to be immersed in nature—one day we were hiking to a lily pond, and the next we were taking a carriage ride into the wilderness, stunned by the relative silence of the woods.
After a day of hiking by the Hudson River or visiting the home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in Hyde Park, we enjoyed an evening lecture together as a group. Engaging speakers included Jim Fallows of The Atlantic, who talked about their latest book, Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America, and David Yarnold, president and CEO of National Audubon Society. One night, another guest at Mohonk who was not part of our group slipped into the lecture, and when the opportunity came for questions, she innocently asked, “How did you all find each other, and what’s a Redlands?”
The latter part of her inquiry became an amusing tagline for the remainder of our trip. We were delighted to discover a whole wing of historic photographs that featured various Redlands landmarks, including the A.K. Smiley Library and the Burrage Mansion—fun to witness so far from home.
It was a pleasure to have unhurried time with old and new friends. No one was talking about what degree program you completed or when you went to school—the connection to Redlands was simply enough to get a conversation started. There was so much depth to the itinerary, which truly had something for everyone. We even had five children in our group, demonstrating the excursion’s multigenerational draw.
We have enjoyed a number of wonderful trips as a couple, but this one with the University of Redlands was unique. We look forward to staying in touch with our fellow Mohonk travelers for years to come, and we are grateful to the University for allowing us to share this special experience together.
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