Written by Roger Black
Although the Catholic Summer School of America in Cliff Haven offered accommodations for its guests in numerous
separate cottages, from large complexes including the three commodious residences of the New York group to
several smaller private cottages, the guests at these cottages all dined in the same place: the Dining Hall.
Located north of Devere Park about half way between Lake Champlain and Route 9, it could be argued that the Dining Hall was centrally located on the campus although realistically there were more cottages south and east of it.
It was a sprawling two-story building with living quarters for staff on the second floor. It was ready for the opening of the Catholic Summer School’s first Cliff Haven session in 1896. Porches dominated two sides of the building. The Dining Hall was very much in the same style as the CSSA’s Auditorium and Chapel, which is to say the exterior was remarkably plain and conventional looking. The interior design was another story, which was also the case for the for the other two buildings. There were several elegant rounded openings between serving areas, dark beams surrounding a varnished pine ceiling and a polished hard wood floor.
Owned by the Catholic Summer School of America but under the management of a private company, the Central
Dining Hall served three meals daily for prices that reflected the economy of their time. in 1930:
- Meals, per week $21.00 (Children, seven to twelve, $13; children under seven, special rate.)
- Meals, per day, for less than one week $4 (Transient guests will not be charged in excess of $21 for any part of a week.)
- Single meals — Breakfast 75 cents; Luncheon $1.50; Dinner $1.75
- Maids eating in main Dining Hall $21
The serving staff included many women college students although there were advertisements in the local newspaper for hiring waitresses for the Dining Hall. The waitresses participated in the activities at the Catholic Summer School as well. They were often mentioned in connection with a singing group on campus. The female servers were also invited to dances hosted by the officers of the nearby Plattsburgh Barracks army base.
The Dining Hall was abruptly destroyed on the evening of August 18, 1939. A disastrous fire totally leveled the Dining Hall and a small house behind it where some of the serving staff were housed. About 40 waitresses were able to escape the blaze although they lost all their personal belongings. Two men were reported slightly injured when they leapt from a second story window to escape the blaze and a third suffered a scalp wound while sliding down a tree branch and was struck by an exploding window pane. No other cottages were damaged by the fire although nearby buildings had to be kept wet to prevent the fire from spreading. An estimated $100,000 was caused by by the blaze.
By the next day, meals were being served to guests at an alternate dining room, the Champlain Grill, in the Champlain Club. For the 1940 season, a brand new eighty foot by sixty foot dining area was built on the rear of the Champlain Club to accommodate 450 guests overlooking the lawns of the club and the shore of Lake Champlain. An article in the Plattsburgh Daily Press states, “From almost every table a view may be had of the sparkling waters of Lake Champlain. The dominant color scheme of the room is blue, the floor being covered with a light blue linoleum. Adequate and attractive lighting is supplied indirectly by dozens of modernistic glass hanging ceiling fixtures which cast the light on the beautifully paneled ceiling.”
The 1940 and 1941 seasons of the new Dining Hall at the Catholic Summer School of America were the last, however, as America’s entry into WWII in December of 1941 and the resulting food rationing prompted the school’s administration to suspend operations.