Legends and lore shape New York outside Manhattan
A tortured Native American princess drowns herself in a lake. A lanky schoolteacher is chased through the woods by a headless horseman. A god of thunder creates horseshoe-shaped waterfalls by throwing a thunderbolt at a poisonous serpent.
In the state of New York, outside the urban core of Manhattan, these and other mythical tales have left an indelible mark. Fanciful narratives help explain the mystical beauty of the state, from the vast wooded groves of the Catskills to the rolling bucolic countryside of the Hudson Valley to the majestic fury of Niagara Falls, landscapes that provide a dramatic setting for meetings and events. And they have contributed to an off-site meeting scene rich with history and intrigue.
Hold a conference in New York state, and you may hear the echoes of gods and goddesses, the voices of narrative folk heroes or the spirits of those who long ago roamed the land.
Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island’s largest freshwater lake, was formed by ancient glaciers and is rimmed by a scenic sandy beach, its cool waters providing a popular setting for fishing. But be warned: Males between the ages of 18 and 28 who venture to the lake may never return.
As legend has it, a Native American princess long ago perished here. Some say she was forbidden to be with the man she loved and drowned as she swam across the lake to join him. Others say she waited on a canoe in the middle of the lake to meet her lover, and killed herself when he never arrived. Either way, to this day, she’s known to drag young men into the water—the fabled explanation for the suspicious number of young men who have died here.
This myth is one of many that has shaped Long Island, an area spanning 118 miles—many of them beachfront—in easy proximity to New York City. Perhaps best known as the setting for The Hamptons, a favorite escape for Manhattan residents, the region also offers several stellar meeting venues, vibrant towns and natural settings like haunted Lake Ronkonkoma.
Indoor pool at Hyatt Regency Long Island
“We are not as expensive as New York City and we are way more than just The Hamptons,” says Joan LaRosa, director of sales for the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau. “If your group wants a resort-like atmosphere, we have that. If your group wants waterfront properties, we have that. If your group needs to be centrally located near large industrial parks for seminars and trade shows, we have that.”
For a one-of-a-kind off-site, consider a trip to Muttontown, Nassau County’s largest nature preserve, where 550 acres encompass far-reaching fields, woodlands and ponds. The area is home to another of the island’s mythological wonders: the ruins of a mansion once owned by King Zog of Albania, who reportedly stashed hidden treasures in the estate walls. Visitors still come here to see if they can uncover hidden fortune.
As far as meeting properties go, LaRosa notes, “we have 67 large corporate chain and independent hotels on the island, including Hyatts, Hiltons, Marriotts, Starwood properties and InterContinental Hotels.” The most prominent of these include Hauppauge’s Hyatt Regency Long Island, with an 18-hole golf course, 358 guest rooms and 17,000 sq. ft. Of indoor and outdoor space, and Long Island Marriott in Uniondale, featuring 615 rooms and 28,000 sq. ft. Adjacent to the massive Nassau Coliseum and its 60,000-square-foot expo center.
Lobster at Gurney's Inn Resort Spa & Conference Center, Montauk
Also on hand are some of New York’s finest independent hotels. In famously beautiful Montauk, Gurney’s Inn Resort Spa & Conference Center, with 109 rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. Of space, has been Long Island’s only oceanfront resort since it opened more than 80 years ago. It boasts the only seawater spa in the continental U.S., with signature thalassotherapies and roman baths full of ocean water.
Historic and opulent, The Garden City Hotel, with 280 rooms, dates back to 1901. Its dazzling aesthetic features include a cupola fashioned after the one atop Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, and it famously hosted Charles Lindbergh on the eve of his pioneering transatlantic flight, which departed from nearby Roosevelt Field (now a well-known shopping mall). With names such as Cotillion Suite and Polo Wine Room, its 25,000 sq. ft. Of meeting venues nod to a storied past full of wellheeled glamour.
The Wine Room at the Garden City Hotel
Ichabod Crane wanted the hand of Katrina Van Tassel—but so, too, did Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt. One dark and foreboding night, Crane left a party at Van Tassel’s home and found himself chased by a shadowy figure on a horse—no doubt the Headless Horseman, a local legend, known to come searching for the head he lost during the Revolutionary War. Looking back, Crane saw the man pick up what appeared to be his head and throw it, knocking Crane off his horse.
The next day, no one could find Crane, but they did find something else…the broken pieces of an orange pumpkin. Van Brunt, who went on to marry Van Tassel, would always laugh when he heard the story of Crane.
So goes “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving’s seminal work about mysterious spirits and unrequited love, set amid the vast pastoral expanses of the Hudson Valley.
The area’s connection to Irving is a key selling point, as throngs of visitors annually make the pilgrimage to the author’s former homestead, Sunnyside. Led by a costumed guide in a hoopskirt or other period dress, guests explore grounds encompassing bucolic garden paths, Hudson River views and the home itself, enveloped in wisteria vine. In addition to group tours, the site can accommodate groups of up to 140 in a tented setting.
Each October, groups may also enjoy a series of events tied to the legend, including a transformation of Philipsburg Manor into the haunted Horseman’s Hollow and readings of the tale by a master storyteller at Old Dutch Church.
In addition to Sunnyside, memorable off-site options include Kykuit, home to four generations of the Rockefeller family and every inch as opulent as that pedigree suggests. The home itself is stunning— six stories tall and constructed of gorgeous stone—but the grounds are equally impressive. Features include Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s revered 20th-century sculpture collection, with works from artists including Picasso and Warhol. While the venue can’t be rented for events, group tours make for an intriguing day trip.
Adding to the inventory is an assortment of meeting hotels, many of which are resorts geared specifically toward the meetings market. Just south of Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown House Estate & Conference Center offers 30,000 sq. ft. Of IACCcertified meeting space and one of the area’s premier spaces for an elegant reception—the King Mansion, a historic Georgian-style home. The mansion also includes 10 guest rooms, which are complemented by the resort’s 212 accommodations in 11 buildings spread over 26 acres.
Guest room at Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz
In New Paltz, the 266-room Mohonk Mountain House has charmed guests and groups for more than 150 years. A Victorian castle built in 1869, it is perched atop cliffs overlooking Mohonk Lake and surrounded by thousands of acres of rolling countryside. Attendees can enjoy guided snowshoe tours, a supervised swim across the majestic lake and luxuriating treatments at the renowned spa, featuring an outdoor heated mineral pool and a solarium with a stone fireplace. The Mountain House New Paltz conference center features 2,400 sq. ft. Of meeting space, and private dining options are available.
Another grand resort, located near the leafy streets and boutique storefronts of Rye Brook Village, is Doral Arrowwood. Situated amid 114 acres, it offers more than 38,000 sq. ft. Of space. In White Plains, The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester features 146 rooms, more than 9,000 sq. ft. Of space and the luxury amenities (fine dining, expansive spa, first-rate service) the brand promises. The upper Hudson Valley is anchored by Albany, the historic state capital founded more than 400 years ago. This past defines State Street, a hub for city development since the Dutch first landed in the area in 1609. Here, 74 State hotel features views of the storied street via floor-to-ceiling windows from its bistro/bar. Meeting venues here can accommodate up to 150. Nearby, the 386-room Hotel Albany (soon to become Hilton Albany) features 24,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space.
Both are within walking distance of the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, with 81,000 sq. ft. Of function space, including a 26,000-squarefoot exhibit hall.
ROCHESTER & SYRACUSE
Sitrus on the Hill at Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel & Conference Center
Tadodaho, chieftain of the Onondaga Native Americans, was a fierce warrior, feared and revered by his people. As some tell it, he had a twisted body and could kill his enemies from a distance without seeing them. When Onondaga and local Mohawk tribes sought peace, Tadodaho thwarted their attempts with murder and deceit. Finally, local leaders called upon Jigonhsasee, the Mother of Nations, who advised them to conduct a holy ceremony to cure Tadodaho of his evil ways. They did, and the warrior soon joined the Great League of Peace, with the final steps toward amity occurring on the shores of Onondaga Lake.
The legend of Tadodaho is well-known to those who love Onondaga Lake and its neighboring Onondaga Lake Park, which annually draws 1 million visitors to its picnic grounds, trails and waterfront settings.
Syracuse is also known as the home of Syracuse University, one of New York’s premier colleges and an institution that brings the area youthful vigor and plenty of coffee shops, bookstores and other staples of campus life. The university is home to one of the city’s massive function venues: the Carrier Dome, the 50,000-seat stadium where the school’s sports teams play.
The dome is but one component of the city’s ample meetings infrastructure; also available is the Oncenter complex, three separate venues encompassing 200,000 sq. ft. Of meeting, theater, arena and exhibition space, all managed by one team to make planning easy. The Empire Expo Center adds another 300,000 sq. ft. Of space.
In terms of hotels, larger meeting groups can be accommodated at the DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel Syracuse, with 250 rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. Of space, or Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel & Conference Center, with 235 rooms and more than 10,000 sq. ft. Smaller groups may consider Jefferson Clinton Hotel, dating back to 1927, with 68 well-appointed suites and two small meeting spaces for up to 40 attendees.
In Skaneateles, 20 minutes from downtown Syracuse, the William Noah Allyn International Conference Center, aka The Lodge, is located on the idyllic campus of medical device-maker Welch Allyn’s headquarters, overlooking crystalline Skaneateles Lake. Meeting amenities include a 250-seat lecture hall, training facilities and stateof- the-art videoconferencing; up to 350 guests can be accommodated.
About 90 miles west of Syracuse via the New York State Thruway, Rochester boasts the enviable backdrop of Lake Ontario, a thriving research and manufacturing infrastructure (it is home to, among others, Kodak and Xerox) and an educational nexus in the form of the acclaimed University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.
The city strongly caters to the meetings market. Chief among the options is the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, situated along the Genesee River with 100,000 sq. ft. Of meeting and exhibit space.
Connected to the convention center via skybridge, Hyatt Regency Rochester exudes the brand’s patented class in 338 rooms and more than 20,000 sq. ft. Of space, including 10 conference suites with a living room, dining room and wet bar. For downtown flavor, host your group at the onsite Scene on Main Restaurant and Bar, where stellar views of Rochester are paired with modern takes on classic American cuisine.
Other meeting hotels with space for larger groups include the 465-room Radisson Hotel Rochester Riverside, featuring 30,000 sq. ft. Of space, and 362-room Rochester Plaza Hotel & Conference Center, where an outdoor covered pavilion is among 30,000 sq. ft. Of space.
Heno, a Native American god of thunder, lived behind mighty Niagara Falls, protecting its precious waters. When a giant serpent poisoned the falls, Heno sent down a bolt of thunder that destroyed the venomous creature, causing its body to float downstream and become lodged above a cataract. The large semicircle this created is today known as Horseshoe Falls. The thunderous echo of Heno, who has since ascended to the heavens, can still be heard in its roar.
So goes a myth that helps explain, in part, the majestic beauty and power of Niagara Falls, bridging New York on one side and Canada’s Ontario province on the other. Mythological wonder is at the heart of experiences at this natural attraction. Guests can take a 30-minute Maid of the Mist cruise around an area where, legend has it, Heno helped save the life of a forlorn maiden. Or they may venture to Cave of the Winds, once named Aeolus’ Cave after the Greek god of winds, to witness the dramatic torrents of Bridal Veil Falls from a perch 20 feet above (poncho provided).
Planners seeking close proximity to the falls have ample options on the New York side. The Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls, just two blocks from the attraction, sits next to Sheraton at the Falls Hotel, with 391 rooms and its own 24,000-plus sq. ft. Of space. For an infusion of entertainment, the 486-room Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel offers live music venues and ample gaming, as well as a multipurpose event center with more than 30,000 sq. ft. Of space, separate meeting and board rooms, an amphitheater, and a pool and outdoor patio area well-suited to private receptions.
Less than 20 miles south of Niagara Falls, Buffalo offers more options near the falls—as well as enough cultural value to stand alone as a meetings destination. The second-largest city in the state (after New York City, of course) is home to the Darwin D. Martin House Complex, considered a top example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which holds pieces by Pollock, de Kooning and other greats of contemporary art.
The hub of the area’s meeting scene is Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, with more than 110,000 sq. ft. Of space. Among meeting properties, The Mansion on Delaware Avenue is a luxury standout. A Four-Diamond recipient, and recently inducted into Historic Hotels of America, it is housed in a magnificent manse designed in 1867. Its meeting spaces include the stunning Grand Salon, which can hold up to 250, and it houses an extensive local art collection.
An upscale experience also awaits at the 300- room Millennium Hotel Buffalo, with meeting space for up to 600, including a ballroom with gold chandeliers and oak wood features, and a tropical courtyard for outdoor receptions. Hyatt Regency Buffalo/Hotel and Conference Center is home to an elegant steak house and spa, in addition to 396 rooms and 26,152 sq. ft. Of space. Larger groups may convene in 72,000 sq. ft. Of space at Adam’s Mark Buffalo, which offers 486 rooms.
Boardroom at the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester in White
When Rip Van Winkle wanted to get away from the chastising of his wife, he went to the Catskills. Here, amid old-growth forest, he would wander with his dog, Wolf, enjoying a place far removed from the anxieties of everyday life. One stormy evening, Van Winkle encountered the ghosts of Henry Hudson, the 17th-century sea explorer, and his crew, and joined them in a game of ninepins. When offered a taste of “magic potion,” he imbibed it, passed out and did not awake for 20 years. When he came to, he discovered that his dog was gone, his beard was long and shaggy, and the Revolutionary War had started and ended.
Washington Irving’s tale of Rip Van Winkle has, like Sleepy Hollow in the Hudson Valley, left an indelible mark on the Catskills, a verdant and fabled range just north of New York City. Guests who visit the mountain’s rambling, woodsy environs can see the site of Van Winkle’s marathon nap and a larger-than-life sculpture depicting him at the peak of Hunter Mountain. They can golf the Rip Van Winkle Golf Trail, linking nine courses along an area he was known to love. And each May, they can enjoy the Rip Van Winkle Wine and Cheese Festival, an unusual combined celebration of the popular story and local cheese and wine.
There’s even a hotel, the Washington Irving Inn, named after the author. Built in 1890, the Victorian- style venue can accommodate groups in a small conference room. Larger groups looking to experience the transcendent tranquility of the Catskills may consider The Emerson resort, home to a fullservice spa, 52 accommodations divided among a lodge and inn, and more than 5,000 sq. ft. Of space; or Villa Roma Resort and Conference Center, which can accommodate up to 750 and includes an 18-hole championship golf course.
In the northeastern part of the state, the Adirondacks are similarly infused with otherworldly beauty and filled with sprawling retreat-oriented meeting spaces. One of the range’s crown jewels is Lake George, surrounded by a selection of idyllic properties. Roaring Brook Ranch Resort & Conference Center houses three tennis courts, 25 horses available for wilderness rides and 17,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. The Sagamore Resort provides 137 rooms, 31,000 sq. ft. Of space and multiple upscale dining options, all divided among several striking lakefront buildings, including a historic hotel built in 1883, a former carriage house and a six-bedroom, four-bath castle. For abundant meeting venues and team-building options, book Silver Bay YMCA. Groups can meet in—among myriad options—a boathouse, chapel, pavilions or an arts center, and bonding choices include kayaking on Lake George, waterfront yoga and s’mores cookouts.
Lake Placid provides another scenic waterfront event setting. This environment is perhaps captured most dramatically at the Crowne Plaza Resort & Golf Club, Lake Placid, adjacent to the Olympic Center that harks back to the area’s hosting of the winter games in 1932 and 1980. The resort boasts 45 holes of golf, a tennis club, 249 rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. Of space spanning 1,000 acres. The property’s transcendent beauty is such that a factual narrative can’t quite capture it. As in the rest of the state, a fantastical myth or legend readily could.
Adirondack Regional Tourism Council
Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau
Hudson Valley Tourism
Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
New York State Division of Tourism
Syracuse Convention & Visitors Bureau
Who: Civil Service Employees Association; 1,500 attendees
What: Centennial annual delegates meeting
When: 2010 Where: Empire State Plaza and Times Union Center; Holiday Inn Express Albany Downtown, 74 State, Hotel Albany, Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown, Albany Ramada Plaza Hotel, Desmond Hotel & Conference Center, Holiday Inn Albany, Best Western Albany Airport Inn and more
Why: “There is something special about Albany—the architecture, being in the capital and at the Capitol, and the range of eateries... there is something for everyone. The cooperation between the CVB and the various city and state entities also made a very large convention go smoothly.” –Lenore Barnard, director of meetings and conventions
Main image: Adirondack chairs ready for summer meeting-goers in New York's Adirondack Mountains