The Fried Chicken War of 1881

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news clipping

August 21, 1881 | Page 9

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This old news clipping sent me down the research rabbit hole. The drama!

At first, the single paragraph report doesn’t make any sense. But I pulled the thread and got some ding-dong Catskills drama. Oh, the shade!

A Tale of Two Hoteliers

The Harding mentioned in the report was a prominent Philadelphia businessman and lawyer named George Harding. In 1880, while dining at the Catskill Mountain House — which he did a lot, as it was America’s first great mountaintop hotel — Harding asked a waiter to bring some fried chicken to his daughter, Emily.

At the time, and I can’t stress this enough, Emily was on a diet of no-red-meat.

Meanwhile, the fare for the day at the Mountain House was roast beef.

Chicken could not be got.

Harding pleaded.

The waiter would not budge.

The temperature rose high enough that the owner, Charles Beach, had to step in to calm things down. Things did not calm down.

Harding would not stand for the lack of chicken. Two very rich men fought for some time over a chicken.

Finally, at the end of his rope, Beach suggested that Harding should build his own hotel.

Well, George Harding got right on that. He checked his family out of the Mountain House that day, and immediately set to work.

The Fried Chicken War

By the following year, 1881, Harding had opened the Hotel Kaaterskill, billed as the largest mountain hotel in the world. It sat on the summit of South Mountain in direct competition with, and utterly dwarfing, the Catskill Mountain House.

Now that New York Times clipping finally makes sense (but also reads far more insane).

news clipping: fried chicken war 1881
August 21, 1881 | Page 9

From the start, Harding’s House had rooms for 612 guests. But in 1883 he added an annex that brought its capacity to almost 1,100 guests.

The scrap between Beach and Harding was instantly infamous. It became known as “The Fried Chicken War” and it lasted until both men died in 1902.

You can visit the ruins of the Hotel Kaaterskill via Inspiration Point — one of the most spectacular scenic spots in The Catskills.

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