Whether you’re going to the Poconos to hike, ski, golf, or relax, it’s easy to feel like you’re stepping back in time. Maybe you stay an old-school cabin, whether it’s a rental or, if you’re lucky, one that’s been in the family forever. But there’s another way to do it: The area is full of pink-and-rose hotel suites that look like vintage Playboy spreads, as well as opulent mansion resorts from a different era.
For a long time, the Pocono Mountains were renowned as the “Honeymoon Capital” of America — and, perhaps, the world. The craze kicked off in 1971, when Life magazine ran a risqué photo of two lovers, posed in flagrante delicto in the Poconos’ Cove Haven Resort, smooching in red-tiled, heart-shaped hot tub, their naughtier bits obscured by a bounty of bath bubbles. Couples from across Pennsylvania and nearby New York State flocked to Cove Haven, and similarly-styled love hotels.
For decades, the resorts upped the ante: The heart-shaped tub begat the in-room swimming pool and then, in the 1980s, the 7-foot acrylic glass whirlpool tub sculpted to look like a champagne glass (one traveller compared the experience of luxuriating in the patented champagne tub to bobbing like an olive in a martini). It was a resort destination defined by seemingly endless innovation and novelty, which now seems trapped in amber, stuck in time.
The Poconos’ status as a honeymooning hotspot dates even further back than the heyday of Cove Haven, to the postwar period. “It was such a boom in marriages after World War II,” says Chris Barrett, president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. “This was before airlines were deregulated. Before the cruise industry. So people had to go somewhere within an easy driving distance.”
History of the Poconos
As Barrett points out, the region’s history as a vacation spot runs back to the earliest years of America’s founding. “The Poconos have been a destination for hundreds of years,” he explains. “When cities were established, like Philadelphia and New York for instance, as you can probably imagine, they just dumped waste in the streets and spread disease. They had a rudimentary knowledge that this disease would appear in the summer months. So people would flee to the mountains.”
Early Quakers developed tranquil, typically humble settlements in the area. As more wealth flowed in, thanks to the Poconos’ proximity to mining developments along the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, the area played host to vacationers with few compunctions about flaunting their wealth.
So, if you want to stay somewhere historic, there’s a lot more than cheesy heart-shaped jacuzzis luring the newly wed (or merely randy). Here are some of the most historic accommodations in the Poconos — ideal for honeymoons, family getaways, or even just a quick weekend of recharging in the country.
Stay for: The nostalgic honeymoon accoutrements, and roaming deer that will eat out of the palm of your hand.
No list of Poconos-only gems would be complete without this home of the heart-shaped tub. Where many Honeymoon Capital-era resorts have shuttered, Cove Haven and its sister resorts, Poconos Palace and Paradise Stream, endure. Everything here feeds back into notions of sex and romance, from the bar and grill being called “Spooner’s,” to the sign in the dining room flashing, simply “LOVE.” Rooms are offered at varying price points, with some suites boasting built-in saunas, massage tables, and those two-story tubs shaped like champagne glasses, whether you find that enticing, or just a fun spot from which to lazily half-watch a rerun of Guy’s Grocery Games. Whether it’s tackily “vintage” or desperately in need of a facelift is likely a question of personal taste. But if circular beds, mirrored ceilings, and porno movie lighting aren’t enough to light, or reignite that spark, well, chances are the honeymoon is well and truly over.
Stay for: Top-ranked family fun, forest bathing, and a state-of-the-art virtual reality arcade.
Where Cove Haven and its related resorts draw on the area’s status as the “Land of Love,” Woodloch feels more geared towards family fun: pools, go karts, a daily itinerary of scavenger hunts and other activities. And the all-inclusive’s history is also tied to the Poconos status as a honeymoon haven. The resort was founded on Lake Teedyuskung, in 1958, by Marry Mould and Harry Kiesendahl, a WWII veteran. Woodloch’s story, like its vibe, is very family-first. It boasts of being named, by none other than USA Today, the #1 Best Family Resort in the country. (It has, however, since been deposed in the 2020 list, by a family resort in the Florida Keys.)
Stay for: Victorian-era charm, period-era antiques, and the full murder mystery experience
The small town of Jim Thorpe is known as both “the gateway to the Poconos” and, no joke, “the Switzerland of America,” for its sweeping scenery and romantic cottages. But the historic Harry Packer Mansion has a rather different Euro pedigree. Built in the late 19th century, in the post-Renaissance Italianate style, the mansion was a gift from pioneering Pennsylvania businessman Asa Packer to his son. It inspired the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney’s theme parks — and, it follows, the maligned 2003 Eddie Murphy movie adapted from that ride. The new owners have swept away the cobwebs, but they’re still banking on the property’s gothic bona fides. It currently plays host to lavishly staged Murder Mystery Weekends, ideal for couples with a sense of history, a passion for the macabre, and $710-$895 to burn.
Stay for: the golf course, kayaking and fishing on Skytop Lake, rentable bikes, and 30-miles of hiking trails.
In 2019, a fire destroyed Pocono Manor—a nearly 120 year-old resort hotel in Monroe County. The tragic loss to Poconos history had an unexpected consequence: making Skytop Lodge, established in 1928, the area’s reigning historic resort property, if only de facto. “After the Civil War, migration really started to accelerate,” says Visitors Bureau CEO Chris Barrett. Skytop is one of the grandest, and stateliest, resorts of that era. When it opened in 1928, the Stroudsburg Morning Sun hailed it thusly: “The best ideas in hotel management, hotel decoration, resort arrangement, have been harmonized under the most artistic auspices to produce what every visitor declares is a treat to the eye.” It was also one of the first resorts in the region to capitalize on the Poconos appeal as a golf destination. In 1926, construction and landscaping began on Skytop’s historic fairways—designed by none other than Robert W. White, the St. Andrews-born agronomist and architect who served as the first president of the PGA.
Stay for: Modern amenities in historical digs, easy walks to the quaint restaurants and bars of Stroudsburg.
This hotel in downtown Stroudsburg, which recently completed a big-ticket renovation following a 2015 fire, may not immediately strike you as especially historic. But the hotel’s modern facade is built on old bones. The original hotel opened as The Stroudsburg House in 1883, built by Jacob Hollinshead, grandson of Stroudsburg founder Jim Stroud. It changed owners, and names, a number of times over the centuries. But the hotel long stood as a hub of what a 1960s newspaper called “The East’s most famous Playground.” The hotel is in the middle of Stroudsburg, so you can wander to restaurants and bars, but still be only a few miles from the Delaware Water Gap. Having learned from its history, the Penn Stroud now proudly boasts of being a 100% non-smoking establishment.
📍 700 Main St, Stroudsburg, 📞 570-421-2200, 🌐 choicehotels.com/pennsylvania/stroudsburg/ascend-hotels/pa605, 📷 @thepennstroudhotel
Stay for: Spacious themed suites, wet-and-wild fun for all ages, glow-in-the-dark mini-putt.
An indoor waterpark may not exactly smack of some deep sense of local history. But the Poconos outpost of this international resort chain played an important role in reshaping the region. By the 1990s and 2000s, much of the Poconos appeal as a resort getaway had been challenged by low-cost carriers offering all-inclusive flight deals to resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean. The idea of the local holiday suddenly seemed neither sufficiently fancy, nor particularly cost-effective. Enter Great Wolf Lodge. In 2005, the family resort recast the Poconos yet again, as a destination for wet-and-wild fun for all ages. Its success birthed a waterpark boom in the area, which now counts the enormous Kalahari Resort, which, for a while, held the title of the largest indoor waterpark in the United States. So, something to consider as you’re speeding down Great Wolrd Lodge’s Hydro Plunge slide or picking your swim trunks out from between rug-burned butt cheeks: You’re part of history.
About the writer:
John Semley’s writing has been published in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, The Baffler, The Guardian, and elsewhere. His most recent book is Hater: On the Virtues of Utter Disagreeability (Viking).
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