7 Hot Hometowns
From Mahopac to Catskill, these fast- growing spots are chock-full of character and ready for new residents.
By Tony Seideman and Polly Sparling
From Mahopac to Catskill, these fast-growing spots are chock-full of character and ready for new residents
As rivers go, the Hudson isn’t particularly long (it’s 315 miles, by the way). But in its compact dimensions, the waterway spans worlds, from the wilderness of the Adirondacks to Westchester’s crowded suburbs to the fabled and frenetic Big Apple. That variety translates into an abundance of choices for people searching for a new hometown, especially in our neck of the woods. Urban-style lofts? Yep, we’ve got those here. How about 100-year-old farmhouses or spanking new housing developments? You can find all these options — and more — in the Valley. But despite the variety, most of our towns and villages have one thing in common: character. They’ve been around for a while — and many have also been around the block, enduring rough times and rebounding from them. The word patina — the appealing surface gloss that is a product of age and gentle use, rather than decay — is usually used to describe antiques. But many Valley communities have a certain patina as well, created by history and the natural surroundings. These communities aren’t suburbs, they have identities all their own. And just as important, they’re using creativity and commitment to help deal with rapid growth, the decline of downtown areas, and other challenges. Travel to any of these seven spots, and you’ll find a downtown that has a real sense of place. Will one of them become your new home?
Beacon: An Arts-Fueled Transformation
This once-gritty community’s manufacturing past laid the foundation for its recent dramatic revival. From the late 1800s through the 1950s, Beacon was a bustling factory town (bricks and hats were the main exports), but it fell onto hard times in the late 1960s as manufacturing collapsed and Americans abandoned Main Street for the mall.
But in 2003, a 24,000-square-foot decaying Nabisco box factory was purchased by the Dia Foundation and eventually transformed into Dia:Beacon, one of the world’s largest museums of contemporary art. Beacon’s renaissance was on. While some local communities have flirted with creating an artists’ district, Beacon got the job done: artists’ lofts are available throughout town, galleries dot the main drag, and works by local artists hang on many restaurant and coffeehouse walls. Several years ago, a new generation of residents, many priced out of New York City, arrived in town, snatching up much of the large Victorian housing stock at bargain-basement prices. The Metro-North train line, which runs a packed 75-minute express into Grand Central several times a day, as well as Beacon’s proximity to Route 84 and Stewart International Airport, add to the city’s appeal.
But Beacon is about far more than the arts. Situated at the northern end of the Hudson Highlands, the city is beautifully nestled between the river and its namesake mountain. Stunning 1,503-foot Mt. Beacon attracts locals and visitors who want to hike its steep trails, gaze at the ruins of an old hotel on the summit, and marvel at the remains of what was once the world’s steepest incline railway. Outdoor buffs can also wander around a variety of state parks, take a kayak on the river, or venture out for a free weeknight trip on the Woody Guthrie — a sailboat originally owned by folk artist (and longtime Beacon resident) Pete Seeger and now run by a local sloop club.
“I love living here. The proximity to the river, to the mountain — and still having the train to hop on to the city — is just wonderful,” says Debra Adamsons, owner of World’s End Books and a recent transplant to the area.
Beacon still has a way to go — we wouldn’t recommend walking down Main Street by yourself in the middle of the night — but the city is working hard to secure the resources that will make its renaissance permanent. A brand-new, state-of-the art high school opened in 2002, and a huge waterfront “green” hotel and conference center are in the works. Housing prices have risen dramatically in the last few years, before leveling off in 2006. Nonetheless, with median prices just around $300,000, Beacon remains among the most affordable towns in Dutchess County. And many residents treasure its “rough-around-the-edges-cum-quirky” appeal. “I love the funky aspect of the town,” says a two-year resident. “I feel like something is going on here.”
Catskill: On the Comeback Trail
The village of Catskill owes its existence to Mother Nature. With the eponymous mountains full of raw materials to the west, and access to the Hudson River (via the Catskill Creek) due east, the town grew rapidly in the 19th century as a center of commerce, shipping bluestone, leather and ice to burgeoning New York City. The natural beauty of the surroundings — celebrated by Hudson River School painter (and Catskill citizen) Thomas Cole — enticed the region’s earliest tourists to the Catskill Mountain House, the first Catskills hotel. Although the mountain house is gone, Cedar Grove — Cole’s home and studio, and a national historic site — still stands on Main Street, and now draws tourists of its own. (Interested hikers can venture to the site of the mountain house, which on a clear day offers a view of five states.)
Like many Valley towns, Catskill fell on hard times when shoppers abandoned downtown areas in favor of shopping malls. But the village has made a miraculous recovery over the last five years, thanks in large part to Greene County’s Main Street Revitalization and Small Grants programs. By offering matching grants and architectural assistance to business owners, these programs are helping to breathe new life into the village’s decaying Victorian buildings and storefronts. New businesses — antiques and home improvement stores, restaurants, lawyer’s offices — are moving in. Residential areas, which offer a collection of houses of myriad styles from Federal to Greek Revival to Gothic, are starting to see the influx of weekenders and second-home buyers.
Other Catskill attractions include the Catskill Gallery, which has changing exhibits of works by local artists; the Beattie Powers House, a Greek Revival mansion owned by the village; and Catskill Point, a sliver of land that juts into the river. A warehouse building on the site recalls the village’s shipping days, and the adjacent Catskill Point Restaurant is an area landmark.
With house prices still relatively low (the 2006 median price was $175,000), and economic development officials working hard to attract more businesses, the town seems poised to continue its upswing. Linda Overbaugh, executive director of the Heart of Catskill, the town’s Chamber of Commerce, sums it up: “Catskill has been to the very bottom, and Catskill is going to the very top.”
Cornwall on Hudson: A Tucked-Away Treasure
Nestled comfortably in some of the Hudson Valley’s most dramatic terrain, Cornwall on Hudson has a sense of self and identity few other places in the region can match. “I think the village is unique in that it’s probably the only one of the villages on the Hudson that’s sort of tucked away. It’s not on a through road, it’s not on a highway. It’s kept its village character,” says businessman Deke Hazirjian, president of the village’s Local Development Corporation.
Although only about six miles down Route 9W from some of Newburgh’s troubled neighborhoods, the village remains one of Orange County’s more affluent communities. But it’s more Norman Rockwell than country club chic. People jog through the village streets at all times of day, while Ring’s Pond serves as the spot for a popular fishing derby and ice-skating adventures in the winter. Always visible milling about town is a large contingent of students — public school kids as well as those from the two local private schools, the New York Military Academy and the Storm King School.
Not to be overlooked is the stunning scenery. Take Route 218 (also called Storm King Mountain Road) south out of town toward West Point for one of the most spectacular (and challenging) drives in the Valley. If you can handle the dizzying twists and turns, the river views are simply unsurpassed. (But be aware that the road often closes due to bad weather and rock slides.) Dozens of hiking trails — both up in the Highlands and down by the river — provide more options to check out scene-stealing vistas. The area is also bursting with cultural offerings. The world-renowned Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre outdoor sculpture garden, is not far from the village, and the Museum of the Hudson Highlands is an integral part of the community, offering hands-on programs for both adults and children.
The small village bustles with energy these days. Painter’s Tavern, housed in the old Cornwall Inn and offering up an eclectic and affordable menu, has long been a neighborhood gathering spot. Recent additions to the dining scene include Nikki’s, the River Bank, and Pices. Of course, isolation has its challenges. Commuting to the city — or anywhere for that matter — can be difficult with no direct train access. And although the charming riverside park is often busy with picnicking families, there is no public launch for boats or kayaks. The village’s Riverfront Revitalization Committee hopes to change that. Work is also underway to develop an ecologically and economically appropriate business called Storm King Adventure Tours, which will provide customers with a chance to mountain bike, kayak or hike in this magnificent terrain.
Overall, many residents feel what they get — a place where community is paramount — is well worth it. “That’s been the greatest appeal to us, the family aspect of the town,” says one local resident. “I asked my son one time if he was misbehaving at all, and he said, ‘Mom, in a town this small, there’s no way you wouldn’t find out about it.’ ”
Cornwall on Hudson can actually provide a special challenge for potential homebuyers; people like the place so much that houses rarely come on the market. When they do, the median price is $356,000.
Highland: Close to its Rural Roots
Highland, NY loves being in the middle of things... and just out of the way at the same time. Poughkeepsie is right across the Hudson River, while New Paltz, Kingston and Newburgh are only a stone’s throw away. The compact village center is surrounded by natural areas, including the river and Chodikee Lake (a popular fishing and kayaking spot). Extensive development has occurred in both the town’s outskirts and in some of its neighborhoods. Single-family home construction went from 13 buildings in 2000 to 22 in 2002 to 33 in 2005. Local realtors say there have been numerous new developments, with others are waiting for approval.
“There have been a ridiculous number of new homes that have gone up in the Highland area in the last few years,” says Tim Woods, owner of the Highland Manor bed and breakfast. “It shows up Highland¹s attractiveness. Across the street from me there are three brand new houses that have gone up within the last year and a half,” he says.
Even with this building frenzy, Highland retains its small-town appeal. “It’s a beautiful area. It’s gorgeous everywhere,” Woods says.
A special new attraction is the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, which stretches from the Hudson River, through the entire town and reaches much of the way to neighboring New Paltz. The trail has become an especially attractive site for walkers and bikers.
The trail stretches 5 miles, from the old railroad bridge over the Hudson between Poughkeepsie and Highland, running through the hamlet of Highland then heading west to Route 299 to New Paltz.
Highland’s downtown is still coming back. A devastating fire destroyed numerous buildings years ago. That huge empty space on the town’s Main Street has now been filled by the Hudson Valley School of Massage Therapy, which is always looking for bodies to work on.
Exceptional water access is another part of life in Highland, with fishing and boating easily available. There are two local marinas and a state launch ramp at Rte 97 1.5 miles west of Barryville which allows for hand launching and has parking spaces for 40 cars.
Residents can also go to the Casa de Arte for poetry and painting classes.
Antique aficionados can find another resource in Highland: Vintage Village, a vast collective that includes a 4,800 square foot former sawmill along with a toy store, furniture barn, artists loft and a history display by the Town Of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society.
Another of Highland¹s attractions is the quality of its schools. They have a reputation for quality and in 2004 came close to matching or exceeding state averages at all grade levels.
Kinderhook: Hanging on to History
There are historic old towns in the Hudson Valley, and then there’s Kinderhook. Founded in 1609, the Columbia County village’s Dutch roots are echoed in its name (supposedly bestowed by Hendrick Hudson himself) which means “child’s corner.” Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Kinderhook boasts many Colonial era homes (all of which are well-maintained; a historic preservation ordinance has been in place since 1974). The village is home to the Columbia County Museum as well as two house museums: the Federal-style Vanderpoel House, and the Van Alen House, a Colonial Dutch farmstead.
America’s eighth president, Martin van Buren, was a Kinderhook native, and one of the town’s most beautiful attractions is Lindenwald, his 1797 family farm and home. Farming remains an integral part of life in the area. Roxbury Farm, a 225-acre community-supported farm, supplies organically grown fruits and vegetables to more than 1,000 families in the immediate area, as well as in Albany, Westchester, and Manhattan. And protecting open space is a high priority: the town’s comprehensive plan ensures that agricultural and scenic areas, as well as historic sites, are preserved.
Kinderhook has a variety of unusual stores, selling everything from antiques (Lindowen’s American Country) and books (Blackwood and Brouwer) to folk art prints and ceramics created by a local artist (Treasured Art). Natives say Carolina House — a log cabin-style restaurant — is a must for visitors. Unusual for a northern eatery, their menu includes Louisiana trout, fried chicken, baby back ribs, and other southern specialties.
Median home prices in Kinderhook were $297,000 in 2006. With its proximity to Albany — the state capitol is about 20 miles or so away — the town a commuter hub for its neighbors. The rising pace of new construction — the number of new buildings jumped from two in 1996 to 36 in 2005 — could be evidence of an upcoming trend.
Mahopac: A Lakefront Jewel
Thirty years ago, Putnam County’s southern reaches could still be called country. Now, “there’s still some open space, but it’s a lot more crowded than it was in ’65,” says longtime Mahopac resident Mark Fraser. “We’ve had a huge population growth.”
But one thing has remained the same: Mahopac’s focus on recreation.
Built on the shores of 17-acre Lake Mahopac, the hamlet was originally a summer haven for wealthy New Yorkers who came in droves in the mid-1800s to frolic in several bustling lakefront resorts. But by the 1950s, the grand hotels fell out of