10 Top Towns

Settled by the Dutch, Quakers, or Huguenots, nestled in the Catskills or on the river’s banks — these 10 Valley communities all have one thing in common: They’re great places to call home



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hudson’s warren streetHudson’s Warren Street, the heart of the city’s cultural district, is home to antiques shops, restaurants, and stores (including the Spotty Dog Books & Ale, at center)

Photograph by Teresa Horgan

Columbia County

Hudson

The unofficial antiques capital of the Hudson Valley, Hudson is a mecca for those whose interest in procuring old objects is so profound that they employ antique as a verb. The fact that the antique shops along Warren Street are decidedly high-end establishments might suggest that this is a city whose streets are paved with gold. It may surprise you to learn that Hudson is not at all hoity-toity.

Like Beacon, Hudson was once a thriving blue-collar city — the former was known for hats; the latter, cement — that fell on hard times in the ’60s and ’70s, only to rebound by reinventing itself as a tourist town. (Strictly speaking, of course, Hudson was always a tourist town; the coup de grace to the city’s reign of vice was the state-level crackdown on gambling and prostitution in the early ’50s).

To walk the streets of the Hudson Historical District is to flip through the pages of A Field Guide to American Houses. All manner of architectural styles can be found here, from Second Empire to Queen Anne, Italianate to Gothic Revival. It was the variety of eye-catching architecture that drew the antiques dealers here in the 1980s — storefronts that were big, cheap, urban-chic, and a two-hour Amtrak ride away from New York City.

The demographics of Hudson have shifted in the last decade. When Lisa Durfee, owner of the wonderfully named vintage clothing store Five and Diamond, moved here 10 years ago, she found that the population skewed older. That is no longer the case. “It’s a younger crowd now,” she says. “Every few years brings a new wave of hipper and younger people.”

Also changing is the antiquing-or-nothing makeup of downtown. You can now hang out at the Spotty Dog Books & Ale, peruse the racks of used books and records at Jean Deux, take in a performance at Time and Space Limited arts center, or enjoy a cup of joe and a mouthwatering scone at the Parlor. Club Helsinki, the eclectic music venue that draws acts like Norah Jones, Michelle Shocked, and Gogol Bordello to its modest space in Great Barrington, has relocated to Hudson. The hope is that the city will continue to “grow into a place where you can shop for things other than antiques,” as Durfee puts it.

Hudson’s best-kept secret, ironically, is the river that bears its name. Tourists generally come for the shopping, and therefore head for town when they get off the train — in the opposite direction of the majestic waterway, which is, truth to tell, hard to locate without a map.
“A lot of people forget that the river is right here,” says Durfee. Promenade Hill Park is there, with views of the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse. Plans are underway to build a boat launch, so kayakers can head to the Middle Ground Flats, the man-made island between Hudson and Athens. “The next wave for Hudson,” she predicts, “is that we’ll take advantage of being on the river.”

Town Facts:

Location: Western Columbia County
Population: 6,900
Median Household Income: $24,000
Fun fact: Diamond Street, a stretch of what is now called Columbia Street, was once an internationally known red light district; more than a dozen brothels operated there.
Notable residents: Frederic Church, landscape painter and owner of Olana; Philip Glass, composer of modern classical music; Martin Van Buren, former New York governor and United States president

» Next stop: Windham, Greene County

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