Woodstock, Ulster County, NY
One of the Hudson Valley’s top towns in 2013: Woodstock, NY
Photograph by Jaime Martorano
Woodstock has long been a magnet for musicians, artists, and spiritual seekers, but the roots of the famous arts colony run much deeper. Sure, the hippie culture is still alive and well — during a stroll down Tinker Street, the town’s main drag, you’ll find everything from tapestries to “tobacco” pipes — but beyond the clouds of patchouli incense and tie-dyed tourist traps, there is a close-knit community of residents who are always willing to lend a hand to their neighbors.
The town’s history stretches all the way back to 1787. In the 19th century, residents worked as leather tanners and quarried bluestone, two of the Catskill’s biggest industries at the time. The town’s reputation as an artists’ haven began in 1902 with the founding of the Byrdcliffe Colony, an experiment in utopian living that grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement. And it is still known as an enclave for creative types; the iconic Woodstock Music Festival was named after the town expressly for that reason, even though it took place in Bethel, some 43 miles to the southwest.
No surprise, today the village is a popular tourist destination — but it’s also home to a diverse blend of artists, former hippies, city transplants, and local folk. Residents and visitors alike can be seen sipping on freshly squeezed organic juice at Tinker Street’s Press + Blend juice bar. On nearby Mill Hill Road, you can’t miss the drip candle at Candlestock, which has grown to a whopping eight feet tall during its amazing 40-plus years of continuous use. If fine-art photography is what you’re after, the Center for Photography at Woodstock and Galerie BMG both offer exhibits featuring local and national artists. The Bearsville Theater hosts music and theater works; in the summer, musicians in the Maverick chamber music concert series perform in the circa 1916 concert hall.
Current residents of the area share a fierce desire to protect the natural environment. Last summer, when hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) was discussed as a possibility, locals attended town board meetings in droves to voice their concern about the controversial process. In July, the town board voted to prohibit fracking, thereby ensuring that water supplies remain clean and that the area’s gorgeous — and oft overlooked — natural landscape is preserved. (A number of side streets lead to swimming holes, brooks with splashing waterfalls, and nature trails that are open to the public but hidden away from the traffic on busy Route 212.)
Public safety is another issue of concern to Woodstock homeowners. It’s a relatively safe small town — the most bothersome intruders tend to be bears. Some residents have seen their car insurance rates drop simply because they have a Woodstock address — that is, if they choose to own a car in this pedestrian- and bike-friendly town. Within a one-mile stretch of Tinker Street there’s a post office, the public library, Upstate Films, Woodstock Apothecary, Joshua’s Cafe, Woodstock Trading Post, Mountain Massage, and an Adirondack Trailways bus stop should you need to venture further afield. Woodstock’s public elementary school is located not far from the center of town; nearby private school options including Woodstock Day School and the unique Hudson Valley Sudbury School (at which students design their own curriculum).
For both renters and homeowners, Woodstock is generally regarded as an expensive place to live. Over the last six months, 53 houses have been sold for an average price of about $319,000, says Ann E. Levine of Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty. Affordable housing needs were addressed in 2011 when a town committee chose the nonprofit Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO) to design an affordable housing complex. The result: Woodstock Commons, a cluster of 53 LEED-certified, eco-friendly housing units tucked away in a wooded area off Mill Hill Road. Currently under construction, the project has divided residents, with naysayers concerned about the destruction of the landscape and alteration of the town’s demographic. The first family moved in to the complex in January; it is due to be completed in late spring.