The High Life
From artsy Peekskill and up-and-coming Haverstraw to chic Rhinebeck and Grandma Moses-cute Hoosick Falls, here's a snapshot of 10 communities that shout "Home!"
The High Life
Looking for a new zip code to call home? Check out these 10 lovely locales that are bound to tickle your fancy, whether you’re in search of urban chic, rural charm, or a bit of both
by Rita Ross
At some point, everyone gets the urge to pull up stakes and move. Pack up and go — but don’t feel you have to leave the Valley to find what you’re searching for.
The amazing thing about our region is that it contains every conceivable type of housing option, whether you want to live in a downtown artists’ loft, in the middle of cornfields, or in a suburb not far from either.
We’ve chosen 10 communities — nine villages and one town — that sound like perfect places to settle down, whatever your tastes in housing and culture may be. Some, like Warwick and Rhinebeck, are well known. Others, like Hoosick Falls and Haverstraw, may surprise you.
’Twixt city and country • Super schools
The Town of Bethlehem offers the best of both worlds. Rolling farmland is minutes away in one direction. Head less than 10 miles in the other, and you can savor Albany’s cultural harvest, including the New York State Museum, the Egg, Pepsi Arena, and dozens of shops and restaurants.
“There’s a lot good to say about this region,” admits Joseph Allgaier, Town of Bethlehem historian, whose family has lived locally since 1963. He says the town — comprising the hamlets of Delmar, Elsmere, Glenmont, Normansville, Selkirk, Slingerlands, and North and South Bethlehem, with a total population of about 32,000 — combines the comfort and convenience of suburban living with a tight-knit sense of community that’s often lacking in the ’burbs.
“Bethlehem has excellent town administration, a variety of services for seniors, and proximity to several hospitals and medical centers,” Allgaier explains. Local planning and zoning boards strive to avoid helter-skelter overdevelopment. “There’s currently a moratorium on multiunit housing developments, for example,” Allgaier says. New home prices in the 52-square-mile town are roughly $300,000 and up.
The Bethlehem Central School System is among upstate’s best, renowned for innovative programs. In 1998, Newsweek named its high school one of the top 100 in the nation, while several of its elementary schools have been highly rated in state surveys. When it comes to higher learning, more than a dozen colleges — ranging from the University at Albany to Saratoga’s Skidmore and Troy’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — are in close proximity.
A focal point of the region is a portion of Delmar known as Four Corners. Recently renovated, it has new brick walkways and lighting, and lots of businesses and shops that attract both residents and visitors. Delmar is also the site of Bethlehem’s first-rate public library. The town has superb recreational facilities (including a boat launch on the Hudson, a pool, and even a dog park) and hosts the annual Feestelijk Bethlehem, a popular springtime festival that showcases local art and musical talent.
The impressive Catskill foothills known as the Helderberg Escarpment serve as a natural backdrop to Bethlehem, which is located about 150 miles from New York City (and with easy access to Montreal and Boston, too). Many Bethlehem residents enjoy weekend jaunts to the Adirondacks and Berkshires for skiing and hiking. Lake George and Lake Placid are also an easy drive away.
“I guess you could say my family and I like everything about the area. That’s why we’ve lived here so long,” Allgaier concludes.
A home in the Highlands 55 miles from Manhattan • An antiques lover’s dream
One of the best-preserved 19th-century townscapes, Cold Spring features a picturesque main street, with breathtaking views of the Hudson River and Highlands beyond. The one-square-mile village, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was named for a spring where ships plying the Hudson would stop to take on drinking water. Its economy developed in the 19th century, centered around the West Point Foundry, which made everything from stoves and cannons to locomotives. (The preservation group Scenic Hudson has preserved the foundry site as a park.)
Nowadays, Cold Spring is an attractive mix of homes — with many notable examples of Victorian architecture — as well as restaurants and shops that cater to both the village’s 3,000 year-round residents and the tourists who double the population on summer and fall weekends. The 10-block-long Main Street area includes a bookshop, hiking store, and other businesses such as a drug store, a wine shop, restaurants (like Cathryn’s Dolcigno Tuscan Grill and Hudson House River Inn), and boutiques that appeal to both visitors and permanent residents. Beacon, with its profusion of art galleries and antiques stores (and Dia:Beacon), is the next community to the north, while the Poughkeepsie Galleria, the region’s major mall, is half an hour away.
The village’s real gem is Cold Spring Park, situated where Main Street meets the river, a favorite spot for everything from quiet strolls to major festivals. Kayakers and boaters make the most of nearby river access. “When you look across from the park, the view of the river and mountains is nearly identical to what it was 200 years ago, when the Hudson River painters first captured it on canvas,” says real estate agent Ralph Brill of Manitou Realty in Cold Spring.
State and local preservation groups have been purchasing land on both sides of the river to assure that the area remains pristine. Thanks in large part to their efforts, Cold Spring serves as the gateway to hiking trails into the Highlands. There’s also swimming at Little Stony Point Beach, and many other outdoor activities nearby.
With so much going for the village, property in Cold Spring is hot. Brill says smaller homes start in the $400,000 range, with Main Street buildings selling for $600,000 and up. The mix of lifelong residents and appreciative newcomers makes for a vibrant community, an active PTA, and plenty of after-school programs for the kids, Brill adds.
Many residents commute the 55 miles to Manhattan via Metro-North. “It used to be that when people working in the city were coming home at night, they’d stop at Zabar’s or Zaro’s in Grand Central Station for some gourmet food to bring back home on the train,” says Brill. “But they don’t have to do that anymore. Now we have specialty food shops and other amenities right here in Cold Spring.”
Downtown for the arts • Victorian bargains
“Peekskill” and “preservation” have become nearly synonymous — there’s a big focus on maintaining and renovating this riverfront city’s historic 19th-century character. And nowadays, a growing number of artists call Peekskill home. This is largely due to progressive city policies and zoning laws that permit artists to live and work in downtown spaces — many of them formerly unused second-floor lofts above storefronts.
“It’s been a wonderful way to get residents back into the downtown area,” says Sally Forrest, executive administrator of the Peekskill Arts Council, a grassroots community organization run mostly by volunteers. “At least 100 artists now live or work in Peekskill studios in the area known as the Downtown Artist District, and the numbers keep growing,” she says. “Yet it’s interesting because it’s not like you see artists everywhere.
Their presence isn’t always obvious because many of their studios are upstairs in commercial buildings.”
The city today is a vibrant combination of Peekskill born-and-bred locals and newcomers, many of whom make the 40-mile trip on Metro-North trains to Manhattan. Today, the city’s population is about 22,000, and it’s among the fastest growing of all Westchester communities.
Lovers of the outdoors relish a newly redeveloped recreational area known as Riverfront Green Park, plus the nearby Blue Mountain Reservation, a 1,600-acre park with 15 miles of hiking trails. Kayaking in the Hudson is also a popular pastime.
As for houses, “Peekskill is one of the only relatively inexpensive places remaining in Westchester,” says Forrest, who has lived in the area for 20 years. More than 225 Victorian houses have been renovated in the city, where the average home is valued in the $225,000 range.
The city’s cultural jewels include the Paramount Center for the Arts, a classic 1930s movie theater recently restored to its former glory, as well as a new museum, the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art. And where there are artists, there are bound to be galleries. At least half a dozen are now open, helping downtown Peekskill come alive and thrive.
An old-fashioned Main St. • Lots of culture
Chatham is a Hudson Valley village with a population of about 1,800 and a quaint feel. It offers nifty shops and a cozy, hometown atmosphere, yet it’s only about a 40-minute drive to Albany. Its roots go back to Dutch settlers who built mills along the Kinderhook Creek in the 1700s.
“I was raised here and still love living in Chatham, after more than 50 years,” says Mayor Paul Boehme.
The heart of the village is the easily walkable Main Street area (complete with a historic clock tower). It features neighborhood shops and businesses ranging from a hardware store and bakery to grocery stores, an excellent bookstore, a pub, and cafés. The median home value in Chatham is about $180,000.
The village is also home to the Mac-Haydn Theater, a nationally acclaimed summer stock venue featuring professional theater in the round. (Broadway star Nathan Lane is an alumnus.) “People come from all over the Hudson Valley for its shows and concerts,” says Boehme. Film fans flock to the inexpensive Crandell Theatre downtown, which plays host each October to the FilmColumbia Festival, a celebration of independent filmmaking. For those who crave nature, there’s plenty of pretty countryside just outside the village, while history buffs visit the Shaker Museum and Library, the country’s most comprehensive repository of artifacts from the religious sect’s communities, which is six miles away. Hudson, with its profusion of antiques stores and upscale restaurants, is just 20 minutes away.
“I went to school in Chatham and so did my kids,” says Boehme. “It’s a good, safe place to raise a family, and an all-around great community.”
Skiing, hiking, and fishing oasis • Superb
theater on stage and screen
Since the tiny village of Hunter — population 500 — sits literally at the bottom of Hunter Mountain, it’s not surprising that skiing is part and parcel of daily life there.
“When I’m at work, I can look out the window and see the ski lifts,” says Ashley Emel of her job at the village bookstore. She and her family moved to Hunter from the St. Louis area about 10 years ago.
“Skiing and snowboarding are definitely the main attractions,” adds Emel. “People love to come to Hunter Mountain in the winter.” Residents include year-rounders, weekenders, and even some who commute the 130 miles to Manhattan. Others work in either Albany or Poughkeepsie, each about 50 miles away.
Located on Schoharie Creek, Hunter is an outdoors paradise in any season. It’s close to top-notch trout fishing as well as hiking and swimming at North Lake. The Hunter Mountain Fire Tower — one of only five remaining in the Catskills — is a favorite hiking destination, but there are miles and miles of trails to be explored.
The village has a noteworthy center for culture and entertainment right in its 1.5-square mile downtown. The nonprofit Catskill Mountain Foundation features a performing arts center, a bookstore with many Catskill-oriented titles and guidebooks, and a movie theater that shows Hollywood, foreign, and independent flicks. The foundation also houses an art gallery (and soon a café), as well as a regional publishing company. In the warmer months, the ski center hosts concerts and ethnic festivals (including a bang-up Oktoberfest) as well as the Hunter Mountain Fair, which celebrates the arts and culture within Greene County and the Catskills Preserve.
Hunter village offers a farmers’ market, a library, and other businesses such as a deli and hardware store frequented by locals. (The nearest mall is in Kingston, nearly an hour away.) Home prices range from the low $100,000s (for a no-frills chalet) on up.
“There’s a surprising amount of things to do here for such a small village,” says Emel. “Yet it’s also a nice, quiet area. It’s a wonderful place to live.”
Foreign flair • A village on the cusp
The village of Haverstraw is an up-and-coming place to call home. Founded by the Dutch in 1666, the village was known as “The Brickmaking Capital of the World.” Throughout its early history, it drew hardworking inhabitants, many of whose descendants still live there.
“Haverstraw is truly a melting pot in Rockland County. It’s a gentle mix of cultures,” says Joyce Fulton, owner of Haverstraw Bay Realty and a town resident for more than 40 years. “The area is changing on a daily basis,” she adds.
The biggest change on the horizon is Harbors at Haverstraw, a development featuring some 850 townhouses, condominiums, and rental apartments that is under construction in former brownfields along the waterfront. The tastefully designed buildings, reminiscent of late 19th-century seaside architecture, will include a new home for the Hudson Valley Children’s Museum, restaurants, a riverside greenway, fishing pier, and boat launches. The developer, Martin Ginsburg, also plans for lots of sidewalks and plenty of trees.
Current homes in Haverstraw can be found for $200,000 and up, according to Fulton, while the new riverfront construction starts at around $300,000. “People are also renovating some of the houses downtown that were built in the 1800s and 1900s,” she says. “One of Haverstraw’s biggest assets is that it’s one of the few affordable places left in Rockland County.” Travel to work in Manhattan is a snap: a NY Waterway ferry connects the village to the Metro-North station across the river in Ossining.
A large Latino population brings an international flavor to local restaurants, with lots of mom-and-pop eateries featuring home-style cooking. Waterfront restaurants offer expansive river views, and Haverstraw Bay Park is a popular spot to enjoy the water. The village will get an educational boost this summer when Rockland Community College opens a satellite campus (including an art gallery) downtown. (As for the public schools, Fulton says, “My kids and grandchildren went to school in the local district, and they loved it.”)
The village’s approximately 10,000 residents can buy fresh food at the weekly farmers’ market, while the community shifts into high gear for the yearly autumn street festival. For folks with a yen for the great outdoors, favorite nearby destinations include High Tor State Park and South Mountain for hiking and other natural pursuits. Bear Mountain is half an hour away, while shops and restaurants in Nyack are less than 10 miles south.
In summer, the village joins with communities across the Hudson to hold outdoor pop and Dixieland concerts. “There’s a concert on this side of the river, and one on the other side, both on the same day,” says Fulton. “Some of the musicians even ride the ferry back and forth to play at both places. It’s really fun.”
“There’s definitely lots of potential in Haverstraw,” she concludes.
Refreshingly unpretentious • River and mountain fun nearby
Antiques freaks have been flocking to Saugerties, home to more than 30 antiques shops, for more than a quarter-century. But with a relaxed, hang-loose atmosphere, lots to do, and proximity to the mountains and river, it’s a great place to live, too.
Located 100 miles north of New York City and 40 miles south of Albany, the village’s eight-block commercial district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Several downtown streets are lined with 19th-century stone and brick buildings surrounded by gardens and trees, and it’s an easy stroll to restaurants and shops along Main Street. But it’s not cutesy; in fact, it has a refreshing lack of pretension.
“Saugerties still has an old-fashioned appeal,” says Thomasine Helsmoortel, a real estate broker and lifelong resident who has raised two children in Saugerties. “It’s a small town where people get to know each other.”
The housing market is continually growing, with prices ranging from under $200,000 “for a fixer-upper” to the mid-$300,000 range and up, she says. As for education, Helsmoortel, who graduated from Saugerties High School, adds “A lot of the teachers grew up here, too, so there’s a personal feeling of commitment and real interaction with the kids.”
With a population of about 20,000 (including the surrounding town), Saugerties features a movie theater and bookstore, as well as plenty of shops for everyday necessities. There are some highly rated eateries, including New World Home Cooking and Café Tamayo, as well as Krause’s Chocolates, popular throughout the Valley for its hand-dipped treats.
The Hudson River plays a major role in the daily life of the town. Nearby are marinas and public beaches as well as the oldest lighthouse on the Hudson, which has been renovated as a bed and breakfast. There’s also excellent hiking just outside the village, while local equestrians applaud the recent arrival of Horse Shows in the Sun, home base for a national circuit of riding events. Since 2001, more than 400 animals — from ponies to pigs — have resided at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary, a well-known shelter and animal educational resource that’s popular with local kids. And from September through March, Kiwanis Ice Arena, one of the largest in the Northeast, is the place to practice your figure-eights.
The town is also the scene of several yearly festivals, celebrating everything from movies and jazz to art and chrysanthemums. One of the biggest — the Saugerties Garlic Festival — draws thousands of participants from the Valley and beyond who delight in a day of glorifying all things garlic, including garlic ice cream.
“I love the fact that Saugerties is a true village,” says Helsmoortel. “You can walk to go shopping, then to a restaurant and movie. It feels safe and comfortable here, any time of day or night.”
Getting away from it all — but not too far • Homes for a bargain
The name has the idyllic ring of bygone times, but Hoosick Falls is the real thing — an old-time village tucked away near the Vermont border, far from the hustle and bustle. Downtown Hoosick Falls — population 6,000 — features tree-lined streets and graceful Victorian-style homes, as well as restaurants, antiques stores, auctions, and long-established local businesses such as a hardware store and family market. It also has a lovely Victorian gazebo, where the Community Band has been giving summer concerts since 1873.
Retired teacher William Gaillard, who moved to Hoosick Falls from Rockland County, now leads the 55-member band. “I’ve been here for nearly 40 years,” says Gaillard. “It’s a nice, folksy community where everybody knows each other. The kids are good kids, and there aren’t any real problems in the schools.”
Hoosick Falls is a place where you can still get a starter home for about $60,000, says Gaillard, while $200,000 will buy you “a Taj Mahal,” he adds. The village has a library, farmers’ market, and a nifty Community Warehouse, a nonprofit “re-use center” where residents can donate goods ranging from computers to couches to sell. For recreation, there’s a community pool, skating rink, tennis court, and golf course. The region’s past comes alive at the Historical Society’s museum. Beloved artist Grandma Moses has a link to the village — she lived for some years in the nearby hamlet of Eagle Bridge, and displayed some of her early paintings at a Hoosick Falls drug store, where they were spotted by the New York collector who helped launch her career. The artist is buried in the village’s Upper Maple Grove Cemetery.
Just outside the village are rolling hills, dairy farms, the Walloomsac and Hoosick Rivers, and plenty of unspoiled spots to canoe, hike, go fishing, and picnic. Tibbitts State Forest, not far away, contains more than 600 acres of woodland.
Residents often take the 20-minute jaunt to Bennington, Vermont, with its fine regional museum and restaurants, or head 17 miles to Williamstown, Massachusetts, and its myriad cultural offerings. Many work in Albany or Troy, about 30 miles south of town. Gaillard sums it up simply: “Hoosick Falls is a real nice place.”
Hamptons of the Hudson Valley • Working hard to prevent sprawl
Some consider Warwick to be the Valley’s closest equivalent to a pretty Hamptons village. It offers Victorian charm, upscale shops, excellent restaurants, and plenty of weekend visitors mingling with the locals. It’s just 55 miles from Manhattan, yet is still surrounded by a landscape of rolling hills and farmland.
Named after the Warwickshire region of England, the village is located in Orange County — the fastest growing county in New York State. Many of its residents (the population is about 7,000) are involved in environmental and preservation efforts to prevent suburban sprawl. “I really like the fact that people here not only want to preserve Warwick, but improve it. They tend to be very civic-minded,” says Patty Munley, who’s lived in the area for 16 years and owns Sweetbriar’s, a quaint Warwick gourmet chocolate shop that looks like it was transplanted from a European village.
Warwick serves as a bedroom community for many commuters, who drive or take a local express bus to Manhattan. The median value of local homes is roughly $150,000, but good luck finding one for that price. The lion’s share of houses in the village and surrounding town go for $250,000 and up.
Local shops offer an antidote to suburban malls, says Munley. “You can go into the small stores in Warwick and still get individual attention. The salespeople are informed and courteous — and that’s hard to find anymore.” Eateries range from elegant French restaurants to family-style diners. Warwick has wineries, performing arts groups, and a top-rated farmers’ market. Favorite outdoor activities include hiking on the nearby Appalachian Trail, swimming at Wawayanda State Park, skiing (at Mt. Peter, in the town of Warwick), and horseback riding.
“Lots of people rave about the schools, too,” says Munley. “Students often help the community with things like food drives and charity car washes. During the holidays, school choirs even visit the local shops to perform.” Another cool thing: the Warwick Drive-In Theater, built in 1950, is one of the few open-air cinemas left in the Valley.