Hidden Treasures

If you thought you'd done and seen it all in the Valley, think again. Here are 10 gems- from a spectacular waterfall to a fascinating dollhouse shop- that are a bit off the beaten path and awaiting your discovery.


Hidden Treasures


A spectacular waterfall, a one-of-a-kind dollhouse shop, and a thrilling 3-D ride are among the Valley’s best-kept secrets. Now you can get in on the fun — just like we did — and visit these 10 lesser-known delights


Topping it off


 I guess I’m what you call a payoff hiker. If I’ve put the effort into slogging up a mountain, I want to be rewarded with a spectacular view. All the better, then, those occasional treks — walks, really — where you barely break a sweat and still find all of creation at your feet. Such a treat is Beebe Hill in Columbia County.


Topographically speaking, 1,725-foot-tall Beebe is nothing more than a mosquito bite. But thanks to a little human intervention, from its summit you get a view that’s the equal of any visible from the high peaks across the river. On the all-important clear day, you can gaze into four states; view the entire range of the Catskills and Shawangunks, with the Highlands thrown in for good measure; and watch the Hudson snake its way from Poughkeepsie to Albany. All of this for 1.75 miles of exertion.


What makes this possible is a fire tower. The 60-foot-tall steel structure (an Aermotor LS-40 to aficionados) has itself done a bit of traveling. It was built atop Alander Mountain in Massachusetts in 1928. Later, it was moved to Washburn Mountain, across the New York border. Finally, in 1964 it made its final trip, in pieces via helicopter, to Beebe. It went through some lean years after being decommissioned until a group of volunteers decided to spiff it up and make it safe for climbers again.


The walk to the tower is as enjoyable as the views. The trail heads steadily uphill — although it’s not at all strenuous — the only noise the gurgling of nearby streams and the chatter of birds. On the winter day I visited, I felt like I was the only soul for hundreds of miles.


Eventually, the trail comes to an intersection; stay to the left, and as you’re making the last, heart-pumping ascent, the tower will appear through the trees. You’ll probably get more of a workout climbing the wooden steps than you do on the entire walk, but once you’re ensconced in the cab, with the wind blowing through your hair and the Valley spread out below, you’ll forget all about the huffing and puffing.

— Reed Sparling


The trailhead to Beebe Hill is .4 miles up Stonewall Road, reached via Route 203 two miles east of Spencertown. Look for a woods road on the right (near a house with a pond). During mud season, you may want to park on the main road and walk an extra three-quarters of a mile each way. Once you reach the state forest sign, turn right and pass through the gates.


House Call

A few weeks back, on a mission to procure plantains from a supermercado in downtown Poughkeepsie, I noticed a quaint brick building on downtrodden Main Street. Curious, I pulled over to get a better look. A faded sign on the side of the building proclaimed it to be a historic site. Atop the sign was the name Glebe House.


The next Friday, curator Erica Blumenfeld agreed to give me a tour. A monochromatic sky had turned the rest of Main a dull gray, but the red-brick house, constructed in 1767 for minister John Beardsley, stood out like a flame.


The front door appears to have borne the brunt of downtown Poughkeepsie’s modern woes. But the vibrancy of the house’s interior — recreated from period paint colors — overwhelmed me. The green around the fireplace reminded me of a summer field, while the dining room walls, painted a rich peach, echoed the lingering moments of a sunset. The pine floor planks are a delicious honey color. These hues, and their contrast to the building’s surroundings, are the Glebe House’s most startling characteristic.


But there are other startling qualities: original, hand-sewn linens still infused with dazzling blues and reds; antique silver pots; old-fashioned foot and bed warmers; a loom that weaves rag rugs; even a love story about a 19th-century occupant. These, along with the rest of the house’s furnishings from the 18th and later centuries, help the visitor envision a past that has been swept away in most downtowns.


“This house is special because it is one of the oldest homes in Poughkeepsie... There is a lot of history here, and people tend to forget,” Blumenfeld notes. In addition to Beardsley and his family (who were forced to leave Poughkeepsie after siding with the British during the Revolution), the Glebe house was home to at least 15 more families until 1929, when the Dutchess County Historical Society purchased it. Today, the society primarily uses it to educate school children.


“We are very educationally driven, and we are attempting to reinterpret the home to attract visitors and tie it into colonial and Revolutionary times, as well as Poughkeepsie’s history as the capital of New York,” Blumenfeld explains at the end of the tour. It’s a worthy task, and a tour is a wonderful way to rediscover Poughkeepsie’s past glory. — Nicholas Rinaldi


 The Glebe House, at 635 Main Street, is open by appointment. To arrange a tour, call 845-471-1630.


For Natives Only


Each spring, supermarket en­trances are flanked by columns of rose bushes that beckon shoppers with their rock-bottom prices and the promise of perpetual blooms. Pity the poor buyers whose hopes are dashed the following spring after the cold realities of a Hudson Valley winter take their toll on the plants.


Brooke Beebe, the director of the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, knows all about such roses, along with plenty of other species that aren’t suited to our climes.


Dedicated to educating the public about the importance of wildflowers and native plants of the Northeast, the Native Plant Center has two demonstration gardens located on the grounds of the college’s Valhalla campus. Created in 1998, the center is the first national affiliate of the Austin, Texas-based Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a national organization devoted to America’s native plants.


Like its Texas counterpart, the Valhalla gardens are designed to show visitors which species are native to our area and provide ideas on how to use them. Although you won’t find any tender hybrid tea roses, you will find the Carolina rose (a species native to the Northeast) and dozens of other plants that thrive here.


Between the center’s two gardens, there are species sure to inspire gardeners during every season of the year. In spring, azaleas and redbud trees in the two-acre demonstration garden (designed by Cherbuliez/Munz Landscape Architects of Scarsdale) produce hot-pink hues that are accented by the white of dogwoods and the bell-like flowers of the Carolina silverbell tree. Come summer it is a chorus of color, dominated by hundreds of black-eyed Susans, along with white beardtongue, purple coneflower, and Culver’s root, a white-flowered plant.


In fall, “some interesting species of golden rod” come into bloom, says Beebe. Joe-Pye weed — actually not a weed at all, but a six- to eight-foot-tall perennial — is topped with dusty rose flower clusters. Plants that turn autumnal shades of gold and red add to the visual cacophony, including a shrub called fothergilla (which bears white fluffy blooms in spring) and Virginia sweetspire, which turns a deep garnet that lasts for several weeks.


The garden is dormant in winter (save for its evergreen shrubs), but even then you can check out the fall and winter section of the second garden, which was planted last summer. Grasses that turn shades of gold or pink, and winterberry shrubs that retain their brilliant red berries throughout the winter, provide color to the season’s otherwise gray backdrop. This garden also contains sections featuring foundation plantings, lawn alternatives, and plants that attract birds and butterflies. “We want to give people ideas on how you can use native plants to create different effects,” explains Beebe.


In addition to the gardens, the center sponsors workshops in the spring and fall, and hosts an annual Wildflower Symposia each March, featuring nationally renowned speakers.

So what do you do once you’ve absorbed all this information on native plants? You buy them, of course. The center holds its annual spring wildflower and native plant sale on May 1.


Even in the world of plants, it seems, it pays to buy local. “If you buy a plant that’s native to the Northeast,” says Beebe, “this is where it evolved, so it will be more likely to survive and thrive.” — Joanne Furio


Westchester Community College is located at 75 Grasslands Road in Valhalla. The demonstration gardens can be seen from dawn to dusk every day that the college is open. For more information, contact the Native Plant Center at 914-785-7870 or www.nativeplantcenter.org.


Taking the Plunge


It’s probably fair to say that most Valley residents would have a difficult time locating Poestenkill on a map. Nestled close to the Massachusetts border, this sleepy Rensselaer County hamlet is home to a handful of homes, a general store — and one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the region.


At 92 feet, Barberville Falls doesn’t come close to Catskills favorites like Haines Falls or Kaaterskill Falls (which tops out at 260 feet). But what it lacks in height, it makes up for in drama. Lo-cated just off County Route 40, the falls is reached via a short forest path. Here the Poesten Kill drains water from 35 square miles of the Rensselaer Plateau over a ledge measuring no more than 30 feet across. Remnants of an old mill — including a foundation and part of a spillway — are evident at the summit, with part of a stone bridge abutment serving as an excellent overlook. (Local legend has it that the mill and bridge were left incomplete when one of the project’s partners ran off with most of the capital.)


But to truly experience the majesty of this spot, you must travel to the base of the falls (not as easy as it sounds; more on that in a moment). Looking up from this vantage point, one notices that the falls form one side of a semicircular “bowl” of hillside and rock.


During an early spring visit, we watched in awe as a massive torrent of water plunged almost vertically down across six separate “tiers” of red shale and Rensselaer graywacke (a type of sandstone). Widening out to about 60 feet across at bottom, the falls ends in a deep pool, which is remarkably calm compared to the uproar taking place above it. It’s the type of view that leaves you with mouth agape, pondering mankind’s insignificance in the face of Mother Nature.


The Barberville Falls Preserve, which encompasses the eastern side of the falls and much of the adjacent land, is owned by the Nature Conservancy. Besides the falls, the preserve has two hiking trails that are home to a large variety of wildflowers (including trout lily, bishop’s cap, and Indian cucumber). Hemlock trees and hardwoods like white ash, yellow birch, and red maple are plentiful as well.


One caveat for visitors: most people will be able to negotiate the short trail to the overlook at the top of the falls. Getting to the base, however, requires good balance and sturdy shoes — not to mention nerves of steel. The trail mimics the geography of the falls itself: relatively short, but straight down. With snow and ice still underfoot, our March visit felt more like a descent from Everest than a walk in the woods. But those who successfully negotiate it will be glad they did. — Polly Sparling



Barberville Falls Preserve is located along Plank Road (Rte. 40) in Poestenkill. Park on either side of Rte. 40 next to the cemetery, then walk one-quarter mile to Blue Factory Road (Rte. 79). Follow the road across a short bridge to the trailhead on the left, which leads to the falls. Open daily dawn to dusk.


Valley of the Dolls


In the heart of downtown Nyack lies an ideal world where you can choose not only your house and its décor, but your siblings and your parents. All you have to do is open a door — which happens to be seven inches tall.


No, you’re not in the Twilight Zone but My Dollhouse, which has drawn dollhouse aficionados from around the globe for the past 22 years. Even if you’re not an enthusiast, the miniature world the store recreates on a 1:12-inch scale offers a soothing antidote to full-size living and, in museum-like fashion, a fascinating look at the lifestyles of the last century.


Fourteen dollhouses are on display, from gingerbread Victorians to stately Colonial and Tudor revivals. Among collectors, the store is known for its 24 decorated room displays created by owner Joan Marshall. The displays, which line almost an entire wall, are intended to “help people visualize how to do things,” Marshall says, sounding a bit like a decorating guru, “but they don’t have to do the room exactly like that. They’re for inspiration.”


The Victorian living room features velvet sofas and a grand piano. A mustachioed gentleman sits beside the piano, ready to join in with a pair of cymbals. A 1920s kitchen has an enamel stove, while a 1940s living room has upholstered furniture in a glamorous, modern style. A contemporary kid’s room captures the current suburban passion: the furniture is painted with soccer balls.


The most intriguing display is an art gallery whose walls are lined with celebrity portraits, among them Frank Sinatra and Princess Diana, no taller than two inches. Using a tiny brush almost as small as its dollhouse counterpart, the local artist who painted them captured the essence of these personalities.


Surprisingly, most of the builders of dollhouses are men, who create them for their wives, girlfriends, or daughters. (Marshall says a number of her clients are doctors and lawyers who build the houses “as a way to relax.”) While men select the style of the house, women choose the décor.  Boys, too, are drawn to the miniature world, but steer away from domesticity, opting instead for the Victorian fire station or general store, all of which can be stocked with appropriate accessories, from miniscule hairbrushes to cutlery.


Although My Dollhouse displays already built houses, they don’t come that way. Made of cabinet-grade plywood, they’re sold as kits. Prices range from $89 to $1,000, but the average price is around $250 for an eight-room house. Furnishing the house starts at around $300. For those only interested in the finished product, Marshall can build and decorate the dollhouse for you at a cost of $5,000 to $6,000.


A display case on the counter features teeny decorations for Halloween, Ha-nukkah, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day. “We celebrate all the holidays here,” says Marshall. If only the real world were so perfect. — Joanne Furio


My Dollhouse, at 7 South Broadway in Nyack, is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. 845-358-4185.


A Moving Story


Albany is a must on the itinerary of any admirer of the work of the great 19th-century architect Henry Hobson Richardson. He designed portions of the capitol, including its sumptuous senate chamber and “Million Dollar” staircase; city hall, whose arched entry is a classic example of the style that came to be known as Richardsonian Romanesque; and a house (now an apartment building) that faces Washington Park. But what is arguably his greatest work in the city — in fact, one of the most beautiful rooms of the late 19th century — wound up in a building constructed when the architect was four years old.


Herein lies a tale. Even before the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest judiciary, moved into its spanking new courtroom in the capitol in 1883, it had reached the verdict that the chambers were not up to snuff. Though designed by Leopold Eidlitz with a bold eye to detail — red stenciled walls, crimson carpets, lots of gold leaf — the room didn’t cut it in a few crucial areas: the judges could neither hear nor see. So in 1882, they petitioned for a new courtroom. (They wound up spending just three months in Eidlitz’s technicolor chamber.)


Richardson took on the task of designing the new room, and he managed to create a space that was grand without being overpowering or pretentious. The walls were sheathed in quarter-sawn oak, as was the coffered ceiling, and a monumental fireplace was crafted of Mexican onyx. But what made the chamber special was its profusion of exquisite carving. From the panels that framed the portraits of past justices (hanging in niches along the walls) to the fireplace surround, with its rendering of a many-tendriled plant, it was a masterpiece of the woodcarver’s art.


Equally beautiful were the room’s furnishings, also designed (or at least ap-proved) by Richardson, which were manufactured in a shop in the capitol basement. The judges’ bench, with its criss-cross and floral patterns, also featured dozens of small carved faces. Other desks bore fan motifs. There were chairs whose arms ended in rams’ heads; the feet were little paws. A British lord took one look at the room shortly after its opening in 1884 and proclaimed it “the finest quarters of any court in the world.”


By 1916, the court had outgrown its digs and was forced to move into the Greek Revival State Hall, completed in 1842. Built of Sing Sing marble (just a stone’s throw from the capitol), the building features hefty marble columns along its front and a magnificent dome within. What it lacked was a room befitting the stature of its new tenants.


Not to worry. An addition was made to the building, and Richardson’s chamber was moved in lock, stock, and almost barrel (the ceiling stayed behind). By January 1917, the judges were back home again, almost.


The courtroom, which recently underwent a refurbishment (including the installation of period lighting fixtures), positively glows today. Go when the court’s not in session and you’ll be able to get up close to all those dazzling swirls and vines. Don’t miss the tall case clock, which is a riot of carving, and the benches in the fireplace. And put modesty aside and get down on your hands and knees to admire those miniature portraits, probably of the carvers themselves, on the judges’ bench.


The beauty of this room is about the only thing that might compel me to take up law, for the possibility of getting to work in such a glorious space. — Reed Sparling


Court of Appeals Hall, at 20 Eagle Street, is open during regular business hours.


Milling Around


It’s hard to succinctly describe the recent incarnation of the Tuthilltown Gristmill, located just off Route 44/55 in the Ulster County town of Gardiner. It’s an old-fashioned country store with a modern twist. It’s a coffee bar and a community center, a cabaret stage and a riverside retreat. Most of all, it’s a working mill, still grinding flour — with the help of the Shawangunk Kill River — as it has done for the past 215 years.


The transformation of this National Register property is the brainchild of owners Ralph Erenzo and Vicki Morgan. Last November, they opened an expanded version of the small shop that had been a part of the site for a number of years. The larger space now includes a sizable portion of the mill building itself, with all its equipment (including the grinding wheel and a giant pair of calipers for lifting the stones) still in place. “My goal was to open the mill up so that people could actually walk around in it,” says Erenzo.


Bakers and cooks will find a dizzying array of ingredients, with no less than nine kinds of rice, 12 types of beans, and untold numbers of herbs, spices, coffee beans, nuts, oils, condiments, dried fruit, and chocolate. As for flour and grains, you can scoop many of the 24-plus varieties yourself from large bins. The shop also has  other food and gift items, stocking local products like Kiss My Face skin treatments and honey produced at Widmark Farms.


But don’t come just to shop. Take a seat in an overstuffed chair by one of the sunny windows in the café area. Order an espresso and a baked treat, like the straight-from-the-oven warm and chewy oatmeal cookies offered during a recent visit. (By summer, says Erenzo, the menu will include fresh granola, baked on-site.) Bring the kids on Saturday mornings for a story hour.


The gristmill takes on more of a party atmosphere on weekend evenings, presenting live music in a renovated space on the mill’s second floor. Cabaret-style seating, spotlighted tables, and the excellent acoustics created by exposed beams make the room “very intimate at night,” according to Erenzo. But once again the character of the building remains front and center, with the 1930s-era mill works still in plain sight. Patrons enjoy coffee and dessert with the Friday and Sunday night performances (which include a popular monthly bluegrass jam session). Erenzo also invites local groups to use the space for meetings.


For outdoor types, the 20-acre property includes 3,000 feet of river frontage and a hiking path to the nearby dam and pond (where fishing is encouraged). A large deck, complete with picnic tables, overlooks the river as it noisily babbles past the mill building. “Our intention is to open the property up as a sort of private park. Come with family, walk and picnic, whatever,” Erenzo says magnanimously.


And although he’d “never been in a mill” before he bought Tuthilltown, Erenzo still gets the machinery up and running one day each year, grinding about one ton of flour “just to make sure that it still works,” he says. — Polly Sparling


Tuthilltown Gristmill is located at 20 Gristmill Lane, at the crossroads of Albany Post Rd. and Rte. 44/55, in Gardiner. It is open Tuesday through Sunday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., year-round. 845-255-5695 or www.tuthilltown.com.


Having A Ball


Had Mark Twain taken a course at the Roland Stafford Golf School at Christman’s Windham House, or played a round on one of the two courses at the Greene County resort, it’s likely he would have had a different opinion of the sport. (He’s the wag who said golf was “a good walk spoiled.”)


The first thing that strikes you about the courses at the Windham House — whether you’re a duffer or a scratch handicapper — is the fresh air. The resort is located right atop the Catskills, so there’s little chance of smog obscuring your view of the ball as it rockets off your wood straight (you wish!) down the fairway. Better, as you walk the 7,072-foot championship regulation course, your lungs will get a good workout — and so will your eyes. The views of the surrounding peaks and valleys are magnificent.


Another nice thing about the big course is that it’s a real challenge for all golfers: even club pros will be lured by the siren calls of the sand traps and water hazards spread out among the 18 holes, and you may be tempted to leave some of your hair —pulled out in frustration — in the rough beside the doglegs. For those who prefer to play with less of a threat to their sanity, the resort’s nine-hole course might be a better bet. (There is also a driving range.)

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