Upstate 101: Four Upstate Places I Know and Love

  |  May 17, 2013

The next installment by guest poster Susan Barnett. 


Walkway Over the Hudson

A reader of an earlier column asked for some insider info on various towns in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. I grew up in Woodstock, summered in Rosendale and Cherry Valley, lived in Kinderhook and Chatham, left the state for many years and moved back to Woodstock about seven years ago.  I’ve gotten around to a few towns during my time as a reporter for the regional NPR affiliate and an unrepentant Sunday driver, but I will not pretend to be an expert on every town. So I’ll stick with what I know: four counties I know pretty well, and some of the towns I love there.

#1 Columbia County

Rolling fields, farmland, charming little towns and one darned good city – that, for me, is Columbia County. Just north of Dutchess and within a commute to Albany, it was a bit of a stepchild for many years, but it’s no secret anymore.

Of course you know about Hudson. The historic port city had a resurgence as an antiques center a few years back, and now it’s a hip, happening place with upscale shops, outstanding restaurants and one of the best music venues around – Helsinki Hudson.

But my heart belongs to Chatham. It’s an old railroad town with just one commercial street, really – but what a great street! A great old movie house, good restaurants, a shoe store that’s been there forever, and a bookstore you must visit.

On the jump, more  Columbia, Dutchess, Greene and Ulster County delights

Every Labor Day weekend brings the Columbia County Fair, which takes over Chatham for a surreal long weekend of rides, fattening food and carnies.  I love it.

Chatham still feels real, but picture perfect neighboring Kinderhook is beyond real – where almost every business has been replaced by a real estate office. Even the old post office is a real estate office now. Valatie (vuh-LAY-shuh) is an interesting town – it’s gotten pretty lively in the past few years and I’m told there is quite a good distillery there. Plus, Columbia County is home to artist Frederick Church’s estate, Olana. Worth a visit!


To the south on the east side of the Hudson is #2 – Dutchess County

Dutchess County is Grace Kelly to Columbia County’s Doris Day.  Even the county fair is bigger and fancier. Rhinebeck has a Connecticut/Hamptons vibe, as does Millbrook to the south (horse and wine country). If you like your sidewalks even, your shops upscale and your scenery charming (hmmm- it does sound perfect, doesn’t it?) Dutchess County is a place you must explore.  Tourism and IBM are two of the bigger employers, along with higher education and health care.

It has Red Hook (diners!), Millerton (great shops, great coffee, great Mexican lunch place, diner and  Sapersteins, just like where you and mom used to shop for your Scouts uniforms and Hush Puppies), Hyde Park (great museums/estates – Vanderbilt and Roosevelt are my go-to stops here) and the Omega Institute, mecca for big picture, progressive global thinkers as well as foodie heaven, the Culinary Institute of America.

Dutchess is home to Bard, Vassar and Marist Colleges, with the last two being in its largest city, Poughkeepsie.

If Dutchess is Grace Kelly and Columbia County is Doris Day, #3 Ostego County is the girl next door.

Oneonta is the county seat, but for tourists, Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame are the hub. The farmland is among the prettiest I’ve seen anywhere, and since my mom grew up on an Indiana farm, I know like to think I know pretty farmland.

Otsego is west of Albany, north of Delaware County. It includes Otsego Lake (Lake George without the development and obnoxiously loud boats), the Farmers Museum (My kids thought I was crazy to take them there for fourth of July festivities, but they had FUN rolling hoops and petting goats) and a town with a special place in my heart, Cherry Valley. Don’t go there thinking there’s a lot to do. There isn’t. What you can do there is slow down. Just enjoy it and please don’t ruin it for the rest of us.


Finally, let’s head home to #4 Ulster County.

Doris Day, Grace Kelly and the girl next door; where’s that leave my home county?  Ulster is the hip, rebel girl with the heart of gold.  Hmmm.  Angelina Jolie, maybe.  Tourism and small business are the driving forces here.

The scenery is gorgeous, we’ve got the Hudson River bordering Kingston, Saugerties, Esopus and Highland, with the Walkway Over the Hudson connecting us to Grace Kelly and we’ve got the Catskills and Shawangunk Mountains. We’ve got the Ashokan Reservoir, plus a new push to connect all our rail trails and give visitors a way to walk or bike from the Catskill Mountains right down to the Hudson.

We’re fun and funky, as you’ll find on the main streets of New Paltz (home of SUNY New Paltz), Rosendale, Phoenicia, Saugerties and Woodstock.  We’re kind of classy – check out uptown Kingston, Stone Ridge, High Falls.

If Dutchess County feels a bit like Connecticut, Ulster County definitely has a New York City vibe.  We love our dogs (they’re everywhere!), our animals (we have not one but two great farm animal sanctuaries), our outdoors activities (rock climbing in the ‘Gunks, hiking in the Catskills, fly fishing in the Esopus, skiing, tubing, zip lines….), the arts (Woodstock Film Festival, Writers Festival, Woodstock Playhouse, Art Students League, Bearsville Theater just in Woodstock!) and our food (way too many outstanding restaurants to mention. Go to any town – you’ll find several).

Ulster has the Revolutionary-era stone Dutch houses, more writers, musicians, actors and yogis than you can shake a stick at, the Mohonk Mountain House and an adorable little county fair that doesn’t try to out-glitz its swankier relatives.

Is that all there is? Of course not.  In Greene County, a place I’m just learning, you’ll find Hunter and Windham ski areas, Tannersville, Palenville and a lot of places I haven’t explored yet. But I will.

Delaware County lies between Ulster and Otsego Counties – another area I’m still exploring.  Andes is worth a trip from anywhere, and Grand Gorge is home to Delaware Phoenix, one of the craziest and best little distilleries around.  Schoharie County is in the same neighborhood – and the village of Sharon Springs is one you must see.  Long a favorite with the Hasidim, who went each summer to “enjoy” the native sulfur water, it’s a step back in time. Go visit the Magnesia Temple. One of my favorite odd places.

If I haven’t given you the inside dope on a town that draws you, I’d suggest starting with the web.  Search the town that’s fascinating you and see what comes up.  Sometimes you’ll find blogs or community news.

Next stop?  Tourism sites.  Upstate counties aren’t blind — they know visitors are looking for reasons to visit (and maybe buy!) and they’re all working hard to draw you in. Their websites can be great sources of information.  NYS is back with I Love NY and they’ve got all kinds of links to recreation, shopping and cultural events.

How about putting a question on the forum right here at The Upstater?  This is a lively online community and you’re bound to get some answers.

Know of some others?  Share!





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