Hurley, Stone Ridge, Accord, Kerhonkson, Ellenville. A pleasant drive on Route 209 takes you through these picturesque southwestern Ulster County hamlets with seemingly nothing more to offer than a post office and a few stores. The ambience is contemplative along this corridor, which may be a great part of the attraction. People can spend time here without being pressured to participate in a lot of regional hype. Visitors can enjoy a truly country experience with comfortable amenities. A variety of outdoor activities can be suggested to anyone yearning to get out into nature.
There’s also a side trip on Route 213 to consider. That modest east-west two-lane state highway takes one from Route 209 west to Olivebridge and the Ashokan Reservoir and east to High Falls and Rosendale.
The area has drawn its share of famous names. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis used to stay at Tack Tavern when her friend Bill Walton, federal commissioner of fine arts, was owner of that eighteenth-century stone house. Other famous people have found discrete havens in and around the Town of Marbletown, from Marc Chagall to supermodel-actress-entrepreneur Carol Alt. Current residents of fame will not be mentioned, but don’t be surprised to run into a world-renowned actor cruising the aisles at the local wine shop or lying on the mat next to you in a yoga class. At least one celebrity of note has hung a shingle out her door — artist-comedienne Denny Dillon owns a gallery called The Drawing Room in Stone Ridge from which she also teaches art and drama classes to kids of all ages.
More than 200 original stone houses can be found along the rich alluvial valleys through which Route 209 was built. The little town of Old Hurley has several historically significant ones, and at least fifteen others can be found nearby. The Elmendorf House in Hurley is headquarters of the local Heritage Society Museum (www.hurleyheritagesociety.org), another must-see for history aficionados. Each July Hurley hosts a Stone House Day when the houses are opened for touring.
You just know that if Washington didn’t sleep in these houses he did at least meet with local leaders and other revolutionary types in a nearby tavern or two. Hurley was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.
The Bevier House in north Marbletown, one-time home to Colonial slave owners and refuge to some citizens of Kingston when the British burned that town to the ground, now holds annual gatherings of both Civil War and Revolutionary War encampments. The stately house (www.bevierhousemuseum.org) is home to the Ulster County Historic Society.
Many stone houses are now private homes and inns. A few are open to the public as veritable living museums, offering tours and other educational activities. History buffs and the simply curious will enjoy standing in a room of thick beams and foot-wide floor planks with massive open-hearth fireplaces, imagining what went on there in the past couple of hundred years.
Stone houses dot the pastoral landscape for miles around, some tastefully restored and others barely standing. Further south in Stone Ridge, the very intact Tack Tavern sits across the road from the privately owned Wynkoop House, also an architecturally impressive stone structure under occasional restoration. Nearby is the Stone Ridge Library, also a historic stone structure. The impressive Inn at Stone Ridge (www.innatstoneridge.com), also known as Hasbrouck House, has a living history that can be reviewed while one is taking repast in the beautifully restored tavern at Happy Hour. Now collaborating with Frank and Kristen Marquette’s Murder Café, the inn hosts morbid mystery dinners. What would the original occupants have made of such a turn of events?
A bit to the east on Route 213 in Rosendale, one-time location of a thriving cement mining operation, the Snyder Estate boasts a collection of antique sleighs and carriages, and its Widow Jane Mine, where the materials for cement were once quarried, has been used for special concerts and plays. It is the home of the Century House Historical Society (www.centuryhouse.org). Ruins of old cement kilns can be found on the property.
Up the hill on Binnewater Lane is the Women’s Studio Workshop (www.wsworkshop.org), a workspace for female artists that conducts several exhibitions each year.
In the hamlet, eclectic shops line Main Street, and Favata’s Table Rock Tours & Bicycles (www.trtbicycles.com) rents bikes and arranges bike tours through the territory.
In nearby High Falls, the arts and antiques businesses flourish in a hamlet once dominated by the Delaware & Hudson Canal, built in 1828 to carry coal from Pennsylvania to Kingston and on to New York City. High Falls boasts the highest concentration of locks and lock ruins on this stretch of canal; barges were raised or lowered a full 70 feet. Visitors can hear about such engineering exploits in the Delaware & Hudson Canal Museum (www.canalmuseum.org), which offers self-guided walking tours through the locks. A thriving flea market, a natural-foods co-op, and a dramatic set of waterfalls where creek paddlers can put their boats in the water at Central Hudson’s public ramp make High Falls a cool place to hang out.
Jazz and other genres of live music can be heard regularly at the Rosendale Café (www.rosendalecafe.com), at the High Falls Café (www.highfallscafe.com), and at Jack and Luna’s in Stone Ridge (www.jackandlunas.com). In Hurley every other year or so, the Levon Helm Band graces an outdoor platform stage at Gill Farm for a free concert. The cooperatively run Rosendale Theatre (www.rosendaletheatre.org) maintains a full listing of films along with hosting live performances and pertinent social events.
In Ellenville, Shadowland Theatre (www.shadowlandtheatre.org) offers a full range of professional performances at an affordable price. The John Quimby Theater at SUNY Ulster in Stone Ridge a few hundred yards off Route 209 (www.sunyulster.edu/campus_and_culture/arts) is the venue for student and professional theatrical productions, concerts, dance presentations, poetry readings, guest lectures and other featured events. And Marbletown Multi-Arts (www.cometomama.org) in Stone Ridge has become a strong hub of creative and spiritual energy, offering concerts, a diverse array of classes, and an all-organic juice bar and café. The newly forming sustainability organization Transition Marbletown (www.transitionmarbletown.org) holds screenings and educational events at MaMA, too.
As a scenic drive, Route 209 is one of the older roads in the country. Once called the Old Mine Road, it was a trading route between the territories of Pennsylvania and New York. Nestled between the lower Catskills and the Shawangunk Ridge, the artery intersects not only Route 213 but smaller roads penetrating the surrounding foothills, which makes for great bicycling and motorcycling tours.
Once a trail used by indigenous peoples, the path the road follows now provides easy entry to winter sports and summer activities throughout the region. Courses in Kerhonkson, Ellenville, Accord, and High Falls cater to golfers with a broad range of skills. Rock climbing in the Gunks can be accessed from this side of the mountains. The famous Mohonk Mountain House offers a range of leisure and spa activities, and another golf course. Auto racing, which thrills spectators at the Accord Speedway (www.accordspeedway.com), is rumored to be taking place again this year. The vertically unchallenged can take to the air for hang gliding and paragliding instruction at Mountain Wings in Ellenville (www.mtnwings.com).
The local creeks feature swimming holes, some public — like the life-guard monitored Marbletown Park on Tongore Road (www.marbletown.net/government/youth_programs.cfm), where safe swimming lessons are held for local kids. There are many not-so-public places. It’s best to ask the locals where to take a swim break on a hot day. The public pool in Rosendale (www.townofrosendale.com/pool.cfm) may be closed this year for budgetary reasons. An option is to slip indoors on a hot summer day at Skate Time 209 in Accord (www.skatetime209.com) for family fun on eight wheels and air conditioning.
Hiking opportunities are within easy reach from the 209 corridor. Trail systems of note include the Vernooy Kill Falls near Kerhonkson, located five miles up Cherrytown Road offering trails for hiking and mountain biking with the promise of a cool splash in the pools. Nearby, the Lundy Estate (www.osiny.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Catskills_LundyEstate), now owned by the Open Space Institute and managed by the Palisades Park Commission, has miles of newly blazed hiking trails and abundant opportunities for fishing, hunting, skiing, snowshoeing and camping. Further south in Cragsmoor, Sam’s Point Preserve and Conservation Center, also owned by OSI, is managed by the Nature Conservancy.
Following the old O&W Railway track is a greatly appreciated rail-trail (www.marbletown.net/MarbletownOWRailTrail.cfm) which stretches from the north end of Hurley to Kripplebush Creek south of Stone Ridge. Multiple trail entries make access easy for walkers, bikers, roller bladders and strollers. Dogs and horses are welcome. It’s always spectacular to make your way along Route 213 across to the New York City-owned Ashokan Reservoir to the west of Stone Ridge in any season. But it’s heavily patrolled, so on’t expect to swim or hike there.
The fertile soil of the Rondout Valley and the Hurley Plains have sustainedarms that have produced foodstuffs for local inhabitants ever since white settlement in the 1650s. Contemporary growers and livestock producers have banded together as the Rondout Valley Growers Association (www.rondoutvalleygrowers.org) to support and maintain the agriculture of the region. Farm stands and CSAs abound, and permaculture farms indicate an even more sustainable trend. At Hollengold Farm in Accord (www.hollengoldfarm.com) botanical art classes mix with sustainable foods and healthy living education.
Many U-pick opportunities are available during the harvest season: flowers at Gill Farm, berries and veggies at Kelder’s Farm (www.kelderfarm.com) and Saunderskill Farm (www.saunderskillfarm.com) in Kerhonkson, apples and berries at the Stone Ridge Orchard (www.stoneridgeorchard.us), with others places cropping up each year. The Kelders run hay rides through their acreage, and have farm animals that love to be fed and an edible miniature golf course on the property. Various corn mazes provide family entertainment.
Colonial- and industrial-era history, old Dutch architecture, a vibrant tradition of agriculture and a terrific sense of community all come together to give the Rondout Valley and Lower Esopus Creek area an inviting feeling for visitors and residents alike. What you’ve read here is by no means an exhaustive list of what there is to do and see. Crafters and artisans are tucked into every village. Musicians play into the breezes. And don’t forget events like the legendary Pickle Festival in Rosendale, the annual Barn Dance and the RVGA Harvest Dinner in Stone Ridge, and other gatherings to celebrate country delights!
Be sure to check weekly listings in the Alm@nac for a variety of current events.