In the Hudson Valley, a Drive Back in Time

Excerpt from: In the Hudson Valley, a Drive Back in Time

By Russell Shorto in The New York Times

One of the most beautiful parts of New York State was once the spine of the Dutch colony, and remnants of its history are everywhere, hiding in plain sight.

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Heading up the west side of the Hudson on a moody spring afternoon, skirting Hook Mountain, which rises from the river with a primordial majesty, got me thinking about the Low Country settlers of the 1600s, who must have been stunned by such peaks. The Hudson Valley was — is — such a big, brooding, hunkering, muscular landscape. The wilderness was so very wild, and, whether from animals or natives who felt threatened by the Europeans, or the profound cold of the Little Ice Age, it was deeply dangerous. Those newcomers were all but powerless.

Today that wilderness is sprinkled with communities, many of whose settlers are escapees from New York City. A drive through the Hudson Valley is one of the most beautiful in the United States, with the river and the blue-black Catskills in the distance evoking the landscapes of 19th-century Hudson River School painters.

The college town of New Paltz, N.Y., a stop on the author’s trip. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

There was still a glow in the sky as I drove into New Paltz, dominated by the 6,500 students at the State University of New York campus and the former students who settled there. The result is a mellow, hippyish vibe. You’d have difficulty walking down Main Street without running into a candle shop, pottery studio or tearoom.

Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz, N.Y., includes houses built by the offspring of the Huguenots who settled in the Dutch colony. Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Tucked behind the modern city is Historic Huguenot Street, a 10-acre landmarked zone with seven houses from the early 1700s, built by the offspring of the French-speaking Huguenots who settled in the Dutch colony. I had been here many times, but always in summertime, when the place was crawling with tourists. This time I was lucky: the site was closed, and the chilly weather ensured that I would be alone. I paced the meadow, stood in front of the steep-roofed brooding stone edifice of the Jean Hasbrouck House, and listened to rainfall through the branches. I was searching for a sense of the towering serenity, the forbidding isolation that must have enveloped the colonial inhabitants. Eventually I headed back to the town center and shook off the gloom at a cheery little place called Scarborough Fare, which has dozens of varieties of olive oil on tap.

It was dark when I pulled into the Stone House Bed & Breakfast in Hurley, 15 miles north. I had found the place on Booking.com and selected it because it seemed to suit the trip. I could not have chosen better. The owner, Sam Scoggins, looked like an older version of the actor who played another Sam in “The Lord of the Rings,” and remarkably enough had a similar accent. He told me that he and his wife had met on a Buddhist dating website, bought this house 10 years ago and turned it into a bed-and-breakfast.

The house was built in 1705 by Cornelis Cool, a Dutchman, in the Dutch style, with Dutch doors and saw-toothed shapes in the gables called vlechtingen. Mr. Scoggins showed me records indicating that Cool had been the largest taxpayer in the county. He certainly built a rich man’s home: a wandering warren of wide-plank floors leading to snug rooms. The house sits midway between Hurley, which in the early 1700s was predominantly Dutch, and the largely English town of Stone Ridge. Later in the century, Mr. Scoggins said, the owner of the house hosted dances, where Dutch girls from one town met British boys from the other.

For dinner, I settled on a local hangout: Hurley Mountain Inn, a big barnlike bar-and-grill with a pool table in back. In the morning I looked out my window onto an unspoiled New Netherland landscape: the Esopus Creek below, the Catskill Mountains beyond.

Read the full article here.