New Paltz: Village of Vitality

By   |     |  Community Spotlight

With its central village set on a hillside that rolls to the river and looks out past fertile fields to the Shawangunks and a still-rural town surrounding it, New Paltz inspires fierce love in lifetime residents, students and visitors alike. Squabbles arise, passions run high, work is done, solutions found, and civic life advances with better-than-average exuberance and grace.

Exhibit A: A neighborhood dustup lit the spark that has become Historic Huguenot Street. Descendants of the original patentees cherished their pre-1750s ’hood by the river just the way it was, but Abraham Deyo Brodhead and his wife Gertrude wanted to turn their two-room stone farmhouse into a Queen Anne Revival. The neighbors fussed. So the Brodheads helped cofound the Huguenot Patriotic, Historical, and Monumental Society in 1894, preempting future architectural shenanigans, and other houses remained as their colonial crafters intended.

Around that same time, Mohonk Mountain House builder/owner Albert Smiley was organizing international intellectual symposia in hopes of finding solutions to racism and war, believing that the beauty of his sky lake might inspire. A teachers’ college planted up the hill blossomed into an outstanding state university with a topnotch art museum, research foundation, and world-class 3-D print lab. Smiley’s descendants are still inviting people to the mountaintop to reason together. And the eye- popping remodel Abe and Gertrude pulled off is vintage by now in its own right.

Historic Huguenot Street, heir to that early organization, has thrown its arms around the whole truth, networking with present-day Esopus Munsee, researching the lives of enslaved people, women, and poor folk, making a mind-bending prism of what, in lesser hands, would be a quaint collection of architecture.

“People use the space all the time,” says Historic Huguenot Street Marketing Director Frances Vigna. “It’s a beautiful park-like neighborhood, away from the hustle and bustle. Schools use it for music classes, parents nurse babies on our front porches, people walk dogs and ride bikes—it’s a communal backyard. Halloween is my personal favorite. We give out thousands of candies and then it turns into a big parade.”

Cornerstone organizations of this caliber, alongside generations of creatives, business folk, thinkers and lovers of all stripes, collaborate on the quirky work of art that is New Paltz.

The New Paltz Scene

Independent businesses flourish here. Some, like Handmade and More, P&G’s Restaurant, the Mark Gruber Gallery, and Kon Tiki Trading Post, have been thriving for decades.

Huckleberry is a relaxed bar/eatery hidden in plain sight on charming Church Street. Photo by Roy Gumpel

People gather for outdoor movies, book discussions, open-air market days, fairgrounds events (besides the Ulster County Fair, the Woodstock New Paltz Arts and Crafts Fair happens here), protest marches, impassioned board meetings, and the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5K for Family of New Paltz. Downtown fills with live music and revelry on weekend nights.

It’s foodie paradise. “The hardest thing to let go of is the Park Slope Food Co-Op,” says Kristen Leonard, who moved from Brooklyn to the New Paltz area just last year. “But we’re about to cut the cord. We planted a big garden this year, and the Health and Nutrition Center is great. And Tops Market has a lot of organic items. It’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Leonard and her husband bought their upstate retreat as a second home, only to find themselves all in and loving it. “We weren’t even tired of the city,” Leonard says, “but the outdoor experience here is so rich. Our daughter’s a big hiker and she loves it here so much she’s moved into our accessory apartment.”

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