Autumn in New York
By Dale Koppel
August 26, 2001
I would not have known about the autumn splendor of Columbia County, N.Y., were it not for Ron Harrington.
I would not have known about Ron Harrington, were it not for a common interest: pig collecting. His collection was for sale, and part of it was at his second home in Columbia County. "Kill two pigs with one hatchet," he suggested. "Come see the collection AND the fall foliage." (Typically at its most red, orange, purple and yellow from the last week of September until the middle of October).
Tiny Columbia County is comprised mostly of hamlets and villages. A driving tour to get an overview of the area takes under an hour, and that's including a couple of stops to see the cows in the pastures and to buy some apples from the farm stands. Nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountain range, it's the perfect fall foliage destination if you want to feel like you've seen it all, at a leisurely clip, over a long weekend. If you have a week to spare, you can spend the rest of the time in New York City; Hartford, Conn. (11/2 hours away); or Boston (21/2 hours away).
Though Ron led me to the proverbial "water," it was really Deborah Bowen, Ron's neighbor and owner of the Inn at Green River in Hillsdale, who got me to drink. Each day, she pointed me in the right direction, along roads with enticing names like Pumpkin Hill and Yonder View and uncluttered vistas to match. You'll see fields and farms and silos and haystacks, church steeples peeking through the tops of trees in the distance and white houses with red roofs and chimneys. You'll cross over creeks (Claverack is my favorite) and even a one-lane bridge. What you don't see much of are traffic lights, or traffic, even at the height of the season.
The perfect first-day walk lies just about a quarter of a mile south of the inn along a dirt road that the locals call "The Dugway." This nine-mile road follows Cranse Creek, a stream (OK, a "babbling" brook), till you get to Spencertown.
Deborah's driving tour took me along Route 22 south till I reached Whippoorwill Road for a visit to the Bridlewood Arabian Horse Farm (to see the horses and buy some Bridlewood Scottish shortbread. Further down the road is the circa 1842 White Oak Farm's roadside stand, where purchases (I strongly recommend the jams) are made on the honor system.
Continuing south on Route 22, I headed east on Route 344 to Copake Falls, Bash Bish Falls and the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. The Harlem Valley Rail Trail no longer transports people by train. Instead, this is where people (including fall leafpeepers) come to walk, bike or skate. Though eventually the trail will span 46 miles, it's currently a very manageable 12 miles, especially on a rental bike from Bash Bish Bicycle. (Even if you don't rent a bike, you'll probably want to buy a T-shirt.)
And that's plenty for one day.
On Day 2, Deborah pointed me in the direction of Hudson, the antiques mecca of Columbia County. There are more than 70 shops along Warren Street, the main drag, and a wonderful 60-dealer shop at the northeast corner of North Fifth and State streets, known as Armory Antiques (housed in an old armory).
The drive takes you along Route 23 through Claverack with its Dutch houses and, if you happen to be driving through on a weekday, Traditions (on Route 9H). Warning: You're going to pinch yourself: "Hey, didn't I see this (bed linen, table linen, towel, duvet cover, quilt) at (pick your favorite high-end store or catalogue)?" This is where owner/designer Pamela Kline has been manufacturing (and importing from Italy, Portugal, France) her to-die-for line for the past 30 years. This is where -- and only here -- you can buy the line for 50 percent to 75 percent off retail prices (but only on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). If you're driving through Claverack on a Saturday or Sunday, check out Bryant Farms Antique & Flea Market (also on Route 9H). Like Traditions, you never know what you'll find here.
Some of the most spectacular vistas can be seen from Olana, a historic site on 126 acres south of Hudson, that was built by artist Frederic Edwin Church in the late 1800s in the unlikely style of a Moorish villa.
Take Route 66 north to 9H for Love Apple Farm, where you'll find not only 40 varieties of apples but a petting zoo. Warning: Don't eat the apples (until later). You want to have room for the homemade ice cream from The Red Barn Luncheonette. With luck, they'll have their special fall flavor, pumpkin, when you arrive.
For those who like to combine fall foliage with American history, the next stop -- Kinderhook -- is the real McCoy (Van Buren's home, the Ichabod Crane school house), especially along Broad Street.
If you time your visit to Kinderhook right, you can end up at Carolina House for dinner. The traditional northern setting is in direct contrast to the "Southland specialties" on the menu (Mississippi catfish, Louisiana trout, Charleston hot chicken wings, authentic southern fried chicken). Most people, however, come here for side orders of corn fritters, served with maple syrup for dipping.
Or you can head back to Ghent (on Route 9H) and have dinner at Kozels (where the locals hang out and eat Kozels' "famous" Delmonico steak with tossed salad, french fries and homemade bread for $10.95) or return to The Red Barn Luncheonette. Don't be fooled by the name and its eponymous decor. You'll be surprised at the eclectic menu, especially among the specials. (Think black bean soup with avocado and oyster pan roast.) Or you can stick with the tried-and-true, like the haddock fillet dinner. On a budget? At $7.50, the fish will leave you with money left over for the hot apple pie ($2.50) with ice cream or, if you're really in the seasonal spirit, cheddar cheese (add $.75 for either).
If you combine a self-directed walking tour with a self-directed shopping tour, you can spend practically your entire Day 3 in the village of Chatham. A walking tour will take you past Union Station, at Depot Square, built in 1887 with granite blocks and a slate roof during Chatham's heyday as a railroading center. The clocktower at 1 Main St., dates back to 1872. Cady Hall at 13 Main St., was Chatham's first opera house, built in 1871. The Crandell Theatre, across the street, has been an independently owned movie theater showing first-run movies since Christmas Day, 1926. Adult admission is (still) only $3.50. The 1811 Inn in Central Square, which operated as a hotel as well as a tavern, was frequented by President Martin Van Buren, who lived in nearby Kinderhook. The former Park Hotel, later the Windsor Hotel, in Central Square was a favorite stopover for actress Norma Shearer, Harry Houdini and Teddy Roosevelt. In its latest incarnation it is an interior design emporium, though rumor has it that the building is up for sale.
Shops along Main Street offer something for everyone: gadgets for knitters at The Warm Ewe (No. 31); unique musical merchandise at Musica (No. 9); gifts for the kids or grandkids at Multi Kids (No. 1); interior design items (not seen elsewhere) at Groovi (No. 21); designer clothes at The Dakota (No. 25); and warm clothes (you forget how cold it can get, don't you?) at Brown's Emporium (No. 37). My two favorite stores on Main Street are American Pie (No. 41), an old-fashioned general store gone contemporary. (If you leave empty-handed, you'll regret it later.) And the Chatham Bookstore (No. 27), a bookstore with a twist. (If you sit reading a book for 30 minutes in the comfortable, overstuffed armchair -- in the window -- you can buy any book for 40 percent off.)
You'll even find some antique, and near-antique, stores in Chatham. My favorite on Main Street: Route 66 (No. 14) for its pristine Bakelite jewelry and accessories. And off Main Street: Welcome Home (25 Hudson Ave.) for its consignment bargains, and Yesteryears (3 Railroad Ave.) for its eclectic mix.
Chatham is also a good place to eat: lunch at the Bagel Cafe (try the apple/cheddar/tuna sandwich); dinner at the Blue Plate Restaurant, where you'll find "contemporary American cooking with international implications." (From meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes to ravioli with shrimp and scallops in a lobster sauce.)
Thank you, Ron.
Dale Koppel's last story for Travel was on Rockport, Mass. She lives in Boca Raton.
Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel