Ulster County NY: Cool High Falls and New Paltz

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WHY GO: Ulster County NY encompasses the towns of High Falls, New Paltz, Hurley, Kingston, Woodstock, Phoenicia and more. It extends from the Hudson River to the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. To provide perspective, Ulster County is roughly the size of Rhode Island.

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How can you access all this rustic splendor, French history, architectural and engineering innovations, fantastic food and awesome lodging all in one getaway? You can’t. So, we’ve divided it up into three sections. This one –  High Falls/New Paltz,

Woodstock/Phoenicia

and Kingston.

As per usual, we submit the best things to do, see and experience in these quaint Mid-Hudson River Valley hamlets. Read on.

Things to Do in Ulster County NY

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TOUR: Historic Huguenot Street, New Paltz, Ulster County

Even before it was a country, the New World was safe haven to those facing religious persecution abroad. This short street, lined with beautiful stone buildings, is the oldest continuously occupied street in New York. It serves also as a reminder of our nation’s first European immigrants, and is worth an immersive 90 minute tour.

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Begin at the 1705 DuBoise Fort Visitor’s Center. Watch a short video about the Protestant French Huguenots who fled the restrictions and violence of Catholic King Louis XIII in the early 1600’s. They first settled in German lands, and then found opportunity in the New World in 1678.

The twelve original Huguenot founders, called “Patentees,” offered blankets, needles, and tobacco pipes to local Native Americans, in exchange for 40,000 acres of land. These original settlers built homes here, several of which are left standing in various states of restoration.

The Bevier-Elting House and Cemetery

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Four of the 7 stone buildings are open for tours. The Bevier-Elting House, the oldest built in 1698, has been kept in its most basic state inside. Other than an exhibit case filled with artifacts found on site – projectile points, pipe stems, shards of ceramic plates – there are no furnishings.

The Beviers owned slaves who slept in the root cellar. A peek down there gives visitors an idea of the dismal conditions in which they lived.

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Next, walk through the cemetery to enter the 1972 reconstruction of the 1717 church that stood on this site.

The burial ground dates to 1683. At least one of the original patentees, a DeBois, is buried here.

Jean Hasbrouck Home

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By 1712, the Huguenots had become wealthy, as evidenced by the Jean Hasbrouck Home. Jean’s son, Jacob Sr. was at the time the richest man in New Paltz. He had the means to furnish this two-story home with fine accoutrements.

Inside, find one of the oldest surviving “jambless” open fireplace in existence. There’s also a Bible written in “common language,” as Protestants did not believe that the righteous required a middle-man to commune with God.

Upstairs, in addition to the massive bricked chimney flue, there’s a whole exhibit on the making of linen from flax – a grain that was bountiful here.

Jacob’s youngest son, Josiah, fought in the American Revolution, and went on to be a Supervisor in New Paltz and the first descendent of a Patentee to serve in Congress. (Josiah Hasbrouck signed the bill to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million in 1803).

Deyo House

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The last house on the tour is like no other. Originally a 2 room stone home built in the early 1700’s, it fell into the hands of Abraham and Gertrude Deyo-Brodhead through inheritance in 1894.

Abe, who made his fortune building and running racetracks, expanded the home to the Victorian mansion it is today, much to the consternation of other Stone Home owners on the block. To make amends, The Deyo-Brodheads established the society that has since morphed into Historic Huguenot Street at a time in the late 1800’s when Americans sought to preserve “everything at once.”

Colonial Revival, Neo-Classical and other styles together formed a hodgepodge, in the turn-of-last-century attempt to portray a romanticized past. This extended to the artwork that hangs in the parlor. One, a print of George Washington Inaugural Reception at the White House, depicts an event that could not have taken place in a Versailles-esque White House – that hadn’t been built yet.

In 1908, when gambling venues were outlawed, Abe lost his fortune. Everything original to the house was sold off.

Now, each room represents a different era, beginning with the Empire Period, and ending with a 1950’s kitchen. Tours of Historic Huguenot Street from end of May-Oct Sat-Sun 10:30-4:30, June – Oct Thurs-Mon. 10:30-4:30, $12 pp.

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VISIT: The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at State University of New York New Paltz

Much of an artist’s rise to fame has to do with timing – mostly by being on the edge of a movement. But there are many other creatives who should be lauded, and that’s where the Dorsky comes in.

This unique college museum focuses on lesser-known artists or those who have fallen out of favor. Second in size only to the Neuberger Museum at SUNY Purchase (within the SUNY system), the Samuel Dorsky is 9,000 sq. ft. of relatively new space.

With a mission to serve both the college campus and the artistic culture of the Hudson River Valley – the “Cradle of American Art” – the Dorsky is unlike any other regional museum. Divided into two parts, the 6,000 sq ft. main gallery highlights rotating items from the permanent collection, including a large number of photographs from Howard Greenberg.

One of the foremost photography dealers in the world, Greenberg was an early Dorsky supporter who founded the Center for Photography in Woodstock NY. A separate 3,000 sq ft space is devoted to innovative Hudson Valley artist themed shows. Open Wed-Sun 11-5, Suggested donation $5.

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VISIT: D&H Canal Museum, High Falls, Ulster County

From 1828-1898, over 800 coal barges plied the 108 mile canal that linked the Delaware River in Honesdale PA to the Hudson River in Kingston NY. This small but engaging museum provides an overview of High Falls’ little known history as a D&H Canal town.

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Until the War of 1812, it was cheaper to buy coal from England than from the impossible to access middle of Pennsylvania. Back then, roads were muddy messes and often impassible.

Wurts Brothers Discovery

But the War brought an end to trade with Great Britain, throwing the United States into a severe energy crisis. In the late 1700’s, hard-as-nails anthracite coal was discovered deep beneath Pennsylvania. A favorite of blacksmiths but otherwise not well understood, it took coal mine owners, the Wurts Brothers of Philadelphia, to prove that this newfangled fuel could burn long, clean, and hot.

Once demand for anthracite increased, the entrepreneurs required a way to transport it to New York. Thus was conceived the Delaware & Hudson Canal.

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As this was prior to the development of dynamite, it took over two million dollars, 10,000 workers, and many lives lost to blast (with black powder) through the wilderness in order to create 108 locks on the 108 miles of the 30 ft wide canal.

Bridge designer, John Roebling, designed canal aqueducts to span the rivers. They were certainly engineering marvels of the day.

Child Labor

Life on the canal was often a family affair. Young children – many of them orphans – drove the mules that pulled the barges.

In its heyday, the D&H Canal saw nearly a thousand boats, hauling everything from cordwood, gypsum, bluestone (to pave the sidewalks of New York City), glass and shoes. Little towns along the way bustled with business. That is, of course, until the canal was replaced by the railroad.

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The museum tells the story of the D&H Canal through artifacts and photos, brought to life by historian Bill Merchant, who also leads occasional tours on the usually self-guided half mile “Five Lock Walk” down the street.

Though water no longer flows, you can see remnants of lock walls and just imagine barges, laden with heaps of coal, waiting their turn to go through. Open May-Oct Sat, Sun 11-5, $5 adults, $3 kids.

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VISIT: Canal Forge, High Falls

**Update on 4-27-17: Though Jonathan was not hurt, his business barn and home were destroyed in a fire on 4-24-17. Right now, he is taking stock and moving forward, but do not expect show up and see what was showcased in the following write-up. The Getaway Mavens hope for a quick rebuilding, and peace of mind for Jonathan. 

Since 1981, historian-artisan-iron-forger, Jonathan Nedbor has been replicating Dutch door hinges, architectural elements for authentically preserved buildings, furniture, and fireplace implements through the forging, or as he says, “shmooshing,” of iron pieces.

Though the address says “High Falls,” this operating blacksmith shop is a few miles up on the former canal in Alligerville, not even a spot on the map. But Canal Forge is so retro and engaging, it’s worth traveling backroads to find.

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Because this area was settled by the Dutch, Nedbor works with iron in the Dutch style, which is “much more robust than English ironwork.”

Heating up the coals, Nedbor clangs at his anvil while he talks to visitors. His commissioned pieces show up in private historic and contemporary homes. And in State Historic Sites like the John Jay Homestead in Katonah NY. Open Mon-Fri 9-5 or by chance on weekends.

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WALK: Wallkill Valley Rail Trail Over Rosendale Trestle

Like the Walkway over the Hudson, this former railroad bridge grants walkers, hikers and bicyclists spectacular views of mountains, valley and the Esopus Creek. It’s especially beguiling in Autumn with the leaves ablaze.

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Restaurants in Ulster County NY High Falls and New Paltz

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EAT/DRINK: Garvan’s, New Paltz

The stone building housing Garvan’s Gastropub was built in 1759, the year that Guinness started brewing beer in Ireland. So, it’s fitting that Garvan McCloskey’s friendly bar features a Guinness Draft Tower brought from Dublin by a team of experts who demonstrated how to pour the “proper pint.”

Opened in Feb. 2016, this lovely, friendly place is as close as you’ll get to the Emerald Isle in Ulster County. Guinness Brown Bread is served at every meal.

Right on the New Paltz Public Golf Course, it’s a bit removed from downtown. But so very worth the extra miles for its “Irish Hospitality,” a fun in season Beer Garden, and local fresh Irish-with-contemporary-twist cuisine.

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EAT: P&G’s, New Paltz

“A Cornerstone of New Paltz,” on the corner of Main and N. Front Street, P&G’s was packed on a Tues night at 5:30. This probably has less to do with the food (which is basic and consistently good), and more to do with the fact that P&G’s is a New Paltz institution and reasonably priced.

In 1900 P&G’s building was a Casino – a club for eating and socializing, not gambling – that put New Paltz on the map for its Saturday night dances and ice cream socials. The establishment went through several iterations before Pat and George (P&G) purchased it in 1947.

When Ed Beck bought the restaurant in 1969, his first weekend went gangbusters. The second weekend: crickets. Why? “Everyone had gone to some music festival down the road in Bethel NY near Woodstock.”

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EAT: High Falls Kitchenette, High Falls

This comfort food spot offers home cooking with healthy twists. Yes, you can get your pickles, biscuits, soups, meatloaf, Chicken and Waffle, and Buttermilk Fried Chicken. But you’ll also find a vegan Chickpea Burger and Wilted Brussels Sprout & Kale Caesar Salad as well. Nothing comes out of a jar: true home cooking.

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EAT: The Last Bite, High Falls

Hipster, artsy, farm-chic-ish spot for coffee and sandwiches.

Where to Stay in Ulster County near New Paltz and High Falls NY

STAY: The Stone House B&B, Hurley

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You’ve toured the famous stone houses nearby – now sleep in one.  This is actually one of the oldest homes in New York State that you can stay in.

Sam and Nadia Scoggins preside over The Stone House B&B, a fieldstone Dutch vernacular structure dating from 1705,  just outside of tiny Hurley NY. Each of five distinctive rooms contains a trove of antiques with updated beds as comfy, soft and cloud-like as a luxury inn’s can get.

First Impressions of The Stone House B&B

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The inviting Stone House B&B is located on a country road about 4 1/2 miles (10 minute drive) from Upper Kingston.

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Sam greets visitors at the back door with his winning British accent and warm countenance, and is proud to show off his well tended home.

The communal parlor/living room, with polished wide plank floors, is dressed in historic finery and trimmed in Federal Blue. It’s warmed by a large fireplace in the colder months, and stocked with couches, seating and some of Sam’s hand-crafted cheese boards and home-made items for sale.

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Poke around long enough and you’ll see some pretty impressive architectural elements. For example, the original iron hinges on the front door and Delft tiles on display. ( Sam is quick to point out that those that grace the showers in some rooms are contemporary copies). As the Scoggins live on site, they can be available at any time, but are generally unobtrusive until breakfast.

Rooms at The Stone House B&B

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The Girl With the Pearl Earring room coddles guests in a canopy bed plumped with down pillows and Frette Linens.

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My room – the Art of Painting – features a four-poster bed, Persian rug tapestry as “headboard,”plastered walls, and a shower inlayed with contemporary Delft tiles.

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Breakfast at The Stone House B&B, Hurley NY

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Mornings are social, as guests from all over the world sit with each other at two large tables.

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Sam and Nadia serve a wonderful made to order 3-course gourmet breakfast in the large parlor beside the fireplace. In warmer seasons, Sam uses fresh herbs and greens from the garden outside as breakfast ingredients.

Put aside your diet so as not to miss out on the B&B’s incredible crusty-chewy breads. I’d return for those carbs alone. Homemade granola, delectable Chocolate Ricotta Muffins, Smoked Salmon Scrambled Eggs, Mushroom Quiche and more round out the morning meal. “Breaking bread” with fellow travelers has never been so delicious. Rooms are $179 – $225 include gourmet breakfast and wi-fi. Just FYI, there is just one TV in one room. 

STAY: The 1850 House, Rosendale, Ulster County

Opened after a gut renovation in 2012, all 10 luxe rooms are eclectically furnished with modern and antique appointments. Rooms from $200-$310 per night.

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