- photos by John Garay
- Rural beauty in Amenia.
The rolling hills of northeast Dutchess County, abutting the Connecticut border, weave together a picture-perfect patchwork of requisite red barns, sprawling old estates, and scores of handsome horse farms that pinpoint the region as an equestrian epicenter. Departing briefly from the rural setting is a trio of small enclaves—Millerton, Amenia, and Millbrook—each proposing satisfying pockets of culture, shopping, dining, and diversion, despite differing in character and approach.
The three communities are loosely threaded together on a stretch of Route 44, and dipping into any of them delivers diverse encounters with linger-worthy establishments—from teahouses and coffee shops to indie movie theaters and old bookstores—all designed to make life slow down...and for the moment to be savored. Boutiques abound in human-scale locales where mom-and-pop shops prevail. The quality of the culinary scene is first-rate, and farm-to-table is not a clichéd marketing ploy but simply the norm.
Each destination balances the evergreen with evolution, offering establishments that have long anchored the areas mixed in with new ventures that are ushering in fresh energy and transformation. On the fringes of town, well-kept parks, rambling private gardens, and a recreational rail trail (fitting, given that each settlement touts its own historical ties to railroads) promise plenty of opportunity to hike, bike, and simply be.
Commerce, culture, cuisine, and caffeine converge on Main Street—a service-oriented function that the village center has fulfilled, albeit in ever-changing forms, since the days when three railroads met here in the mid-19th century. While the trains have been gone since 1980, this small village, with less than a 1,000 residents, still packs a commercial punch that far outsizes its dimensions, thanks to its well-trafficked location. Set at the crossroads of tony sections of Connecticut, Massachusetts's culture-packed Berkshires, and eastern New York State, the ebb and flow of transient traffic at its Tri-State coordinates ensures that Millerton's walkable main drag continues to thrive and grow.
Caffeine cravings are indulged at a duo of locally favored, Manhattan-worthy (little wonder, since both outlets have sister operations in New York City) village mainstays. At java mecca Irving Farm Coffee House, fresh coffee comes locally roasted from the outfit's nearby 2015-debuted coffee roastery; this spring, look out for a revamped breakfast/lunch menu that will pair local ingredients with international flavors. Tea connoisseurs, meanwhile, congregate to sip on locally crafted artisanal teas at the family-run Harney & Sons—a selection of the company's 250 tea varieties can be sampled in the tea tasting room, while smartly packaged teas in tins and satchels line the gift shop walls; and a back tea lounge is open for lunch.
That jolt's put to good use while pounding the pavement for Millerton-style retail therapy. Gilmor Glass helped usher in the artistic/craftsmen movement in town when it opened its massive shop 20 years ago; fine glass-blown stemware and home accents fill the lofty gallery, while glass-blowing demos and workshops unfold in the adjacent factory. Older still are a duo of shops-that-time-forgot at Terni's (dating to 1919), which sells hunting and fishing gear, or Saperstein's, across the street, a 70-year-old clothier.
Main Street has firmly emerged as an antiquing destination in recent years. While the Millerton Antiques Center, a massive antiquing emporium with 37 dealers, has been going strong since 1990, neighboring antique store Hunter Bee's opened in 2008 bolstered the town's antiquing cachet. More followed suit, with the most recent newcomers joining ranks in 2015: Jennings & Rohn Montage, run by a husband-and-wife team who pair antiques with rotating art shows, and Christopher Todd Antiques & Interiors, which mixes antiques with contemporary accents, as well as interior design services. Hunter Bee co-owner Kent Hunt welcomes the additions, stating, "We think it's great because we now are a real destination for antiques."
- Goodies from Hathaway Young in Millerton.
South Center Street, an offshoot of Main, has seen some spillover, with two new establishments opening in the last year. At the T-Shirt Farm, local personality Sal Osnato vends a selection of tees printed on-site, with a penchant for rock 'n' roll themes. A couple of buildings down, Hathaway Young opened in August as a bakery, specialty foods shop, and catering service, and serves breakfast and lunch. It joins longstanding Main Street restaurant favorites like tapas joint 52 Main, the retro Oakhurst Diner, and New American eatery Manna Dew Café.
Main's cultural hubs include the four-decade-old Oblong Books & Music, a well-stocked book and music shop, with a dedicated kids' space. The five-year-old Music Cellar offers all-ages music lessons (on a pay-what-you-can basis) and a recording studio. Cinephiles, meanwhile, flock to the three-screen The Moviehouse, which, since 1978, has screened first-run and indie films, documentaries, and cultural programming (like The Met Live in HD, and new for 2017, the TED Cinema Experience) in a 113-year-old clock tower-capped building.
Make a weekend of it at the new 11-room The Millerton Inn, with its New American/Mediterranean restaurant, which debuts in January.
There's life beyond Main Street, too. A couple of miles north of town is the Rudd Pond Area at Taconic State Park, where all types of water-driven activities (boating, fishing, swimming) await, as do hiking trails and campgrounds. Near Rudd Pond, the two-and-a-half-year-old Watershed Center, set on a 73-acre farm, serves as a "retreat for changemakers," with a year-round roster of workshop and retreat programming geared toward ecological and social change, with aims of helping participants embody democracy and more fully realize their activist potential. Co-founder Gregg Osofsky feels that the work of the center is needed now more than ever. "There's a veil that's been lifted," he said, citing the current political climate, adding that, "the muscle of civic engagement really needs to be exercised."
South of Millerton, the Harlem Valley Rail Trail has nearly 11 miles of hikeable and bikeable paved trails between Millerton's Main Street and the hamlets of Amenia and Wassaic. Another 35 miles of trails north of Millerton are in various states of development, including an eight-mile section from Millerton to Under Mountain Road that's expected to break ground in 2017/18.
Following the rail trail—or Route 44, for the car-bound—about nine miles south of Millertown leads to Amenia, a sleepy, spread-out hamlet of less than a 1,000 (and part of a larger town of the same name). Roots here date back to the early 1700s and past incarnations saw the townscape sculpted by stints as an iron mining center and a 1920s-era lakeside bungalow resort (which was put to rest when Lake Amenia disappeared due to a dam burst in the '50s). But Amenia has a major new storyline in the works that has all the potential to wake it from its somewhat somnambulant state.
- Wethersfield Carriage Museum in Amenia.
In a new take on the Hudson Valley country house, the $500 million Silo Ridge Field Club project (a Discovery Land Company development) is set to transform 800 acres of old dairy farmland into a private, high-end, gated community counting 245 residences (retailing in the $1 to $10 million range) and members-only amenities galore. While residences won't be ready until late summer, the 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course already debuted in August, though hitting the links is restricted solely to Silo Ridge members (aka residents) and their guests (so chum up to tee off!).
While nonresidents won't have access to Silo Ridge, there will be some discernible community benefits. Most immediately, they've funded a new public park on DeLaVergne Hill along Route 44, known for its sweeping Harlem Valley views. More transformatively, Amenia resident and Harlem Valley Chamber of Commerce treasurer, John Parsons, expects the tax base, new jobs, and clientele from Silo Ridge to drive local economic growth. "It's bringing a certain clientele and newer higher-end housing to the area, and this clientele will drive amenities and services," he explained.
Well before the Silo Ridge residents show up, however, Amenia already touts buzz-worthy establishments well worth tapping into, particularly on the culinary front. Two-year-old Monte's Local Kitchen & Tap Room is a destination restaurant that wouldn't be out of place in a trendy part of Brooklyn, with live music, signature cocktails, and experimental American farm-fresh fare reflected in a seasonally driven menu. It's helmed by 25-year-old chef and co-owner, CIA graduate and Mexican-born Chef Dafna Mizrahi, who won the Food Network's show "Chopped" in 2015.
The other big name in town is Chef Serge Madikians, behind Serevan, who draws from his Armenia-by-way-of-Iran ancestry to showcase flavors and culinary traditions of the Middle East and Mediterranean. His distinctive dishes emphasize fresh local ingredients, with a special attention to seasonal seafood, which Madikians personally sources fresh off the boat in Cape Cod, where he flies weekly since getting his pilot's license three years ago.
New to town since November is Railhead Jerk, a Jamaican restaurant that's well worth seeking out for its flavorful menu of jerk sauce-marinated meats and island specialties like curried goat and oxtail stew.
Gearing up to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2017, the Cascade Mountain Winery and Restaurant, whose seasonal eatery reopened a year-and-a-half ago, is awash in new initiatives, including a planned summer weekend concert series, and an inaugural wine, food, and music festival in July.
- Horse Leap in Amenia.
On the retail front, horse enthusiasts might hit up Horse Leap, a tack shop that caters to the equestrian lifestyle with both new and secondhand riding gear. For lodging, keep an eye out for the historic Tudor-style Troutbeck estate, which is slated to reopen this summer with 35-plus guestrooms, a fine-dining restaurant, expansive gardens, an outdoor pool, and a ballroom event space.
As for attractions, the Wethersfield Estate and Gardens (former home to investor and philanthropist Chauncey Stillman), with its arts- and antiques-filled main house, Carriage House Museum, and formal Italianate gardens, is launching new golf cart and self-guided phone-prompt tours of the grounds come springtime. There's also the 2014-debuted Four Brothers Drive In, which screens evening double features that attract up to 1,000 people per day during the height of summer. Demand is such that the proprietors (who also run the adjacent Four Brothers Pizza restaurant, which provides carhop service for theater-goers) are planning on 2017 additions like a larger concession stand, neighboring mini-golf course, and a new six-room B&B which will open up a few buildings down in fall.
Wassaic, another tiny hamlet within the town of Amenia, is home to the detour-worthy Wassaic Project. Born of a popular, expanding, 2008-launched visual and performing arts festival (held annually in August), it runs an acclaimed artists' residency program. Tucked within a towering old converted grain mill, visitors can pop in on weekends to check out the rotating gallery exhibitions and to sign up kids for art workshops; the last Saturday of the month grants visitors further access still, when the artists additionally host open studios.
If the railroad tracks still crossed through these parts, the affluent village of Millbrook, first settled in the 1700s, would undoubtedly be on the right side of them. With a population of just over 1,400—a good mix of well-rooted generations-old families and more recent wealthy weekenders—this is where the well-to-do and a list of who's who (Bette Midler and Liam Neeson among them) keep their sprawling, manicured country estates. Sometimes cited as a low-key version of the Hamptons, the Porsche-and-horse-loving set here maintain a taste for fit-the-mold pastimes oozing centuries-old gentility, like riding and shooting.
The equestrian lifestyle pervades the fabric of the community via horse farms, polo matches, and beloved annual events like the Fitch's Corner Horse Trials, Millbrook Horse Trials, and the Millbrook Hunt. The Orvis Sandanona shooting grounds (which completed a $3 million renovation and expansion of its lodge and dining room three years ago) is the oldest permitted shotgun shooting club in the country, where members and the general public alike come to shoot sporting clays or set out on fly-fishing trips.
- Brook outside Trevor Zoo.
The community also maintains a strong sense of stewardship of the land, which is reflected in the institutions here. Most notable is the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, a hotbed for cutting-edge scientific research spanning some of the most pressing environmental issues, from Lyme disease prevention to climate change. The public can engage with the institute via monthly guest speaker programs, summer camps for kids, and guided or independent walks through the 2,000-acre grounds. For another brush with (landscaped) nature, the seasonal Innisfree Garden, influenced by Chinese landscaping principles, will tout new-for-2017 offerings like April daffodil viewing and a bonsai exhibit. For wildlife, the 80-year-old Trevor Zoo at the Millbrook School (zookeeper training is part of the college-prep boarding school's student curriculum) is home to 80 different species (nine of which are engendered); it's opening a brand-new welcome center and sustainable gift shop in the adjacent 1862 mill, in January.
Franklin Avenue marks Millbrook's main commercial drag, where a series of high-end boutiques—many of them new to town—beckon shoppers with good taste and deep pockets. Among the newcomers, Alicia Adams Alpaca opened her first namesake storefront here in August 2015, selling a fine line of alpaca-wool clothes and homewares. Next door, esteemed designer Barry Cord debuted Kieselstein-Cord Exchange in November 2016, showcasing samples from his brand's diverse and intricate collection spanning handbags, belts, and decorative home accents, along with a rotating show of original photography. Further down Franklin, Absolutely Wild Home opened in December with displays of high-end furnishings from around the globe.
These join well-established antique shops Millbrook Antique Center and Millbrook Antiques Mall and local's favorite boutiques like Limone Imports (selling quality Italian products), Punch (for home decor), and the recently renovated Merritt Bookstore, which backs the village's popular (and growing) nine-year-old Millbrook Literary Festival, held each year in May.
As for nosh, the casual farm-fresh fare and fresh-baked goods at Babette's Kitchen, along with French bistro Cafe Les Baux, have remained proven staples in town, joined by recent additions that include the casual Nooch's Pub & Grill, which serves pub grub, and Canoe Hill, touting an inviting long bar and a New American menu.
Outside of the village center,Millbrook Cabinetry & Design proposes one-stop shopping for high-end kitchen and bath remodeling, while Arrowsmith Forge produces custom metal designs like steel chandeliers and wrought-iron gates and home furnishings—the massive forge behind the showroom is a wonderland of welding and blacksmithing machinery and craftsmanship.
Further afield is the Walbridge Farm Market , a sustainable Black Angus farm selling beef, farm-fresh eggs, farm-harvested honey, and more. Millbrook Vineyards & Winery , lauded as one of the best in the Hudson Valley, has been busy over the last year, essentially doubling the size of its tasting room, adding on a space for Reserve tastings, and opening the Vineyard Tap Room, with wine by the glass on tap and cheese plates. Across the vineyards, the fairytale-esque Wing's Castle stands in testament to architectural and artistic whimsy, the brainchild of a local artist couple; open for seasonal tours, they're also debuting a new suite unit this spring for their B&B guests.
- Halcyon Hall at Bennett College
A worthwhile photo-op stop is the dilapidated 19th-century Bennett College building, a women's school that closed in the late '70s. Plans for a renovation of its grounds as a mixed public park/residential development have been discussed for years, but look to be coming to fruition in the near future, according to town supervisor Gary Ciferri.
Rona Boyer, Millbrook resident, and the publisher of Living Millbrook magazine, noted many of the significant changes in Millbrook, concluding that, "If somebody thinks they know Millbrook and hasn't been here in the last year or so, then they don't really know Millbrook."