Sir Edmund Andros certainly knew a cool place when he saw it. In 1677, the then Governor of the Dominion of New England purchased the land that became the village of Saugerties from Kaelcop, chief of the local Esopus Indians, for the price of a piece of cloth, a blanket, some coarse fiber, a loaf of bread, and a shirt. Exactly 332 years later, in 2009, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine echoed Andros’s vision—and likely that of the town’s current population of just under 20,000—when it named Saugerties one of its Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America, based on the municipality’s quality of life, arts and restaurant scenes, and proximity to nature.
It’s the last of these attributes that makes Saugerties—which is the name of both the village and the town that surrounds it—geographically unique to other Hudson Valley locations. Saugerties lies exactly 100 miles up the New York State Thurway from Manhattan and is spread out over 68 square miles along the base of the Catskill Mountains to its west. At the town’s heart is the 2.3-mile-square village, which is bordered on its east by the Esopus Creek, a tributary with walkable shorelines that’s connected to the Hudson River. Saugerties not only has the easy mountain access of its neighboring Catskills towns, but also its own beach making it known as “the place where the mountains meet the river.”
Hamlets, Here Art Thou
Cross cut by Main and Partition streets, the village of Saugerties is a Christmas card-worthy tableau of clapboard and brick buildings holding a diverse array of stores, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and other amenities including a renovated 1890 vaudeville-theater-cum-movie house, the Orpheum. Also still to be found in both the village and outlying town are many of its original 17th- and 18th-century stone houses, such as the Kiersted House, home to the Saugerties Historical Society. Dotting the map around the village are a considerable number of hamlets, 24 in all; mostly small but distinctive, blink-and-you-might-miss-’em spots like Mount Marion, Malden-on-Hudson, Glenerie, Quarryville, Glasco, Fish Creek, Canoe Hill, and Veteran.
The name Saugerties is thought to be a variation on an old Dutch word meaning “sawyer,” or a person who operates a saw mill, and has been traced to one Barent Cornelius Volge, the builder of such a structure at nearby Sawyer’s Kill in the 1600s. The sawyer term lives on as the name of the high school’s sports teams, as does the blue-collar base that was for generations linked to the area’s saw and paper mills. Although today the mills are gone (the largest, the Cantine Paper Mill, burned down in 1978), Saugerites retains its proud working roots, and is lauded for its good school system, low crime rate, and welcoming, family-oriented sense of community. Notable natives include “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon, baseball historian John Thorn, herbalist Susun Weed, and John Henson, son of late Muppets creator Jim Henson.
“It’s a really special place, with a lot of history,” says another well-known Saugertiesian, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who grew up in the town. “Overall, people are very friendly, and the town government does well for them. There are a lot of great economic opportunities, and just about every building in the village is inhabited and operating—there really aren’t very many vacant storefronts there these days.”
A Beacon That Beckons
The shining icon of the community is the Saugerties Lighthouse. Located at the tip of a wooded peninsula extending into the Hudson, it dates from 1835, when it used whale oil lamps to guide river traffic. Today the lighthouse, which was rebuilt in 1869, serves as an atypical bed-and-breakfast and each August stages the all-ages Between the Tides Festival. Another of the town’s beloved waterside family attractions is the Arm-of-the-Sea Mask and Puppet Theater. Every August, the 20-years-and-running troupe presents two nights of performances, known as the Esopus Creek Puppet Suite, at Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park (located on a bank of the Esopus Creek adjacent to the village’s two functioning marinas). Using handcrafted papier-mâché masks and props, the players weave enchanting stories of magical realism centering on environmental and social topics.
If Saugerties had an official flower it might very well be the garlic blossom, in tribute to the wildly popular Hudson Valley Garlic Festival. The event, held every September for the last 22 years, rain or shine, at the Cantine Field sports complex (this year it takes place September 25 and 26), has drawn upward of 40,000 people and offers a never-ending variety of traditional and inventive dishes made with the so-called “stinking rose”—garlic chicken, garlic soup, even garlic chocolates and ice cream—plus live entertainment and vendors.