To truly grasp the spirit of Marbletown, it’s instructive to consider the story of Elsie.
Elsie, a proudly working class, unashamedly cantankerous reminder of the days when the Marbletown hamlet of High Falls was not, as latter-day advertising has christened it, “the center of the universe,” but rather a hardscrabble little postcanal town. Elsie lived in a trailer—not a house trailer, but a camper trailer—near the canal in downtown High Falls, cheek-by-jowl with top-rated restaurants and designated historic sites. The trailer had no running water or electricity; one would probably have to search the farthest corners of Marbletown’s hill-hamlets to find another such residence.
Elsie didn’t have much—her cats, a small garden, an adult son who occasioned as much stress as comfort. But she was no recluse; rather, everyone in High Falls was familiar with the sight of Elsie walking around town on her errands, stopping to chat with everyone.
“She’d never ride when she could walk,” remembers realtor Mary Collins, whose cozily elegant offices are a small stone’s throw from Elsie’s place. “So the help had to be somewhat subtle. Vaughan [Smith, the proprietor of Westcote Bell Pottery] took her cats to be spayed. I arranged firewood deliveries. John Novi [chef/owner of the renowned DePuy Canal House] ran a hose over so she’d have water. Betty Davenport [of the Davenport Farms family] and a lot of other people always gave her clothing. And Aidan [Quinn—yes, that Aidan Quinn] tried to get her a nicer trailer, but the town wouldn’t allow it.”
Thus was Elsie able to maintain her independence and considerable social life for years longer than one might expect. Finally, a medical emergency brought her to the attention of officialdom and she was whisked to the hospital and then to a senior residence—where, hair and nails done and quite contented, she still receives regular visits from her High Falls crew.
Not Your Everyday Mall
High Falls and Stone Ridge are the two most populous hamlets of Marbletown, which sprawls over 55 square miles and is home to roughly 6,000 people. Together, they make up the two limbs of the town’s L-shaped business district. Along Routes 213 (High Falls) and 209 (Stone Ridge) are an eclectic array of places ranging from working farms to arts centers and professional offices, from places to grab a sandwich to elegant traditional dining and haute cuisine foodie havens. As for retail, one could do one’s entire holiday shopping list within Marbletown’s borders, from straight Aunt Mabel’s angel figurines to Cousin Ned’s imported incense and the very latest in food processors for Mom.
National chains are scarce. A Rite Aid pharmacy co-anchors the only thing in town that could be described as a “shopping plaza,” and when its construction was first proposed, things got heated. “I was on the planning board at the time,” recalls Collins, “and it was a huge, huge thing. The original owners had a very high-end, vintagey operation—a dress designer and so on. When the new owner planned a mall—well, most of the land had been a nursery. It meant losing a lot of trees. It was a fight. But we did the best we could, and it turned out pretty decent.”
Not to mention useful. The Town Center shopping complex houses, along with assorted small businesses, the only supermarket for some miles around: Emmanuel’s, with a large selection of organics, hormone-free local meats, sushi—and a good stock of budget-brand staples for the cost-conscious. Local art is showcased on the walls, inside and out—the building is wrapped in a mural depicting a diverse community going about its business—and the cashiers are warmly courteous. Like Elsie moving to her new digs, it’s possible that the worst thing Stone Ridge residents had to fear was fear itself—especially with folks like Collins on the planning board. “The lights would have shone right into the Hasbrouck House,” she says, naming the fanciest inn in the hamlet. “You know that big berm along the side of the parking lot? That’s why it exists.”
Citizen involvement in government and good works is a Marbletown tradition that’s going strong. When a series of community visioning meetings were held back at the turn of the century, they were scheduled on weekends so that part-time residents and working folks alike could be heard. “Such a wide variety did show up, and everybody got to know each other—it was great,” says Collins.