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More sacred lands and corresponding holy structures exist north of the village, including the Mount Alvernia Catholic Retreat Center, the Monastery of Saint Clare, and the Kagyu Thubten Choling Buddhist Monastery. Of particular interest is the latter’s elaborate and breathtaking enlightenment stupa (temple of prayer), which is sited to reflect its brilliant red, blue, green, and gold facade into the Hudson. Monastery representative Yeshe Palmo describes the stupa as a “power node,” playfully comparing it to a spark plug, and stating that it was built to allay terrorism and disease and balance the four elements.
A Homegrown Renaissance
A keen awareness of a churning energy will next lead any traveler straight into the heart of another historic town, the Village of Wappingers Falls. When the Rombout Patent was eventually divided, Lot 1 became the setting for the village and contained a large portion of Wappingers Creek, including its powerful falls. An extremely fortunate development, driven either by luck or keen business sense, the division of land set the stage for a great influx of industry in the years to follow. The result is a certain mystery that permeates the streets fueled by the dynamic nature of water, the remarkably intact historical structures, and a well-layered industrial past.
Like Fishkill, Wappingers Falls is experiencing a revival of its own. One of the premier driving forces behind it is Mayor Matt Alexander, who has attracted the attention of prospective developers, hard-working business owners, and even the folks up in Albany. One of the first notable pioneers, Mike Kocan, is the owner of the Ground Hog Coffee House located at the top of West Main Street. Opening his doors in 2001, Kocan renovated the former saloon and tailor shop to mimic the original aesthetics of the building. At the time, the fury of big-box retail and commercial overflow along Route 9, including the construction of the South Hills and Galleria malls, had left its mark among the empty storefronts in the village. Kocan answered the call by providing a unique place for coffee and conversation.
The efforts of Alexander and Kocan have not gone unnoticed. Among recent developments in the village is the anticipated Franny Reese Memorial Park. Conceptualized in 2006 and set to be completed with the next two to three years, the project seeks to honor Franny Reese, an heir to some of the original inhabitants of the village and one of the original founders of the Scenic Hudson organization.
The location of the proposed park is Wappinger Lake, just east of the falls, a body of water impounded by a masonry dam built in the 1840s. It is a peaceful sanctuary for birds and those in the immediate community but falls short of attracting regional visitors because of a lack of real waterfront access. The park has a truly urban design and will loosen the dense and gritty landscape of West Main Street. It will also provide 400 feet of water access, municipal parking, a winding pathway, innovative landscaping, an amphitheatre, and a dock for canoes and kayaks.
Slowly, its original attributes are leading this village into a renaissance of sorts. And it can be said that a green revolution underpins the growth. Perhaps the most exciting green prospect is the long anticipated redevelopment of the Dutchess Bleachery complex, described by Mayor Alexander as the true heart of the village. Original operations occurred there as early as 1830 as a calico dye and printing company that employed a large chunk of the population in the village all the way to 1955.
Nowadays, the Bleachery is a mixed-use complex housing many small businesses, including the studio of well-known sculptor Michael Speaker and an active hydroelectric plant that feeds power into the common electrical grid. Challenges to development include the property’s long-held designation as contaminated. In the meantime, the village continues to engage the state on several different fronts, securing funds in the name of smart growth, brownfield clean-up, and waterfront revitalization.
There is no doubt that potential abounds in the many efforts now under way in Wappingers Falls. Simply put, this special village is creeping to an apex. Like the other revitalized towns in the region, it is undoubtedly a place of even more untapped exploration. It contains a permeating history that is palpable on the sidewalks and along the winding back roads.