If the communities of Millbrook, Millerton, and Amenia had a mantra, perhaps the most fitting one would be the wordless yet meaningful wail of an approaching train whistle. After all, the history of these communities were shaped by the railroad. Businesses and settlers sprouted up around the railroad and the proximity of the tracks allowed for a cultural exchange of people, workers, goods, and ideas between the village communities and the sprawling metropolis of New York City.
Although the train has become less important in modern times, it still influences the communities and the sound of the train whistle seems to sum up, to a certain extent, the feeling, charm, and beauty of the area. There’s something both modern and old-fashioned about the approaching siren cry of a train’s whistle. It is the herald of a massive, modern piece of speeding machinery, but at the same time it calls with the strength of a voice from the past and conjures images of the pioneers streaking to the American west on a steam engine. In the same way, there’s something both modern and old-fashioned about the communities of Millbrook, Millerton, and Amenia. Here, people are proud of their rich history but are boldly looking to the future. You’ll find rolling hills and picturesque fields, quaint main streets with historic buildings that have stood the test of time. There are unique shops owned and operated by men and women with rich character, who care about far more than just profits.
Millbrook The heart of the Millbrook community is the village formed in 1869 after the railroad arrived. Though that railroad no longer exists, the village that grew around it is thriving. As you enter the village, you pass the green and Tribute Garden, a park that commemorates veterans from all of the US wars.
The main street of the village is lined with flowers that are maintained by volunteers. Several historic buildings can be found downtown, including the brick bank building, white-pillared library, and 1895 Memorial School building. The village pays tribute to its 19th-century roots every Memorial Day, when “In Flanders Fields” and the “Gettysburg Address” are recited at the community band shell.
Today, lovers of ecology and animals will find many kindred souls in Millbrook. The village is home to the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Founded in 1983 by the eminent ecologist Dr. Gene E. Likens of the Cary Institute, it is one of the largest ecological programs in the world. The organization is dedicated to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems, from the quantity and quality of freshwater resources to the health of forests. Books and articles authored by Cary Institute ecologists strive to influence scientists and policy makers. Millbrook is also home to Innisfree Garden, a 150-acre public garden that was constructed using the ancient art of Chinese landscape design. The gardens boast a 40-acre glacial lake and impressive stone formations stand out against the peaceful backdrop of the water. It is a place of tranquility and stunning natural beauty.
For a less quiet encounter with nature, visitors can stop by Trevor Zoo at Millbrook School. The country’s only zoo located in a high school, the Trevor Zoo was founded in 1936 at Millbrook School, an independent high school in Millbrook. The zoo was started by Frank Trevor, Millbrook School’s first biology teacher. Today, the zoo is open to the public and houses more than 180 exotic and indigenous animals from 80 different species. The six-acre zoo is also home to seven endangered species.
For those who don’t wish to take a walk on the wild side, downtown Millbrook offers a wide variety of shopping options. The Pumpkin House on Franklin Avenue is a charming consignment clothing shop that is rich with quirkiness, as the sign on the window boasts that the place features “a whimsical array of clothing, gifts and accessories.”
Among the vines at Millbrook Vineyard and Winery.
Eric Fischl’s “Congress of Wits” (bronze, 2007) in the window at Eckert Fine Art in Millerton.
“We do consignment and we also have some local vendors here,” says Cailin McAllister, the Pumpkin House owner. She adds, “We have everything from designer clothing and vintage clothing to housewares and home decorating.” She says that what makes the store unique is the combination of different local vendors that sell their wares at the store and the fact that the store sells consignment. “It’s so many different peoples’ styles coming together,” she says.
Other unique Franklin Avenue stores include Punch, which specializes in home decor but includes a wide assortment of other items, including, but most certainly not limited to, jewelry, clothes, and footwear. Another Franklin Avenue store shoppers won’t want to miss is called Citrus. While the name might make you expect fresh-squeezed orange juice, Citrus is actually a clothing store that features a hip array of unique and stylish clothing and accessories.
Before they leave Franklin Avenue, antique lovers will also want to check out the Millbrook Antique Center, a 6,000-square-foot space filled with period furniture, sterling silver, china, crystal, old maps, books, linens, dolls, paintings, estate jewelry, coins, and more.
Outside of the downtown area visitors can feast their eyes on the majestic fields of the Millbrook Vineyards and Winery. They can also treat themselves to the exquisite red and white wine creations of the vineyard. If you’re looking for dining options to help wash down the wines, Millbrook has restaurants aplenty. You can enjoy fine dining with style and substance at Charlotte’s Restaurant & Catering, or enjoy gourmet food to go from Slammin’ Salmon. Aurelia Restaurant features a Mediterranean cuisine-inspired menu and offers outdoor picturesque dining on the terrace during warm months. And a culinary tour of Millbrook would not be complete without sampling the French cuisine at Café Les Baux.
Millbrook has many tourists and weekend residents as well as expatriate New Yorkers. McAllister, the Pumpkin House, owner says this adds to the diversity of the community without taking away from the spirit that makes the area special.
“We have a lot of different people that come in from all over the place. We have a lot of weekenders and tourists. It’s nice to see there’s different aspects of the village, but it still keeps its small town charm.”
The history of Millerton, like Millbrook, is linked to the railroad. Millerton sprouted up along the railroad line in the mid-1800s and was actually named for the civil engineer, Sidney Miller, who constructed the train line. Today Millerton’s Main Street is thriving with eclectic businesses and arts and culture. Saperstein’s clothing store on Church Street has offered clothing and footwear and has been family owned since 1946. The Moviehouse on Main Street shows mainstream blockbusters but also plays host to independent film screenings and is home to the Moviehouse Gallery Café, a coffee shop and art gallery that features the work of local artists.
Millerton’s Main Street is also home to the Millerton Antiques Center, a 15,000-square-foot multidealer shop that features a large selection of antiques, art, and furnishings. One of the oldest stores in Millerton is Terni’s, an old-fashioned supply shop that was opened in 1919. The store has warm wooden floors and a marble soda fountain. It offers hunting gear and fishing tackle, outdoor clothing, hunting knives, guns, and ammunition.
Millerton once supplied New York City with country products and the community still produces a great deal of home-grown goods and wares. The McEnroe Organic Farm is a 1,000-acre farm located in Millerton that offers certified and truly delicious organic produce, meats and garden transplants. Irving Farm Coffee Company has its roasting facilities in Millerton. The company makes coffee for retail customers as well as several Irving Farm Coffee houses in New York City and the Irving Farm Coffeehouse on Main Street in Millerton. Dan Streetman, who purchases the raw coffee beans for the company and is involved with quality control during the roasting process, says the company specializes in lighter coffee roasts that are rich with flavor. “We do have one dark roast coffee but most of the coffees that we have are light roast or medium roast, so you can taste a lot of the intrinsic nuance that the coffee has,” he says.
Millerton is also home to Harney & Sons Master Tea Blenders, a gourmet tea shop that ships tea blends all over the country and also has a tasting room at Railroad Plaza in Millerton.
Breakfast at the Oakhurst Diner in Millerton.
Shopping for a new outfit at Punch in Millbrook.
The village produces more than just food products. Gilmor Glass Works is an artisan glass-making shop, where visitors can purchase one-of-a-kind glassware designs crafted with skill and imagination.
Lovers of the finer things in life may also want to visit Eckert Fine Art, a gallery where art lovers can gaze at the work of Eric Forstmann, the sculpture of Boaz Vaadia, and Michael Kalish, along with 19th- through 21st-century American Masters in the art world. The gallery was founded by Jane Eckert, an accomplished art curator, author, and lecturer.
Hungry travelers will want to stop by the No. 9 Restaurant and Catering company, where they can dine at a picturesque outdoor patio and enjoy a menu that features items and goods purchased primarily at local farms. Outside of downtown, visitors can visit the Rudd Pond area of the Taconic State Park. The park is located along 11 miles of the Taconic Mountain Range and shares a border with Massachusetts and Connecticut. There are extensive trail systems from easy to very challenging, and intrepid hikers are rewarded with spectacular views.
With so much to do and see you might want to spend more than a day in Millerton and in that case you’ll definitely want to book a room at the Way Village Inn. This family-run operation is steeped in the grandeur of 1800s Victorian-style homes. Like the village of Millerton itself, the Way Village Inn is open and welcoming.
AMENIA Amenia was founded around 1704, and today the town is a vibrant community. Among the historic buildings still standing in the town is the Lewis Mumford House—the one-time home of social philosopher, historian, and cultural critic Lewis Mumford. The Harlem Valley Rail trail cuts through Amenia and offers visitors the chance to walk for miles on mostly flat paved surface.
At Serevan restaurant, diners can feast on menu items that combine flavors and ingredients from the Middle East and Mediterranean cooking traditions. You can enjoy more Mediterranean cuisine if you stop by Four Brothers Pizza Inn, where the Stefanopolous brothers share their family recipes and offer mouth-watering pizzas, salads, and other Mediterranean dishes.
At the Cascade Mountain Winery visitors can enjoy some of the Hudson Valley’s best made wine while they spend a few hours savoring the pleasant views from atop the foothills of the Berkshires. The winery is also home to a wine and tapas bar, as well as an art gallery.
In Wassaic, a hamlet in Amenia, a towering 105-foot historic mill by the side of the train tracks has been transformed into a multidisciplinary arts center known as the Wassaic Project. The organization has an artist residency program, where 10 artists at a time live in the community and produce art at the mill for a period lasting several months. The organization also runs an annual arts festival in August, that includes art exhibits, dance, live music, and film screenings.
Browsing at Gilmor Glass in Millerton.
“This year we had 4,000 people come, which was a record for us. We had 100 artists, 23 bands, six different dance performances, a feature film, and we also do a shorts program,” says Jeff Barnett-Winsby, who is the co-director of the Wassaic Project along with his wife, Bowie Barnett-Zunino, and Eve Biddle.
Barnett-Winsby says since the project started about six years ago, the community has embraced them and they’ve been influenced by the community as well as the old mill itself. “One of the things that we are inspired by, is this building,” he says. “The mill is not great for a lot of things other than art right now. It’s very, very raw. It’s very tall, there’s no elevator. It’s dark. However, there’re a lot of things [that are great about] it. There’s flexibility, the space itself is inspiring and interesting, and everybody who comes, on one level or another, gets excited.”
This slice of Hudson Valley heartland has a gift for doing world-class work while holding on to that down-to-earth soul, an unpretentious excellence. Here's a guide to the history, happenings, and cultural life of Walden and Montgomery.