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Picturesque Putnam County

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Last Updated: 02/14/2020 2:39 pm
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Canopus Lake at Clarence Fahnestock State Park in Carmel - THOMAS SMITH
  • Thomas Smith
  • Canopus Lake at Clarence Fahnestock State Park in Carmel

When you see a weather map on TV, Putnam County is the parallelogram that sits atop Westchester and just below Dutchess. Bordered by the Hudson River to the west and Connecticut to the east, it's easily accessible via the Taconic Parkway, Interstate 84, Route 9, Metro-North (with Hudson Line train stops in Manitou, Garrison, Cold Spring, and Breakneck Ridge and Harlem Line stops in Brewster, Southeast, and Patterson) or the river itself.

Founded in 1812 and originally part of Dutchess County, Putnam offers about 250 square miles of land and water for slightly fewer than 100,000 residents. The land is dotted with hills and valleys, farms and forests, lakes and streams, and includes Fahnestock State Park, 14,000 acres reserved for both winter and summer sports enthusiasts. The county seat, in Carmel, is marked by a historic courthouse, built in 1814 and later added to the National Register of Historic Places. Putnam's six towns and three villages present an array of living, shopping, dining, and recreational experiences.

The Putnam County tourism office likes the slogan "Where the Country Begins," and that's an apt description. Unlike its more citified neighbors to the north and south, the charm of Putnam is that almost everywhere has a small-town feel, with comparatively modest school districts, a low crime rate (touted every election year by the County Sheriff), and citizens who tend to look out for one another. Last December, when a member of the community was killed in the infamous Metro-North train derailment in the Bronx, the entire village of Cold Spring rallied around his family, raising more than $100,000 in just a few days and providing food and comfort to his wife and kids.

In preservation circles, Putnam's "viewshed" is often one of the most talked-about assets. Several regional land trusts have worked hard to preserve open spaces for public enjoyment, which can be both a blessing and a drawback. Development plans that do get to the municipal table can be challenged and sometimes rejected if they are perceived to be a threat to an area's natural beauty or historic character. For more than two years, for example, Cold Spring has been focused on proposed plans to develop the historic but decaying Butterfield Memorial Hospital site; the outcome is still uncertain.

There's a variety of fine restaurants and other eateries across the county, many with a focus on farm-to-table freshness and locally sourced meats and dairy. Shopping opportunities abound—from the large outdoor Independent Way shopping center off of Route 84 in Brewster, to the Route 6 corridor in Carmel and Mahopac, to the more intimate shops of Brewster and Cold Spring. Even in Putnam Valley, where stores and restaurants are few, there's the opportunity to drive on miles of historic roads (don't miss Peekskill Hollow Road, which runs from Putnam Valley to Kent Cliffs) and see mysterious, prehistoric stone chambers, or a rare cranberry bog.

The county's most photogenic residents, tourists, and sites.

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