On my first approach to Pawling on Route 55, an old Mahican Indian hunting trail that ran from the Housatonic River to the Hudson, I’m greeted by significant landmarks: On the left is America’s oldest municipal nine-hole golf course, which was built by Pawling resident and New York senator John Dutcher in 1890; on the right, one finds Kane House, which served as George Washington’s headquarters in 1778, while he was planning key strategies to win the Revolutionary War. The town of Pawling was founded that same year, but the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) had settled there earlier, in 1730, and built the Oblong Friends Meeting House, which can still be seen today. “The Oblong” refers to the two-mile-wide strip of land that New York received in exchange for Connecticut’s Panhandle following a series of territorial disputes in the late 1600s.
The Quakers of the Oblong Friends Meeting are historically noteworthy because they abolished slavery almost 100 years before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, on the grounds that subjugation of one’s neighbor runs counter to Christian virtues.
Just before the entrance to the village of Pawling stands best-selling author Norman Vincent Peale’s Center for Positive Thinking. The approach to life that Peale promoted through his book The Power of Positive Thinking, which has sold over 22 million copies, permeates the town of Pawling, where he lived with his family for nearly 50 years, and where his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret continue to be active in the community.
Other notables who’ve lived in Pawling include Governor Thomas Dewey, who lost a close popular vote to Harry Truman in the 1948 presidential race; publishing giant William Ziff, Jr. who, at 25 years of age, took control of his father’s Ziff-Davis Publishing Company and built it into a conglomerate; author, broadcaster, and world traveler Lowell Thomas, who created in Pawling a “History of Civilization” fireplace out of beautiful stones gathered and donated by presidents and celebrities from around the world at the clubhouse of the Quaker Hill Country Club. Today’s residents include broadcaster Sally Jesse Raphael, actor James Earl Jones, and former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Thomas Hoving.
Meeting Chamber of Commerce volunteer president Peter Cris near the railroad stop at the McKinney & Doyle eatery, I quickly surmise this is a center of activity for Pawling. Folks are busily coming and going from the restaurant, which is owned and operated by local Shannon McKinney, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Cris describes himself as a “gunslinger who has sometimes been accused of putting a positive spin on the facts” and says he bases his philosophy for municipal success on John Tisch’s The Power of We, as well as Peale’s bestseller. He explains, “You have to work together to accomplish things; together, you have more clout and ability to achieve goals.” In the past five years, Cris has connected previously unrelated organizations and groups, and he has grown the Pawling Chamber of Commerce from 140 to 253 members. A Westchester resident who operates Phoenix Marketing Services in Pawling and in Somers, Cris learned about Pawling while working with Dutchess County Tourism for 12 years and says he got sold on the ambience of the place, mostly derived from its scenic attractions and “cohesive, warm, and inviting community members.”
One of these vital members is Marie Stewart, proprietor of the cozy Yarn & Craft Box, who draws as many as 15 participants from Connecticut, Brewster, and Upper Putnam County to her ongoing knitting classes. Next door to Marie is independent bookstore owner Chuck Werner, who divides his time between Manhattan and Pawling. His Book Cove, established 35 years ago, includes several sections of out-of-print books, which he says patrons love to browse while in town to attend author talks and book signings—some, he adds, even travel up from Manhattan to hear renowned authors.
On June 13 at 1pm, The Book Cove will stage a Hudson River Quadricentennial Celebration. Newbury-honored children’s author and illustrator Hudson Talbott will read and sign his River of Dreams; best-selling author Sheila Buff will discuss and sign her Insiders’ Guide to the Hudson River Valley. Lucey Bowen’s Great Rivers of the Mountains, Joanne Michael’s Hudson Valley & Catskill Mountains: An Explorer’s Guide, and Kevin Woyce’s Hudson River: Lighthouses and History will round out the event.
Also on Saturday, June 13, Barrett Art Center brings their Spring Paint-Out to Pawling. Fifty accomplished landscape painters from the region have been invited to work en plein aire, rain or shine, at Pawling “beauty spots” of their choice between 9am and 3pm, with the public welcome to observe them painting along scenic roadsides, forests, and fields. While the finished works are drying on display grids in Lathrop Center at Lakeside Park, artists are free to exhibit an additional finished work during the 4 to 6pm wine and cheese reception, which is free and open to the public at 2 Lakeside Drive. At 6pm, all works will go on the block during an auction designed to raise funds for both the nonprofit Dutchess County Arts Council and the artists, split 50-50. While previous paint-outs have been held at Millbrook, Rhinebeck, and Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie, organizers of the event Mona Burkard and Cindy Walton anticipate that fresh landscapes in Pawling will uniquely inspire the artists that day.