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.
A major key to Pawling’s economic development was the New York and Harlem Railroad, which reached Pawling in 1848, connecting it to the city and to Westchester. The local Sheffield Farms-Slawson-Decker Milk Processing Plant shipped their milk to New York City by train on a daily basis, up until the 1930s. Heinchon Dairy, established in 1923, pastured its dairy cows on East Main Street, processed the milk, and delivered it to the doorsteps of local customers. In 1984, Heinchon expanded, opening the Old Farmhouse Ice Cream Parlor on Route 22, which is still family operated.
By the 1880s, Pawling had become a destination resort, with the construction of Dutcher House right across from the railway station platform, and the Mizzentop Hotel, then considered a high-class country and mountain resort, which boasted views of the Harlem Valley and amenities like steam heat, bowling alleys, a golf course, and telegraph service.
In addition, proximity to major highways such as Routes 84, 684, and the Taconic Parkway enabled eco-tourism to develop, attracting weekenders and eventually second-home owners to join the Pawling community, in particular at the Whalley Lake area southwest of Pawling, according to Town Supervisor Beth Coursen. She also remarks that Pawling is currently updating its Comprehensive Plan, which will continue to proactively protect its environmentally valuable spaces; Pawling was one of the first towns in the country to do so.
The Village Green, due to break ground this fall in the center of the village by the train station, will include a replica of the original Pawling bandstand. It is marked to become the most popular park attraction in Pawling, in addition to Lakeside Park, home of the Harlem Valley Agricultural Fair from 1887 to 1890, and Murrow Park, which is named for wartime broadcast journalist and longtime resident Edward R. Murrow and is home of the Music by the Lake concert series.
The famed Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, has sections winding through the northern perimeter of Pawling and even claims its own Metro North stop there. North of the train stop lies the 1,043-acre Pawling Nature Reserve, and to the south lies the 6,000-acre Great Swamp, a wetland that extends for 20 miles and offers canoeing, hiking, and the opportunity to observe 200 species of birds, 64 species of butterflies, and various species of endangered plant and animal life, including the small bog turtle.
The vernal vistas in Pawling provide a peaceful backdrop for its music events. The Trinity-Pawling School, established in1907, provides the setting for the annual Pawling Concert Series, which this year has included performances by Chanticleer, Awaddgin Pratt, and Jay Ungar and Molly Mason.
The Towne Crier Café on Route 22 has provided a mecca for musicians unequalled in scope and history in the Hudson Valley for 37 years, enhanced by the culinary creations of Austrian chef Erich Panhofer and pastries by Mary Ciganer.
Billing it as one of the oldest ongoing venues of its type in the country, owner Phil Ciganer says his goal is to provide an “intimate setting that respects the performances above all.” “It’s designed as a club I would want to go to myself,” he continues. Bringing in performers who are established or just starting out, Ciganer has been host to an array of artists way too numerous to name: Leon Russell, Richie Havens, Rosanne Cash, Ani DiFranco, Tom Chapin, Janis Ian, Taj Mahal, Arlo Guthrie, Jesse Colin Young, Paul Winter, and folk father Pete Seeger, to name just a few. The signed photos on the wall prove it.
Whether it’s a concert, book fair, house tour, or other cultural event, a visit to one of the many restaurants in town for a fine meal, or an opportunity to commune with nature on preserved land, the drive to Pawling is well worth it and pays dividends in serenity.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
- David Cunningham
- The intersection of West Main Street and Charles Colman Boulevard in downtown Pawling.
- David Cunningham
- Proprietor Phil Ciganer in the Towne Crier Cafe.