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River Town Rising


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:07 pm

It’s not at all unusual for people to be charmed by Rosendale. Whether they’re just driving through “downtown,” catching an indie movie or live performance at the Rosendale Theatre, or attending the bustling annual Rosendale Street Festival—the 32nd edition of which takes place July 24 and 25—many are instantly enchanted the first time they pass through this simultaneously quaint and progressive town.

The first time I visited, on a July night in 2000, I fell head over heels. After an uphill walk to the former train trestle overlooking the town, dinner and music at the Rosendale Café, a walk past the Rosendale Theatre and the town’s assorted shops, I was struck. What a beguiling combination of small-town charm, cultural sophistication, and a gritty lack of pretension, I thought. It was as if I’d just met the country cousin to my own stomping grounds at the time, the East Village. I felt strangely at home.

Five years later, my husband and I would get kicked out of our large but disheveled Avenue B loft and find ourselves unable to afford even a studio in New York City for the same low rent we’d been paying. And so, now, for the past five and a half years, we’ve been stationed right on Rosendale’s Main Street.
It’s been the perfect perch for observing this remarkable place. It’s an unbelievably colorful town, marked by so many diverse characteristics: a rich history; a spectacular natural landscape replete with mountains to climb and a river to kayak; a fertile arts scene; a variety of good restaurants; and quirky rural characters many liken to those on the ‘90s television show “Northern Exposure.” Above all—despite the usual small-town divisions between the old-old timers and the relative newcomers—Rosendale has an increasingly tight-knit, environmentally and socially progressive community, in the true sense of the word.

From my vantage point, I find it fascinating to keep watching this 20-square- mile town of roughly 6,400 people grow and change. The Rosendale I first observed 10 years ago was a very different place than the town I moved to, and different still from the town I live in now. It’s definitely coming up—although at its own pace.

The More Things Change
Rosendale has a storied history rooted in the natural hydraulic cement business that was strongest in the 19th century. Sadly, last year town historian Dietrich Werner passed away. Werner ran the Snyder Estate and the Widow Jane Mine, an astoundingly vast limestone cave where occasionally musical performances and drumming sessions are held. A couple of years ago, Werner spoke to me about stories that Main Street had once been a red-light district for limestone miners, with many bordellos. He went on to tell me about the town’s more recent history, the 1960s through the 1980s, when there were something like 18 bars on Main Street. In addition to booze, he said, you could easily purchase a joint or a tab of acid. These days, Rosendale is a lot tamer than that.

Lately, there’s been a lot of positive change.  The biggest news: The Rosendale Theatre, the town’s anchor business owned and operated for 62 years by the Cacchio family, is now in the process of being purchased by the Rosendale Theatre Collective, a community group. The group has drawn closely together many diverse people from the town. And in a feat of impressive social networking, they got about 3,000 people to vote daily for a month for the group to receive a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh grant. The group won.

Also, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and the Open Space Institute last year purchased the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, a huge town asset. They’ve already begun restoring the existing path, and will also repair the defunct northern half of the railroad trestle to expand the trail all the way to Kingston.

Finally, thanks to the hard work of many in town—in an effort helmed by Environmental Commission Chair Jennifer Metzger—New York State has finally provided new sidewalks, extending all the way from the town’s senior center, past the Community Center and pool on Route 32, to Main Street, making Rosendale a more walkable town. “Our vision has been for a whole loop of sidewalks around town, including James Street,”
Metzger says, noting that much of James Street is still without sidewalks. Two pedestrians were killed on James Street in recent years. “We want this to be a pedestrian town, and so we’re hoping for more.” Many in town prefer to walk and bike when they can. With a Community center that’s powered partly with solar panels, and heated and cooled geothermically,  and an annual Earth Expo, Rosendale is an environmentally progressive town. “We’ve signed the Climate Smart Communities Pledge,” Metzger reports, “which means we’re committed to setting a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and use of fossil fuels.”

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