Less than 90 miles north of Manhattan and about 40 miles northwest of Danbury, the quiet and unassuming village of Millbrook rests. Nineteenth century colonial mansions sit atop acres of unspoiled terrain while modest homes built in their counterparts' vein scatter the remaining hillsides.
For the past 100-plus years, the relationship between wealthy estate owners and middle-class townspeople who inhabit these homes has become a social symbiosis.
According to village historian and local schoolteacher, David Greenwood, the presence of vacationing urbanites and descendents of original estate owners has become a base for the local economy. "The core of the village has traditionally been made up of people who worked in the estates and that holds true today," Greenwood explains. "The only difference is the majority of people with second homes now come for much shorter periods. They still require the support of the local population to provide the things that any homeowner would need." He says that this mutually beneficial relationship is rooted in the village's history. The weekend or vacationing individuals bring vitality to Millbrook while the community, in turn, provides a scenic, undeveloped environment for a second home.
The village of Millbrook—located in eastern Dutchess County's town of Washington—was settled by Dutch Quakers in the mid-eighteenth century. Millbrook's popularity began to grow in the 1870s after the construction of the Dutchess and Columbia Railroad. The Millbrook station allowed easy access to fresh air and a new atmosphere for the New York City population yearning for a release from Manhattan's hustle and bustle.
As Millbrook became an increasingly desirable place to visit, more and more vacationers began building second homes—a trend that continues today. This population generally sits in a higher tax bracket than full-time residents and has created local traditions as well as supporting already existing ones.
The Millbrook Hunt
Given the community's suburban location and wealthy inhabitants, the equestrian lifestyle has become engrained into Millbrook's culture. While not everyone is interested in, or able to afford horse-related sports and activities, its popularity is prevalent throughout the communities of Millbrook and Washington.
"Our countryside allowed that to happen," says Greenwood. He talks about the Millbrook Hunt—a century-old annual event in which horseback riders don traditional British hunting attire and traverse the countryside with hounds in tow searching for wild foxes. He says the idea of the activity is not necessarily to "chase an animal to its death—the majority of times that doesn't happen." Being outdoors and celebrating a locally accepted tradition is the primary ideology of the hunt. "The success of the hunt is one word: cooperation. All of the land-owners become part of the venue," Greenwood says. The cooperation of those living in surrounding areas is also required while horses and riders cross local streets.
From the hunt's popularity and a landscape tailor-made for horse owners, the equestrian culture of Millbrook has evolved to the current presence of multiple tack shops, polo clubs, horse trial competitions, and veterinary offices specializing in the treatment of horses.
In the Family Way
Some grew up in Millbrook participating in horseback riding and fox hunting where others had a more unexpected childhood. Tara Wing, lifetime Millbrook resident, is the daughter of artists Peter and Toni Ann Wing. After returning from Vietnam in 1969, Peter began to build a structure in homage of his adoration for old structures and buildings. His project was initially intended to be a barn with silos, but when a family member commented on its resemblance to a castle, Peter turned his energies toward creating a stone castle made from salvaged materials that, while a fully habitable and impressive building, remains an in-process art project.
Tara spent her childhood growing up in (and helping to build) her parents' makeshift castle. Her childhood was filled with activities not many children of the area partake in—and she is thankful for it. "It wasn't glamorous," she says. When she was a child she says she would "get up and work—mix cement or sort stones. It was hard work, but it instilled some values that some kids don't ever learn, so it paid off," says Wing, a professional photographer who also runs The Pumpkin House, an antiques and consignment emporium on Franklin Avenue.
Others moved to Millbrook in order to raise a family in a peaceful environment. Like Greenwood, current resident Gretchen Brown-Atkin decided that Millbrook was the obvious choice after falling in love with her current home. Like so many Millbrook citizens, Brown-Atkin made the move from New York City. "Basically it was between Rhinebeck and Millbrook," she said. "Then we found the house—and the house really did it." With her husband, Brown-Atkin raised two children in the village—both are now in their twenties and have moved out. "It felt safe—the kids could easily walk to the stores and the post office. I had this fantasy that we would move to the village and the kids could go down to the post office and pick up the mail. Of course they never did," she says with a laugh.