Chatham Fosters a Strong Sense of Community in Columbia County

The Hudson Valley town is a hub for cultural attractions, with everything from multimedia art to pottery classes on the lineup.

In the late ‘70s, Chatham native Winnie Legere and her husband, Steve, traded Columbia County for Western Massachusetts—but she always knew they’d be back. In 2015, the couple moved into a house across the street from where Legere’s grandmother lived and a few doors down from her childhood best friends. “Things are different now in so many ways, but this village’s sense of community is as strong as ever,” she says.

Melissa Davis, owner of the boutique PR agency Ruby Press, moved to the village nearly three years ago with her husband and their son, and has also enjoyed living in the tight-knit town. “We felt so welcomed by our neighbors when we moved to Chatham, and we’ve developed great friendships,” she says.

The Culture

Back in the 18th century, the area attracted settlers for its proximity to the Stein Kill Creek, on which several mills were built. When it was incorporated in 1869, Chatham’s population was reported to be 1,355. Over 150 years later, Chatham remains tiny with about 1,600 residents. Although small and rural, the village offers a variety of cultural experiences. Downtown, you’ll find the Joyce Goldstein (Central Square) and Jackdaw (Railroad Avenue) galleries, which display multimedia works by local artists. And if you want to make your own art, you can take pottery classes at Round Clay Studio.

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Bimi’s Cheese Shop.
Bimi’s Cheese Shop. Photo by Christian Harder.

Crandell Theatre, a historic 1926 movie house, shows new flicks, and every fall the theater hosts the Film Columbia festival, with screenings of projects from around the globe and panels with pros. Come summer, people flock to Mac-Haydn Theatre for performances of popular musicals (their season kicks off with “West Side Story” in June), PS21 for dance, music, and theater showcases, and The Garage at Chatham for intimate classical and jazz concerts.

Family Life

Children living in the village attend the Chatham Central School District, comprised of one elementary, one middle, and one high school. The district serves about 950 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Garage on Kinderhook Street.
The Garage on Kinderhook Street. Yellow House Photography/ Helena Palazzi.

In addition to the arts scene, families enjoy the annual Chatham SummerFest and WinterFest which, according to Davis, have “activities for everyone age 5 to 95, including live music, fun games, a baking contest, and more.” Locals are also looking forward to the opening of the new Shaker Museum, which will be housed in a renovated four-story building on Austerlitz Street.

On the Town

For such a petite town, there are a surprising number of eateries including Bimi’s Canteen, a restaurant with locally sourced fare and seasonal menus; Chatham Brewing, a hub for craft beer and casual mains like fish and chips and sandwiches; The People’s Pub, which serves ales and everything from Pad Thai to falafel; Mediterranean cuisine at Lagonia’s Bistro; American classics at Chatham Grill; and breakfast and lunch staples plus Mexican dishes at Fiesta Café.

The village also offers an array of shops worth a visit, from The Chatham Bookstore to Red Mannequin women’s boutique. Browse American Pie for kitchen supplies, Bimi’s Cheese Shop for pantry items and fromage, the Olde 1811 Antique Shoppe for vintage furnishings, and Pookstyle and Crow Cottage for gifts.

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A short drive from the village is Ooms Conservation Park, ideal for year-round outdoor activities like birding, hiking, fishing, and kayaking. And, if you’re looking to take a day trip, Chatham is only a half-hour drive from Hudson, Albany, and the Berkshires.

For newcomers considering relocating to the village, Davis offers this: “It’s just the best—sweet, safe, small-town living. Our only regret about moving to Chatham is that we didn’t do it sooner.”

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Related: Pawling Is a Small Town With Charm in Southern Dutchess County

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