There are a lot of museums in the Hudson Valley.
From Albany to Westchester, museums both large and small dot the landscape along the Hudson River. Just as their terrain is far-reaching, so too are their areas of expertise. Within the spread of 10 counties, museum topics run the gamut from all things aquatic (Hudson River Museum and Hudson River Maritime Museum) to motorcycles (Motorcyclepedia Museum) and harness racing (Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame).
Yet none are nearly as adorable as Ulster County’s teddy bear museum.
Officially known as The Den of Marbletown, the popular space just outside of Kingston is home to an incredible collection of Steiff teddy bears, the first of their kind to be invented in 1902. It’s also a treasure trove for Madame Alexander and Barbie dolls and hand-carved wooden toys. A one-of-a-kind destination, it’s just as much of a delight for younger visitors as it is for their adult parents and grandparents.
“This is so unique and different from what you experience day to day,” says owner Steve Ferri. As co-proprietor of The Den with Nan Bress, Ferri oversees the extensive assortment of collectible toys and leads educational tours for visitors. He first came up with the idea for the museum after a teddy bear arrived in the mail for him one day. When he asked his wife about the Steiff bear, she told him it was a gift from her mother, an avid collector.
“My mom wants you to be a gentleman teddy bear collector,” she said.
As a lover of animals and things built to last, Ferri was taken by the thoughtful gift and began to develop an interest in the collection his wife’s mother had assembled. Although he had often joked about one day starting a museum, it wasn’t until 2012, after he left his career in TV news production in New York City, that he decided to give it a go.
In 2014, Ferri opened the Hudson Valley’s teddy bear museum in the quiet town of Marbletown in Ulster County. Having grown up in Westchester County, he knew the Hudson Valley would be the perfect place to root his new endeavor. He scouted a number of stone houses in the region, then ultimately fell for a 1860s farmhouse that was once home to six generations of the Basten family. Although he completed structural updates to the property, he preserved many of the original details inside the longstanding Victorian, including the secret passageways and vintage wallpaper.
During a tour of The Den, visitors can learn about the history of the teddy bear while browsing though the collection of 5,000-plus dolls and stuffed animals. Many of the bears are Steiff originals, including one very rare 1904 “Rod Bear.” Throughout the property, Ferri incorporates toy displays by local artists, while his dedicated gift shop offers newer versions of Steiff collectibles and teddy bears for sale.
“We’re a Steiff dealer, so we carry basically everything Steiff makes,” Ferri explains.
While The Den has maintained a quiet presence in the Hudson Valley for a number of years, it was not until 2018 that Ferri launched his newest venture on the grounds. Called Papa Bear’s Kitchen, the onsite eatery offers guests the chance to rest their feet while dining on casual, rustic Italian cuisine as prepared by Ferri himself. A longtime cook — he trained at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School before it converted to The Institute of Culinary Education — he relishes the chance to return to the kitchen and delight locals with homemade, seasonal fare.
“Everything’s basically scratch-made, he says. “[Cooking] has always been such a passion of mine.”
Mushrooms with asparagus at Papa Bear’s Kitchen
At the café, Ferri offers an ever-changing menu of seasonal salads, sandwiches, and soups. On any given day, diners could savor chicken quinoa soup with teddy bear croutons, house-roasted dry rub Italian roast beef sandwiches, or creamy spinach penne. In season, he sources ingredients from Davenport Farms in Stone Ridge, with plans to expand his network of farm providers during the warmer months. To wash everything down, he tempts kids and adults alike with an extensive selection of 40-plus varieties of bubble tea. The café stocks both tapioca and fruit boba, with an endless assortment of milk and tea bases to pair with them.
After ordering at the café, parents can retreat to the Mama Bear Lounge while kids laugh and play in the Kids Club Cave. In spring and summer, The Den offers special teddy bear picnics, during which visitors can order a food basket, a teddy bear, and a blanket for an al fresco meal by the onsite lake.
Looking ahead, Ferri hopes The Den can become a retreat for parents and kids in the Hudson Valley. He recently hosted a cookies and crafts session and plans to incorporate “Parents’ Night Out” and “Mommy and Me” programming in the future. He’s also happy to host events and parties at The Den, since it’s a convenient option for parents who crave convenience, quality cuisine, and entertainment in one place.
Thoughout it all, he’ll continue to give the history-laden tours that have become a signature part of visits to The Den. He does anticipate offering self-guided tours down the road, since they will give him greater flexibility to prepare meals at the café. Yet while he loves talking with visitors and cooking seasonal treats, his favorite part of owning The Den of Marbletown is the chance to witness the reactions on his visitors’ faces.
“I love seeing people light up as soon as they come in and see the teddies all over the place,” he enthuses. “It’s really great.”
The Den of Marbletown
1 Basten Lane, Kingston