The number-one rule for investing in real estate? Location, location, location. And Athens, a riverfront jewel in Greene County, is certainly perched in a prime spot. Set on the western banks of the Hudson, the town is 30 minutes south of Albany, four miles from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, and only half an hour to the ski resorts of Hunter and Windham. But Athens has another big plus: an almost unheard-of mix of 18th- and 19th-century homes, with more than 300 buildings on national and state historic registers. Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Stick, Second Empire, Victorian, and Queen Anne styles all crowd into not one, but two, historic districts.
First settled in the late 17th century, the village became a bustling port town known for brick-making, ship-building and ice-harvesting. But the town fell on hard times after the bridge was completed in 1935, making the Hudson and Athens ferry obsolete. Nowadays Athens attracts artists, filmmakers, musicians, and a wide range of restoration addicts. The Athens Cultural Center promotes the talents of these community members, and serves as an unofficial hub of activity. The center offers shows, events, workshops, and classes. While there is no downtown to speak of, the town does support a dynamic and growing mix of businesses, including art galleries, a martial arts studio, and a software company. For fun, there’s a chess club at the D.R. Evarts Library, an outdoor public pool, and a playscape park.
“It’s a great way to get out of the city. That’s how I got here,” says Mayor Andrea Smallwood, who started coming for weekends in 1988, but became a full-time resident in 1997. “There are people from all walks of life. As a weekender, that’s what I liked about it. As a full-time family — and mother — it was a great place to bring up a child.”
Locals flock to several restaurants, including the Dockside Grill, with its popular outside clam bar in summer; and Cameo’s Restaurant, which offers creative pizzas and other Italian meals. The most high-profile establishment to come to town is the Crossroads Brewery, which opened on Memorial Day last year. Located in the refurbished 1893 Brooks Opera House, the microbrewery offers 10 craft brews on tap, six New York State wines, and its own root beer.
If craft beer doesn’t do it, the Athens Street Festival in July attracts 10,000 people each year, and the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse offers tours every weekend in the summer. The recently restored docks provide a boat launch, so kayakers and water enthusiasts abound. Smallwood notes, “It’s quiet, relaxing — you can view the architecture, visit the brewery, have a nice meal, or go to the cultural center for an exhibit. It’s kind of a simple life, but it’s always busy — there’s always something to do.”
Population: 4,089 (town) 1,668 (village)
Median Household Income: $56,394 (town) $59,063 (village)
Fun Fact: The 2005 film War of the Worlds includes a scene filmed in Athens. Martian invaders are shown attacking citizens trying to escape from New York City by crossing the Hudson on a ferry.