Picture an old-time summer community on a lake, the kind brought to life in the movie Dirty Dancing, and you’re getting warmer as to what life can be like in the town of Carmel, where water seems to be everywhere. “There’s a real vacation feeling here with a lot of activity around the lakes and ponds,” says Terry Fokine, administrator at Carmel’s Chamber of Commerce. The town’s most recognizable landmark remains the Gothic 1814 Putnam County Courthouse, which sits majestically across from beautiful Lake Gleneida.
Yet, Carmel — pronounced CAR-m’l (versus Car-MEL in California) remains a highly desirable hometown all year round. Consisting of the two hamlets of Carmel and Mahopac, the town offers residents the opportunity to live in a much more countrified setting than in nearby Westchester, yet it’s still only 55 miles north of New York City. But with few businesses in the county, 70 percent of residents head to Westchester or Dutchess counties or Manhattan for work, says Kevin Bailey, president of the Putnam Economic Development Corporation/Industrial Development Agency. Within Carmel, the biggest employer is the Putnam Hospital Center (PHC), followed by the school system.
An old-fashioned focus on the family remains strong. Many New York City police and firefighters have long called Carmel home; it is as far north as they can legally reside on the east side of the Hudson. Parades are big (including the state’s third largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Mahopac, as well as that hamlet’s Great Duck Race), and the legendary rivalry between Carmel and Mahopac high schools is reminiscent of days gone by. Approximately 90 percent of the town’s students go on to college, and Carmel’s groundbreaking Alternative High School (held in three rooms in an adjacent building) gives nontraditional learners each year the chance to shine.
The biggest attraction annually is the Putnam County 4-H Fair, to be held this summer from July 27-29; it teaches kids about different animals and offers rides and food — all without charging an admission or parking fee. And this year Carmel residents can join their counterparts throughout the county on June 12 to celebrate their bicentennial — 200 years since Putnam became the state’s 48th county when it separated from Dutchess.
The dining scene has long been dominated by a wide variety of bustling Irish pubs, reflecting the region’s strong Irish heritage. But more modern fare has shown up in recent years, too, with the celebrated Ramiro’s 954 in Mahopac, and locals applaud the new American Burger, Mac and Cheese Company, which is bringing together these comfort classics like never before.
With the lack of a real downtown, shopping is spread among a series of strip malls, but a visit to Lake Gleneida — where you can nosh on Asian cuisine and hike the walking trail — lends an exotic air to the town. So, while there are some inconveniences (“we have to go to Westchester or Dutchess for some big-box stores”), and the need for new businesses to increase the town’s tax base is recognized, “growing requires a careful balance,” says Bailey. After all, residents are not willing to lose that down-home country feeling.
Population: 6,817 (Carmel) 8,369 (Mahopac)
Median Household Income: $94,151 (Carmel) $88,708 (Mahopac)
Fun Fact: In 1777, 16-year-old Sybil Ludington rode 40 miles — a much longer distance than that of her male counterpart, Paul Revere — through Carmel and other Putnam County towns, rallying the militia to prevent the British from marching into New York from Connecticut. Carmel memorialized her with a statue and an annual road race along her route.