For far too long, it seemed that Catskill was regarded mostly as a quick stop off the Thruway on the way to visiting metropolitan Albany or trendy Hudson. But with its storybook Victorian homes, walkable business district, and low cost of living, this charming, historic town has finally become a destination in itself. Visitors are even settling in for permanent residence.
Like many riverfront towns, Catskill developed flourishing mining, lumber, and tourism industries in the 19th century, and with those successes a thriving Main Street followed. General stores and other businesses were anchored in newly constructed, sturdy brick buildings that still line the main drag today. Swamp Angel Antiques, for example, is a unique shop offering vintage tools, furniture, and sporting equipment, all housed in an 1879 building.
Through the decades, Catskill has experienced its fair share of economic ups and downs, but most recently “Now Open” signs have been returning to once-vacant storefronts. The Catskill Local Development Corporation (CLDC) devised an effective plan to help support the town’s growth. Dubbed “Project 90,” the program — which began in December 2012 — allows small businesses to open up shop in a vacant building for a 90-day period at a sliding-scale, discounted rent. The CLDC steps in to provide certain amenities (WiFi, store fixtures, etc.), and the group negotiates with the landlord for a fair rent. From there, it’s up to the shop-owner to take care of the lease for 90 days. After that, they can decide to stay or pack it up and try elsewhere.
La Casa Latina, known for fish tacos and margaritas, opened a year ago and is popular among both old and new residents. And the fact that Red Hook-based Body Be Well recently opened an outpost of its über-hip Pilates studio in town may signify that Catskill has finally turned the corner.
The town has a reputation as a bit of an arts mecca; one particularly interesting project, “Masters on Main,” features works by art students in some of the best college programs nationwide on display in Main Street’s windows and storefronts.
Of course, longtime residents have always loved the fact that their town has two waterfront parks. Dutchman’s Landing, with boat docks, a snack bar, picnic area, and playground, is directly on the Hudson. Right around the corner, Catskill Point Park has no picnicking facilities, but a beautiful old warehouse hosts a farmers market each Saturday in the warmer weather and can be rented out for events (many brides have discovered the scenery makes for quite the backdrop). Concerts are held at both parks.
A generally low cost of living makes Catskill even more appealing to first-time homebuyers or retirees; there is a large population who commute the 30 miles to Albany. There are a slew of historic houses just beyond the main strip. Many of these dollhouse-style homes built in the late 1800s have been restored and preserved by artists and local history enthusiasts over time. While not for sale, the most noted of these might be Cedar Grove, the home of famous painter, writer, and Hudson River School leader Thomas Cole, whose distinctive style of landscape painting has been inspiring artists for three centuries. His estate — now the Thomas Cole Historic Site — is open for guided tours. It also hosts an annual art exhibit from April through October; painter Albert Bierstadt is featured this season.