During a happy childhood in Cornwall-on-Hudson in the 1950s, “Peaches” Petraeus rose before dawn to deliver the Times Herald-Record; played basketball, baseball, tennis, soccer and skied; and helped his family tend its vegetable garden, selling the excess string beans out of the back of a van.
He’s come a long way since. Peaches is better known as General David Petraeus, often considered one of the greatest servicemen in American history (at least until he was forced to resign as CIA director last year after a marital affair). What seemingly hasn’t changed, however, is the waterfront village in Orange County that collectively reared him.
As it has been for many decades, Cornwall-on-Hudson is an affluent yet unpretentious sort of place. The kind of place where kids may still sell veggies at an impromptu road-side stand or take part in other old-fashioned delights, like the popular fishing derby at Ring Pond or visiting with animals at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum. It’s common to see kids milling about the 2.1 square mile village, which is no surprise. In addition to the well-regarded Cornwall Public School system, two private boarding schools call Cornwall home: The Storm King School, and the New York Military Academy, from whence emerged a freshly straightened-out Donald Trump in 1964. The closing of the St. Thomas of Canterbury School two years ago after 98 years in operation brought heartfelt tributes from all corners of the community.
The village is somewhat isolated: With no direct access to a highway and no train station in town, commuting anywhere can be difficult. But many consider its remoteness to be more boon than demerit, since it has helped render Cornwall-on-Hudson impervious to the swings in economic fortunes that afflict many Valley towns. As other places boomed or busted, the village population of around 3,000 remained solidly upper-middle class.
“There’s not a lot of thoroughfare,” says Salvatore Buttiglieri. “It’s a little world of its own. So there’s a certain continuity.” Buttiglieri co-owns Painter’s Restaurant, a popular comfort-food spot along the village’s main artery, Hudson Street. He’s been there for 28 years, and that, as he puts it, makes him “a relative newcomer.”
The Storm King State Park, with many hiking trails, abuts the village. It offers mesmeric views from the snaking Storm King Highway (Route 128), which — draped along the edges of the steep cliffs— leads to the West Point Military Academy. Filling the great outdoors with culture is the world-famous Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre outdoor sculpture garden just miles from the village. There are also many outdoor activities down by the charming waterfront park. Plans to further develop the park have been debated for years; in 2010 three, were presented that included pedestrian walkways, an improved dock, a fishing pier, a kayak launch, and a swimming area.
“It’s a scenic place, there’s a lot of beauty around us,” Buttiglieri says. “It’s a pretty delightful little town.” Picturesque and easily walkable from the leafy suburban avenues that bisect Hudson Street, Cornwall-on-Hudson offers the intimacy of small-town, everybody-knows-everybody living. The locals convene at Painter’s and the always-crowded 2 Alices Coffee Lounge in search of comfort and company.
This high quality of life means people aren’t in any sort of hurry to leave, however, making available real estate challenging to get into. The housing stock, made up mostly of colonials and Victorians, is invariably thin. But the low turnover ensures consistency, too. Little has changed since Peaches roamed the streets of Cornwall-on-Hudson, and the village is better for it.