Rolling on the River

Rolling on the River

Touring the Hudson Valley
Robin Catalano
Sleepy Hollow

There are two popular misconceptions about the Hudson Valley: first, that the area grinds to a halt when the thermometer dips below 60 degrees, and second, that the Metro North commuter train is only good for traveling from New York City to a single town, and back again.

The train provides a convenient and affordable way to explore several Hudson River towns –each with distinctive character – in a single weekend, while you let someone else do the driving.


Exploring Beacon

Start in welcoming, energetic Beacon. This city is a former manufacturing hub that exploded in popularity with New York City weekenders following the environmental and cultural advocacy of the late folk singer Pete Seeger. Beacon’s downtown has blossomed with unique shops, galleries, restaurants and craft beverage makers.

The ruins of Bannerman Castle, formerly the home and armory of a Scottish-American munitions purveyor, is perhaps the town’s most popular sight. You’ll need about 2.5 hours to travel to and tour the island, which can be accessed only by Bannerman Island Boat Tours. It’s a singular experience, with commanding views of the Hudson rushing around you in a mix of currents and eddies.

Back on land, take a load off at the Roundhouse. Following a multimillion-dollar renovation, the former mill complex has transformed into an industrial-chic hotel, restaurant and bar. Enjoy a laid-back lunch on the patio, which overlooks the rushing Fishkill Creek. But leave room for dessert at Glazed Over Donuts, on Main Street, where you can customize deliciously fresh, cakey treats with your choice of glazes, toppings and drizzles.

Beacon has no lack of walking and hiking trails, many of them well-trafficked with visitors in search of river views. For a more contemplative natural experience, head just outside the downtown to the Mount Gulian Historic Site. This reconstructed 18th-century Dutch manor house and garden, with a lush expanse of lawn that tumbles down to the Hudson, is significant not just for its role as a headquarters during the Revolutionary War. It was also the workplace of James F. Brown, a former enslaved person who escaped north via the Underground Railroad and kept detailed journals of his life – some of the rare documentation we have of the Black experience in early America.


Exploring Peekskill

Peekskill, like Beacon, is a former industrial center. Today, thanks to its diverse population, hilly landscape and arts-mindedness, it has an exciting, rough-hewn feel. All around the city, 30 public art displays – from murals to metal sculpture, many clustered in Peekskill Landing Park, and in the downtown between Nelson Avenue and North James Street – form an intriguing open-air gallery.

Within a five-block radius, especially along North and South Division Streets, near the town’s iconic gold capped onion dome, you’ll find a variety of global cuisines, from Guatemalan to Japanese. Don’t miss Deli Ecuatoriano, a grocery that sells fresh-squeezed juices and cooked to order Ecuadorian meals like mote pillo (hominy with scrambled eggs), assorted empanadas, and tender grilled fish served with pickled onions, rice, beans and baked plantains.

Get yours to go, and enjoy it at nearby Pugsley Park or Depew Park, if you don’t mind a slightly longer walk. On your way out of the downtown, make a detour at Bruised Apple Books on Central Avenue. A community landmark since 1993, the shop boasts more than 50,000 used, out-of-print, and rare books, plus CDs, LPs and movies on DVD and VHS. With about 200 topic areas, it’s impossible not to find something of interest.

As the sun slips down the sky in a wash of pink and tangerine, sip craft IPAs, pilsners and fruit beers under one of the bright red umbrellas at Peekskill Brewery. Or savor an afternoon pick-me-up at Peekskill Coffee Sideshow, the mobile version of the popular downtown coffeehouse, which serves hot and cold brews, plus sweet and savory waffles.


Exploring Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow

Historic and picturesque, with an old-fashioned gentility, side-by-side sister villages Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown offer an unhurried pace and scenery that looks like a Thomas Cole painting come to life. Start with an amble along the riverwalk of Pierson Park, just beyond Tarrytown Station, with views of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge to the south and the diminutive Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse to the north.

The downtowns of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown are connected in a rectangle less than one mile long, making it easy to visit shops, cafes, and restaurants in both villages. In Tarrytown, fair-trade shop Ona and quirky goods purveyor Pretty Funny Vintage both stock a range of textiles, home goods, jewelry, and gifts; the latter also sells furniture and lighting. For lunch or dinner, Caribbean cafe Asado and Greek restaurant Santorini, both in Sleepy Hollow, are worthy stops.

Beyond Tarrytown’s commercial center, you’ll find Gothic Revival gem Lyndhurst Mansion, built in the first half of the 19th century, when a 35,000-square-foot house on a 67-acre park was considered a “country house.” Sleepy Hollow’s Phillipsburg Manor, the subject of many a postcard, is its polar opposite. Built in 1750, the home and gristmill were owned by a family of Dutch-Anglo merchants.

 Phillipsburg is only about a quarter of a mile from the massive, tranquil Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. On the downhill side, closer to Broadway and the Old Dutch Reformed Church built in 1685, are many of the older burial sites, including death’s-head stones dating back to the 1700s. Atop the hill are mausoleums larger than the average house, the final resting place of people with surnames such as Rockefeller and Helmsley. The cemetery’s most-visited grave is that of favorite son Washington Irving, whose classic tale is memorialized around town in statues, placards, and a variety of Halloween activities.


Exploring Croton-on-Hudson

On the return to Beacon, make a final stop in Croton-on-Hudson, another small village with outsize attractions. Croton Gorge Park, a short Uber ride from the train station, boasts 97 acres of natural beauty, including wooded hiking trails. It also offers views of the 200-foot high Cornell Dam, built in 1907, with a dramatic, stepped waterfall that splashes into the Croton Reservoir.

Just down the road from the village’s small commercial center is Van Cortlandt Manor, a 17th-century estate founded by an enterprising family of Dutch settlers who once owned 86,000 acres in the region. Plan your visit between September and November, and you’re in for a treat. The Great Jack o’ Lantern Blaze, now in its 16th year, features more than 7,000 pumpkins carved by a small army of artisan volunteers. They’re arranged in delightfully unexpected vignettes such as a rotating merry-go-round of creepy carved horses. There’s also a “Headless Horseman Bridge,” made of dozens of jack o’ lanterns, that’s even cooler than the real thing.

A weekend visit to several of the Hudson River towns, so often glimpsed only from the window of a train to and from New York City, is both familiar and revelatory. As Cole once wrote, “How I have walked... day after day, and all alone, to see if there was not something among the old things which was new!”

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Keep up with writer Robin Catalano.