When the hotels of Manhattan become too expensive a few years back, my wife and I started staying in New Jersey. The Garden State had its virtues, but the trek between North Bergen and Manhattan was a challenge.
We then switched our overnight location to Tarrytown, located in Westchester County along the North Metro line. I was familiar with Westchester because my grandparents had lived there in the last three decades of their lives.
My grandfather had been given a position managing the Hudson Valley section of a company. So my grandparents relocated from the family center in Brooklyn up to Westchester. To relatives remaining on Long Island, this seemed a huge move. So when my mother started attending Syracuse University three years later, the change was little noted. She’d already moved to the Far North.
We who live in the Empire State have an interesting sense of geography. To many people in the central region, anything south of Albany is New York City. But to those in the City or on the Island, anything north of the Bronx is Upstate.
In reality, New York is composed of several regions: western New York, central New York, the Adirondacks, the Capitol Region, the Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island. The Hudson Valley, following the Hudson River from Albany down to New York City, is one of the most attractive. On the west side of this river are the Catskill Mountains, made famous by Washington Irving in his story “Rip Van Winkle”.
New York City is approximately two hundred seventy eight miles from my home in Syracuse. Until a few years ago, the fastest route to Manhattan, after the stretch of Route 81 to Binghamton, was through Pennsylvania and then New Jersey. That’s no longer necessary.
Route 17 has been expanded and made an expressway. In Rockland County, 17 runs directly into Route 87, the lower Thruway, which quickly goes across the Tappan Zee Bridge into Westchester.
Back in the Catskills, Route 17 runs past a number of streams with Dutch names, signs of the early settlers. These streams are famous for their fly fishing, and the area even features a fly fishing museum.
Route 17 has some of the problems of a road that was, for a long time, little travelled. It has relatively few hotels or restaurants. For a long span, from Hancock, just south of Binghamton, through Middleton, in Orange County, there are no real stopping places. I suspect this situation will change over the next decade.
It’s often hard to see the past in New York City, as it’s so brimming with the present. But the past is everywhere: in buildings going back as far as the 1700’s, and in the old Algonquin trail known as Broadway.
Yet in the relative quiet of the Hudson Valley, you are perhaps better able to see the past. Near Tarrytown is Sunnyside, home of Washington Irving. In the graveyard of nearby Sleepy Hollow, made famous by Irving’s tale of the Headless Horseman, are the graves of Dutch settlers from the 1700’s. Many are so old and worn that it’s all but impossible to read their inscriptions.
A number of the house tours in the Westchester area are run by the Rockefeller foundation, which means that guests are raced through the areas, with little time to look around. When we went to the house of John Jay, first U.S. Chief Justice, a couple of years back, we were given much time, although the main house was, at the time, closed for renovation.
Lower Westchester County has been absorbed into the New York metropolitan area. White Plains, which now hosts a number of corporate headquarters, is no longer the small town it was when my mother lived there.
But when you get to upper Westchester, in the vicinity of Jay’s home, everything becomes rural. These are the advantages of staying in Westchester. It’s quiet, and you can have time to relax after a day in the City.
But all the while you are breathing the quieter atmosphere of Upstate, you are also aware of its closeness to the most exciting city in the world.