John Zindar moved to Esopus to become a father.
His one-bedroom apartment in Jersey City, N.J., wasn’t large enough for him and the child he hoped to adopt, so he began looking for houses in the Hudson Valley near the home of a close friend.
In May 2019, he paid $175,000 for a two-bedroom cottage on an acre with a pond in West Park, one of eight hamlets that make up the town of Esopus. And in January 2023, Mr. Zindar, a trans-Atlantic business-development consultant and an adjunct professor at New York University, became a foster father to Christopher, now8. Since then, he has introduced his foster son to nature by taking him hiking on local trails and participating in an Earth Day cleanup at the John Burroughs Nature Sanctuary, named after the naturalist who owned the land.
“People always ask, ‘Do you miss the city?’” said Mr. Zindar, 63, who grew up in Sheboygan, Wis. “Even within months of moving up here, my answer was no. This was reminiscent of moving back to Wisconsin, with the hills and the water and the dairy farms.”
Esopus, an Ulster County town, is nestled between Kingston and New Paltz, on the west bank of the Hudson River, with the Wallkill River and the Rondout Creek forming its western border. Crosscut by Swartekill Creek to the west and Black Creek to the east, it is a town of many waterfronts, known for its abundance of outdoor offerings.
Roughly 37 square miles, with a population of less than 10,000, according to the most recent census figures, Esopus has nearly 5,000 acres of protected land. In addition to the Burroughs sanctuary, its preserves include Shaupeneak Ridge, Black Creek Preserve, Black Creek State Forest, Esopus Meadows Preserve and High Banks Preserve.
What the town doesn’t have is much of a Main Street, a supermarket or more than a handful of restaurants, and New Yorkers have traditionally viewed it as a place to buy a second home. But after working remotely during the pandemic and discovering the area’s natural beauty, some have become full-time residents.
Completed in 1999, the suspension bridge at Black Creek Preserve provides a scenic portal to the 130-acre preserve.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
“Esopus offers nature, peace, privacy and four seasons of outdoor activities,” said Richard Vizzini, a real estate agent with Corcoran Country Living, in Woodstock, N.Y. “There are always more buyers than homes to buy, based on how attractive the area is to New York City residents. Some properties have creek and river access, which is always appealing to buyers.”
Lorie Karnath and her husband, Robert Roethenmund, were living in a two-bedroom duplex on East 57th Street in 1998, when Ms. Karnath and her father, Albert W. Karnath, a management consultant, bought an antique Arts-and-Crafts-style home on around 10 acres in West Park and an adjoining three-acre property with a smaller house, paying about $900,000. In 2017, Ms. Karnath bought another adjoining parcel of about four acres for $350,000.
She and Mr. Roethenmund, 62, the founder of the real estate investment firm Peregrine Holdings International, grew so attached to the area that they sold their Manhattan apartment in 2002 and began splitting their time between their Esopus family compound and Berlin, Germany, where Peregrine is based. Since the start of the pandemic, Ms. Karnath has made Esopus her full-time home, while her husband and 13-year-old son, Tiber, split their time between Esopus and Berlin.
“Having traveled much of the world, I believe this is among the most beautiful areas on the planet,” said Ms. Karnath, a former Explorers Club president who runs two nonprofit groups in Cambridge, Mass., focused on scientific advancements. “The west side of the Hudson River is less developed than the river’s east shore, allowing for more pristine natural surroundings.”
What You’ll Find
A stretch of roughly 11 miles in the town — from the hamlet of West Park through the hamlets of Esopus, Ulster Park and Port Ewen — borders the high bluffs of the Hudson River, affording spectacular views.
Esopus, West Park and Ulster Park are known for expensive homes, including turn-of-the-century mansions, on parklike grounds overlooking the Hudson, along with several monasteries and other religious institutions that have helped shield the river’s west bank from development. Recently, Jordan Goldberg, a New York City developer, has proposed building a 60-room hotel on Esopus land that once belonged to the 19th-century businessman Oliver Hazard Payne.
Port Ewen, a gritty and racially diverse hamlet, has modest houses set close together and a small downtown strip with a deli called Smitty’s, a Chinese takeout restaurant, a liquor store and a drugstore. In February, a colorful bakery, Emily’s Cookie Co., joined the lineup.
There are antique stone houses along the Rondout Creek in the hamlet of St. Remy, and along the Wallkill River in the hamlet of Rifton and Black Creek in Esopus. The town’s other small hamlets are Connelly, which borders the Rondout Creek, and Sleightsburgh, whose peninsula-shaped park juts out into the Hudson. (Three additional hamlets are listed on the town’s website, but according to the town’s supervisor, Danielle Freer, they are now obsolete.)
The town gained a glamorous gathering place in the fall of 2021, when business partners Charles Ferri and Paul Seres opened the Hudson House and Distillery, a $2.5 million restaurant, distillery and events space on 27.5 acres with a huge deck overlooking the Hudson River, a ballroom and an events hall. The West Park venue occupies a 24,000-square-foot antique Italian-style villa and an adjoining brick building that had housed a Christian Brothers monastery for a century. The next phase of construction will be a 25-room hotel on the second and third floors of the two buildings.
Across the road, the 11-year-old Red Maple Vineyard is a wedding venue and farm on 143 acres offering farm-to-table food, housemade wine and cider, and live music on Wednesday evenings. The small, upscale steakhouse End Cut, known for its eclectic menu and cozy atmosphere, moved to West Park from New Paltz five years ago. A nearby longtime restaurant, Stonehedge, specializes in Continental cuisine and rents wedding and banquet space.
In Ulster Park, El Paso Winery occupies a 100-year-old barn with a large deck and offers free wine tastings. A Hudson Valley staple for three decades, Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses creates immersive ghoulish experiences and claims to have scared more than a million visitors over the years.
Joan Burroughs, John Burroughs’s great-granddaughter, is president of the John Burroughs Association, the nonprofit group that owns and manages the John Burroughs Sanctuary, called Slabsides by locals after the cabin Mr. Burroughs built there around 1895. The sanctuary offers four and a half miles of trails on more than 200 acres of secluded forest and wetlands.
Ms. Burroughs lives at Riverby, the West Park estate overlooking the Hudson that her great-grandfather built around 1873. She gives occasional talks about his life and work at the sanctuary, and organizes nature walks and the annual Earth Day cleanup that Mr. Zindar and Christopher attended.
“I’m interested in knowing why people are coming here — why did they come and stay?” Ms. Burroughs said. “It really boils down to the natural landscape. That’s the draw.”
What You’ll Pay
Home prices in Esopus rose nearly 50 percent from 2019, before the pandemic, to 2022 — to a median sale price of $334,550 from $225,000, according to the Ulster County Board of Realtors.
During the first six months of this year, prices leveled off slightly: The median sale price during that time was $327,000, just a slight increase from the median sale price of $322,500 during the same period in 2022.
The average county, town and school tax bill in Esopus was about $7,500 in 2022, according to Shannon Harris, the town’s assessor.
In mid-July, Trulia showed 12 single-family homes for sale in the town, from a 396-square-foot studio on an acre, listed for $130,000, to a 12-bedroom, 10-bathroom compound that once housed a nudist colony, on 164 acres with a private lake, listed for $13.8 million.
Although Esopus has some very expensive homes, “the wealth here is quiet,” Ms. Burroughs said.
“The people are wonderful,” said Louis Timperio, a six-year resident of Ulster Park and the president of the board of trustees of the Klyne Esopus Historical Society Museum, which chronicles local history. “They’re not in-your-face flashy. There’s guys who have two or three Rolls-Royces in their garage, but you would never know it.”
Once a Republican stronghold, the town is now a “purple community,” said Laura Petit, a county legislator who has lived in Esopus for 40 years. “Democrats have a stronger voice here now.”
Nancy Rosen, 78, a social worker, has been living in Esopus for some 50 years. She moved there from nearby Rosendale, buying an 82-acre property for $82,000. And despite being known as “a lesbian with aggressive, in-your-face politics,” she said, she has always been made to feel welcome, even by the local gun club.
“They make a wonderful picnic for the entire community,” said Ms. Rosen, who runs Horses for a Change, a nonprofit therapeutic riding program for physically and emotionally disabled adults and children. “I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of my sexual orientation or my values.”
The town of Esopus is served by three school districts: Highland Central School District, New Paltz Central School District and Kingston City School District. Most students who live in Esopus attend Kingston schools: Robert R. Graves Elementary School, in Port Ewen, for kindergarten through fourth grade; J. Watson Bailey Middle School, in Kingston, for fifth through eighth grade; and Kingston High School.
During the 2021-22 school year, according to the New York State Education Department, the Kingston City School District enrolled 5,975 students in kindergarten through 12th grade; roughly 51 percent identified as white, 26 percent as Hispanic, 11 percent as Black, 10 percent as multiracial and 3 percent as Asian or Pacific Islander.
On 2021-22 state tests, 82 percent of Kingston High School students were proficient in English, 61 percent were proficient in algebra and 70 percent were proficient in geometry, compared with 81 percent, 66 percent and 53 percent statewide. In 2022, the average SAT verbal score was 558 and the average math score was 560; state averages were 534 and 533. The high school’s 2022 graduation rate was 82 percent, compared with 87 percent for the state.
Esopus is roughly a 15-minute drive from Exit 18 on the New York State Thruway. The drive to the George Washington Bridge takes about an hour and a half, depending on traffic.
The Metro-North train station in Poughkeepsie is about a 25-minute drive. The trip from there to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan takes just under two hours, and a round-trip ticket during peak hours costs $51.50.
John Burroughs isn’t the town’s only famous resident. Abolitionist Sojourner Truth was born into slavery there in 1797, and the town erected a statue of her as a child on Port Ewen’s commercial strip in 2013.
Esopus was settled in the 1650s and incorporated as a town in 1811, according to the Klyne Esopus Historical Society Museum. The settlers took advantage of the area’s waterways by building gristmills, sawmills, and wool- and cotton-spinning mills.
Port Ewen’s industrial character sprang from the ice houses that were built along the Hudson and from the Pennsylvania Coal Company, which set up shop there in the mid-1800s, according to the museum. In the early 1920s, Central Hudson created a hydroelectric plant after damming the confluence of the Wallkill River and the Rondout Creek near Rifton, forming Sturgeon Pool, now a popular fishing hole.
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