OP-ED: Finding Solace in an Upstate Throwback

Written by Our Town Downtown on . Posted in News Our Town Downtown.


Traffic in NYC. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Traffic in NYC. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

By Ted Kavanau

Four years ago, Margaret, a psychologist as well as my “significant other,” gave a shock to my psyche when she notified me that we needed to do something else on weekends besides going to malls, movies and otherwise hanging out in New York City. I grew up in the city, while Margaret, who loves nature, spent her childhood on a farm upstate. I am a retired TV news executive, and seeing nature on the National Geographic Channel suited me fine.

Determined for relief from NYC high rises, cement sidewalks, the rush of people, noise and polluted air, Margaret wanted to buy a getaway place in the country that, she assured me, both of us would enjoy. So, we began weekend house-hunting in the Catskills. I dreaded the two-hour drives going there and the two hours back, sometimes in heavy traffic. Adding a complexity to our search, Margaret insisted she did not want a country house with few neighbors around, just in case I needed help in an emergency.

Margaret enjoys hiking and is a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club and it was in the hiking club newsletter that Margaret found a possible answer to our country house search, an ad for available cottages in a community called Reynolds Hills, located in the Blue Mountain area of the Hudson Highlands. Reynolds Hills is only an hour away from NYC by car or train, nestled in a village named Buchanan, bordering on Peekskill in Westchester County.

Reynolds Hills has a fascinating history. There’s even a book written about it, Followers Of The Trail, by David Leviatin, who was raised in the community. He wrote that Reynolds Hills was founded in 1929 as a camping site for Jewish Communist Party members and sympathizers who worked in New York City’s garment district. The “Followers,” as the campers called themselves, had immigrated to the U.S. between 1905 and 1925, fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe. According to Leviatin, the Followers, “…integrated themselves into the American scene on their own terms–politically and culturally.” It was only years later, after the shock of learning about the Hitler-Stalin pact, Khruschev’s denunciation of the crimes of Stalin, and Soviet anti-Semitism, that many of the Followers became disillusioned with “…the radical politics of their past.”

Of those early days in the community, Leviatin writes, “The camp began with a few tents and a communal dining room,” later to be “replaced by small one- and two-room bungalows.” The community flourished, growing to 71 differently designed cottages, some one bedroom, some two, a few with more.

Reynolds Hills is a three-season community, April to November. A narrow, one-lane roadway (with a 10 MPH speed limit) wends its way around the property .

A weekend after seeing the ad, we drove north from the Upper West Side to see if Reynolds Hills could be the complete package of tranquility and community. We had arranged for a tour with a fellow named Mel, who turned out to be an energetic, retired math teacher from Brooklyn and a member of the Reynolds Hills Cottage Committee.

Mel showed us the Social Hall, a capacious building that contains a good-sized stage and large open floor space. The Social Hall is often used for concerts, dancing and summer holiday celebrations where good use can be made of its full kitchen.

The Social Hall, with photos from the days of the Followers on the walls, is also where they hold meetings of the Reynolds Hills Board and home owners, one vote for each cottage. Those meetings can get contentious, as one did last year. The issue raised was whether the Reynolds Hills constitution should be changed to allow dogs in the cat-only community. The majority of residents believed that barking dogs would disrupt the tranquility, so the pro-dog faction was outvoted.

Adjacent to the Social Hall is a children’s play area, and beyond that a big, fenced-in swimming pool supervised by a lifeguard during summers. A walk further down the roadway took us past cottages adorned by flower gardens, trees leafed in shades of red and green. some in full bloom, golden forsythia bushes everywhere, and occasional large rock outcroppings.

Mel’s tour brought us to our main interest, the cottages that were available for rent or purchase. We especially liked a small one-bedroom owned by a gardener with the NYC Parks Department. Instead of committing ourselves to buying, we decided to rent that little house for a month that summer to see if we’d enjoy life in the cooperative community.

That experience at Reynolds Hills was like being at a sleep-away summer camp for adults. Margaret really enjoyed the socializing, reading what was agreed upon for monthly Book Club meetings and going for long walks on area trails, me dutifully trudging beside, or mostly behind her. Life in the Peekskill environs seemed a throwback to an earlier time, particularly the 60’s, with the spirit of Pete Seeger prevailing.

After that successful month we agreed to take the next step: buying a cottage at Reynolds Hills. I favored the gardener’s house, but Margaret wanted more space for both us and visitors. That was the one we purchased.

Margaret and I are now happily in our third year as full members of Reynolds Hills. We’ve entertained weekend guests at the cottage, which took a lot more effort than we expected. Margaret, not unexpectedly, signed up for a garden box where, with painful knees, I try to help her till the soil and plant the seeds for the organic vegetables we grow there.

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