Category Archives: Durham
Ok, so the Catskills have lost ATP, but we still have the Banjo Burke Festival, your “chance to enjoy traditional Irish music, dancing and hospitality amidst the beautiful fall foliage of the Catskills.” Dance the ceili and know the money is going to fight Parkinson’s disease.
Here’s predicting that the banjo will be 2013’s ukele. Click here for details.
The second I saw artist Peter Nadin’s photo in today’s New York Times Magazine, I guessed that lush background had to be the Catskills. I can’t quite say why—there’s a lot of places that look basically the same—but there was something about that particular shade of green that just seemed right and familiar, like home.
Randy Kennedy profiles Nadin, a celebrated painter and former Soho art world insider who left it all twenty years ago to farm in Upstate New York (Cornwallville again!). Nadin continued to make art, though, and he now uses materials directly from his land—cured ham, beeswax, honey. His work is currently on display in a very big way at Gavin Brown.
Nadin seeks to collapse the distinction between the experience of his art, its materials, and the very specific place it comes from, saying, “If you eat ham from one of my pigs or honey from my bees, then you’re ingesting the landscape here itself–it’s not an objectification of it.” Such interest in lived experience and messy biology are big trends in the art world, but Nadin comes across as sincere, with his stripes well-earned. Not incidentally, the profile is beautifully written. Here’s a favorite line:
“Watching a small, diverse farm over a couple of months beginning in early spring is like watching the machinations of a Chekhov play. The cast included 160 mostly wooded acres; a few dozen chickens and handful of ducks with the run of the farmyard; six Kashmir goats, plus an extra goat named Ham who preferred to commune with the humans …”
So I’ve decided that Durham/Cornwallville is the Greenpoint of the Catskills, or at least of Greene County. It’s kind of inconvenient, but has its own discrete charms, and it’s reasonably close to the stuff to do in Windham/Hunter (aka Williamsburg?) or even Woodstock/Saugerties (East Village/LES?). Because of the inconvenience—no easy public transportation, a longer drive for groceries, etc—the prices are considerably lower than in prime ski country or more famous hippie country (see previously mentioned towns). This makes buying a home in Durham (and its hamlet Cornwallville) much like buying a place in Greenpoint, ten years ago. It’s a bit of a hike to the bigger draws, but you can get a deal and the off-the-beaten path nature has it’s own sort of guarantee of wildness. (My analogy does not allow for massive high rise developments alongside polluted bodies of water, but I’ll work on that.)
This cheap farmhouse on Cornwallville’s scenic main drag is representative of the deals in the area. As mentioned, my former real estate agent raves about the sense of community in little Cornwallville. This 1800’s farmhouse looks spacious, if a bit low-slung, with plenty of hardwood floors and exposed beams and a wood stove for cold nights. The property extends beyond the fenced in backyard, with a view of woods and mountains. That fence gives it a slightly suburban feel that just screams “put a pool in it!” to me.
Asking Price: $134,500
Square feet: 1800
Land: .3 acres
Distance to NYC: 138 miles; 2 hours, 48 minutes
I like Durham, a town of under 6,000 in Greene County, NY. I found plenty of lovely properties there when I was house hunting, most offering a lot of house for very little money. The area is pristine: ample views of the rolling green Catskills, woods and farms and winding roads and lots and lots of spacious green-shuttered farmhouses.
I ended up buying elsewhere as Durham exceeded my “sleepy” limits. This trim Brick colonial offered by Market Wise realty is in “town,” but town, while very pretty, isn’t much to speak of. That could be a good thing: even downtown Durham has a decidedly rural feel, and the back deck of this townhouse—occupied in the eighteenth century by a Congressman and lawyer named John Adams—offers mountain views. The interior feels appropriately class act: a tasteful renovation of a home that had solid bones in the first place. Wide plank floors, exposed beam ceilings, in “very good” condition, this one looks turn key. As for the location, Windham is a twenty minute drive away, so this could work as a winter rental. My wonderful and trustworthy realtor insists that Cornwallville, NY, a hamlet just to the south of Durham, is an up-and-comer. And perhaps it’s the small town lawyer history, but something about this house just says Atticus Finch to me. What’s not to like?
Asking Price: $129,000
Square feet: 1972
Baths: 2 3/4
Land: .45 acres
Distance to NYC: 139 miles; 2 hours, 48 minutes
I fell in love with this eighteenth-century farmhouse when I was house hunting last spring, and it looks like it’s still on the market. I vaguely remember it was somewhere around $175,000 then, and the price has tumbled even further, to $159,000. It’s a lot of house for not much money, or at least a lot of bedrooms at a sweet price. There are five upstairs and one down, and the layout is a bit odd throughout: bedrooms opening up onto more bedrooms, a teeny bathroom under the front stairwell, an oddly situated servants’ staircase in the back.
While the upstairs was impracticable for privacy-loving twentieth-first century families, this house seemed like a blast for kids (and not surprisingly, the longtime owners had a bunch). The tiny rooms, nooks and crannies, and endless wrap-around porch fit all my Anastasia Krupnik childhood fantasies of a creaky, beloved, bohemian old home.
We ended up deciding it was just too much house for us at this point in our lives, and we had reservations about Durham being too far from things to do, especially as we wanted year-round rentals. But I hope this house finds a family who can fill it. What would you do with this one?