Sullivan County, NY: Weekends in the country
When the cachet of the Hamptons and the Berkshires caused them to become too touristy, too cliché, and most important, too pricey, weary New Yorkers turned their attention to the Catskills.
The influx transformed many of the area's quaint hamlets and small towns into haunts of gentrified rusticity — geographically removed from the chaos of city life, but heavily influenced by urban sensibilities.
Not so in rural Sullivan County, a place that has somehow managed to maintain its blissful simplicity in spite of having been discovered by seekers of serenity.
Although sparsely inhabited, with an average of 80 people per square mile (Bergen County, by comparison, has 3,868 people per square mile), the county's population of 77,550 more than triples between May and December, mostly due to the exodus from the Big Apple. But increasingly, they are coming from northern New Jersey.
In the market for a weekend home, Laurie and Anthony Cicio of Glen Rock first considered buying in Delaware County but quickly shifted their focus to neighboring Sullivan County when they came across the website of Catskill Farms (thecatskillfarms.com) while surfing the Internet for real estate. The company, founded in 2003, builds a range of casual new-old houses — priced from $180,000 to $625,000 — that blend into the bucolic surroundings.
"We were immediately taken by the simple but beautiful designs," said Laurie Cicio.
In 2010, the Cicios custom-built their escape, a three-bedroom, two-bath mid-century ranch style house just outside of Narrowsburg, N.Y., a Delaware River town of about 400 on the Pennsylvania border that has become a magnet for creative and corporate types. Although they declined to disclose the exact cost, similar properties have sold in the $300,000 range.
The ability to collaborate with the home builder from the convenience of their primary residence was important to the busy couple — he's a vice president of human resources, she's a speech therapist — since "running to the building site for every decision would have been impossible."
Charles Petersheim, the owner of Catskill Farms, himself a refugee from the New York metropolitan area, said almost all of his customers are second-home buyers seeking a worry-free retreat, since "getting away from the city and suburbs should be a de-stressing experience."
New construction is becoming more common in tiny Narrowsburg, which has a fairly small inventory of existing homes for sale and an abundance of raw land and multi-acre building lots. Eagle Valley Realty (eaglevalleyrealty .com) lists dream-home-ready parcels in the town's environs. And Weiden Lakes Estates (weidenlake.org) is a 2,500-acre subdivision with buildable lots ranging from 2 to 100 acres.
The low-impact residential development allows full- and part-timers to better appreciate the natural surroundings that contribute to the unaffected charm and feeling of ease that permeates life here.
The Cicios' property, on a ridge overlooking the site of the now-drained Luxton Lake, a once predominantly African-American resort popular in the 1950s and 1960s, not only offers calming views of rambling woodland; it provides the opportunity to spend family time, both quiet and activity-filled, away from the congestion of Bergen County.
"There is something to do every season of the year. Sullivan County, the Delaware River for kayaking, rafting and fly fishing, an abundance of lakes for swimming and water skiing, great hiking and mountain biking trails and we even found Big Bear [ski-bigbear.com], a small ski resort just 20 minutes from our home across the Pennsylvania border," said Cicio. "Narrowsburg itself has a variety of funky small shops. Plus, we get to see wild turkeys, bears, deer, and beavers regularly, not to mention amazing bald eagles that you can never get tired of."
A tranquil, crowd-free escape offering simple outdoor pleasures amid raw nature. Sipping coffee at Roasters, dining at Gerard’s River Grill and enjoying live performances sponsored by the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance (artsalliancesite.org).
Precious little to satisfy sophisticated tastes.
Much like home, with slightly more serious winters.
The average listing price in Narrowsburg is around $350,000, while the median sales price is about $163,000.
Take Route 17 north to the New York State Thruway north (I-87 north). Take exit 16 onto Route 17 west toward Binghamton, then exit at 104 and turn left onto CR-113/Route 52 and continue to Narrowsburg. The drive takes about two hours.
Where to stay
The Narrowsburg Inn & Grille ($95-$125; narrowsburginn.com; 845-252-3998) has four cozy TV- and phone-free guest suites.
Fort Delaware Museum (6615 Route 97, Narrowsburg; 845-807-0261) depicts settler life during the 18th century.
For more information
The Narrowsburg Chamber of Commerce (narrowsburg.org) is the leading information source on area attractions, events and businesses.