A Town Called ‘Clinton’

New York Times
April 11, 2003
Weekender | Clinton, N.Y.


(Photo: Bette with Kofi Aman, United Nations)

ON a recent chilly afternoon, customers were tucking into scones or fish and chips at Jeanie Bean & Company, a 13-table tearoom and British grocery store in the Town of Clinton, when Sigourney Weaver, wearing a jacket and jeans, strode in and briskly ordered a box of Weetabix at the counter. The diners barely noticed. Clinton (a township in Dutchess County, not to be confused with the Village of Clinton farther upstate) has grown used to seeing celebrities and well-heeled visitors, including a growing corps of second-home buyers.

The public figures and Wall Street stars attracted to Clinton aren’t the kind to stage splashy parties or bring along their publicists. What they get in Clinton is a retreat, a beautiful, unspoiled town whose rural roots run deep.

“The Town of Clinton remains a hidden place,” said one longtime resident, Elizabeth Ryan, the owner of the Breezy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill. “Even after living here for 20 years, I can still get lost on windy side roads.”

In the early 1980’s, when farms were struggling in Clinton, salvation for many came by way of the New York City Greenmarket program. It also paved the way for creative agricultural entrepreneurs. Ms. Ryan bought her 35-acre farm in 1984 as a 24-year-old Cornell University graduate, undeterred by dire predictions that farming was a dying livelihood in Dutchess County. Today, Breezy Hill grows and sells 45 varieties of apples, 8 varieties of pears and several kinds of organic vegetables and has an alcoholic cider operation.

Other specialty and boutique farms dotting the gently rolling picturesque terrain include La Terre Garlic Farm; Clinton Hollow Herbs; Clinton Vineyards and Winery; Knoll Krest Farm, devoted to naturally raised chicken and eggs; and Meadowland Farm, a producer of grass-fed beef.

During peak season, the farms draw Gray Kunz, the former chef at Lespinasse, and his wife and teenage children. “Being a chef, I fell in love with Clinton,” said Mr. Kunz, who lives in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and bought a farmhouse as a weekend home in the hamlet of Clinton Corners five years ago. “One of our favorite activities is visiting different pick-your-own or specialty farms.”

Now, another change has taken hold. “The Town of Clinton has become a rural bedroom community,” said Raymon Oberly, a Clinton resident since 1968 and a columnist for the Taconic Press, a publisher of Hudson Valley weekly newspapers. A growing number of second-home owners are turning their weekend homes into permanent ones. “Easy access to the Taconic State Parkway and telecommuting make this a feasible option,” said Mr. Oberly, who is also the town supervisor.

The Scene

When the city comes to Clinton, it keeps quiet. Jennie Fields, a Brooklyn-based novelist, and her fiancé, Russ Mason, have no television at the Clinton farmhouse where they spend their weekends. “It’s our paradise, and we don’t want to be in touch with the world at all,” she said. During the summer, they sometimes entertain friends from the city or go to dinner parties given by their Clinton neighbors.

At Bean’s store, celebrities like Ms. Weaver, Liam Neeson and Bette Midler have come and gone without fanfare, according to David Bean, the owner. Clinton is home to a 140-acre campus of the Omega Institute, a holistic learning center offering retreats and workshops, but it also retains its traditional church suppers, softball games and firemen’s breakfasts.

About 4,000 people live in the town full time, in the countryside and in seven hamlets — Bulls Head, Schultzville, Frost Mills, Pleasant Plains, Clinton Hollow, Hibernia and Clinton Corners. They are served by five post offices and four school districts shared with other towns.

Clinton has no town center and no stoplight. One of its distinctive features is a 19-mile network of meandering dirt roads, some of which are said to follow old cow paths. “Weekenders find them appealing,” said Ralph P. Cautela, the owner of R. P. Cautela Realty, based in nearby Rhinebeck.

Share A little Divinity
Verified by MonsterInsights