Woodstock is probably “the most famous small town in the world” thanks to the Woodstock Festival of 1969 and it is one of the few places on earth where you can see a superannuated hippie wandering the streets. But it had a long history of music, art and independent spirit. Sawmills, gristmills, glass factories, and tanning businesses operated around its streams through the 1800’s, giving the area its unique street names, and the call of Overlook Mountain brought the Hudson River School of Painters to it late in the century. Then in 1902, Ralph Whitehead established the 350-acre art colony of Byrdcliffe, now in the National Register of Historic Places, and one of the country’s oldest arts and crafts colonies. Hervey White, who worked for Whitehead, in 1916 opened Maverick Concerts, a “music chapel” in Woodstock where hundreds of world-class chamber music and jazz musicians have performed and the longest-running chamber music festival in the country.
But when people think of Woodstock, they think of the festival and the names surrounding it. And of course long before and after the festival musical names and Woodstock were synonymous: Bob Dylan, The Band, David Bowie, John Sebastian, Levon Helm … and the list goes on.
Almost as big a draw as musical legend is the first Tibetan Buddhist Monastery established in the country at the top of Mead’s Mountain, open to the public for visits (including the Dalai Lama) and a few feet away is the Trail Head for Overlook Mountain, beloved by hikers and spiritual seekers alike.
And just in case anyone thinks Woodstock is all about day-trippers who come to buy a tie-dyed T-shirt and a candle, there’s the world-class Woodstock Film Festival in the fall, the stunning vistas of Cooper Lake, plenty for foodies, a lion’s share of art galleries, and a place where, as someone once noted, even the rednecks are sophisticated.
That said, the surrounding areas that include the Town of Woodstock – Shady, Zena, Bearsville, Willow, West Hurley, Lake Hill and Glenford (with its amazing Ashokan Reservoir views) — have in modern times been supported by second-home owners who bring their city savvy and style to the country and the rustic.
And if it isn’t “the most famous little town in the world,” some would argue it’s the best one.