Most Famous Small Town in the World: Woodstock, New York

Where the 1969 music festival famously didn’t take place

Say “Woodstock” and the legendary Summer of Love concert immediately springs to mind. It’s an often-repeated joke that Woodstock is made up of people who don’t realize the concert is over but the truth is it’s filled with all kinds of people. It was a haven for artists long before the festival that wore its name.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From India to Germany, Japan to Canada, Australia to the South Seas, mention Woodstock, New York, and invariably someone will smile, flash a peace sign, and say Rock and Roll. The very name “Woodstock” congers images of tie-dye, hippies, music, mud, and lots and lots of young people with or without clothes dancing in the rain during the most famous three-day music concert ever produced on planet earth.

That was 1969, and it never happened in Woodstock! The infamous concert took place on Max Yasgers farm in Bethel, New York, about a two-hour drive from Woodstock.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So then, what is so special about Woodstock? Well, for one, it has been a haven for artists, writers, thinkers, and musicians since the early 1900s. The town was founded in 1787 as the population that followed the pristine streams moved up from the cities and populated the bucolic mountains and valleys of the beautiful Catskill Mountains.

A glass factory was built in Bristol (now Shady, a hamlet of Woodstock) in 1803. In the 1830s the demand for leather footwear sparked the explosion of the leather tanning business in the Catskills. The supply of plentiful water along its streams and a seemingly endless supply of hemlock trees used for tannic acid made this area perfect for tanning leather.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the war of 1812 cities along the east coast began paving their streets and laying stone sidewalks. Bluestone made the perfect stone for sidewalks as it was not slippery when wet. Quarries sprang up all over the southern Catskills including the California Quarry in Woodstock where newly immigrated Irish families came up the Hudson to live in Lewis Hollow and work.

As the populations in the cities increased, the need for escaping the hot summers also grew. Thus began the Mountain house era. One such famous Mountain House was Overlook Mountain House built-in 1875. Once a grand house it played host to the General Grant. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground in 1925 but the historical and intriguing remnants can still be seen today on one of the many fantastic hikes in and around Woodstock.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A transforming chapter in Woodstock’s history began in 1902 when a man by the name of Bolton Brown emerged from the thicket near the summit of Overlook Mountain and first viewed Woodstock and the expanse below him. Along with Hervey White, Brown was hired by Ralph Whitehead to search for a location that would match Whitehead’s vision for a utopian art colony.

Upon beholding the vista before him, Brown later wrote of that moment, “Exactly here the story of modern Woodstock really begins.”

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the founding of Whitehead’s Byrdcliffe colony in 1903, the arts had arrived in Woodstock. In addition to Byrdcliffe, Hervey White would go on to establish the Maverick art colony in 1905 while the Art Students League led by Birge Harrison would begin operation in Woodstock a year later.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the decades that followed other institutions would continue to add to Woodstock’s cultural landscape including, in 1920, the Woodstock Artists Association—now known as the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum, the Historical Society of Woodstock (1929), The Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen (1939), now a part of the Byrdcliffe Guild, the Woodstock School of Art (1968) which currently occupies a complex of bluestone and timber studios built by the Federal Government as a crafts training center before World War II, and the Center for Photography at Woodstock (1977) housed in a building that Bob Dylan once called home.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thus began the artistic endeavors that can still be experienced in the most famous small town in the world.

Visit Woodstock and you’ll be able to enjoy not only remnants of the late-’60s hippie era, but also a thriving arts scene, a culinary revival, and access to outdoor activities from hiking and biking to kayaking. And browse the eclectic shops and galleries along Tinker Street and Mill Hill Road in the most famous small town in the world.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Don’t bother Max’s cows. Let them moo in peace.

—Sign in the town of Wallkill protesting the festival held on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, as reported in the New York Times, August 16, 1969