Woodstock: Arts & Crafts Colony in the Heart of the Catskills

The small Catskills town is more than its music festival past

In a state that’s home to the Hamptons, Finger Lakes, Appalachian Trail, and Big Apple it’s no surprise that small communities like Woodstock, fall to the back of the mind. To assume that Woodstock is only notable for its namesake 1969 music festival (that didn’t occur there) would be a major blunder—the three-day festival was held on a dairy farm in nearby Bethel. In reality, Woodstock is a charming little Catskills oasis where fewer than 6,000 residents prop up an art, religion, music, and theater scene worthy of national attention.

Woodstock Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re visiting for a day, weekend, entire week, or longer, the drive to Woodstock will prove worth it. If you have some extra time to kill, the town can also be reached by transit—just head to Poughkeepsie via Metro-North or Amtrak then use the Ulster County bus service to get to Kingston Plaza and then Woodstock.

Still need convincing? Here are five reasons why the journey to Woodstock won’t disappoint.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. See how an artists’ colony rose to the 21st century

In the winter of 1902, construction of the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony began on Mount Guardian just outside of Woodstock. Seven farms, 1500 acres in all, were purchased for the enterprise by a wealthy Englishman named Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead. By the time it was completed in 1903, 30 buildings stood comprising what has been referred to as a textbook example of a utopian Arts and Crafts community.

The Arts and Crafts movement began in England in the last quarter of the 19th century as a reaction against rapid urbanization and industrialization. It’s most passionate and well-known English spokesmen were art critic, John Ruskin and artist, William Morris. They shared a rural, utopian ideal based on a brotherhood of artistic collaboration. They believed that life would have enhanced meaning if work reflected the nobility thought to have been lost when machines eliminated the need for the skills and art of hand craftsmanship.

Today, the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild continues to attract artists hoping to retreat from city life and hone their craft. Visitors can tour the 250-acre mountainside campus grounds and see where magic was made then stop by one of Woodstock’s most enduring settings, the Woodstock Artists Cemetery.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Stop, shop, and eat on Tinker Street

Every small town has a main street and in Woodstock, it’s Tinker Street. If you’re looking for a pastime, the 1960s-era alt movie theater Tinker Street Cinema, educational Woodstock Artists Association & Museum (WAAM), and quaint Woodstock Public Library will satisfy.

Since its founding in 1919, WAAM has been committed to exhibiting, collecting, and supporting artists and art education and in sustaining the tradition of Woodstock as a Colony of the Arts. Located in the center of the village of Woodstock, WAAM functions as a cultural center as well as a repository for the work of American artists associated with the Art Colony.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to support small business, there is no shortage of gift shops, boutiques, and assorted retail stores. Get a book to read in nature at The Golden Notebook, a vacation keepsake at The Rare Bear, a vintage find at Three Turtle Doves, and a handmade candle at Candlestock  on Tinker’s sister street Mill Hill Road— or just roam the downtown and see which window boxes call your name.

And when you get hungry from all your Woodstock adventures, treat yourself to local grub: tacos from Tinker Taco Lab, brisket from Dixon Roadside, hot meatball dishes from Sharkie’s, salads and sandwiches from Sunfrost Farms, açaí and smoothie bowls from Little Apple Cafe, cocktails from Station Bar & Curio, locally sourced organic food from Oriole 9, and ice cream from Sweet Dreams Organic with baked goods from award-winning Peace, Love & Cupcakes to top it off.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Embrace the small town’s music and theater

While you’re in the area, you can (and should!) visit the iconic Woodstock Festival grounds in nearby Bethel, New York—just keep in mind that the area’s music and theater festivals far predate 1969. In the same way that the town’s culture was built on physical arts and crafts, the community has long valued performance art as a valuable form of expression and entertainment. At The Maverick, home to a barn-like concert hall that’s still in operation today, locals have been enjoying outdoor hippie music festivals since the dawn of the 20th century.

In the decades that followed, the music and theater scene exploded to include now-prominent spots like the Woodstock Playhouse, a rural extension of Broadway, and the Levon Helm Studios and Bearsville Theater which host a variety of shows.

From May to September, the city also hosts outdoor concerts at the Village Green for all to enjoy.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Roam through a renowned sculpture park

East of Woodstock sits the Opus 40 Sculpture Park and Museum—aptly named, since it’s arguably the region’s most impressive feat. Created over 37 years by pioneering artist and professor Harvey Fite, Opus 40 is a nonprofit sculpture park, museum, and artistic environment with 63 acres of meadows, historic quarrying trails, and bluestone quarries—centered on 6.5 acres of earthwork sculpture. 

Fite hand-sculpted Opus 40 entirely from bluestone harvested on site, fusing the local quarrying and ancient Mayan and Aztec stonework learned through his travels. He framed his stonework sculpture with the surrounding woods and mountains, ensuring the local ecosystem would always be central to this Natural Historic Register site. An artisanal studio/home overlooking the sculpture created by Fite in the late 1930s and a series of freestanding bluestone sculptures and fountains complete the large artistic environment at the center of our site.

Guests can experience the site for day-visits, guided tours, classes and workshops, or a live performance.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Take in the scenic Catskills landscape

You don’t need to go out of your way in Woodstock to appreciate the natural beauty of Catskill Park but if scenery is a priority you can immerse yourself in the environment through a number of hiking trails and lookout points.

The obvious nature destination is the Overlook Mountain Wild Forest—the 4.6-mile mountain trail begins beside the monastery and runs along ruins of a never-completed hotel, a historic fire tower, and stunning viewpoints of the Hudson Valley.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other nearby activities include hiking the 1.3-mile Sloan Gorge Loop which features vernal pools and unique rock formations and passing through Woodstock Waterfall Park in the heart of town, a small community area fit for people of all ages.

Don’t have time for it all? Looks like a second trip to Woodstock is in store!

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

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

The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to East Coast Destinations

If you haven’t considered the possibility of an epic east coast road trip, we’re here as your guide

Getting on a plane can seem daunting, but taking a road trip beyond the four walls of your home is quite embraced, as long as it’s socially-distanced. If you want to take a weekend trip or an extended road trip, read on for your guide to East Coast destinations that are ideal for a summer or autumn road trip, ordered from North to South.

Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hampshire is bursting with a variety of landscapes to choose from. If you’re looking to get outdoors and stay active, New Hampshire is your state. Lake Winnipesaukee is the sixth-largest in the country. The lake’s beaches are perfect for relaxing in the sun or for the more active, swimming and sailing are a few of the water sports you can take advantage of on Lake Winnipesaukee in the summer.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arguably one of the most popular destinations in all of New Hampshire, White Mountain National Forest is home to endless hiking trails, wild species, and views galore. Whether you visit in the spring, summer, fall, or winter, it is worth the few hours of driving. Be sure to bring your camera and stop at the ranger station before beginning an excursion because they will fill you in on all of the things to keep an eye out for on your trek.

Massachusetts

Freedom Trail, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts is a state that many yearn to visit in the summer. With every type of scenery from picturesque islands—think Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket­—boasting sailboats to a city with an old, cobblestone street vibe, you can do and see it all in Massachusetts.

Old Ironside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It would be remiss to visit Massachusetts without at least dropping in on the bustling city of Boston. Boston is a city with old-time charm and a lot of history. As you walk through the town you encounter cobblestone streets, old buildings, and the waterfront of the harbor. Be sure not to miss iconic stops like Fenway Park, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, USS Constitution (Old Ironside), and Boston Public Garden for gorgeous park views. For the history buffs out there, pick up a map of the Freedom Trail for a self-guided history lesson.

Hyannis Harbor, Cape Cod © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before leaving this incredible city, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend more incredible New England breweries based in Boston. Of course, the well-known Samuel Adams Brewery is a must-see. If you’re in the mood for incredible craft beers and deliciously fluffy pretzels (made from the actual hops of the beer) then Harpoon Brewery is for you.

Rhode Island

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1639, Newport, Rhode Island is considered to be the shining gem in the coastal crown of New England. A haven for religious dissenters, a critical Colonial Era port city, a thriving artists’ colony, a summer playground for America’s barons of industry during the Gilded Age, and home to the U.S. Naval War College, Newport is a destination like none other.

International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Possibly best known for its timeless mansions, the Cliff Walk is a must-see upon entering Newport. Beautiful estates like the Breakers, Rosecliff, The Elms, and more are available for walking tours. You can purchase tickets for one or multiple estates at the Breakers upon arrival and you can walk or drive amongst each one. Along the Cliff Walk, you will also pass the beautiful Salve Regina University.

Upstate New York

Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upstate New York is like a whole new world from the concrete jungle that we know as New York City. Full of quaint small towns with boutiques and beautiful scenery, Upstate New York is not a destination to be missed.

Village of Lake George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga is most notably known for the Saratoga Race Course. Although races may not be happening during this time, consider simply making the trip to walk around the massive grounds or perhaps wait until horse racing is back in action to visit. During the summer, the Saratoga Farmers’ Market is in full swing, making for the perfect summer activity. And of course, the sweeping hills of New York contain many well-known wineries and Saratoga is no exception.

Saratoga National Historic Park reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga National Historical Park has a number of attractions and activities that happen throughout the year. Visit the site of the historic Battle of Saratoga, take tours at the Schuyler House, check out the Saratoga Monument, walk through Victory Woods, and explore the battlefield. Before you go, check the park’s official website for alerts. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and as many museums allow back visitors, they’re doing so with extra safety precautions and in a unique way. The museum, which showcases a first-hand look at glassblowing and 3,500 year-old glass on exhibit, is now scheduling online virtual reservations. Guests will be temperature checked when they walk in, masks are required for both guests and even the glassblowers who run the workshops and capacity is limited to allow social distancing. Normally, there’s a make your own glass workshop but they’ve had to adapt—there’s now individualized packages for the materials for families to get involved.

Pennsylvania

Lancaster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pennsylvania is known for its popular cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that contain a ton of historical value and things to do. However, the Keystone State is quite large so where you end up may depend on how far you’re willing to travel and what you want to see and do.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park is a must-see for any fall excursion, providing the perfect, scenic backdrop for visitors experiencing this historic battlefield. Explore the sights and sounds of battlefield reenactments, monuments, memorials, and true history. Gettysburg offers guests a part of the nation’s past all year and provides optimal trekking treasures in the fall.

Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia’s Historic Triangle is full of living history and fun for the whole family. Located in Coastal Virginia between the James and York rivers—Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg together are named the Historic Triangle for their historical significance and close proximity.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area includes five historic sites and attractions from the first English settlement at Jamestown, to the end of the Revolutionary War at Yorktown, and the founding of a new nation at Williamsburg. The sites are easy to visit when traveling along the scenic Colonial Parkway and many offer discounted tickets and packages when you visit more than one.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Williamsburg is great for all ages if you have younger kids you really can’t go wrong here. This town is an extremely interactive way to engage your little ones in the rich history of America. Williamsburg served as the capital of the Colony and Commonwealth of Virginia from 1699 to 1780 and acted as the center of political events leading to the American Revolution. You will be transported back in time through “townspeople” willing to tell their stories and include you in interactive experiences that tell a tale of Williamsburg long ago.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins