Cottagers Bottom nestles cosily in the elbow of Main Street Bovina, the jewel in the crown of the vaunted Catskills renaissance. With the years of witch burning and roasting Oxy in the microwave behind us, the village has flourished into a benign duct of tolerance and rural pageantry tucked into the inflamed liver of Trump Nation.
1790. Four young men from Westchester County set out prospecting through the ragged hinterlands north of the Catskill Mountains. One of them, Elisha Maynard, an immigrant from Northern England, lingered, cleared a piece of land and built a cabin. Having sowed a plot of winter rye, he left for home, returning the next spring with his family and possessions piled on a sled pulled by four oxen from the Hudson River. Bovina’s first settlers. In 1793, his son Elisha was born, the first white child born in the village. The Maynards went on to birth had eleven more.
Four years later Alexander Brush arrived from Long Island and purchased 400 acres. In 1796 he erected the first grist mill and assumed the role of Methodist preacher. Later, blind and crippled, he continued to preach from a rocking chair. For half century after his death Bovina was known as Brushland in his honor.
Bovina, 2017. With the glory days of dairy farming behind it the village settled into weeks of subsistence bracketed by weekends of second home owners playing out Brigadoon fantasies in the hills and ponds outside of town. But with the first scent of new tourism, its Norman Rockwell Main Street, absence of stop light or gas station, its little river and Russells General Store made Bovina the perfect candidate to be standard bearer for the Delaware County revival. Emergence of a new crop of small-scale, organic farms presaged the need for restaurants and cafés, owned and run by a sturdy breed of young pioneers, committed to investing in lives and businesses, rather than just weekend homes. Inez Valk at Table on Ten, Sara Elbert and Sohail Zandi at Brushland Eating House, Melissa and Oliver Pycroft at The Bull & Garland, Alex Wilson and Irene Hussey at The Tap Room in Andes; all embracing the zeitgeist of farm-to-table, sustainability, hard work and keeping it local. Small farming and dairy enterprises – Star Route, Bovina Valley, Burnett Farms, Lucky Dog, Bramley Mountain, Cowbella, Berry Brook and Byebrook Farm – were afforded a showcase for their goods and a roving customer base for stands and stores. The emergence of Airbnb-style tourism – living, rather than just lodging – was perfectly tuned to this remote rural landscape and slow, low-consumption way of life: cooking, hiking, biking, swimming in ponds, floating down rivers, hanging with friends. In the spirit of Italy’s agriturismo; participation, rather than observation.
A loose supporting infrastructure has developed from these first tentative steps. New hiking and biking trails loop up Bramley Mountain and around the reservoirs. The long defunct Bovina Creamery is being resurrected, not as an artist’s studio or boutique hotel; but a Creamery. A second Bovina restaurant – Dry Town Tavern – is slated to open in 2018, occupying the fully-restored Hilson’s Store on Main Street. Andes-based Wayside Cider have quickly placed themselves in the vanguard of new American cider-making, Delaware Phoenix and Union Grove produce award-winning absinthe, bourbon and vodka. The venerable food cooperative, Good Cheap Food in Delhi has been joined by Bushel Collective, a not-for-profit storefront space offering readings, performances, exhibitions and workshops. In the summer there are stables at Grey Goose Farm and Icelandic horses at West Wind. In the winter, skiing at Plattekill, Belleayre, Windham and Hunter. There’s great hiking and backcountry camping in the state park at Slide Mountain, Giant Ledge and Overlook Mountain, waterfalls at Kaaterskill and Plattekill, and good eating on the road home at Peekamoose, Phoenicia Diner and Cucina. Each year new small-scale farms emerge from the remnants of old agricultural and craft traditions; organic vegetable growers, bakers, cheesemakers, ceramicists, mushroom, honey, maple syrup, tea and beer producers. It’s true; there are no theme parks, shopping malls, water-flumes or multiplexes. No taxis to spas, infinity pools or fitness centres. Hell, most of the time there’s no cell-phone service. But there are hills, ponds, streams, lakes, farms, fields, cows, coyotes, foxes, fish, possums, skunks and a night sky unnervingly embroidered with stars.