At Home in Sugar Loaf
Mary Prenon | September 2019
What do art galleries, a healing studio, handmade soaps, custom furniture and vinyl records have in common? They’re all living together in the Sugar Loaf Arts & Crafts Village, which is actually a hamlet in the Town of Chester in Orange County.
Rumor has it that Sugar Loaf received its name from the nearby Sugar Loaf Mountain. Local historian Dr. Richard Hull, a former history Professor with New York University, recounts a tale of former resident Elizabeth Dobbin, who in the mid-1700s apparently gazed up at the mountain covered in morning mist and was reminded of the hard loaves of sugar that she and other colonial women made in their smoky kitchens.
Now a thriving arts community with hundreds of weekend visitors, Sugar Loaf is a destination community with many of its artists working and living in the same dwellings that were built during the 18th Century.
Sugar Loaf actually dates back to the late 1740s, and was considered just a stopover along Kings Highway. People would water their horses, while local businesses supplied food and merchandise to travelers.
“The original conception of the community was to become a commerce center offering provisions, including soap, furniture, weaving and pottery,” explained Dr. Hull. The hamlet is also infamous for being the site of America’s first murder-for-hire case at “Calamity Corners” at the intersection of Pine and Hamletonian roads.
By the early 19th century, Sugar Loaf began to prosper, but had also gained a reputation as a saloon community. Additionally, it became a center for Methodism, and a beautiful 1853 Greek Revival Methodist Church still stands at the top of the road today. “The old Sugar Loaf Inn was right across the street from the church, and its barroom was often a bawdy scene,” explained Dr. Hull. “The Methodists were teetotalers, but they all managed to co-exist peacefully.”
Sugar Loaf experienced a decline after World War I, and by 1960, there were just a handful of business left. “On one end of town there was a hatchery for chickens and on the other, a chicken farm,” Dr. Hull revealed. “If you were driving through there on a hot day, there were a lot of pungent odors!”
In 1969, though, three notable people were responsible for the resurgence of the arts colony. Jarvis Boone, a woodcarver and Walter Kannon, a supplier of barn beams, opened business in town. Next came Peter Lendved, a candle maker, and that opened the door for more craftspeople. “That was the time of Woodstock, and crafts were very popular,” said Dr. Hull. “A lot of young people moved into the area, and Sugar Loaf began to make a comeback.”
Marsha Talbot, a Realtor with Better Homes and Gardens Rand in Warwick, has been selling homes in the area for more than 30 years, and has seen the area grow in popularity. While there are only about 20 area properties on the market right now, the lure of this charming little hamlet and neighboring Warwick, is constantly bringing new potential buyers to the area.
“We get a lot of people from the Hudson Valley, as well as Manhattan and Brooklyn,” explained Talbot. “They may come up for the weekend and just fall in love with the beauty of the area. While it doesn’t feel like a city, there’s great shopping, restaurants and entertainment all around.”
Talbot herself was taken in by the peaceful surroundings. “I’m originally from New York City and came to live up here for only five years,” she said. “Now, 43 years later, I’m still here!”
Home prices in the area range from about $175,000 to $869,000, and offer a mixture of older, colonial homes to new subdivisions with townhomes and single-family residences. Good schools and proximity to major highways add to Sugar Loaf’s assets for potential home buyers. “Of course, people can also get more home and property for their money here, which is another major attraction,” added Talbot. “Some New York City natives purchase second homes here and come up for the weekend.”
The walkable Kings Highway offers a myriad of boutique shops including My Sister’s Closet, Sugar Loaf Candle Shop, Boone Woodcarving, Sugar Loaf Records, Rosner Soap, Endico Watercolors, the Lightclub Curiosity Shoppe, 18th Century Furniture and much more. Popular restaurants along the street include the Sugar Loaf Tap House, the former Barnsider that was revitalized in 2018, and the Cancun Inn Mexican Restaurant.
Sugar Loaf’s Seligmann Center features four galleries and performance spaces in converted farmhouse buildings, while the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center offers a variety of theatrical and musical entertainment. Nearby Warwick is home to more eclectic boutiques, as well as several wineries.
“A lot of visitors also like to climb Sugar Loaf Mountain,” added Dr. Hull. “It’s a bald mountain with no trees on top so you have a clear view of the Catskills.” Dr. Hull has lived in the area since he was a child, when his family bought a farm for weekend and summer retreats. Today he still lives on that property, which also houses the Applewood Winery and Apple Dave’s Orchards.
Next month, Sugar Loaf’s annual Fall Festival is set for Columbus Day Weekend (October 12, 13 and 14), with local merchants debuting their fall and winter products, additional vendors lining the streets, live music, food and more.
“What’s really interesting is that Sugar Loaf can also be a state of mind,” he said. “A lot of people come here and already see themselves as ‘Sugar Loafers’ even if they don’t live here.”