Others, who’ve read Josh Kilmer-Purcell’s memoir, The Bucolic Plague, may be nodding in recognition at the name of the small town in upstate New York where the book is set (truthfully, the Central Leatherstocking Region, or ‘Central New York,’ but much more “upstate” than Manhattanites usually mean when they refer to anything north of the Hudson!).
And, while I’m in the mood for full disclosure, I should mention that The Bucolic Plague is one of three memoirs penned by Mr. Kilmer-Purcell. The others, I Am Not Myself These Days and Candy Everybody Wants are on my proverbial wish list!
When I reviewed The Bucolic Plague, back in August 2010, I said “This is the kind of memoir I love – real people having fun/quirky adventures and confronting obstacles that have the power to make or break them.” I recommended it to my “old” Connecticut book group, who enjoyed it so much that they decided to take a spring-is-finally-here pilgrimage to Sharon Springs. It took me about two blinks to say “I’ll meet you there!”
We drove up the second weekend of April – spring hadn’t quite sprung; I saw some snow on the ground as I drove Rte. 90 across the Berkshires. In Sharon Springs, the sun was shining, and several people were willing the season along by raking and clearing flowerbeds of winter debris. Despite the lack of colorful flowers, spring was in the air with a gorgeous sunny weekend and a spring was in our steps as we enjoyed a weekend away (without the 8 husbands and 23 kids among us!)
Sharon Springs was apparently the place to be in the 19th century, the natural springs were a draw for the well-to-do from Manhattan and further afield. When I-90 came in, the Rte. 20 corridor gradually became less-frequently used, and Sharon Springs (and other former resort towns) along the route saw a great decline.
So what caused Kilmer-Purcell and his partner, Brent Ridge, to stop in Sharon Springs on their way back to Manhattan on an autumn weekend of apple-picking? Why did they fall in love with the village and decide to buy the Beekman Mansion? The author talks about it in his memoir, and a big reason is the American Hotel and its proprietors, Garth Roberts and Doug Plummer … but I’m getting ahead of myself …
My Connecticut friends arrived at the hotel about a half hour before I did, and selected our rooms – the inn has nine guest rooms, and we took four of them. Stepping across the wide front porch, we entered the lobby, a small, tastefully decorated area. The reception desk is a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship – new this season, it is oak (I think!) with inlays of birch and maple. Garth later told me that it was made from trees they had cut down when they enlarged the parking lot of the inn; the trees were planked, aged, and make into this showpiece (no, I don’t have a photo to post! Note to self: email the inn to ask for a photo).
Further back on the first floor is the bar (yes, we spent some time here), with a door to the back patio (not yet open for the season when we visited). Our rooms were on the second floor; there’s a second-floor front porch open in-season.
The rooms are each comfortably furnished with antiques; the bathrooms are completely updated, with new fixtures and details like a make-up mirror and upscale toiletries. Each room is decorated in a different style, with the unifying feature of and classic white bedspreads atop warm featherbeds – I slept so well, even in a twin bed! We laughed at this take on a “privacy, please” door-hanger.
Lunch was across the street at the Black Cat Café, then we browsed a few shops on Main Street – Cobbler & Co. (packed with stuff, each room a different theme! The staircase up to the second floor looks like it’s been autographed by everyone who walks through the door), McGillycuddy’s Naturals (I picked up some olive oil soap and a yummy peppermint lip balm), The Finishing Touch (great prices on scarves and costume jewelry), and, of course, the Beekman 1802 Mercantile.
We then hopped in the car to do a drive-by of the Beekman Mansion, the homestead that Josh and Brent purchased and have returned to a working farm. Maybe “drive-by” isn’t quite accurate; we did stop to take some pictures, but did respect the pleas for privacy. The farm is open to the public only for special events; there were none scheduled this weekend, in fact, “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” were in Los Angeles promoting their television show which airs on Planet Green.
After taking a series of photos, we looked for other local sites to visit. The fistful of tourist brochures we picked up indicated we were close (20 miles?) to the Howe Caverns, a series of underground caves. Half of the group braved the 80-minute underground tour, the rest enjoyed spending time relaxing in rocking chairs on the porch; I was in the less adventurous group, content with chatting and soaking up the sun.
Back at the American Hotel, we changed for dinner, and met in the bar. There we met George (that’s his back in the photo, really!), the American Hotel bartender (and also the village mortician), Michelle (the fun-loving realtor who sold the Beekman to Josh and Brent), and Austin Jetton (a Broadway musician turned chocolatier who creates Austintacious truffles). And, of course, the proprietors of the American Hotel, Garth and Doug, who are extremely gracious hosts (even when we got a bit obnoxious … and I’ll admit that when you get eight girlfriends away for the weekend, enjoying fine wine and dining, it can get a bit non-Emily-Post!)
Dinner was A-MAZ-ING! Seating began at the early-bird hour of 5:00; we opted for “late” dining at 7:00 (yes, this is still early, but not for Sharon Springs). After a delicious meal (really, check out the menus – we began with crisp ginger carrots, fresh bread with herbed butter … and FOUR HOURS LATER ended with maple cake and Beekman 1802 goats milk cheesecake). Our server, Kyle, was entertaining, patient, and lots of fun; the assistants (Tina and Jenna) likewise treated us well. Although we begged, pleaded, flirted, and did everything but burst through the kitchen door, we were unable to meet the chef, Lee Woolver – a man of mystery, with fantastic culinary skills.
After a very good night’s sleep, we were back in the dining room for brunch. Doug greeted us with a well-placed inquiry about how we were feeling after the night before, and our server was careful not to crash the flatware. Breakfast was also top-notch — blueberry pancakes, swiss and asparagus omelet, homemade granola …. yum!
My friends headed south to Cooperstown for the day, but I opted to head back to Boston, as the drive was a bit longer for me. The weekend was a blast – who can argue with “eat, drink, and be merry!”??! I’d like to come back with J for a weekend, perhaps in the fall during the Harvest Fest; we could take in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Cooperstown Brewing, then loop up to Sharon Springs. I’m so glad my friends and I were able to explore the village that Josh Kilmer-Purcell shares in The Bucolic Plague, and hope to meet those Fabulous Beekman Boys on a return trip.