Towns fill the bill around the Delaware Water Gap
At first glance, Port Jervis, N.Y., and Milford, Pa., may seem an improbable pair of towns - one hardscrabble, the other upscale - but they have more in common than meets the eye. Think of them as fraternal twins with a shared landscape, easygoing manner, appreciation for the arts, and welcoming sensibilities.
Both towns are about 75 miles northwest of New York, located where New York state, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey meet at the upper reaches of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. There are plenty of places to hike, canoe, kayak, bicycle, ride horseback, and swim. And both towns offer shopping, places to dine finely or on a budget, and historic sites of interest.
Downtown Milford is an example of an early planned community. In the late 1700s, John Biddis brought his family to the area to escape Philadelphia's yellow fever epidemic. He purchased a large tract of land and subdivided it into 530 lots with street patterns modeled after his hometown. The big streets, Catherine, Elizabeth, Sarah, George, and John, are named after his children.
On Broad Street, the Hotel Fauchere is a 16-room boutique hotel in a renovated Italianate villa built in 1850 by Louis Fauchere, former master chef of the famed Delmonico's in New York. It has two restaurants, the formal Delmonico Room and the bistro-style Bar Louis. The latter looks more like hipster Manhattan than small-town Pennsylvania, with recessed lighting, blond paneled walls, and an enormous photo of Andy Warhol and John Lennon.
The Milford Diner is the opposite of such manufactured chic. You'll find home fries instead of potatoes gaufrette, and a 16-ounce steak costs one-third the price at Bar Louis. Breakfast is available at any hour.
Milford has more than two dozen shops housed in restored historic buildings. On Broad Street, Books and Prints at Pear Alley is an old-fashioned bookstore with a number of original 19th-century paintings, etchings, and engravings in the rear. Upriver Home and Garden has a range of home accessories, such as hand-thrown pottery, pillows, and lamps.
About a mile from the center of town, the US Forest Service runs the Grey Towers National Historic Site. The 44-room French chateau-like mansion was built in 1886 by James Pinchot, whose son, Gifford, was the founder and first chief of the Forest Service and a two-term governor of Pennsylvania. Visitors can tour the first floor of the home, walk through the historic gardens, or hike the trails on the 102-acre property.
Grey Towers is adjacent to the northern entrance of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It's an easy drive from Milford along Route 209 to the stunning waterfall at Raymondskill Falls. Look for the parking area and trailhead on the west side of the road. From there, it's a half-mile round-trip climb on steep, uneven steps to the Middle Falls, or a quarter-mile hike through a hemlock ravine to the Upper Falls.
Farther south in the park, Dingmans Falls has a boardwalk trail that's wheelchair accessible.
This stretch of the Delaware River is known for calm water and is ideal for easy canoeing and kayaking. Kittatinny Canoes, a company that has run river trips in this area since the early 1940s, recommends a 12-mile day trip from its River Beach Campsites to Dingmans Ferry. (Look for the entrance on the east side of 209 heading north toward Port Jervis.) According to David Jones, whose grandparents started the company, it's "not uncommon to see bald eagles, black bears, osprey, blue heron, and deer" along the river.
It's a seven-mile drive from Milford, through the town of Matamoras, to the Mid-Delaware Bridge linking Pennsylvania to New York state. On the far side, Port Jervis nestles along the eastern banks of the river that veers west and north from this point along an area called the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway.
Originally known as Carpenter's Point, Port Jervis was renamed in 1827 after John Bloomfield Jervis, an engineer with the Delaware and Hudson Canal. Because of its prime location along the Delaware and Neversink rivers, the town became an important port and rail center, and a hub for manufacturing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
With the decline of manufacturing and steam-powered railroads in the 20th century, Port Jervis struggled financially. Today, its proximity to New York, relatively affordable real estate, and scenic landscape have drawn residents and businesses.
In the downtown historic district - no more than a few square blocks - remnants of the manufacturing era can be seen in renovated warehouses and factories now home to shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Port Jervis may be slightly funkier than its upscale neighbor Milford, but what it lacks in a manicured style is made up for with creative vitality.
Adjacent to the railroad tracks along Jersey Avenue, the Victorian-era Erie Hotel and Restaurant anchors the street. Inside, locals gather for beer on tap and sizzling coconut shrimp or Buffalo wings. The hotel, renovated in 2000 and more utilitarian than grand, is perfect for budget travelers.
Farther down the street, Gordon Graff and Debbie Raia recently opened UpFront Exhibition Space, a 4,000-square-foot art gallery in what was the town's hardware store. The couple also owns Twenty Seven Gallery, one of seven antiques shops on parallel Front Street.
"We need art here to make people feel good. Since we've opened, people have come in and said 'Thank you!' " said Raia.
It's worth visiting Gillinder Glass, one of the oldest glass manufacturers in the country. Learn the history of local glassmaking, view examples of original cast iron molds, and watch molten glass be transformed into beautiful objects.
History buffs will enjoy the Fort Decker Museum of History, a stone structure dating to the 1790s that's currently owned and operated by the Minisink Valley Historical Society. The small museum features documents and artifacts dating from the American Revolution to the Industrial Revolution.
At the museum, pick up a guide to the Delaware River Heritage Trail, a six-mile hike that runs along the Delaware River and through downtown Port Jervis to where the three states meet.
When it's time to eat, the style at Len and Jo's is casual, with two small rooms, low ceilings, and more than a few mounted animal heads. But you can't beat the price at this off-the-beaten path spot where the locals go for the rectangular, decadently cheesy pizza.
Necee Regis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.