Upstate, New York

Living in Upstate New York

Iyna Bort Caruso

The regions that comprise Upstate New York are diverse from each other and distinct in their own right. Affinities vary. Some areas feel more connected to Canada or New England than New York City and its suburbs.

The Catskills region encompasses 700,000 acres of waterfalls, hiking trails, ski resorts and wide-open spaces. Artists of the Hudson River School like Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church immortalized the spectacular views on canvas. For New York City residents, the Catskills are an easy weekend getaway and popular second-home destination. With pockets of entrepreneurship and opportunity, a growing number of Manhattanites and Brooklynites are reversing their lifestyles, making full-time homes in the country and buying city pieds-a-terre.

North of the Catskills is the Capital District with Albany at its core. Once an area that made its name in fur trading and later in manufacturing, the state’s seat of government has become a high tech hub. The city and its surrounding towns feature historic districts, some that date back to the 17th century. Just beyond Albany is Saratoga Springs, a city whose slogan is “Health, History and Horses.” Wealthy New Yorkers came to the spas of Saratoga to “take the cure” and to the racetrack to root on the ponies. They still do. The thoroughbred horseracing track, which opened in 1863, is one of the oldest in the United States. History runs deep through Saratoga, which is also a showcase of extraordinary 19th and 20th century architectural styles.

The Adirondacks abuts the Capital Region to the north. Locals consider it the birthplace of the American vacation. In the second half of the 19th century city dwellers began visiting these rustic surroundings. When the railroad reached here, wealthy families followed and built great summer compounds. A stretch of mansions along the shorefront of Lake George was known as Millionaires’ Row.

New York’s largest wine-producing region is in the Finger Lakes area. The effect of the 11 long and narrow lakes is good for the grapes. The vineyards benefit from warmer temperatures in the winter and cooler temperatures in the spring. More than 100 wineries and vineyards speckle the region along with breweries and distilleries. An innovative culinary scene with farm-to-table restaurants draws foodies from near and far. Ithaca is considered the unofficial Finger Lakes capital. In additional to glacier-cut gorges, farmlands and state parks, Ithaca is home to colleges and universities, including Cornell. A sizable alumni community has retired to the area or purchased second homes on the lakefront.

In the St. Lawrence River that separates the U.S. from Canada is the Thousand Islands archipelago. Actually Thousand Islands is an understatement. There are some 1,864 islands in the chain, a few with a single residence on them. Small towns and villages have been drawing vacationers here for more than 150 years including well-heeled types who built Gilded Age coastal mansions.

Upstate New York is not all small towns. Buffalo, on the shorefront of Lake Erie, is the state’s second largest city. It has an impressive cultural scene that includes the highly respected Albright-Knox Art Museum, the world class Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and an architectural resume of buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen and Louis Henry Sullivan.