Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, the New York City couple known as reality television’s “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” are a telling example of what can happen to a pair of city slickers who go apple-picking in upstate New York.
It was about five years ago when they first encountered and quickly fell in love with the ghostly beauty and rolling farmland of Schoharie County’s Sharon Springs, about 50 miles west of Albany. And they soon bought a weekend house in Sharon Springs — an 1802 Federal-Georgian home, known as the Beekman Mansion, on 60 acres.
GREEN ACRES: Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, aka the Fabulous Beekman Boys (above), make their home (and set their TV show) in Sharon Springs.
Their upstate weekend fantasy morphed into a full-time venture when they established a goat-milk farm and their life became a reality show on Planet Green. Now in its third season, the show is moving to the Cooking Channel later this year.
Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell are an outsized version of what bewitches many part-time homeowners when they discover the 500-soul village of Sharon Springs, three hours north of Manhattan. They get infected with renaissance fever that bubbles up in this former mineral-springs resort.
Once a grand and well-heeled playground for the Vanderbilts and Roosevelts, the village fell into decline by the 1950s. Though it’s close to both Cooperstown and Albany, Sharon Springs faded into obscurity until a couple of decades ago.
“Everywhere you look, you see possibility,” says Ridge, who counts himself among an army of preservationists and old-house lovers who have devoted themselves to Sharon Springs. “There are perfect little villages throughout upstate New York and New England, if you want that. People who come here bring their dreams. They fix up a house. They turn an old house into a guest house. They open a store or a restaurant. They end up wanting to live here full-time.”
Linda Aragona and her partner, Eloise Aita, had been visiting Sharon Springs for a decade. Last summer, they bought a 1930s Victorian with three bedrooms, a sitting porch and an artist’s studio on a side street off Route 10, the town’s main street.
“We’ve slowly watched dedicated people make this community viable, and it’s been inspiring,” Aragona says. “We wanted to be a part of that, part-time for now and full-time when we’re both retired.”
Sharon Springs is definitely a work in progress. But house by house, business by business, the village is coming back to life. The main exceptions are four old spa hotels and the Imperial Baths that were bought by a group of investors in 2004. The corporation that made the purchases has been dissolved, the buildings are in disrepair and there’s nothing the town can do about it, for now.
But house prices are a steal — 30 percent off their peak in 2008. Most sell for between $100,000 and $200,000, according to Michelle Curran, associate broker at Realty USA in nearby Cobleskill. You can get a three-bedroom farmhouse fixer-upper on a half-acre for $60,000 or a three-bedroom Italianate Victorian for $145,000.
And most of the lower village around Route 10 and Main Street is on the National Historic Register.
For the past two decades, urban pioneers have turned mansions, old hotels and Victorian guest houses into B&Bs, day spas and gift shops, like the Beekman Boys’ store, Beekman 1802 Mercantile, which stocks local hand-crafted goods; Cobbler & Company, a funky gift shop; and the Finishing Touch, a boutique with clothing and home decor.
Much of the credit is owed to Doug Plummer and Garth Roberts, a New York City couple who brought Sharon Springs’ American Hotel, an 1847 Greek Revival structure, back to life in 2001. Set on Main Street, the nine-room hotel’s restaurant is a village nexus, and the hotel is where Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell stayed during their initial apple-picking jaunt.
The notoriety of the Fabulous Beekman Boys, coupled with the American Hotel, has made Sharon Springs a gay-friendly community. Plummer, who is also a village trustee, says the village vibe is open and welcoming, and integrated among old-time farm families and urban pioneers. You’re just as likely to see folks from both camps at the annual Father’s Day Tractor & Antique Power Show, the Summer Concerts series and the annual Harvest Festival, founded by the Beekman Boys.
The American Hotel has also become a popular place for gay weddings. Recently, a couple from Oklahoma married there.
“The couple went for a walk, and one of the gentlemen came back with tears in his eyes,” says Plummer. “He told me, ‘Everyone I saw congratulated us. They bought us lunch. And wished us well. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Oklahoma.’ ”
Local lore has it that Sharon Springs was the template for the TV program “Northern Exposure,” but the location was moved to Alaska because no one believed an upstate town could have a cast of such quirky characters. Listening to stories makes you believe Sharon Springs — a place once known for its healing powers — still sprinkles its magic waters on those who pass through and stay.
Tina Traster chronicles her move from the city to a rural suburb in “Burb Appeal: The Collection,” available on Amazon.com.
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