Schuylerville gets a facelift on several fronts, bringing
hope to the once-wayside village
1990, a prominent local author and urban-design commentator
held up Schuylerville—the quiet little village just east of
Saratoga Springs—as the very model of the upstate town. It
was not meant as a compliment. Writing in an article for The
New York Times Magazine, Jim Kunstler called attention
to the village, describing it as an economic case study of
a struggling upper-Hudson locale. He pointed to its downtrodden
appearance and the shiftless kids from broken families, kids
who didn’t eat enough breakfast because the boom of the Reagan
years left places like Schuylerville untouched. “Here in Schuylerville,”
he writes, “it wasn’t morning in America at all. It was more
like 4 PM on the first day of winter.”
This little village—where, the residents are proud to point
out, General Burgoyne’s surrender turned the tide of the American
Revolution—has been through a lot. Other smaller-scale revolutions
have touched down here in the intervening years: Schuylerville
felt the boom of trade and industrialization. First there
was traffic on the river and the old Champlain Canal where
mules used to pull goods like lumber southward, and then there
were the bustling mills of the industrial age. Schuylerville
had six or seven mills during the industrial revolution, at
a time when “Saratoga Springs was just a sleepy little backwater
spa,” muses David Roberts, project manager for Turning Point
But those boom times have long since past; fire has destroyed
even physical reminders of the old grandeur. And at the time
of Kunstler’s article, the future was not bright. He did,
however, suggest that change would arrive when the village
concentrated on what it had going for it.
Now the village is changing at the hands of people like Roberts;
local entrepreneurs are buying and fixing properties in the
Schuylerville sits at the crossroads of routes 4, 32 and 29.
It’s 10 miles from Saratoga Springs, and 35 miles from Albany.
What most people know of the town is that it’s between them
and Saratoga and Greenwich or Vermont, depending on which
way they’re going. About 8,000 to 10,000 cars a day are estimated
to pass through the “Z,” a short stretch through town that
passes the schools on Spring Street, hangs a right at the
old high school, passes three long blocks of residential and
commercial properties, and turns left at the traffic light
to take travelers over the water and straight out of town.
But instead of hanging that last left, say you went straight,
as a mere 2,500 cars do daily. Then you would be in a small
business district that is trying very hard to put a fresh
face on the village.
In late 19th- and early 20th-century storefronts sit established
businesses, including Byron’s Market, a used-book shop, and
a violin and mandolin maker’s storefront. The only chain stores
in sight are the Stewart’s and Cumberland Farms that serve
the steady traffic of Route 29. There are also relative newcomers
up and down Broad Street: a stained glass studio, florist,
two diner-style restaurants, arts space, high-end beauty and
gift shop, and a 21st-century general store.
Local leadership: Schuylerville School District Superintendent
Leon Reed. Photo by: Ashley Hahn
true that businesses have come and gone, and prior revitalization
efforts have fizzled out. But new businesses are faring better
than previous efforts on Broad Street, and they could attract
more businesses. The school district and the rural-yet-accessible
setting are attractive for new residents. Big names in local
real estate like Bonacio and Roohan have also begun to appear;
they are working on a repurposing of the old high-school building
on the corner of Spring and Broad streets. Suddenly people
are starting to pay attention to the little village that looked
so broken 15 years ago.
basically are bursting at the seams,” says Mayor John Sherman,
particularly after the construction of Morgan’s Run, a new
housing development. “People are thinking this’ll become a
One contributing factor is that people are being priced out
of areas like Saratoga Springs in both the housing and commercial
markets, which makes places like Schuylerville attractive.
Real-estate agent Corinne Ward moved her family and business
to Schuylerville six years ago because Saratoga Springs proved
to be too expensive. But she says the village’s appeal goes
beyond cost; it’s the quality of life that’s enticing. The
setting is rural—with an apple orchard on the edge of town,
a canal and the Hudson running along its backdoor, and views
of Vermont from the hills—and the schools are good to boot.
She says there’s a waiting list for residential properties
because there just aren’t enough in town to meet the demands
of prospective buyers.
When asked what in the village is drawing people, many mention
the school system as a serious attraction. The district’s
administrators suggest that the school district’s test scores,
which are above the state average, and the campus’ well-groomed
appearance both speak well of the district and have been the
driving forces behind that attention.
year in particular, I think we’ve gotten a lot more phone
calls in regard to people actually researching out schools
and finding the best school in the area, then choosing the
place to live,” says Michelle McDougall, assistant elementary
school principal, something she hasn’t experienced previously.
Parents are doing their homework.
Leon Reed, the superintendent, says the district has undergone
major changes over the last 10 years physically as well as
culturally, which helped turn some heads. “I think the school
district actually started to make the move first,” Reed says.
“It may be almost necessary to do that, you’ve kind of got
to build it so they’ll come.” And every year there are 50
to 60 more students.
The district teaches about 1,800 children in all—a number
two-thirds larger than Schuylerville’s entire population—who
come from townships and municipalities within Northumberland,
Fort Edward, Easton, Greenwich, the Town of Saratoga, Stillwater
and Wilton. But to the elementary school’s principal Michael
Mugits, “the size of the school isn’t what’s important. It’s
the perception of the size.” He thinks that because they actively
try to foster a sense of community and learn about the kids
and their families and lives, the schools are more personal
and comfortable environments. It appears to be working: Walking
the halls, kids charge toward Mugits and McDougall and cover
them in hugs.
The elementary school has its own climbing wall, its own intra-class
postal system, a school store run by students, and a televised
morning program run by students. The high school boasts amenities
like double-wide lockers and private music practice rooms.
And that’s not the half of it.
Reed has watched a school community develop where mutual respect
is a real value and an entrepreneurial spirit is fostered.
Kids, staff and teachers are encouraged to have a “bias for
action” and to express themselves with the least amount of
interference from the administration, provided that the high
standards and sound teaching are not compromised. For example,
when students were cutting class to protest the onset of war,
Reed determined that this, in fact, was an educational opportunity.
So if they got written parental permission, students could
picket across the street so that access to the school and
learning went on unimpeded.
The school’s spirit contributes to the town’s spirit. In Reed’s
estimation, people in Schuylerville seem to want “a small
community, an intimate, personal community, that’s well-built,
and a good place for businesses and children and families
Ward confesses that when she was showing people homes as recently
as two years ago, she used to drive around the downtown last,
because she says “it wasn’t an asset to show someone coming
into the village.” Now she says she’s proud to show off the
changes as the president of the Chamber of Commerce.
definitely evolving,” agrees Marlene Bissell. “People are
much more interested in choosing to come to Schuylerville,
not just passing through,” and are inquiring about the area
in the shop she runs with her husband, General Schuyler’s
Pantry. Their store is an intentional patchwork of mini-businesses:
Internet café meets ice cream parlor meets business center.
Local real estate agent and Chamber of Commerce president
Corinne Ward. Photo by: Ashley Hahn
we designed General Schuyler’s Pantry, our thought was that
there was no one piece of the store that would be able to
support a business in Schuylerville, and that we needed to
put something together that was able to tap into many different
groups of customers,” she says.
Her husband Alan says he judges a place’s economic condition
by how many empty storefronts there are, and he’s seen Schuylerville’s
disappearing over the last few years.
Rachel Jagareski and her husband Dan own and operate Old Saratoga
Books, a used bookstore on Broad Street in a lovely brick
building. She believes “the residential part of town was always
nice, but the ‘front porch’ was kind of decrepit”—that is
the business district was boarded up and empty—and they spent
several years hoping for some new neighbors. Her business
has seen some of the lean times and it partly succeeds because
of Internet business, but also because of Schuylerville’s
location en route between two other popular bookstores: Lyrical
Ballad in Saratoga Springs and Owl Pen Books in Cossayuna.
The vitality of the village will, in part, depend on how well
the components of change go together and if people buy in.
“It’s one hand holding another,” as Roberts puts it: The schools
help attract new residents; new businesses may attract new
consumers. He says Turning Point is hoping to contribute not
just by repurposing central buildings, but by attracting “community-building
tenancies,” businesses and people who want to be actively
engaged in village life. The other part is getting all of
those cars to stop in downtown. While locals fix up homes
and shops, the street itself might get a facelift by the Department
of Transportation, complete with period light fixtures and
Newcomers Louis Hotchkiss and Junko Kobori bought 76 Broad
St. last year and moved their business Gassho Body & Mind
into one of two parallel storefronts on the ground floor.
On one side they manufacture and package Blossoms, their own
line of natural beauty products, which is carried by retailers
like Whole Foods and Anthropologie. They also sell Blossoms
from the other storefront in their shop, “dwell.” It’s a bright
shop with tangerine walls, a purple counter and interesting
merchandise, which includes handcrafted handbags and textiles,
art books and imported gift items.
The store feels like something dropped from the East Village
in a cultural tornado, and Hotchkiss is fond of reminding
people, “this is the village.” Not the one you might have
been thinking of, but it’s one they’re fond of. When they
moved to town, Hotchkiss and Kobori made a concerted effort
to involve themselves in village affairs and some of the long-range
planning meetings. “We firmly believe that Schuylerville is
about to pop,” he says.
There is a lot of talk around town about new projects that
could help accelerate the modest, paced growth the town is
currently experiencing. A lot of factors are at work at once,
which could make this small village come into its own again.
“We all have to just learn to play to our strengths,” Roberts
says, and many are trying to do just that. In part because
of the historic sites associated with the Battle of Saratoga,
and the Hudson riverfront, the region has an opportunity to
accentuate its special place, both historically and geographically
Extensive planning is underway for Old Saratoga on the Hudson,
part of an initiative that would combine a series of interconnected
parks, an environmental education center, and historic and
geologic sites of significance on both sides of the river,
all linked by pedestrian and bike trails. There is also talk
of reviving small-craft boat traffic on the Old Champlain
Canal, both of which could bring tourists into and through
If all goes as planned, the DOT project won’t kill downtown
traffic, the grant money will come through, Empire Zone designation
will come through, visitors will have places to park, float,
ride and eat lunch, businesses will have space to grow, and
community will be fostered.
These projects are being advanced by locals who are donating
their time and resources, as Marlene Bissell says, “to something
for the greater good because they see the value in it. It’s
exciting to be a part of something that feels successful and
feels positive and feels like it’s growing.” This lets people
have a say in what direction the community goes in, a rare
option. “Most of the time a community already has its persona,”
Bissell says, but “here the residents and the businesses are
actually creating the community and helping to shape it.”
do think that some good things are going on in town,” Kunstler
says now, pointing to restoration work done on important buildings
like the high school and new businesses setting up shop. Though
sustainability, he notes, should be a priority.
And, though there’s no telling what will become of all of
this energy, Jagareski says,“I think we’re actually on the
way up this time.”