What a legacy!
When I arrived in 1978, Narrowsburg’s Main Street was in decline. I have a vivid memory of a women’s shop that Betty Kelly vigilantly ran. In the window was a woman’s half bust adorned with a Maidenform Cross-Your-Heart Bra. To this then 22-year-old rather boyish young woman, it looked forlorn.
It had been a decade or more since the passenger rail had gone out. No longer did weekenders or summer residents, escaping the heat of New York City, arrive on a Friday night by passenger train. And not only had the railroad gone out, sometime in the middle of the night the station, located to the west of the Narrowsburg Feed Mill and across from what was then Narrowsburg Lumber, was taken down. Undoubtedly, the official Town of Tusten historian could pinpoint the year. The unofficial ones, too. It was those slight cuts to the community that a great number of people experienced and marked as an extreme loss.
So it was with great delight when I arrived on Main Street this past Saturday that I experienced a Main Street in action. (The merchants were having a popup sidewalk sale!) There was no parking to be found and I pulled into a center aisle (who knew there could be a middle aisle?) in the municipal parking behind the Wayne Bank.
Main Street in 1978 was in a place of transition: one foot was in the past, a time when you could get everything that you needed on our one-block long commerce center, and one foot in what would slowly, after another couple of decades or so, be an emerging trendy sort of experience of upscale provisions.
Indeed, I met a woman on Saturday, who lives on a small road off of Crystal Lake Road, who was excited about finding just the right Moroccan rug at the Velvet Maple. Another couple was delighted to find that perfect bowl at Sunny’s Pop Up. And the staff there was equally delighted to find just the most wonderful box to wrap it in. MayerWasner's--former home of Betty Kelly’s shop--five-dollar bin had many a young person pawing through the merchandise there. Inside designers are displaying New York City and, indeed, global fashions.
This is Narrowsburg of today.
There are people on the streets. There are people carrying shopping bags and really enjoying the picturesque nature of the hamlet. The shops are gorgeous: fully deserving of the escape that one gets when looking at interesting items and checking out prices. (Not to mention buying them and taking them home to adorn our personal spaces or selves!)
Back in my early days, Main Street was a bit more utilitarian. Stranahan's, the last building on the left as you're heading away from the bridge, offered hardware and household goods as well as groceries: bread, cheese, canned goods.
Elise Wood and Barbara Elco were the agents on duty at Mike Preis Insurance. And Mike Preis would preside, as president of the Narrowsburg Chamber of Commerce, over a totally packed noontime meeting (well over 75 people) at Robbie’s Restaurant, now the Antique Junction, nestled between Kirk Road and Route 97, across from the Nora’s Lovin’ Spoonful. The ice cream parlor was first envisioned by Nancy Campis after she sold Robbie’s Restaurant to Susan and Dave Nordenhold sometime in the 1980s. (Susan Nordenhold is the daughter of the late Melva and Fred Tegeler, the proprietors of Tegelers, a department store located near to what is now the Narrowsburg Mews. It was way before my time.)
Post office, bank, insurance company. The C&C Pizzaria, domain of Pat and Richie Lyons, who generously served up pizza, and provided a morning back booth inhabited by the town fathers, (most notably Dick Behling, Jill Padua's uncle), who generally made me a little uncomfortable with comments like “Little Heifer,” as I squeezed by to use the bathroom. But that was town: general store, furniture store, funeral home, Keenan's Pharmacy, complete with a small luncheon and ice cream counter housed then where the River Gallery is now. And, oh, next door, I still remember the almond brioches from the baker, Simon, of Simon's Bake Shop, now the home of PennYork.
There was Main Street Liquors, with Laura and George Drollinger at the helm, and Snug Harbor (probably Narrowsburg's first Lifestyle store which was an eclectic mix of outdoorsman equipment, gifts, antiques and other odds and ends) with Peggy, and a partner whose name I am not remembering, ably carrying on the shop's vision created by Joe and Dot Purcell, the daughter of Art Meyers, a formidable publisher of the Delaware Valley News. The News was sold to the Hawley Eagle in 1974, and upon whose demise, The River Reporter was born.) (Whoosh that's quite a history in two sentences.)
In one sense, some 40 years in, I am easily led to call those days that predate me, the “good ole days.”
But that was then, and this is now. Those shops struggled and have been replaced by the dreams of another generation of entrepreneurs.
And so now we’re challenged.
How do we preserve the unique flavor of this hamlet? Do we have any allegiance to the past? How are we inclusive of both the long-time resident and the relatively recent newcomer?
Just to be clear: there are no villains in this conundrum.
This dilemma, of the blending of old and new, is not particularly specific to Narrowsburg. It is the story of civilization. Of gentrification. Of change.
For Narrowsburg and the Upper Delaware, we were once a summer vacationland for the Lenape tribes of New Jersey. Then, we were a community of farmers and rafters, with boarding houses dotting the hamlet and the countryside. We have been the summer wonderland of many generations. We are the hamlet where 1,000 men were stranded, as 100-foot rafts, lashed timbers of our forests, got stuck in Narrowsburg Big Eddy whirlpool, as they were being floated down to Philadelphia to be sold as masts for great sailing ships and cut up as lumber. (For more about the early days, click here to read the late Ralph Brauser's piece on how Peggy Runway got its name. )
Times have changed.
And so we are challenged. Challenged to hold this tension between old and new. Challenged with the responsibility to make welcome all of our residents and visitors, the legacy families and long-time residents, as comrades who truly have all fallen in love with this pristine community environment.
In the olden-golden days, it was the fire company that put on numerous social events: dances, dinners, field days. They gathered those insiders and outsiders to be in community together. Now, for them, those who are a blessing to all of us, it's hard enough to maintain a crew of volunteers to provide emergency services. (We are thankful for our volunteer emergency service volunteers! And if you want to feel a great rush of purpose and belonging, you might consider joining these community workers!)
And all of that leaves us all to figure out how the commons can be shared by us all.
In my mind, there’s a role in that for the newspaper to help and to facilitate dialog and the sharing of community among diverse members.
I’m thankful that we’re joined in the quest by our community libraries, chambers of commerce, the school systems, the arts centers, the business community and any other community organization or social media “tribe” who wants into the conversation.
Let us talk about what divides us, let us remember what connects us, and the importance of our Main Streets that have the capacity, and the responsibility, to connect us all. It's our commons.
It's our legacy, intertwined with our neighbors and friends, in this place that we all call home.
What a glorious day was Saturday in Narrowsburg. Let us all be welcomed into that celebration.