When Jason Figueroa was a teenager in the Bronx, he spent time visiting a family friend in Putnam Valley, a sleepy town in southwestern Putnam County, just across the border from Westchester, New York. The friend lived in Highfields, the only townhouse development there, and Figueroa found the place so peaceful and friendly that he was determined to move there one day.
“It was my escape,” he said. “Highfields was the No. 1 place I wanted to live.”
Figueroa, 34, now works as a doorman in Manhattan. His wife, Michelle Hernandez, 35, is a saleswoman at a jewelry store in the Bronx. They came close to fulfilling Figueroa’s dream in 2013, when they moved to Putnam Valley with their son, who was then 3, trading their Bronx rental for a two-bedroom ranch.
The house, which they bought for $190,000, was not in Highfields. “It was a great starter home,” Figueroa said. “And I knew the market would eventually go up, and I could easily sell it.”
Five years later, that’s what happened. After finding a property for sale in Highfields and making an offer, he and Hernandez sold their house for $275,000. In December, the family moved into a three-story, 2,600-square-foot townhouse with one bedroom, which they bought for $320,000. It was built in 1995, on a corner lot — “the quietest spot in the complex,” Figueroa said.
“Quiet” is a good way to describe the 41-square-mile Putnam Valley. You could also call it “rugged” or “rustic.” The town’s roughly 11,700 residents live amid rocky slopes and huge boulders left by retreating glaciers. Hilly roads snake through forests lined with 200-year-old stone walls, beside pastures where horses graze, and around numerous ponds and lakes.
A good portion of the 14,086-acre Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park lies in Putnam Valley, along with about 1,000 acres of protected land owned by the town and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. “We are trying to preserve as much as we can,” said Sam Oliverio Jr., the town supervisor and a lifelong resident.
Nevertheless, there are construction projects under consideration, including a hotel and conference center, of which Oliverio approves. “It would bring jobs and some relief to our taxpayers,” he said.
Socioeconomically, Oliverio said, “we run the gamut from very poor to very wealthy. Mainly, though, it’s a white-collar commuter town, with lawyers, doctors and accountants who work in White Plains and the city. And we have a lot of tradespeople — carpenters, plumbers, electricians — who work locally. It’s a real blend.”
He called Putnam Valley “fiscally conservative but socially progressive, with thriving racially diverse and LGBT populations.”
Figueroa called the town “old-timey”: “It reminds me of those old-fashioned places I’ve seen in movies, where everybody knows everybody, everybody helps each other out,” he said. “That’s what I love about it.”
— What You’ll Find
Sheryl Luongo, the Putnam Valley assessor, said the town has roughly 4,800 single-family homes. The three major lakes — Lake Peekskill in the southwest corner, Roaring Brook Lake to the northeast and Lake Oscawana, the largest, in the middle — are the hubs of once summer-only, now year-round communities consisting primarily, but not entirely, of modest homes.
Elsewhere, houses are more spread out, a mix of colonials, contemporaries, farmhouses, ranches and a few log chalets. There are some developments of bigger homes on larger lots, built in the 1990s and 2000s, and several older homeowner associations, like Floradan Estates, as well as the townhouses in Highfields.
“It’s not your cookie-cutter suburb,” said Christine Rowley, an associate broker with RE/MAX Classic Realty.
— What You’ll Pay
Deborah Glatz, a saleswoman at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said homes in Putnam Valley range from around $250,000 for a small cottage to more than $1 million for a lakefront property and upward of $2 million for an estate. “There’s value here,” she said. “You can get more house than you can in Westchester, and taxes are lower.”
Recently, the market has been strong, Rowley said: “I have had a lot of bidding wars over the past year, with sellers getting close to full price, and occasionally above.”
Inventory has decreased, Glatz noted, and prices have gone up. “It is still a seller’s market,” she said. “But that may shift if an abundance of homes comes on the market in the spring.”
According to information from the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service, there were 50 single-family homes on the market in late January, from a 757-square-foot, one-bedroom cottage, built in 1954 on 0.14 acres, listed for $199,000, to a 5,786-square-foot, four-bedroom lakefront colonial, built in 2004 on 29.57 acres, for $2.95 million.
The median sale price for a single-family home during the 12-month period ending Jan. 28 was $340,000, up from $338,000 during the previous 12 months.
— The Vibe
For a rural, predominantly residential town, Putnam Valley has its share of recreational and social options. People who live around the lakes can ice skate in the winter and swim, fish and boat during the summer. Residents congregate at Leonard Wagner Memorial Park for summer concerts, holiday celebrations and the annual Town Day. The park has ball fields, tennis courts, nature trails, a roller-hockey rink and a pavilion, and is the site of a county-run senior center.
The culturally inclined can attend student- and community-run events at the high school’s 575-seat performing arts center and assorted activities held by the Tompkins Corners Cultural Center at the historic Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church. Hudson Valley MOCA, a contemporary art museum in Peekskill, is a few miles away.
Hikers will find miles of trails in Fahnestock park and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust’s 358-acre Granite Mountain Preserve.
Putnam Valley has a restaurant, Brookside Grille, a sprinkling of delis and pizzerias, and a tiny commercial area known as Oregon Corners. Shopping is plentiful in neighboring Cortlandt and Yorktown, in Westchester County.
— The Schools
All of Putnam Valley is served by the Putnam Valley Central School District, which also serves a small section of Cortlandt. The district’s approximately 1,700 students attend Putnam Valley Elementary School for kindergarten through fourth grade; Putnam Valley Middle School for fifth through eighth grade; and Putnam Valley High School for ninth through 12th grade. The middle and high schools share a campus.
On the 2017-18 state assessments, 72 percent of the district’s fourth-graders were proficient in math and 57 percent were proficient in English language arts; statewide equivalents were 48 percent and 47 percent. Mean SAT scores for the 2018 graduating class were 558 in evidence-based reading and writing and 577 in math; statewide equivalents were 534 and 534.
At the high school, the International Baccalaureate program is expected to be introduced in the fall. District residents recently approved a $14.81 million bond for projects including renovation of the middle school and construction of a wellness center on the campus. Frances Wills, superintendent of schools, said the bond will not increase taxes and called the vote “a statement of confidence that the school district is looking at the community and what it needs.”
— The Commute
Commuters to Manhattan, around 50 miles south, can drive about 15 minutes to catch Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson line at Peekskill or, during rush hour, take a county-operated shuttle to and from Leonard Wagner Memorial Park. Peak trains take 57 to 63 minutes; the monthly fare is $369.
Some residents drive farther down the line to the Cortlandt or Croton-Harmon station, where the ride is shorter and parking easier. The monthly fare from Cortlandt is $369, and from Croton-Harmon it’s $311.
Those who choose to drive to the city have quick access to the Taconic State Parkway, which traverses the eastern part of town.
— The History
Back in the 1920s and 1930s, it wasn’t unusual to find the Bambino hitting some balls on a now-overgrown field near Lake Oscawana. Babe Ruth was a regular visitor to Putnam Valley, where his agent, Walter “Christy” Walsh, owned a summer home. When a New York Yankees game wasn’t scheduled, Ruth would play an exhibition game or bat a few balls with the townspeople.
A poster in the collection of the Putnam Valley Historical Society announces “The King of Swat HIMSELF!” doing “some swatting” by the lake. A couple of faded photographs in the collection show Ruth mid-swing, surrounded by onlookers, giant boulders at his back.
“It was great publicity,” said Dan Ricci, the town historian. “And don’t forget, this was during Prohibition, and there were 23 bars in Putnam Valley at the time.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.