Tuesday, August 15, 2017

NYC Day 58: In Which I Play 'The End Of The Line Game' and Visit Wassaic, NY

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On Day 47 of my Big Apple adventure, I wrote about my outing to the end of the Metro-North line to New Haven, Connecticut. In that post I wrote that my out of town jaunt was the result of a travel game I play far too infrequently called, The End Of The Line Game.
The rules of the game are quite straight forward; pick a form of easily accessible public transport such as bus, train or ferry; choose any available route as randomly as possible, and then ride that bus, train or ferry to the end of the line -- which should be a place you have never been. Once you are at your destination, you must spend several hours at least, exploring the surrounding neighborhood, village or town you have arrived at, before returning to the place from which you departed.
With those 'rules' in mind, it was time to embark on a second mystery trip, and for that I chose the final stop on Metro-North Railroad's Harlem-Line -- Wassaic, New York. I should point out that when I chose Wassaic a couple of weeks ago, I knew nothing about the hamlet or what might be waiting for me when I got there. Having selected it, I did a little research and discovered that Wassaic is the location for The Wassaic Project, a non-profit arts organization based in a repurposed grain mill. Further research into the Wassaic Project revealed that the organization's annual festival was taking place on Friday and Saturday, August 11 and 12, 2017. Well, clearly The Fates were lining up events in my favor, and there was nothing for it but to follow through and make the trip -- and I am more than happy with my decision.

Panel describing historic buildings of Wassaic

Above and Below: Gridley Chapel, built in 1873.
Some Brief Historical Facts
Wassaic is a hamlet in the town of Amenia, Dutchess County, New York. The name of the hamlet is derived from the Native American word Washaic; "land of difficult access" or "narrow valley". One of the earliest recorded Europeans to settle in Wassaic was Richard Sackett. He petitioned the Colonial Government on March 11th 1703 for a license to purchase a tract of land in "Washiack". During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington marched through Wassaic on the way to Connecticut.

Among Wassaic's main employers in the 19th century were Gridley Iron Works and the Harlem division of the New York and Harlem Railroad. In 1861, Gail Borden opened a factory for producing a condensed milk that would not need refrigeration. This was a welcome ration for the Union troops during the Civil War. Long sold by Borden, it is today marketed as Eagle Brand Condensed Milk.

Wassaic is home to The Wassaic Project, a non-profit arts and music organization and the Wassaic Artist Residency. They provide summer programming as well as run an artist in residence program.

The organization makes use of restored historic buildings in the hamlet including Maxon Mills and Luther Barn. Maxon Mills, a seven-story former wood crib grain elevator, has been converted into exhibition, office, and studio spaces, including Art NEST, a free drop-in creative space for kids. Luther Barn is home to artist-in-residence studios and the old cattle auction ring is used as a film exhibition space during the summer festival. The organization currently offers year round programming as well as an education program focused onsite and at the Webutuck consolidated school district serving the Towns of Amenia and Northeast.

Above: The magnificent former Maxon Mill, now home to The Wassaic project.
Wassaic Project August Festival. Wassaic, New York
I was up at 7:30am, and with the house cat and myself well fed and watered, I headed off to the Metro-North Harlem Line station on 125th Street, to catch the 10:00am train for the two hour trip to Wassaic.

The day's events were divided into four main streams: Dance, Music, Film and Education. The Dance component of the day featured nine dance companies, and one soloist, performing new and original modern dance works, while the Film events included the Weird and Wonderful, and the Strange and Beautiful, programs of short films. Other films included the Star Wars Mixtape, and something called The Whole Shebang, as well as a mystery classic film.

The Music component of the festival took place in the evening at which three local area bands took to the stage at the nearby Lantern Inn. These were to be followed by a late night dance party with music provided by a DJ.

The education events were the briefest, and consisted of a "family friendly Garden Party with art activities," and "Avant Garde performances by Camp Wassaic youth."

Finally, I should also point out that a major exhibition coincided with the festival. Called Vagabond Time Killers, the exhibition "features the work of 53 emerging artists, the majority of whom have come to us as artists-in-residence and have lived and worked here, in Wassaic. The works included depict each artists relationship, perception, and interpretation of our current location in space and time, and how art and its context can transform people, places, and ideas."

Above: General views of the gallery spaces within Maxon Mill
The first thing I did on arriving at the event was to work my way up and through all seven floors of the former Maxon Mill. Built in 1954 by the Maxon Mills Company, the mill was an active feed elevator until the 1980s. Today it is one of the last remaining wood-crib grain elevators in the country. By the early 2000s Maxon Mills was abandoned and on the verge of demolition. Happily it was saved when it was placed on the New York State Register of Historic Places in 2005. However, it was only when Zutaloria & Associates, led by Richard Berry and Anthony Zunino purchased and renovated the building, that the former mill has now been transformed into one of the most unique art spaces that it has been my pleasure to see and walk through.

Above: Scenes from three dance performances, and Below, part of the audience. 

I must confess that I am a poor correspondent when it comes to documenting all the events at this day-long festival. At one o'clock I sat down to watch the first of the ten dance performances scheduled for the afternoon in three hour-long sessions. Out on the large porch, Leonard Cruz, Amanda L. Edwards, Jasmine Hearn, and the Amirov Dance Theater/Alexandra Amirov, ran, crawled, rolled, spun, leapt, pirouetted, puffed, panted, and challenged the assembled watchers with choreography that baffled, moved, excited and ultimately delighted a very appreciative audience.

Once the first series of performances had concluded, rather than see what else I might take in at the festival, I decided on an exploratory walk through the hamlet. Wassaic is nestled in between rolling hills, with areas of forest or woodland, and lush green pastures appearing beyond the main thoroughfares that pass through the hamlet.

From what I could see, almost every building in the area was of timber frame construction, and while some were quite small and often rundown, others were well maintained and surrounded by huge swathes of lawn and well kept flower beds. The biggest brick constructed building in the village (see below) is one that appears to be shared between the Pawling Corporation, and the Presray company, which provides "Critical Containment Solutions", though for what and to whom I don't know.

Above: The Pawling Corp and/or Presay Co., building in Wassaic

Below: Homes in the village of Wassaic, New York. 

It was during this walk that I passed the home of Hugh, who was sitting in his yard drinking beer next to a large fire pit filled with burning logs. As I was walking past his timber-frame home munching my way carefully around the core of a Golden Delicious apple, he called out to me, complimenting me on my choice of cap -- which identified me as a Yankees fan. I made a suitable reply, and then, as he seemed to want to continue conversing, I entered his fence-less yard, and with words to the effect that 'there is no point traveling if you are not going to meet the locals', we shook hands and I introduced myself as 'Jim, from Australia.' I then sat down for fifteen minutes or so, making small - but pleasant - talk with him.

I must say that as humble as his circumstances appeared to be, Hugh seemed happy with his lot in life. My guess is that he was well into his 50s, currently unattached, and probably happy to be in that state, but then I didn't ask him, and he didn't ask me about my relationship status! Despite owning three cars, he said he had a well-paying job within walking distance of his home, and the stream (or branch of a larger river) that ran along the edge of his property apparently had abundant large, edible fish within easy reach of a fishing line (although they were not always easy to catch). And then there was his fire pit with which to cook them should he choose to.

Natalia Nakazawa's Eye Flame, 2009

Above: Detail from Enrique Figueredo's If I Could Build Anything I Wanted 2, 2015

Detail from Tatiana Arocha's Impending Beauty, 2017.
Taking my leave of Hugh and his fire pit, I walked back to the Mill for the three o'clock dance session, where I watched the Daniel Gwirtzman Dance Company, the Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre, and Esther Baker-Tarpaga present their modern dance works, and then, instead of heading over to Luther Barn to the Weird and Wonderful film shorts program, I went for another walk through a different part of Wassaic, just to see what I might see.

Two of the houses pictured below must surely be among the grandest homes in Wassaic, although while the first one is clearly well maintained and occupied, the house in the second image, of an equally grand house, appears to be abandoned and falling into disrepair. And then there is the third image of a  'fixer-upper' as these houses are euphemistically called. I don't know how 'cheap' the house is going for, but I suspect you would need lots of time, money, and energy to get it back to a livable condition.

I was back at the Maxon Mill site in time to see the final round of three dance performances beginning at 5:00pm. These were presented by Racoco, Bryn Cohn + Artists, and Rina Espiritu. It was during the last of these performances that the Metro-North train roared past the Mill - which stands alongside the track - and I had to make a snap decision: take the 6:30pm train back to Grand Central, or wait until 8:30, or even 10:30pm to make the two hour trip back to the city.

As a vacillated over my decision, I noticed a group of visitors boarding the shuttle bus for the run to Wassaic station, and in that moment I made my decision to leave. It is a decision I now regret. Now I wish I had stayed to at least see the first of the local bands, Upstate Rubdown play at The Lantern. If I had remained I may even have stayed on to see the other two bands, Madaila, and Midnight Magic. In the end, the only music I did see and hear snatches of was provided by two other local musicians going by the name, The Goldenhour Piedmont Boys. With a name like that you might guess they were either a Country or Bluegrass duo, and if you said Bluegrass, you would be right.

The Lantern appears to be the only entertainment establishment of any real note in the village, and seems to be a combination of pizza restaurant, bar, live music venue, apartments, and who knows what else.

Above: The Lantern, and Below, Calsi's General Store 

You might assume that with my truncated visit to Wassaic, I was disappointed with my mystery trip to the end of the Harlem Line, but no, on the contrary this outing may very well turn out to be the highlight of my three month New York stay - though don't ask me to explain why just yet. I still need to process the experience.

And with that outing, dear reader, Day 57 drew to a long, train ride close.

More Information
The Wassaic Project...

Saturday 12, August | Expenses $53.35 ($67.55)

And Finally, the views from the top floor of Maxon's Mill are well worth the effort of climbing the seven storeys necessary to enjoy them.

Any questions, comments or suggestions? How about complaints or compliments? Let me know via the comments box below.

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