Years of work in Newcomb show signs of paying off with new business
By Melissa Hart
The Town of Newcomb is reinventing itself.
Long known for its southern gateway into the High Peaks and for historic landmarks such as Great Camp Santanoni or the abandoned mining village of Tahawus, its residents are celebrating fresh business, and are planning civic investments.
So far in 2020, the small town where State Route 28N intersects the upper Hudson River has seen the opening of three key businesses: a cafe with a gas pump, a full-service bar/restaurant, and an inn. A grant announced at the end of 2019 raises hopes further.
The $1.1 million award from New York’s Department of State will go toward building a center to welcome visitors, house the historical society and provide space for exhibits showcasing local industrial and cultural heritage. It will host community events and serve as a launching point for outdoor opportunities in the five towns of the Upper Hudson Recreational Hub: Indian Lake, Long Lake, Newcomb, North Hudson and Minerva.
Although by spring the coronavirus pandemic had temporarily altered business operations and delayed state funds, the winter’s activity was promising. For many in Newcomb, the momentum pointed to a decades-in-the-making dream come true.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” said Newcomb Town Supervisor Robin DeLoria. “I knew we had a strong (grant) proposal, but was pleasantly surprised when we heard the announcement.”
Years in the making
As Deputy Town Supervisor Wester Miga points out, Newcomb’s latest transformation didn’t come about overnight. It was a collective effort, starting with creation of a 1990 comprehensive plan and continuing with updates to it every decade.
Town leaders had listed a few major goals: Establish a town center; enhance infrastructure; and develop a consistent identity. Newcomb residents have applied a “do-it-yourself” approach to defining and promoting their town, most of which stretches along Route 28N for about 5 miles.
“Newcomb is an elongated town,” Miga said. “When you get here, you don’t know it. When you leave, you don’t know you left.”
To help change that, signs now welcome visitors at the town entrances. The Overlook Park has developed into a de facto welcome center, with public restrooms, a picnic area and newly built pavilion.
Situated on 28N near the north end of town, this 2-acre park is named for its stunning views of the High Peaks. It’s there that the new community center will rise, and together with other assets such as the town’s golf course, ball field, medical center and rescue squad, it comprises the heart of town.
Making Newcomb a destination
Developments over the past decade can be seen in the big and small details: a new logo, an “Experience Newcomb” app, and the Open Space Institute’s plans to renovate the MacNaughton Cottage at Tahawus. These developments combine to better promote Newcomb as an outdoors destination.
The obvious next step was to focus on the “big three” for ensuring Newcomb is a destination: gas, food and lodging.
“When you don’t have these things, paradise gets diminished,” Miga said. “We’re hoping these new options will entice visitors to stick around a bit.”
Newcomb has been busy checking those three boxes:
- A new lodging option with The Inn at Santanoni—a private residence that people can rent by the room or the whole house.
- Kelly and Tony Audino, proprietors of the Hoot Owl Lodge (B&B), opened The Lake Harris Lodge on Jan. 2, a spot for “casual fine dining” with a full bar, open Thursday through Sunday. Local touches include historic photos on the wall and the history of Newcomb etched into the wooden bar. This summer the owners are unveiling some glamping options.
- The Newcomb Cafe and Campground opened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. In addition to serving breakfast and lunch, the owners also stock the cafe with basic groceries. The cafe has a gas pump with a credit card reader.
All of these businesses are game changers for locals and visitors, especially the ability to fill up the gas tank.
“People used to keep 5-gallon cans of gas in their garages in case people coming through town ran out of gas,” said Susanne Mills, administrative assistant at the Newcomb Historical Museum.
New home for historical society
A big part of the planned community center will be to create a new home for the Newcomb Historical Museum. For the past four years, the museum has occupied a modest kit house located next to the Newcomb Town Hall. While the house has historic significance—it was built by Robert McCoy over 100 years ago, and a second one is at Santanoni—the museum staff is fast running out of room for its permanent collections.
“After word got out that we’re getting a new building, we received two new collections. We’re not sure we can put anything more in here,” said Joan Burke, museum director and a retired teacher who grew up in Tahawus.
With the downstairs devoted to exhibition space, the upstairs is jam-packed with documents, archives and office space. Among some of the larger treasures: a piano made in 1892 that came from Santanoni. In the garage is one of 20 antique guideboats made by an area Civil War soldier and Mayflower descendant.
Photo Archivist Laurinda Minke has been working her way through 15,000 photos from National Lead, the company that mined titanium at Tahawus. She’s diligently sorting and cataloging images in a digital archive. She’s a photographer herself, and her work can be seen in many promotional materials for Newcomb. She also handles the town’s social media.
With a year-round population of fewer than 500 people (and possibly as many moose), there’s a strong spirit of “we’re all in this together” among Newcomb residents. With the coronavirus outbreak casting a shadow over recent accomplishments, town leaders remain optimistic that the community will weather the storm.
“With all of this work so far, we’ve satisfied our main objectives for the initial plan,” Miga said. “When you look at our current Waterfront Revitalization Plan, there’s a check mark at each objective. And this was all accomplished with volunteer efforts.”
DeLoria recently received news that the state grant contract is on hold, with a projection that construction likely would be pushed into 2022. Hits to the state’s economy will be felt everywhere. Locally, the Newcomb Cafe made the decision to close for the month of April, while the Lake Harris Lodge continued to operate on a takeout basis. It’s unclear if the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower exhibit for this summer (“From Mayflower to the Mountains”) will happen as planned.
Recent setbacks aside, the vision for the next 10 years (and beyond) remains unchanged. Town leaders want to increase the number of visitors; address the need for affordable housing, specifically rental options; and get more people to relocate to the area.
None of that is easy.
“We’re not in a state of denial” about the obstacles, said Miga, who acknowledges that it takes a special type of “self-starter” to move to Newcomb. One issue is the long distance to groceries and hospitals (55-65 miles to Glens Falls, depending on which end of town you’re on).
But he quotes Paul Hai, the associate director at the Newcomb campus of the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who said the key to marketing such a place is to establish “firsts.”
First camping trip. First swim in an Adirondack lake. First hike up to a fire tower.
Indelible life experience like those can bring people back year after year, Miga said, ideally forever.