- Living in Tuxedo - 



n 2005,
the New York Times featured Tuxedo as a "Living In" feature. Author C. J. Hughes describes Tuxedo as "a town graced with thick forests, clear lakes, and boulder-strewn slopes," comparing it to "the most gorgeous resorts in Europe, but it is less than 40 miles from Midtown." 

In 1983, New York Times writer Anthony DePalma described Tuxedo as "quiet, sporty, and most of all secure," accurately noting when, at dusk, "when a light fog unfurls across Tuxedo Lake and fishermen cast from small boats dwarfed by the surrounding hills, Tuxedo Park in Orange County resembles a quiet Scottish loch a century ago." You can read the rest of Mr. DePalma's article here

Here is Mr. Hughes' article, which gives an excellent overview on why so many people are choosing to live in Tuxedo.


Big Houses, and an Even Bigger Wilderness

Published: December 11, 2005

RELOCATING from Manhattan to Tuxedo Park, N.Y., held many benefits for Carl Whelahan, not the least of which was a chance to fire up his motorcycle.

The village's location in a rural and sparsely populated corner of Orange County means the roads are rarely plagued by the traffic jams that regularly snarl the rest of the metropolitan area. And those blessedly open highways make for a scenic and relatively speedy ride to Midtown Manhattan, where Mr. Whelahan works for an investment firm.

The appeal of the area - Tuxedo Park and the town of Tuxedo where it is situated - goes well beyond the possibility of a wind-whipped commute. With about three-quarters of the land off-limits to developers, the town is graced with thick forests, clear lakes and boulder-strewn slopes. And, many of the homes are sited to take advantage of vistas of the natural surroundings, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

Mr. Whelahan compares Tuxedo Park -where ornate mansions on large lots balance atop tall cliffs - with the most gorgeous resorts in Europe, but it is less than 40 miles from Midtown.

"It feels like we came down the road into a different country," he said.

He and his wife, Daphne Ireland Whelahan, were so smitten by the area that they put down an offer on a home - a 105-year-old, 2,500-square-foot, one-bedroom former artist's studio, with an unusual stone-walled garden, for $890,000 - even though they knew it would require a huge investment to reconfigure and repair many of the rooms.

Yet for a world-class location, the time, money and work would be worth it. "It was not for the faint of heart," Mr. Whelahan said. "But we both winked at each other when we walked in."

Joining them are other homebuyers who, after having their hearts set on upscale bedroom communities like Bedford and Oyster Bay in New York, or Greenwich, Conn., are buying homes of comparable sizes and styles in Tuxedo Park for much less.

Whether they buy in Tuxedo Park or the less-opulent town of Tuxedo, homeowners cite the vast amount of wilderness so close to a major city as a top selling point.

Even if developers are starting to break ground on the fringes of the town, many homeowners and business leaders said, restrictive zoning and aggressive open-space conservation ensure that Tuxedo will be adequately protected from the big-box stores and ticky-tacky town houses that dominate so many of the suburbs to the south and east.

What You'll Find

Squeezed between the Harriman and Sterling Forest State Parks in the Ramapo River valley, Tuxedo's 29,191 acres are a patchwork of incorporated villages, subdivisions with names and former iron-processing facilities.

The town's crown jewel is Tuxedo Park, a 2,049-acre former hunting preserve mapped out by Pierre Lorillard in 1886, all of which is registered as a historic district.

Past the imposing stone gate, where security officers will turn away nonresidents, the park features 330 homes, many of them immense, and which look like they've been transposed from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, or at least from the coast of Newport, R.I.

In addition to their many bedrooms and bathrooms, billiard rooms and ballrooms, the Shingle- and Tudor-style mansions, some designed by architects like McKim, Mead & White, also feature all the attendant turn-of-the-20th-century details, like boathouses, porte-cocheres and huge fireplaces.

The master-plan approach to growing the town was not limited to Tuxedo Park. In the 1950's, large corporations like Union Carbide and International Paper built big research facilities - now closed - in Tuxedo. At the same time, the companies put up clusters of homes for their employees. Built in subdivisions like Laurel Ridge in the northwest part of town, these boxy, ranch-style homes, terraced into the sides of mountains, offer superb views.

In terms of new construction, homes are rising in places like Eagle Valley, in the town's southern tip, where subdivisions like Hamilton Estates offer large single-family homes, many of which appeal to buyers who started out looking in northern New Jersey, brokers said.

A group of 63 single-family homes, part of the Sterling Place subdivision, will soon rise on a 60-acre parcel off Route 17. The planning board is reviewing another large development, Tuxedo Reserve, a proposal from the Related Companies for 1,195 homes on 700 acres.

Concerns about preserving the town's rural character, though, have altered one proposal, called Sterling Forge Estates, which would have included 103 homes and an 18-hole golf course on 575 acres. After an outcry from residents, the developers removed the golf course from the plan, on the grounds that it could harm the endangered rattlesnakes that live there, although the housing units are still on the table. Sterling Forge awaits town approval.

What You'll Pay

Though the range in prices is vast -$200,000 to $9 million - the average home tends to cost about $800,000.

If you want an old house, something in Tuxedo Park for $800,000 will likely get you an out-building, like a carriage house on a former estate, and one that requires some renovation, because many have been in the same hands for years. Leaky roofs, outdated kitchen appliances and pervasive mold are problems, although renovations are making these issues less prevalent, residents say.

For a new home, $800,000 will buy you a four-bedroom colonial with an attached garage on a one-acre lot on a cul-de-sac in the southern part of town, something built in the last five years, brokers said.

In all, according to Mary Ann Mitchell, an associate broker with Prudential Rand Realty, prices have climbed about 20 percent in the last two years, although some brokers say houses have been staying on the market a bit longer in recent months. "It's an excellent buy for people who are looking in the high end, who are willing to live a little farther north," Ms. Mitchell said.

What to Do

Half the residents of Tuxedo Park belong to the Tuxedo Club, according to Christian Sonne, the town historian, who grew up in Tuxedo Park and returned there to live in 1976.

For $6,500 per family a year, plus a $50,000 initiation fee, club members can play tennis and squash, and there is a pool and golf course. The club, which has a restaurant, also holds many parties.

On the other hand, nightlife in the town of Tuxedo is practically nonexistent, save for icons like the Red Apple Rest, a roadside food-stop for generations of children taking buses to camps in the Catskills.

In next-door Sloatsburg, the Rhodes North Tavern provides live music for adults and a sandbox for children. It's a favorite of Claudia Hamlin's, a wedding planner and mother of two who in September closed on an 8,000-square-foot home in Tuxedo Park for $1.35 million.

For Ms. Hamlin, whose home is a weekend retreat from her West Village loft - about 30 percent of Tuxedo Parks residents are weekenders, brokers say - Tuxedo is much less stuffy than the Hamptons, where she rented for seven summers. "As New Yorkers, we're very sensitive about diversity, and there's an openness here that I like," Ms. Hamlin said.

The Schools

The town of Tuxedo is split into two public school districts. Students in the town's southern half are zoned for the Tuxedo Union Free School District, while students in the northern part - 31 students this year, about 1 percent of the student body - go to Monroe-Woodbury Central schools, which offer more varsity sports and have a better academic reputation, residents say.

SAT scores seem to bear this out. The class of 2005 at Tuxedo's George F. Baker High School averaged 536 on the math section and 521 on the verbal section of the SAT, besting the state average of 511 for math and 497 for verbal. In comparison, students at Monroe-Woodbury High School scored 552 on the math section and 532 on the verbal, higher than Tuxedo's numbers.

Property taxes for the Monroe-Woodbury district are more than double those of the Tuxedo district for houses with similar assessments.

Another option for elementary and junior high school is the Tuxedo Park School, a private school that teaches prekindergarten to Grade 9. This year, the school's enrollment of 217 students is its largest in its history, according to the headmaster, Jim Burger, who said that 60 percent of his students go on to prep schools while the others attend local private, parochial or public schools.

The History

When the Harriman family bought the old iron ore mines around Tuxedo in the 1870's, the landscape looked practically lunar. Most of the trees had been chopped down to make charcoal, used as fuel in the furnaces to separate the iron from rock.

The Harrimans gave the first 10,000-acre chunk to the state in 1910, and other parcels followed, much of which were turned into an eponymous park. Much of the rest was sold to Swiss Re, the insurance company.

Then, in 1998, the state bought the bulk of that land, adding it to the park system as Sterling Forest. Today, both Harriman and Sterling are home to a network of hiking trails, including the granddaddy of them all, the Appalachian Trail.

The Commute

Rail service takes commuters from the town's Tudor-style 19th-century train station to Secaucus, N.J., where they connect with another train to Pennsylvania Station. The trip takes about an hour.

There is also bus service, courtesy of the Short Line. In the morning, riders are picked up at one of two locations - about every 15 minutes during rush hour - and after stopping in Sloatsburg, run express to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, taking about an hour.

What We Like

Many people who live in Tuxedo rave about how secure it is, especially relative to other New York suburbs, according to Cindy Booth Van Schaack, a long-time resident and president of Towne and Country Properties, Sotheby's International Realty, who has been selling homes in Tuxedo since 1975.

"Even people who have alarm systems don't turn them on," she said. "You can let your children roam anywhere knowing they will be safe."

What We'd Change

Tuxedo's tiny commercial district, made up of a small grocery store, a Chinese restaurant, a post office and a few banks, doesn't have a dry cleaner or pharmacy.

Proponents of the new housing developments, however, say their projects will encourage other types of businesses, including gourmet food stores, to move in.