Hope springs eternal in Sharon Springs!
And that hope isn't coming out of the springs, either.
This old Route 20 community, once famed for its sprawling Borscht Belt-like hotels (mostly shuttered now) and its internationally known healing mineral springs (closed since 2005) is showing a robust turn for the better in recent months.
The American Hotel, bought by Garth Roberts and Doug Plummer, is now a twinkling jewel case of past splendor and gloried nostalgia. This circa 1847 Greek Revival hotel consistently wins restaurant and hotel awards on a national level. The food is delectable and visitors come from a 100-mile radius to indulge.
Next door, however, one will find the real reason that visitors are GPS'ing Sharon Springs from all over the world.
The Fabulous Beekman Boys have arrived!
Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his partner, Brent Ridge, host one of the Discovery Channel's biggest (and most surprising) hits. The show (named "The Fabulous Beekman Boys" and airing on the network's Planet Green offshoot) is a charming, witty and highly insightful "fish out of water" look at a couple of well-to-do "New York City folks" moving to the country. Anybody out there thinking "Green Acres"?
Brent, a physician and Martha Stewart executive, told me during a recent visit how they came to out-of-the-way Sharon Springs.
"We actually were up from the city to go apple picking one day and we happened upon this lovely little town. We stayed overnight at the wonderful American Hotel, did the sights in the region, like Howe Caverns, and fell in love with the area."
"Next came the house," laughs Josh, who still resides part-time in New York City where he is a New York Times best-selling author. "We went out to see an old mansion that's been for sale for years. The "old Beekman place," everybody called it. The house called to us and we had to have it. We placed a ridiculously low offer on the house and were amazed that we got it. And we have been here ever since."
The two new country gentlemen were then approached by The Discovery Channel to host a reality show about "city meets rural." "We literally got an e-mail out of the blue one day from the Discovery Channel asking us to do this show. We never, ever planned it. We became "The Beekman Boys" and the rest is history."
The hit show has now been picked up for a second season.
And how have the locals taken to the city boys?
"It has been a process, for sure, but I think of this as home now and that makes a difference," Brent told me. "We hire many local artisans to create products for our shop here in town. We have the best local experts making the finest quality items you can find.
"Things like goat milk cheese, cast iron products, handmade fine linens, specialty soaps and more. And when our series is filming out at the house, film crews come up and stay for weeks, eating here, shopping here and staying in area hotels. So yes, we think the community has embraced our presence. Plus, lots of the show's fans make their way here."
And don't forget the festivals.
"We wanted to bring some real hometown fun back to Sharon Springs, so we created an annual Harvest Festival. The first year 350 people attended. The second year more than 5,000 came. People came from all over the Northeast for it. Even Rosie O'Donnell came! We also have begun a Dickens Victorian Holiday festival. It's great fun."
And so what's next for the Beekman Boys? "Well, we are going to finally follow in the footsteps of people we grew up with, like Andy Williams and The Osmond Brothers and such. We're hosting our very first Christmas television special at 9 p.m. Wednesday on our network."
As we parted at the end of a fun evening at their elegant store on Main Street (www.beekman1802.com), it struck me.
After years of a declining population and economy for this region, how fun it is to know that folks from Virginia and Texas and Italy are tooling down beautiful old Route 20, marveling at the magnificent vista of the Mohawk Valley in the distance, chuckling as they pass the iconic old TeePee gift shop, cruising past historically significant Cherry Valley and then model-walking their way into ancient Sharon Springs.
Because, thanks in large part to Josh and Brent ... Sharon Springs is fabulous again!
I'll catch you in two …'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.