I grew up in the rural, rolling farmland of Upstate New York. Occasionally—often on the way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or nearby Glimmerglass Lake—we would pass through Sharon Springs, a town memorable solely for the distinctly pungent smell that emanated from its natural sulphur springs.
It was because of these springs and their healing properties that Sharon Springs had grown into a popular summer spa destination in the 19th century, attracting thousands of visitors annually including members of the Vanderbilt family and Oscar Wilde, who lectured at one of its hotels in 1882. By the 1970s, though, Sharon Springs had fallen firmly into decline and seemed destined to become a footnote in Upstate New York’s history.
Twenty years later, however, the village would embark on a renaissance thanks to Doug Plummer and Garth Roberts, a couple who were passing through from New York City, located approximately 200 miles away.
“My husband and I saw an old farmhouse outside the the village and thought, this is the coolest thing we’ve ever seen,” recalls Plummer, the mayor of Sharon Springs. And so they bought the house, as well as several other properties, including the then-rundown historic American Hotel that they rehabilitated and run today. Beyond that, the two men have been pivotal in attracting others to join in with their enthusiasm for the village of 550 people.
“One of the greatest things, the thing that has saved Sharon Springs is the LGBT community, we are the ones who came in here and started to improve things,” continues Plummer, as we sat together in the cozy lobby of his hotel. As if on cue, Lance and Anthony, another gay couple from NYC, appear. “These guys came in one Friday about six months ago, and on Sunday saw a realtor and, like, three days later they put an offer on a house.”
“I decided to give up what I was doing in New York and move back Upstate,” explains Jay Lavery (above, with his goat Jill), another Sharon Springs resident, subject of a wildly popular YouTube video and, subsequently, a guest on The Ellen Show. Lavery is also the owner of The Dancing Farm where he raises the goats that provide the milk for his line of soaps. “I came to the town offices and that’s when I met Doug and it all began there.”
What’s next for Sharon Springs? “That big, red brick building across the street is the Klinkhart Theater. It’s an 1889 building that was a movie theater and will be our arts center,” says Plummer. “And, there’s a $10 million renovation of one of our spas happening. It will be open in fall 2018.”
The American Hotel (above), the heart of the village owned by Plummer and Roberts, is a charming, intimate inn with nine guest rooms, a fantastic restaurant, and a copper bar with five stools ideal for a nightcap or afternoon libation.
Stop into 204 Main Bistro for delicious, modern, seasonal dishes like Chilean sea bass (above), schnitzel with a sunny side up egg and mixed greens, or succulent short ribs with potato pavé.
If your visit coincides with a special event like the village’s Victorian Stroll (or, you’re with a large party), stop in to Miss Lodema’s Tea Room for a lovely afternoon bite that includes finger sandwiches, fresh-baked scones, lemon curd, clotted cream, and all the other tea service trappings.
As you stroll along Main Street peeking into the myriad antique shops, be sure to also stop in to McGillycuddy’s Naturals to peruse its line of fragrant bath products. A few doors down, stop into Beekman 1802 (above) the well-appointed emporium of skin care products, home goods, and gourmet items from Sharon Springs’s most famous inhabitants, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his husband, Brent Ridge, stars of The Fabulous Beekman Boys reality show and winners of the 21st season of The Amazing Race.