Home to the Hamlets of Big Indian, Mount Tremper, Phoenicia, Pine Hill and Chichester, the Town of Shandaken, NY, about 15 miles west of Woodstock in Catskill Park, has long served as a wilderness retreat for artists, musicians, chefs and urban professionals seeking escape or spiritual connection in the mountains. Beginning in the 1950s, French chefs in New York City, including Jacques Pepin and Pierre Franey, vacationed in town and later opened restaurants here; Big Indian was the site of an ashram in the 1970s; Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix frequented a sweat lodge in Woodland Valley; and, today, the Zen Mountain Monastery houses a temple and training center open to the public in Mount Tremper, while the Menla Mountain Retreat and Conference Center is run by New York City’s Tibet House in Phoenicia.
Named “rapid water,” most likely for Esopus Creek, the famous trout-fishing destination that flows through town, Shandaken was established in 1804 from part of the Town of Woodstock. By the end of the century, Shandaken had already developed the tourist industry that would bring Babe Ruth to town in the 1900s and, to this day, remains its most important economic contributor. Currently, between 35% and 40% of all residents are vacation-home owners who live in town only part time.
Shandaken is covered by 54,000 acres of forest, 70% of which is owned and protected by New York State; it’s also home to Slide Mountain, the highest point in the Catskill Mountains, made famous by the writings of local nature essayist and conservationist John Burroughs.
Other popular destinations in Shandaken include State-owned Belleayre Mountain, a four-season ski resort in the Hamlet of Highmount; and Belleayre Beach in Pine Hill, which offers swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing and even a climbing wall.
DID YOU KNOW?
Shandaken, and specifically Phoenicia, was featured on national television in summer 2000 by Fox Cable, which filmed a segment of its Million Dollar Mysteries series on the lost treasure of Prohibition-era gangster Dutch Schultz, who regularly visited town. For nearly 75 years, treasure hunters, including an ex-bootlegger, a former Grateful Dead scholar, and a pair of undertakers in possession of two halves of a treasure map, have searched the area for the millions of dollars — in currency, gold and/or jewels — Schultz is believed to have buried here. The Fox show was narrated by Sullivan County historian and Catskills gangster expert John Conway, who told the story of Schultz being assassinated in 1935 in Newark, NJ, shortly after returning from a trip to Phoenicia. It is said that Schultz, dying and delirious on his hospital bed, made numerous cryptic references to the Shandaken hamlet and his loot, which were recorded by a police stenographer. They included: “Wonder who owns these woods…? He’ll never know what’s buried in ‘em.” In 2001, the Fox episode was followed up by a full-length documentary, Digging for Dutch: The Search for the Lost Treasure of Dutch Schultz, directed by Laura Levine, who runs Mystery Spot Antiques in Phoenicia.
Total Area: 119.84 square miles
Elevation: 1,348 feet
Zip Code: 12480
Population (2010): 3,085
Belleayre Mountain ski resort
Blue Barn Market Place
Copperhood Retreat & Spa
Emerson Country Store
Emerson Resort & Spa
Hot Stuff Blown Glass Studio
Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center
Menla Mountain Retreat and Conference Center
Mount Tremper Performing Arts
Mystery Spot Antiques
Oliverea School House Maple Syrup
Phoenicia Artist Studio Tour
The Phoenicia Festival of the Voice
Rubber Ducky Race
Zen Mountain Monastery