Sharon Springs is a village in Schoharie County, New York, United States. The population was 547 at the 2000 census. Its name derives from the hometown of the first Colonial settlers, Sharon, Connecticut, and the important springs in the village. Sharon Springs, Kansas likewise was settled by former residents of this Upstate New York village.
The Village of Sharon Springs sits in the northwest part of the Town of Sharon, New York, approximately west of Albany, the state capital. Surrounded by rolling hills and nestled in a winding valley, the tidy village is near some of New York State's most popular attractions. Howe Caverns is to the south while The Mohawk River and Erie Canal are only to the north. The Adirondack Park is further north, about an hour away. Cooperstown, New York, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, The Farmer's Museum and The Fenimore Art Museum, is to the west and the Catskill Park is to the south.
Sharon Springs, recognized by both the National Register of Historic Places as well as New York State's Register of Historic Places as a historic spa village, boasts some attractions of her own. Many of its historic spa-related structures were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 as the Sharon Springs Historic District. In addition to the collection of fully and partially restored 19th century structures and ruins which can be accessed year-round, Sharon Springs also plays host to these seasonal events: the annual Father's Day Tractor & Antique Power Show in June (since 1992); the Summer Concerts Series, every Wednesday night in July and August (since 1994); the annual Harvest Festival in September (since 2009); and the Garden Party festival in May (since 2010).
Since the middle-to-late 1980s, Sharon Springs has gained increased local attention and prominence in Schoharie County. As entrepreneurs from outside the region started businesses and restored its structures, regional and New York City media have tracked its progress. It then gained the attention of Korean spa investors with large, still unrealized plans. Businessmen and women continued to come to the village. As a result, Sharon Springs was recently featured on a cable reality television series, and provided a backdrop for a memoir.
Now, The Town of Sharon, which enfolds the Village, is being discovered by natural gas companies and their scouts due to its location on the edges of the Marcellus Shale Formation. Recently developed advances in horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing first developed in the Burnett Shale fields of Texas now make drilling in the Northeast possible, as seen in nearby Pennsylvania communities which have been drilling for natural gas for over two years now. While New York State continues to grapple with the issue of hydro-fracking, the EPA is also investigating its potential impacts. Any permitting of the process to harvest natural gas from subterranean shale formations is up to New York State, working through the DEC. Opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" say the chemicals pumped into the shale formations under pressure to force the gas up contain harmful chemicals that could disrupt the water supply and environment overall. Supporters of the process say it is safe and would create hundreds of jobs if allowed to proceed in New York. With multiple Town of Sharon residents having signed natural gas exploration contracts, the future of the Village as a regional tourist destination lies in the balance as we learn more about the effects of hydraulic fracturing.
Prior to being claimed and settled by Great Britain as part of its Province of New York, Sharon Springs was frequented by the indigenous Iroquois population for its healing waters. Following Britain's Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Crown formed Tryon County, New York in 1772, which lay at the westernmost reaches of the original Thirteen Colonies. Sharon Springs, then known as the town of New Dorlach, was settled around 1780. Stretching from the Adirondack Mountains to the Delaware River, Tryon County boasted a pre-Revolutionary War farming community of 10,000 and was known as the "Breadbasket of the Colonies".
During the American Revolution, the Town of Sharon, New York saw limited fighting. The Battle of Sharon was fought on July 10, 1781. After burning down 12 homes in a small Canajoharie River settlement and claiming victory in the Battle of Currytown on July 9, approximately 300 British and Iroquois troops commanded by John Doxtader encamped later that day at the Sharon Springs Swamp, near the present-day intersection of Route 20 and County Road 34. Colonel Marius Willett of the American forces headed to their camp with a force of 150 men, attacking the redcoats in the dense swamp, killing 40. Doxtader's men fled and Willett claimed The Battle of Sharon as an American victory.
During and after the Revolution, Sharon Springs was part of the Town of Schoharie in Tryon County. In 1784, Tryon County was renamed Montgomery County, New York to honor General Richard Montgomery, an American war hero who gave his life trying to capture the city of Quebec. In 1791, Otsego County, New York broke off from Montgomery County, and in 1795, Schoharie County, New York was formed from adjoining parts of Otsego and Albany Counties. The Town of Sharon was formed shortly after in 1797, and Sharon Springs set itself apart from the Town of Sharon in 1871 by incorporating as a village. In the process, it absorbed the neighboring community of Rockville.
Thanks to its sulfur, magnesium, and chalybeate mineral springs, Sharon Springs grew into a bustling spa during the 19th century. At the peak of its popularity, Sharon Springs hosted 10,000 visitors each summer, including members of the Vanderbilt family and Oscar Wilde (who gave a lecture at the now-demolished Pavilion Hotel on 11 August 1882). Direct ferry-to-stagecoach lines connected New York City to Sharon Springs, followed by rail lines connecting the Village to New York City and Boston via Albany.
The most famous of the springs in the Village, then as now, was the so-called Gardner Spring, which was owned by the owner of the Pavilion Hotel. As reported in the New York Times on 30 August 1875, "So prodigious is the amount of sulfur-gas in the Gardner Spring that the waters of this creek are rendered as white as milk, and the stones are covered with a thick deposit. All the objects which have been thrown into the stream from above—old shoes, tin pails, and other things of a similar nature—become transmuted by the mineral. Some of them become a snowy white, and others are turned to a deep black. The green weeds that grow upon the sides and bottoms of such creeks are here perfectly white, and at first one can hardly tell their nature, but mistakes them for long films of the sulphur deposit."
According to an article published in The New York Times (26 August 2000), Sharon Springs lost its fashionable Social Register set to the horse-racing attractions of Saratoga Springs. Wealthy Jewish families of German origin, who were unwelcome at Saratoga due to the prevailing social bias of the time, filled the void and "made Sharon Springs a refuge of their own." Eventually, these families moved on to other, more modern resorts, and the village began to fade economically. Other factors that exacerbated the village's early 20th century decline were Prohibition (which reduced the need for the local hop harvest) and the opening of the New York State Thruway (which routed traffic away from the area).
Sharon Springs was also associated with several beer barons in the late 19th and early 20th century. Most American hops were grown in a belt stretching from Madison to Schoharie Counties in upstate New York. Thus this area attracted brewers who summered in the area, two of which, Henry Clausen and Max Shaefer, built homes in the Village. The New York hops trade disappeared after the first world war, due to the combined effects of competition from Oregon, a hops blight, and the coming of prohibition.
From the 1920s to the 1960s kuchaleyans flourished. These were self-catered boarding houses, and in Yiddish the name means "cook-alones." They were a more affordable alternative to the larger more expensive hotels and were especially popular during the depression and, later, with poorer post-war European refugees. Though none operated past the 1980s, one of them, "The Brustman House" on Union Street, survives as a retreat for the owners' descendants. This house's story is typical of the kuchaleyans.
As the cited New York Times article went on to explain, "After World War II, Sharon Springs got a second wind from the West German government, which paid medical care reparations to Holocaust survivors, holding that therapeutic spa vacations were a legitimate part of the medical package." In the summer of 1946, one of the busboys at the Spanish Colonial Revival style Adler Hotel was Edward I. Koch, the future mayor of New York City.
The 1970s through the 1990s saw the succession of secular Jewish tourists to Sharon Springs by Hasidim and ultra-Orthodox Jewish visitors, fed in part by a parallel displacement in the nearby Borsht Belt. Their time in Sharon Springs is documented in "The Short Season of Sharon Springs," published by Cornell University Press in 1980. A host of Hasidim-owned and frequented hotels flourished in the village, bridging Sharon Springs' shining past as a world-class resort for the rich and famous and its recent ascent as a regional travel and weekend destination. A concurrent migration of weekend hunters and union trade workers discovering rural weekending from the Downstate New York City suburbs began coming to Sharon Springs and Schoharie County in the 1970s. As suburban and urban hunters chased the deer, they also introduced the once-endangered wild turkey to this and other rural areas. Unlike the Hasidim tourists, who have mostly moved on to other destinations and have dwindled in numbers, the first wave of suburban weekenders have added to the community by building their families and relocating their full-time lives to their former part-time escape.