Right off the beaten path, or rather wrapped around the sides of a few of them in the southeast corner of Dutchess County, is the almost implausibly storied town of Pawling. Out the window of a train on the Metro-North Harlem line, which runs through the town’s small village, or in a car buzzing down Route 22 bound for the Taconic Parkway, Pawling could whiz by without leaving much of an impression. Stop, and it’s a different story.
Historically, Pawling has seen many travelers and migrants. Before its first European founders, Town Historian Robert Reilly writes, Pawling was mostly just passed through by journeying Mahikan Indians, who roamed the area that is now Dutchess County. While two burial sights have been discovered in Pawling, Reilly says there is little evidence to conclude they lived there.
In 1728 the Quakers arrived, settling the area called “the back lots” atop what is now Quaker Hill. In 1742 the growing community built the Oblong Meeting House. It was in that unassuming meeting house, nearly a century before Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, that the Pawling Quakers voiced the first official opposition to the institution of slavery in the Colonies, stating that if God resides in everyone, enslaving anyone is to enslave God.
During the winter of 1778-79, the Oblong Meeting House was commandeered by General George Washington for use as a make shift hospital. Washington himself stayed in the nearby John Kane House, which he made his headquarters while positioning forces. Both buildings, along with many others in Pawling, are now recognized as protected historic places.
When the Harlem train line was extended to Pawling in 1848, the once primarily agricultural community was given a new source of influence as travel to and from New York City became much easier. The short commute by rail brought with it powerful new residents and visitors.
The connection to the city only 70 miles south of the town remains extremely important. “Having that stop is critical to Pawling’s development,” says Chamber of Commerce President Peter Cris, standing on the sidewalk of the village’s postcard-worthy main street, Charles Colman Boulevard, near the historic train station that serves as the Chamber’s office.
When entering the village by train, Pawling’s architecture and overall aesthetic feels very much like a piece of New England. The large and striking brick building known as the Dutcher House, which contains a number of Pawling’s storefronts, is the centerpiece of the village.
In the southern end of the Dutcher House is the McKinney & Doyle restaurant and bakery. Seemingly all day long, from the morning cup of coffee to the one with desert, the establishment is busy. The bakery offers a casual but high-end experience while the dinning room puts out an extremely long and varied menu of dishes that have received high praise from Zagat’s, as well as other reviewers.
While the village does not have a long line of storefronts and can utilize only the side of the road opposite the tracks, nothing seems superfluous or repeated. The Annex Florist, also in the Dutcher provides packed window boxes for all the building’s stores. Beyond the Dutcher one can get unpretentious, thin-crust pizza at Mama Pizza II or order homemade Mexican food from thewhite board at the El Quetzal restaurant and deli.
With the influx of residents from New York City, from the super rich—four billionaires currently call Quaker Hill home, or a home—to young commuter families reliant on the train for work, the population of Pawling has actually continued to grow, Cris says, a trend that runs contrary to nearly all the other local municipalities.
(Pawling has a long legacy of rich and famous full or part-time residents, including former Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Edward R. Murrow, and Dr. Norman Vincant Pearl, who established the Center for Positive Thinking on Main Street, an institution that still attracts many visitors.)