HouseI bought this house yesterday.

It’s the fifth place I’ve owned. I’ve been making my way in a kind of reverse ‘L’ , slowly moving in a southerly and then westerly direction that began in my late twenties in Pownal, Vt., with my first house purchase, after which I migrated a few miles across the border to a house in Williamstown, Mass.

Then in the auspicious year of 2001, I made the journey with my family to the southern end of Berkshire County, to Great Barrington, Mass., where I was lucky to find the last “affordable” house – a terrific four-bedroom monster of a place on a Norman Rockwell-esque dead-end street on the “wrong” side of town – just before the housing market exploded.

I lived there for about six years or so, and then, post-divorce, I downsized into a one-bedroom, 650-sq.-ft condo apartment in downtown Great Barrington overlooking Main Street.  I loved that place; it served me well during that transitional time; I bought it after renting it for a year or so.

Then, last year, I moved about a half-hour west to the colorful riverfront “city” of Hudson, N.Y. I say “city” because the population of Hudson is actually below that of Great Barrington, and because you can pretty much walk the perimeter of the entire city, all of 2.5 sq. miles, in an easy hour.

Nevertheless, Hudson is most definitely a little pocket of urban surrounded by Columbia County-rural. And, although just a hop over the Massachusetts border, it’s another world here. (That being said, and for the record, nearly a decade ago – years before I’d ever had an inkling that I might ever live here, when I co-founded Berkshire Living, a regional cultural and lifestyle magazine, one of the first things I did was draw an oval around Berkshire County – an oval that included Hudson —  and declared this to be the Berkshire region. Now that I live here, I see that this may have been faulty thinking on my part, but that’s something I’ll talk more about some other time.)

So in the spring of 2012, I decided to make the move to Hudson, and found this house – the same one I bought yesterday – for rent. On the very first day that I scoped out this place with M and met the landlord, he broached the topic of it being for sale, potentially, and what he would like to get for it. I think I knew then and there that I would wind up buying the place eventually, and indeed, after looking at every single place on the market in and around Hudson for the better part of a year (thank you Ruth Moser and James Male), I decided that this really was the best move to make.

But I diverge. The house. First of all, it is not what you think it is. From the outside, yes, it looks like a real project, a fixer-upper, a money pit, a place with “potential.”

Actually, you’re looking at the worst of it, and the only thing the place really needs is exactly what you see it needs – exterior repair and a few good coats of paint. The interior was renovated less than 10 years ago, in a combination of new (and, in some cases, unfortunate) and vintage. There are some great old touches inside, and although a little small (1,200 sq. ft.), the place works for us, which is saying a lot, as we both work at home and we now have two dogs.

YardA big part of the appeal is what you can’t see from the front. It is this:

Hah. What’s hidden from the front curb is one of the largest, most beautiful, fully enclosed and private gardens in all of Hudson. It’s pretty much a necessity to have this, and not only for M’s sanity, but mostly for the sake of the dogs.

Otherwise, the place doesn’t really need any other work. Like all houses of this vintage (approximately 1860), it needs plenty of maintenance and repair work, and I’ve got a list of very un-sexy projects that need to be tackled (meaning: paid for). There are things we’d love to do inside for aesthetic and design reasons, but the place is totally livable as is.

Having lived here for over a year, I know the house’s flaws all too well, but I also know its joys. But as a foothold in the very exciting renewal of Hudson, I couldn’t have stumbled upon a better perch.

Hudson has been revitalizing itself now for nearly 20 years, and especially so for the last ten. The renewal of the city as a whole still has a long way to go, but every week or two there seems to be some new step forward – a vacant house is bought and fixed up; a new restaurant or other kind of business opens; another adventurous hipster couple from Brooklyn moves to town (some may not see that as a step in the right direction, but I sure do; more on that some other time).

There also, unfortunately, is typically one big step backward for every couple of steps in the right direction (such as the imminent opening of a correctional high school right in the heart of the downtown business district – what are they thinking?). But bit by bit, the place is making progress, and it’s an exciting time to be here (thank you, Marina Abramovic).

The house is on the “wrong” side of town, which of course is part of its appeal. The south side of town has mostly been gentrified, and prices there are out of reach and, in some cases, beyond belief, especially for buildings in need of much more work than mine. Sale prices are a matter of public record, so if you want and have the wherewithal you can easily learn what I paid for my two-bedroom abode, but I’ll just tell you that it was well under $200,000. In fact, it’s pretty much the same price I paid for my Great Barrington house in 2001, and only slightly more than I paid for my Great Barrington apartment.

And thanks to low interest rates and the new 15-year-fixed-rate payoff plans, my monthly payment, including taxes, will actually be lower than what I’ve been shelling out for rent, and about the same as what I was paying for my condo apartment or even a little less.

As I was saying, it’s on the “wrong” side – the north side – of town. But gentrification, for better or worse (I think for better), is rapidly coming to this area, too, and I think I got in just in time.

Having lived in this house and this neighborhood for over a year now, I know what I’m facing. First of all, it’s totally safe here. Yes, the three-block walk from my house to Warren Street – the main drag in town – passes by an “open-air drug mart,” but the low-level dealers (if that’s what they are) are totally friendly and non-threatening. (It undoubtedly helps that I walk by every day with one or two dogs that can easily be mistaken for vicious curs. Please don’t spread it around that they are pushovers.)

On my own block, just a few houses down is a multi-family dwelling inhabited by very friendly people but that occasionally attracts some seemingly less-than-desirable visitors. To one side of my house is a gorgeously restored place owned by an antiques dealer with a backyard garden that is a stop on annual urban garden tours; on the other side, right up against my house, is a vacant, crumbling place that, perhaps unsurprisingly for Hudson, is owned by a candidate for city council. (Maybe he’ll actually fix the place up one of these days; in the meantime, I pick up the trash and weed-whack out front as part of my own, small “broken-windows” campaign. But the place does still sport a few of those, too, and there is only so much I’m willing to do.)

Diagonally across the street is a gorgeous old school building that is soon to be home to artist studios, and across the street runs a picturesque, one-way block of old townhouses with a mixed population of old-timers and younger, urban pioneers. At the other end of that block is a chocolate factory; I kid you not.

The first week I moved in here last spring, there was a fatal shooting a block and a half away, and last spring there was gunplay another block and a half away that led to a neighborhood clampdown. But trouble like this seems to be confined mostly to those living a lifestyle that invites trouble; those going about their everyday business seem to be untouched by the crime and violence for which Hudson is unfairly renowned.

There are some big public housing projects just a couple of blocks away that at times can make the place feel like a smaller version of “The Wire” – we’ve got the towers and the low-rises, and perhaps some of the same sort of behavior that went on in the TV show’s version of those places. But mostly, or almost totally, there’s just people living there, as quick with a friendly hello as anyone, and often more so.

It’s a new life here, with plenty of challenges, but it’s an exciting one. I’m just two blocks away from Helsinki Hudson, a sort of home-away-from-home, as was Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, and so on many a night I can be found there, enjoying Chef Hugh Horner’s amazing culinary concoctions and listening to the latest hipster band from Brooklyn or roots-rockers from Woodstock or national touring acts like Suzanne Vega, Sandra Bernhard, Magnetic Fields, and James McCartney.

Melissa Auf der Maur

Melissa Auf der Maur

There are a few great yoga studios in town — M teaches at one of them – and a terrific independent bookstore – Spotty Dog Books – with a lively reading and music series. Former Hole bassist Melissa auf der Maur lives here and co-owns Basilica Hudson, an experimental performance space in a converted foundry down by the river; and there are more restaurants, art galleries and antiques shops than anyone can keep track of.

When I went out this morning to walk Stevie around town, it felt totally different and new. It was my first morning in Hudson as a homeowner. I have a stake in it now, literally. It felt great. It felt like my town.

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