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A visitor’s guide to Port Jervis

Port Jervis, a city back on track

By VICKI KOHLER

PORT JERVIS, NY — It’s not easy to imagine yourself a “visitor” to a city you have lived near all your life. When I was growing up during the ’50s and ’60s, Port Jervis, or “Port,” was the place to go — the only place to go for shopping. We did our grocery shopping and banking, and picked up stuff we ordered by catalog from the Sears or Montgomery Ward stores. We browsed in the Woolworth and Newberry’s stores for things we didn’t know we needed until we saw them. The trip to Port Jervis always ended at the Texas Lunch for hot dogs smothered in a “secret sauce” and washed down with a Yoo-Hoo. It seemed that life couldn’t get much better.

Actually, with the departure in the ’70s of the Erie Railroad and the increasing popularity of malls and big-box stores elsewhere, life in Port Jervis changed. Beneath the once-proud business marquees boarded windows sadly advertised there was no longer anything of interest.

But thanks to renewed interest in the history and amazing natural resources of this river community, a renaissance is springing up all over Port Jervis. So I decided to spend my next day off taking a trip to the “new” Port Jervis.

I wanted to get a bird’s-eye view, so before I entered the city, I headed left off Route 97 and drove up to Elks-Brox Memorial Park, one of three municipal parks, where I saw the city, spread out in the Delaware and Neversink valleys. The view was breathtaking. No wonder Port Jervis is called “the gateway” to the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway (UDSB), which extends on Route 97 to Hancock. (To view the new UDSB interactive website go to www.upperdelawarescenicbyway.org.) I snapped a few pictures and headed back down. In addition to the view, the park has picnic areas, trails and bathrooms.

There’s no better way to freshen one’s perception of a well-known environment than to get out of the car and walk around. Sad to say, the only time I had ever walked in “Port” was to go to a store and back to my car. I parked at Fort Decker at 127 West Main Street, a stone house built in 1760 that is a revolutionary landmark and the museum of the Minisink Valley Historical Society (845/856-2375). From there I started off on the Delaware River Heritage Trail.

The trail guide begins, “Welcome to Port Jervis and the Delaware Heritage Trail. The trail, owned and operated by the city, was created to allow walkers, hikers, tourists and residents to enjoy the city’s historical sites and river vistas that have been immortalized in photographs, songs, paintings and literature. It is approximately six miles long.” I wasn’t more than a minute into the first part of the trail on River Road when I realized I should’ve brought my binoculars. I heard unfamiliar bird sounds and tantalizing glimpses of unfamiliar birds. Sweet smells wafted up from the river and the abundant array of wildflowers—tiger lilies, columbine and primroses. I thought, “Next time, I’ll remember the binoculars.” I was hooked.

Once on Front Street, I saw a marvelous transformation. On my right, at 17 Front Street, is the Blue Parrot Taqueria (845/858-1717). Across the street is the newly renovated Restaurant at Twenty Front (845/856-8955). Since it was early morning, I stopped at Port Java (845/858-4500) for a medium dark roast and asked about ongoing events at this very popular coffee house: acoustic guitar, open mic night, Celtic music and an Irish session night that has musicians show up and play. I was definitely coming back.

Back outside I noticed a row of antique stores: Quick Silver Antiques, Twenty Seven Gallery, Maricel’s Attic, Variety Show. I’d be back when I had more time. Further down the street at 59 Front Street, I stopped in the The Book Nook (845/856-8888), a used bookstore that always has a great store window display and is a place where you can get lost in the shelves of books. In the back is the picture framing area where I’ve gotten many prints framed, “treasures” I discovered at the consignment store The Hodge-Podge (845/856-6122) at 85 Jersey Avenue.

At 9 Jersey Avenue (Front Street turns into Jersey Avenue) is a striking red brick building with green trim, The Erie Hotel and Restaurant (845/858-4100). The menu displayed by the door was more than appealing, but it was too early for lunch. The next building is the renovated Erie Depot, built in 1892. At one time the city’s nerve center, then abandoned and boarded up, it is now renovated and hosts several businesses. I stopped in one of them, The Herb Shoppe (845/856-6579), to see if the organic garlic was in yet. The Erie Depot and the many other older buildings in the city provide fine examples of Victorian architecture—Gothic revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, to name a few.

The trail makes a loop into Laurel Grove Cemetery, which was designed by a landscape architect in the 1850s. I stopped to see the Tri-States Monument and did something I’d never done before—stood on three states, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, at one time. The trail exits into Main Street and makes a side trip to the Veteran’s Memorial, where Stephen Crane interviewed local veterans returning from the Civil War. Some of the material from these interviews was used in “The Red Badge of Courage.”

I knew I had to return. I had missed so many things—the Gillinder Glass Museum (845/856-5375), where blown glass was created, the trails to enjoy on foot or bicycle. And I hadn’t been rafting in years. I could even come to some of the annual events like the ArtsWalk, or the Fall Foliage Festival. I walked down West Main Street and returned to the car. I felt that I had just visited a place for the first time. And I had.

For more information about Port Jervis visit tristatechamber.org minisink.org or portjervis.org, or call 845/856-6694.

TRR photo by Victoria Kohler
Elks-Brox Park offers a breathtaking birds-eye view of Port Jervis. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Victoria Kohler
The Delaware River Heritage Trail starts at Fort Decker on West Main Street. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Victoria Kohler
The old-fashioned sign painted on the side of the Erie Hotel adds a spot of historical color. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Victoria Kohler
The Erie Depot, originally built in 1892, was recently renovated and now houses a number of shops. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Victoria Kohler
This temptingly shady stretch of sidewalk along River Road provided a scenic route back to the car after my perambulations around the city, where I could stop for an ice cream and walk along the river. (Click for larger version)