Where does upstate New York really begin?

USTATIC? – Crack! Hiss! It’s the sound of a Pandora’s box opening. Because this is an article about what “upstate” is – and what it isn’t. And everyone, it seems, has a strong opinion.

Take Heather Barmore, deputy assistant in the US Office of the Trade Representative. She describes herself on her personal Twitter account as an “upstate New Yorker”. She recently tweeted“On a flight sitting next to a Bills fan. Preparing to fight for what is considered upstate New York. He’s from Buffalo, so he’ll probably agree with me Either way, I’m ready.(Note the upstate capitalization. Barmore means business.)

When asked what Barmore considered upstate, she pointed to another tweet from 2018, written by Riley Ludwig (born in Albany, went to college in Ithaca, now lives in New York): “Upstate New York is a real part of New York State and not just everything outside New York. A lot of people think the North Bronx is upstate, but no. Albany is in upstate New York. Buffalo is western New York. Syracuse is central New York, and Poughkeepsie and Westchester are in the downstate.

Strong opinion indeed.

Guess what? Bruce Dearstyne, a historian and author who lives in Guilderland, disagrees. “There is no precise or legal definition that I know of,” he said. “I don’t know when this term started to come into fashion. I define it as anything north of New York.

This means that Dearstyne, the author of “The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in Empire State History”, would define Westchester and Putnam counties as upstate. “Most people would say Long Island is upstate.”

Well, maybe not most.

An unscientific Facebook poll reveals that people who grew up in New York see upstate as anything that isn’t their part of town. For some, that means north of 14th Street. For others, it might be in the backcountry north of 125th Street, maybe even Yankee Stadium. Some are ready to stretch and call upstate Westchester.

Other north-south dividing lines include the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and the Stewart’s Shops Meridian which, according to the company’s online location map, begins around Middletown. (DEC Drought Task Force member Corey Lehman referenced upstate from the Stewart line on the Capitol Pressroom podcast last month, a definition with which the Deputy Mayor of New Paltz, Alexandria Wojcik, agrees.)

A few of this New York-born journalist’s Facebook “friends” believe that upstate begins where, on the road north of town, a driver begins to relax. It could be Newburgh, Bear Mountain, or even, incongruously, the Sloatsburg rest area. For Taconic drivers, the relaxation apparently comes when the presumed speed limit increases by 15 miles per hour and the space between cars doubles. It is a very beautiful moment, certainly.

Mat Zucker of the Cidiot podcast argues that there’s an exact spot on the Taconic State Parkway where upstate begins: Miller Hill Road just past the I-84 interchange (exit 37). “Driving north from New York, you come out of the narrow, wooded S-curves of Putnam County and the road and sky just open up. Ahead of you are hills, the Catskills in the distance, and you have entered another world – light, space, farms, beauty. Your eyes go wide, your blood pressure drops, you’ve entered upstate,” he said.

As lyrical as Zucker may sound, according to the play “Hello Dolly,” upstate begins in Yonkers. (Thanks to Adirondack Council “Forever Adirondacks” director Aaron Mair for pointing out this definition.)

Geography plays a big role in what people call upstate; the point of view makes all the difference. Not everyone in this vast state travels north from New York all the time. And there are so many ways to carve up what’s north of the city into smaller regions: the Hudson Valley, the Capital Region, the Catskills, the southern part, central New York, the northern country and western New York. For author Laurie Woolever, who grew up in the Syracuse area, upstate meant Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks.

After attending school in Ithaca and marrying an upstate New Yorker, Tim Dressel of Dressel Farms in New Paltz doesn’t consider where he lives upstate. “It’s relative but if you ask me, it starts at the Twin Bridges on 87 north of Albany,” he said. This definition might irritate residents of the Hudson Valley; some regions seem to have stronger opinions than others.

Dearstyne, the historian, methodically describes other ways to define upstate: anything outside the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s commuter rail zone; where taxes are paid; where state aid is granted; judicial districts; School districts; and even the Hudson River.

“When you talk about the Hudson Valley, we usually talk about Albany in New York. The Hudson rises very far north, so the Hudson Valley could go from the Adirondacks all the way to New York,” he reflected.

For the record, Dearstyne would use “downstate” to refer to New York and thinks the city deserves its own distinction.

“It’s a different economy, it always seems more diversified, a faster pace of life, more active. Other things have been historically different — upstate has been mostly Republican since the Civil War and New York City mostly Democratic. Not always, but most of the time. »

(For further reading, Dearstyne suggests the essay on “Upstate and Downstate” in “The Encyclopedia of New York State.” Another older “historical” discussion he notes is David M. Ellis, “New York: State and City”, Chapter 8, “Northern State versus Lower State.”)

Andrew Addotta wouldn’t call the city a downstate. In his opinion, it’s more for people from the North Country who travel to Albany. Addotta, co-owner of Hamilton & Adams, a men’s clothing store in Kingston, has lived in New York. He grew up in Buffalo, went to school in Alfred and Ithaca, and has resided in Ulster County for a decade. His opinion ? “I think it’s all upstate. There is no clear demarcation.

Addotta’s store has been selling merchandise — shirts, mugs, sweatshirts, stickers — bearing the words “upstate and chill” since 2017. They’ve shipped online orders to all 50 states.

“Upstate is a feeling and a vibe. It’s not meant to be just any place. It’s a whole aura and the beauty that it offers,” Addotta said. Lakes, a Bills game or picking apples in the Hudson Valley.”It’s a huge state,” he said, adding, “It’s based on your experience. This is where your upstate is.

On this point, Addotta and Dearstyne agree: “Everyone has an idea and I don’t think it should be taken too seriously,” said Dearstyne. “You define it your way, I define it my way.”

About Robert James

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