Robyn, Cambridge, NY alumna


In honor of the cold weather, I’m remembering back to the summer, when I was in Cambridge, NY.  Walking around one morning, I ran into Robyn and her son near the Round House Bakery Café).  Robyn lives in Los Angeles now, but she and her son spend some time each summer with her parents, who still live in the village.  We had a nice early-morning chat about her old home town and how she enjoys giving her son the Cambridge summer experience, so different from their life the rest of the year in LA.

How would you describe Cambridge?
I would just say Cambridge is really small and everybody knows each other.  We all go to the same school.  My parents went to the same school.  My niece is now going to the same school.  It’s just really small.  It’s like a small, little family.

A correction and a map

First, a correction.  I checked in with Mike Chait at Smuggler’s Notch and learned that the actual annual visitor count for the ski resort is 450,000.  I’ve made the correction in the post.

Second, I thought that folks who aren’t familiar with the northeastern states might like to see how the four Cambridges connect.  On this map, A is Cambridge, MA; B is Cambridge, VT; C is Cambridge, NY; and D is Cambridge, Maine.

Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine are the only three of the six New England states with a Cambridge, so I can check that group off my list.  And New York gives us the full set of northeastern Cambridges.  Maine is the farthest north of the four, but Vermont is closer to Canada.  And you can see how close both New York and Vermont are to the border between the two states.

Four Cambridges

The police perspective, Cambridge, NY

While I was visiting with Cambridge, NY Mayor Carman Bogle, she introduced me to the chief of the police department, Sergeant Robert Danko.  I didn’t have an appointment, but Sgt. Danko graciously made time for me after Mayor Bogle and I finished our conversation.  The rest of the town offices had closed and Sgt. Danko was alone in the police office.

I expected that police work would be an area of stark contrast among the Cambridges.  In the end, I found many differences, but also some similarities.

To start, just as the Village of Cambridge shares administrative roles with the Towns of Cambridge and White Creek, the Cambridge-Greenwich Police Department is shared by the two villages.  And they, in turn, receive additional support from the Washington County Sheriff.  There is coordination between the two forces, and the connection gives the village police a broader perspective, such as on current police techniques, than they could develop on their own.  Sgt Danko

I started by asking Sgt. Danko what is going well for Cambridge Police.  “We’re the true essence of a small town police department.  Everybody knows everybody.  People are more comfortable when they know the person in a uniform.”  Community policing would seem to be inherent in working in a small community, where each police officer will likely know many of the villagers. He described policing the village as “not too chaotic.  We have our issues, but they’re not overwhelming.”

Sgt. Danko, who started his career with the village police force but later worked for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for three years, returned to the village in 2018.  He said that there’s a “big difference” working for the Sheriff’s Office.  It’s “not as intimate as working in a village.  People here are not so intimidated by interactions with the police.”  He said that officers with the Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t usually have as close a relationship with the community.  “We tried, but it’s harder to do.”

Among current issues for the Cambridge police are changes to New York State law that Sgt. Danko described as “more criminal friendly.”  (For example, the state is raising the age at which individuals will automatically be charged as adults to 18.)  “It’s a learning curve and a process for us” to adapt to the changes, he said.

A challenge that Cambridge, MA, NY, and ME all share is the opioid epidemic, and this is one of the areas where the village police force works with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.  Sgt. Danko said of heroin that, “People are selling it here, trafficking it here, and overdosing here.”  With the small communities in Washington County, a regional approach is needed.

While I was meeting with Sgt. Danko, we were joined by a stream of lost drivers.  A utility pole had fallen across one of the roads and drivers were confused about how to reach their destination.  He drew maps and provided instructions to each visitor.  Soon enough, I could give the directions myself, but as the detour involved multiple twists and turns (left at the stoplight, right at the stop sign), I thought it best to leave the directing to Sgt. Danko and I went on my way.

How would you describe Cambridge?
It’s quaint.  It’s active but not too active — the perfect balance of village life, quiet enough that it’s not overbearing.

The publisher, Cambridge, NY

Today, I’m returning to Cambridge, NY, to add to the stories from the village.

In many towns (including Cambridge, MA), local news is covered by a weekly newspaper.  In Cambridge, NY, the paper is the Cambridge Eagle, whose publisher is Ashleigh Morris.  I chatted with Ashleigh toward the end of my visit, by which time I had figured out some of the village’s stories but also had new questions.

Ashleigh Morris photoTo start, Ashleigh helped me understand how such a small village ends up split between two administrative towns.  She said that the towns predate when the village was created in the 1880s by filling in a swamp that separated the east and west sides.  But she certainly didn’t fail to see some pitfalls in the arrangement.  For example, she said that the State of New York removes snow on the main roads (both Main Street and Park Street are state roads), while the village clears the sidewalk.  For some county roads, the county pays the town to plow.  Without that arrangement, town snowplow trucks would drive straight over snowy county roads on their way from town road to town road.

But then we moved on to discuss the Cambridge Eagle itself.  The Eagle focuses its coverage on the towns of Cambridge, White Creek, and Jackson, as well as the surrounding five towns of Hoosick Falls, Salem, Bennington, VT, and Greenwich.  And she described these towns as a network of services that residents of each village might call on.  For example, Cambridge has a bookstore, Greenwich has a Hannaford supermarket, and Salem has many small businesses, so folks get to know their neighboring communities.  “Because we don’t limit ourselves to what’s here, we get to know other villages.”

The EagleThe paper tries to cover all the local government meetings, as well as whatever is going on at the Cambridge Central School.  In addition, from its earliest days, the Eagle has offered church groups a way to get their news out.  In fact, the paper uses Biblical passages to fill extra space in each edition.  At its height, the paper averaged 48 pages per issue.  Now (in a trend facing most newspapers) it tends toward an average of 24.

Ashleigh describes the paper, which she recently bought from her father (who greeted me when I arrived) as a family affair.  There is one reporter, but much of the rest of the work (reporting, editing, printing) is done by family members.  Ashleigh said she has “worked for the paper since I was old enough to read and write.  All of the big stories of my life were news stories.”

These days, with the abundance of news sources out there, Ashleigh told me, “People buy the Eagle to see what their neighbors are doing, what their grandkids are doing, or how the football team has done.  There’s a lot of loyalty to our paper.”  The general area has several other weekly small-town papers, and Albany’s Times Union covers stories of regional interest.  She described some of the challenges of running a local newspaper, such as wanting to go deeper into stories, so that it isn’t always negative news that dominates.

Ashleigh and I also discussed several topics that had come up in other conversations.  She told me the sewer system that is needed to allow greater development would cost $18 million.  She sees infrastructure development as something the village requires “to survive.”

And inevitably our conversation circled around to the Cambridge Central School, which she called the “unifying factor” in the town — “the one single place in this area that draws everyone together.  And we’re really focused on our kids.”

Ashleigh had her years living outside of Cambridge, and she has visited her parents’ long-ago home in Staten Island, so she is clear about her affection for Cambridge.  “This is the community we built.  It doesn’t matter what’s going on outside.”  She sees her school classmates starting to move back with their own families and, with the newspaper to run, it sounds like she’ll be staying there for a while.

How would you describe Cambridge?
I would describe Cambridge as a big family.  I’m from a big family – I have ten brothers and sisters – and I think there are always disagreements and agreements and bad things that happen, but you come together at the end when you need something.

I think Cambridge is unique because there really is a very unique group of people here.  We have a lot of people who moved here, we have a lot of people who are from here.  I was born here, but my family will never be from here, because [my parents] moved in.  But I think no matter what, when push comes to shove and something bad happens, the community is always there.

When my parents moved here, they needed help.  They had no money and the community came together and helped them.  They got them a fridge and a stove.  And it’s those kind of things that make you stay.  And make you want to have your family here.

So like I said, we did move.  I moved away, my husband lived elsewhere for nine years, and we came back because this is where we wanted our kids to be, and because of the school.  There’s still teachers at the school that I’ve had and my kids now have.  And I think that is probably not easily found anywhere else, and I’m not really interested in looking.  That’s the best way I can describe it, that it’s a family–there’s grandparents and newborn babies and the whole span in between, but you always have a friend, and you always can find somebody who can help you, and you always know somebody.  I think it’s important to know the people on your street, the people teaching your kids, and the people running for office.  Those things are vitally important to the environment I want to raise my kids in.

Cambridge, NY’s gem of a bookstore

Battenkill Books photoDuring my visit to Cambridge, NY, I had a chance to visit Battenkill Books, a great independent bookstore right on Main Street.  And there I chatted for quite a while with Connie Brooks, the owner, and Kate Reid, who was handling a large sale.

I asked my standard question and Connie and Kate discussed and answered.

How would you describe Cambridge?
Kate: It’s a place with big ideas and creative energy, surrounded by beautiful agricultural land.  There’s a community theater and education program, so there’s lots of arts and an educated population, along with diversity.

Connie: There’s diversity in education level, for example.  And it’s not a homogeneous community as far as politics.  It’s diverse in that sense.

If I had to describe Cambridge, I would say:  A very special and unique upstate New York village, because we are a village–it’s important to point out not everybody’s a village, but we are–and very community oriented.  I think Cambridge is perfect, but I’m so biased.

Connie and Kate
Connie (left) and Kate.

Me: Are you both from here?

Both: No, no. We’re not.

Kate: I grew up in New York City.

Connie: And I grew up in Massachusetts.  Not terribly far.

When I first moved here, I thought, “I have landed in a Norman Rockwell-esque town.”  There’s a Christmas parade and there are all these trappings of, I don’t know, this image of what a village used to be, but it’s real here.  It’s all really real.  Gosh, it’s beautiful.

Cambridge is really community oriented.  I think that’s why a bookstore can survive in such a small town.  We have a very supportive community.  And, like Kate said, very arts oriented.  It’s amazing how many shows you can go to, how many artists live here.  I think that’s something that continues to surprise newcomers.

At roughly this point a customer joined the conversation.  She noted that she lives in Greenwich (pronounced Green-witch) and comes to Cambridge for the bookstore.  She bought a nice pile of books to make it worth the trip.

Then followed a little further chatter about how lucky the town is to have had a bookstore continuously while so many other towns (including Cambridge, MA) have lost them.  Connie told me, “We took over the existing bookstore, so there’s been a bookstore here for 40 years.  I’ve owned it 10 years.  A decade of the many decades.”

And that, more or less, was our conversation.  Except for a digression while Kate took a call and I was challenged to consider the question offered by Connie’s young son:  How many people in the world are sneezing at any one time?  Now, whenever I sneeze, I think of him and his question.

Then I was off, glad to have met Connie and Kate, two relative newcomers who are meeting the book needs of the area.

Motel Cambridge

My gracious hosts during my visit to Cambridge, NY were Farrah and Dave Dobbins, who moved to the area only about a year ago, and were running the motel for only three weeks when I turned up. (In fact, they told me I was the first to reserve a room with their new online booking system.)

Farrah and Dave, motelFarrah and Dave sold two businesses in their home state of Colorado (Dave originally hailing from Missouri), packed up their belongings and daughters, and moved to a farm just over the border from Cambridge in Vermont. They had a vision of operating a Christmas tree farm, which they’re doing, but they needed a way to generate income while the tree business matures.  Just then, the motel called to them.  A roofer was at work while I was there — the first of the renovations Farrah and Dave are planning.

Farrah sat down with me to talk about their move and Cambridge.

How would you describe Cambridge?
I think if I had to describe Cambridge, I would say it is a quaint and friendly and rural upstate New York town. A lot of people I know grew up here, and a lot of them told me that, when they were in high school, they wanted to leave, but then, once they started their family, they wanted to come back. So I would say that it’s a great town to raise a family and to plant roots. I also think it’s a town that, once you’re an outsider, you’re maybe always kind of an outsider. I mean, I’ll never be from Cambridge. I think for a long time I’ll always be the new person. Not in a bad way. There are people who generations of their family have been here.  It’s a place that people come back to.

Farrah told me that their move from Colorado was prompted by wanting a lifestyle change.  The first seed of interest in a Christmas tree farm was planted more than five years ago when they read about one in Maine.  After a few zigs and zags as they figured out the right next step, they found Cambridge and loved it.  They also appreciated its proximity to Albany, from which they can fly back to Colorado to visit family.

The farm and the motel aren’t even their only occupations right now.  They’ve also been working on real estate photography (which is what first led them to the motel).  And then there’s the running of the household — their daughters were at the motel when I arrived, but soon were ferried off home having finished a morning at basketball camp.

I imagined that most of the motel business would come from seasonal activities — foliage in the fall, snow sports in the winter, etc.  Farrah said that wasn’t really the case (though someone called, while we were talking, to book a room for his fishing trip).  Instead, the motel keeps busy with regulars (folks originally from Cambridge who come back to the area to see family) and crews of laborers (road repair crews, tree pruning teams who maintain power lines, for example).  The motel also regularly sees guests attending local barn-based weddings, and it housed the pilots for the 2019 balloon festival.  Farrah hopes, ultimately, to draw more visitors from other cities.

Farrah, Dave, and I very briefly discussed the political environment in our respective Cambridges.  While I mentioned Cambridge, MA’s strong left-lean, they said they found Cambridge, NY to include a diversity of views, more so than Fort Collins, CO, their previous home.

My conversation with Farrah was perfect for framing my interactions with other folks during the rest of my short trip to Cambridge, NY.  I appreciated her perspective as an outsider who is now an insider.  And plus, both she and Dave were very generous in making time to chat with me and pose for a few photos.

Best Annual Event, Cambridge, NY

My original Q&A with Mayor Bogle included a question about the best event of the year in Cambridge, NY, and that’s how I learned I was only about a week too late to attend the annual balloon festival.  She wrote:

Balloons“Cambridge Valley Balloon Festival has been held in the village every June for the past 19 years. It has grown to be the second largest event in the county, and is a major event for economic benefits. What started out as a small event with hot air balloon launches has grown into a three-day event with multiple activities. Businesses have their most profitable sales period during this time, and it’s a wonderful time to visit with friends and neighbors around the community.”

The best place to find out more is the website of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, from which I’ve borrowed these two photographs.  I hope to take some pix of my own next June!



The view from the Cambridge, NY library

Christina Becker, libraryContinuing my spin through Cambridge, NY, I’d like to jump to an evening chat with Christina Becker, the director of the Cambridge Public Library.  Even in our larger city of Cambridge, MA, the library is a hub of activity, with services going way beyond books.  Along with the Cambridge Central School, the library is a center for Cambridge community life.

Christina is not from the village of Cambridge, but she lives in the immediate area and grew up there, too.  In between, she lived elsewhere for a while, before returning with children.  She’s an enthusiastic spokesperson for the region, though one with a window into some of the area’s hardships.

The Cambridge (NY) Public Library is chartered by the village, but receives additional funding from the Cambridge Central School district and the surrounding towns (Cambridge, White Creek, and Jackson).  It can be found toward the edge of the village in a historic building.  A plan is just getting going to enlarge the building to enhance accessibility and to enable the creation of appropriate spaces for children and groups that meet there.


Christina told me it’s “a beautiful building, but not a conducive space for the things we’re doing.”  By way of services, this includes free assistance with tax preparation and in navigating the health insurance marketplace, along with tutoring around literacy, computer technology, and GED programs.  The library also offers a meeting room for outside groups, including scouts (boy and girl), youth sports organizations, and mahjong players.  But any expansion plan, which could offer accessibility and a quiet meeting room, will have a long lead-up and may not happen until 2020/2021.

About a year ago, Christina and Mayor Bogle partnered on “Community Change Agent,” a series of “aspirational meetings” that gave local folks the opportunity to express their thoughts on areas for improvement in Cambridge.  Christina said that “regardless of demographic, people were on the same page.”  One key issue was communications.  She said, “Outside the village, there is no high-speed internet.  The digital divide is real and economic opportunities follow the digital divide.”  The library’s contribution toward easing the divide is 24/7 open-access wifi.  Anyone can access the internet from inside or directly outside the library.

The village’s work in connecting people will get a boost from Verizon’s extension of FIOS into the area and the NY governor’s broadband initiative, but it still remains to be seen how many people are reached.

As a general policy, Christina said, “We do everything we can to offer as many free services as we can to enhance people’s life.  We’re big on connecting people.”  To that end, the library lends tablets, Kindles, and laptops, and they’re working on lending mobile hotspots (which don’t yet work everywhere).  They also lend out a metal detector and plans have been floated for next summer to lend a fishing pole.  And the library has partnered with the local farmers’ market to connect the arts and agriculture with a maker tent.  Christina said, “Libraries are more about people now than about the things we’re lending.”

How would you describe Cambridge?
Cambridge is a tight-knit typical rural town.  The beauty of Cambridge is that it’s a safe place.  I have two kids, 13 and nine, and I’ve never once worried walking down the street with them.  The people who see them will know they’re mine.

Last notes on village government

Village of Cambridge signDuring my Cambridge, NY visit, I stopped by to chat with Mayor Carman Bogle, which gave me a chance to better understand the issues she had identified in her written Q&A.

First, some detail regarding her comment that wastewater infrastructure is acting as a drag on development.  She explained to me that homes and commercial buildings all currently rely on septic systems that present a hard limit on how many people can be based on a site.  But starting from scratch to create a new sewer system is a major lift for a small village and will almost surely require support from the towns, county, and /or state.  There’s no plan yet for how to get it done, but people are thinking about it.  The housing stock is there, but the physical restrictions on business expansion limits potential job creation.

The village budget is currently at $1.2 million and it funds the police and fire departments (though the fire fighters are volunteers), DPW, a one-room court that considers both civil and criminal cases, a youth department, and the library.

Mayor Bogle also provided some detail on the village’s electoral system.  The candidates in local elections do not affiliate with the national political parties for their run.  Instead, they create local parties that reflect the community.  Mayor Bogle’s party is “Community Voices of Cambridge,” and she ran unopposed in the most recent election in March 2019.  In addition to the mayor, there’s an assistant mayor and trustees.

Last, Mayor Bogle answered a question on the mind of some blog readers.  Residents of Cambridge, NY — unlike those in Cambridge, MA and Cambridge, UK — do not refer to themselves as Cantabrigians.  They’re “The Villagers,” instead.

Pre-K to 12, all in one place

My whirlwind trip to Cambridge, NY yielded a big batch of material to draw from for this blog, but where to start?  As I sifted through my notes, I realized that nothing will make complete sense unless I first introduce a place I didn’t have a chance to explore, the Cambridge Central School.

I’ve already mentioned the challenging map of administrative jurisdictions in the area, with three towns and the county all playing a role in village life.  Layered over those units is the Cambridge Central School District, which draws from a large geographic area, including the towns of Cambridge, White Creek, Jackson, Easton, Salem, Schaghticoke, Hoosick, and Pittstown.  There are about 900 students at a school that offers all grades from pre-kindergarten to grade 12, with the 2019 graduating class numbering about 70 students.


The building — which dates to 1950, following a fire that destroyed its predecessor — has a one-story wing for the younger students and a two-story wing for the high school.  With only one school for everyone in the village of Cambridge (and beyond!), Cambridge Central is the focus for many community activities, and team sports draw support from beyond students and parents.

As I spoke to folks in Cambridge, the experience of being part of the school community (as students or as parents) came up in every conversation and often seemed to cement their relationship with the village.   I don’t think I can accurately reflect the life of the village without at least this brief description of the school, which offers fuel to the phenomenon of everybody knowing everyone else in the village.

Triumph in Defeat, 1953As a side note that I saw referenced in many places, the school was the inspiration for a Normal Rockwell 1953 painting, “Triumph in Defeat.”

With this introduction complete, readers will understand the references in future posts to this important center of village life.