A Renaissance for Sparkill

A four-way stoplight blinks above Sparkill’s main intersection like a lullaby. Underneath, Bauer Crowley Insurance stands stolid sentry on one corner, the U.S. Post Office and a barbershop on the other. A turn of the century bank is gussied up with bright blue Chase awnings and Central Garage & Machine Works looks ready for Rosie the Riveter on nearby Union Street.

Small town America in miniature, Sparkill suggests industry and permanence – a town ready to work and built to last. But when the northern Branch of the Erie Railroad discontinued passenger rail service in 1966, Sparkill’s once vibrant commercial heart quieted. Cars were shepherded away by the Sparkill Viaduct and the town became a byway, settling comfortably into obscurity like a faded sepia postcard of quaint America.

But Sparkill may be waking from its slumber. The recent opening of several new businesses, the extension of the Joseph B. Clarke Rail Trail and an ambitious plan for the hamlet’s tiny park could revitalize the town.

The most obvious changes began this summer. In July, Chef Kevin Reilly, formerly of Barcel in Nyack, opened Roost, an inviting bar and restaurant facing what residents affectionately call Depot Square, a modest park dotted with stone memorials to the victims of American wars.

“The location kind of chose us,” says Reilly. He fell in love with the town and marshaled his entire family to help design and renovate the space. Roost offers a seasonally changing menu, a well-considered wine list and a full bar.

In August Joe Printz opened the eagerly awaited Grape D’Vine wine shop on an adjacent corner of the park. With a ceiling paneled like the interior of a wine barrel (Printz unabashedly calls it “the Sistine Chapel of Sparkill”), the cozy interior beckons customers to linger, taste and talk. In January of 2014 Printz plans to open D’Vine Bar next door. The restaurant will feature what he calls “small plates of unpretentious food.”

On nearby Union Street is Union Arts Center, a former firehouse elegantly renovated in 2012 by realtor and entrepreneur Simon Basner. It is a multi-purpose space offering yoga classes, music concerts, art exhibitions and community gatherings. Union Arts also boasts a professional kitchen and is available for rent for parties and events.

Another plus for Sparkill is the planned extension of the Joseph B. Clarke Rail Trail. Converted from abandoned railroad tracks in 2004, the paved path runs directly through Sparkill between Tappan and the Orangeburg Library, but the extension will go all the way to Blauvelt. According to Parks and Recreation Superintendent Eric Gorton, if all goes well with community hearings, construction of the extension will begin in August or September of 2014.

But Sparkill’s biggest transformation may be yet to come. Everyday, the 9A bus rumbles through town picking up commuters heading south to New York City. They park in a lot carved from Depot Square, clotting the town center on weekdays with dozens of cars.

Jim Castagna, a 14-year resident, hopes that can change. Castagna is Chair of the Orangetown Park Development and Advisory Committee, a citizens group working with Orangetown’s Highway Department, and with the Parks and Recreation Department. He thinks relocating the parking area and expanding the park is key to Sparkill’s future. “It’s all about being able to use the town for what it’s meant to be used for…walk, ride your bike with the kids, get a haircut…it’s unique, “ says Castagna.

The dream is to relocate the commuter parking to a new lot across from the American Legion on Route 340. Sparkill’s Depot Square would be freed up for one of several proposed overhauls of the park, creating a family friendly green center for the town.

“There are plans, but no money of course,” says Castagna.

Highway Superintendent Jim Dean couldn’t be reached for comment regarding the status of moving the parking lot, but senior administrative assistant Stephen Munno says a National Environmental Policy Act study has been completed and approved.

“There are still hoops to go through,” says Munno, referring to the survey, design and bid process required before a new lot can be built.

Nevertheless, something’s brewing in Sparkill. As late afternoon September sunlight streams golden across the park, teens gather at the Rail Trail head. Customers bike up to La Bamba, a popular Mexican grocery and restaurant, and still more