“As they say, you’re either a mountain person or a beach person,” says Susan Manning. “I’m a mountain person — and I have always been a mountain person.”
Manning and her husband, Doug Doetsch, are returning to their mountain roots and growing their footprint in the Catskills. The couple established their adult lives in Chicago — Manning has been a professor at Northwestern for the past three decades — but in recent years purchased and have been building out their orchard and cidery Seminary Hill in Callicoon, N.Y. This season, they have added a tasting room and expanded local overnight accommodations with The Boarding House, opening for guests this week.
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“Seminary Hill is in many ways our retirement project — but it’s become quite a big enterprise, I have to say,” Manning says. The orchard currently has around 1,500 trees and produces around 2,500 gallons of cider a year, or around 10,000 bottles; they aim to ramp up production in five years to 60,000 bottles annually.
Seminary Hill was born in part from a desire to reinvest in the small town where Doetsch grew up — five generations of his family have called Callicoon home — and to be part of efforts to revitalize the area. Sustainability — both economic and environmental — is a core value for Seminary Hill, built to be energy efficient and certified by the Passive House Institute. The couple employ a holistic approach with the orchard, forgoing pesticides and planting companion plants like daffodils to repel pests and attract bees.
The Boarding House and Tasting Room take a similar net carbon zero approach. Construction for The Cidery incorporated salvaged underwater pilings from the original Tappan Zee Bridge, and rehab of the two guest houses prioritized retaining as many of the original doors and fixtures as possible. The spaces are furnished with decor from local antique stores and Doetsch’s family, as well as wood pieces made by Seminary Hill’s facilities director from oak trees felled onsite. “The whole idea is reuse whatever we can,” Manning says.
The couple purchased the two houses that comprise The Boarding House, located down the road from the orchard, several years ago from a local resident. The buildings were built by the previous owner’s father, a local doctor who moved to the town in the 1930s. The upper house functioned as a hospital until the 70s, and the lower house as a doctor’s office. “Anyone over a certain age [in town] was born there,” Manning says.
The couple enlisted local design firm Homestedt to restore the buildings. The remnants of their past usage — linoleum floors and such — were striped-back to highlight natural materials like wooden floors and functional design. The 17 rooms, spread across eight communal units, pay homage to the town’s Shaker aesthetic and tap into the luxury of simple, pared-down design grounded in natural materials.
Manning appreciates the area’s emphasis on family and history, not to mention Seminary Hill’s picturesque views overlooking the Delaware River. (Not surprisingly, the location gets booked out as a wedding venue.) Callicoon has evolved quite a bit from when she first visited with her husband in the ’80s, in the shadow of the Catskills’ golden age of the ’50s and ’60s. Now, the area is newly populated with quaint restaurants and boutique shops.
“I can’t tell you how many thirtysomething transplants from New York we’ve met,” Manning says. “And then we’ve met a lot of 60- to 70-year-old transplants, too. There’s been a real influx of this creative, younger palette and a very appreciative audience among the older folks who come up here. So it’s been fun, meeting all of these people.”
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