WHITEHALL — There’s something wistfully seductive about a Saturday morning in the village of Whitehall. Like a vintage postcard moment, the pace is slow as sun glints on the water of the canal slicing right through the center of the village.
There’s the high school teacher who lives on Williams Street, walking her chocolate lab across the bridge, past Main Street and left onto Broadway. There’s the young couple laughing and flirting in the pavilion next to the fire station on Main Street in Riverside Park. And there’s the heavy traffic in and out of the increasingly popular Historic Grounds, a breakfast and lunch spot built inside an historic bank.
Make a pass from Main Street over the bridge to Williams Street, each fronting opposite sides of the canal at Lock 12, and the historic beauty of what some might call a bygone era remains in the architecture created near or before the Civil War.
For several years, the 4.8 square mile village struggled with the challenges of homeowner flight, shuttered storefronts and business closings.
But a quiet revolution by homeowners and entrepreneurs is beginning to show, as vacant properties are getting scooped-up and restored to single family homes or small businesses, especially along both sides of the Champlain Canal.
Such new sprouts, in a village long overdue for some good news, are garnering attention from out of town and foreign boaters who often dock along the canal.
Nonetheless, a small cadre of dissenters, is pushing for the dissolution of the village, in favor of joining with the town of Whitehall.
“We’re trying to cut costs with everyone working together,” said Elizabeth Robinson, who owns several Whitehall properties, including the old Finch and Chubb Restaurant, on Saturday morning. “Let’s walk together instead of two of everything. The locals have a strong opinion about this, but our new transplants have new visions for Whitehall.”
Robinson moved into the village three years ago, she said.
According to village Mayor Phil Smith, resident David Molenaar came to the last board meeting to say he had already contacted the New York Department of State to come to a meeting with the village.
“He had scheduled it without going through the board for April 23, but we don’t have a board meeting on that night,” Smith said. “He threatened that if we don’t meet with the state he will start a petition to consolidate.”
Smith said, “Before things get out of hand, I invited the state to come to the next board meeting. We just want to get out in front of this.”
Regarding the dissolution, “The board is not pushing or encouraging this,” he said.
The meeting is slated for 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Village Hall.
According to New York Deputy of State for Local Government Mark Pattison, one of his staffers, Carl Ublacker, is coming to the April board meeting for a discussion about resources and available grant money for a feasibility study on the issue.
“The grant allows a community to apply for up to $50,000 funding to do a study,” Pattison said, adding that there is also grant funding for plan development. “We are 100 percent trying to support what the community is interested in doing.”
Pattison said that a study can help a village know more about whether to go forward.
Robinson, who first discovered Whitehall as a boater, points out the new Whitehall Chamber of Commerce location at 130 Main St., and said her Airbnb season opened on Saturday.
“I’ve got a reservation at 11 a.m. They bring money to the village. Tourism is our future,” she said, adding that Whitehall needs to cater to the boaters who dock sometimes multi-million dollar yachts along the canal.
“We greet boats at 5 p.m. from June to October,” she said about her Whitehall Welcomes group. “They come from everywhere, Japan, the Caribbean, Hawaii.”
Two weeks ago, The Post-Star received an anonymous letter regarding the initiative to dissolve the village with several local businesses listed as contacts.
According to Mayor Smith, the dissolution initiative is being led by Molenaar who recently lost his bid for village trustee to a write-in candidate.
In 2018, Molenaar pushed for dissolution of the village police department and in 2017, asked the Village Board to look into police cuts.
Molenaar could not be reached for comment.