From Abandoned to Boutique: Hillside Schoolhouse in Barryville, NY
In 2009, Bronson and Courtney Bigelow built themselves a weekend home in Barryville, NY, a small town in Sullivan County, just a two-hour bolt from the city. On their drives upstate, just before reaching the house, they would pass by an abandoned church, a dilapidated structure falling more and more quickly into disrepair with each changing season. Bearing no real plan in mind, apart from a determination to save an arresting building from further collapse, the couple bought the property.
As the two began to peel back the layers of Catskill history, they learned that from 1893 to around 1950, the premises had once been home to a one-room eight grade schoolhouse known as Hillside School. Subsequently, it served as the Hillside Gospel Chapel until its congregation left in the early 2000’s. Today, it is Hillside Schoolhouse, a two-bedroom boutique inn boasting original slate chalkboards, douglas fir floors and trim, huge country windows, beadboard walls, a cast iron school bell and, just this year, recognition by Condé Nast Traveler as one of the Top 25 Hotels in the U.S.
“My favorite part of owning the Schoolhouse has been saving this beautiful old building and giving it new life, while at the same time preserving its rich history,” says Bronson, a former attorney who left corporate law life behind to live in Barryville full-time in 2012. “Hopefully, in another 120 years, the Schoolhouse will still be here, and I’ll be remembered as the guy who gave the old girl her third life as an inn.”
- Location: Barrysville, NY
Two guest suites
The inn’s aesthetic is “contemporary meets historic” with sweet subtleties paying tribute to the antiquity of the construction, such as this old-fashioned school clock found on eBay. “I am in awe every time I walk into the Schoolhouse,” admits Bronson. “Many guests have said that the Schoolhouse feels like staying in a magazine.”
Bronson also happens to be a skilled woodworker and welder; much of the inn’s one-of-a-kind furniture pieces are of his own design. He has repurposed coffee tables from cow stanchions, science lab table tops salvaged from a high school, and turned antique iceboxes into dressers, bars, and pantries. “The Schoolhouse serves as a showroom for my work,” says Bronson. “Most everything here is for sale—the tables, the beds, the desks, the upcycled bar carts, the repurposed iceboxes—and I also sell the pieces on our website.”
“As we began the restoration and renovation, we realized how amazing the space was and knew instantly it would make for an incredible inn,” says Bronson, the sole proprietor of Hillside Schoolhouse, as Courtney still splits her time between the city and Barryville. “I personally handle every aspect of a guest’s stay—from check-in and greetings, tours, and writing notes on the chalkboards to cleaning, maintenance, and tidying up.”
The powder room on the main floor is draped in soft country light, absolutely stunning in its simplicity. The mirror was an eBay find, its shape perfectly reminiscent of the inn’s early church days, and the religious poster above the toilet was salvaged from the chapel. “I love the little details like these that pay homage to the building’s history.”
Bronson and Courtney immediately fell in love with country life in Barryville and have spent lots of time exploring the area. Making excellent use of the chalkboard walls, they pen their recommendations in chalk, providing guests with the inside scoop on the best outdoor activities, farmer’s markets, restaurants, shops, and hiking trails all within close proximity to the inn.
Room 1893, named after the year the Schoolhouse was built, is one of two bedroom suites located upstairs in the former attic space. Windows were added during the renovation to allow for more light; the skylight is perfect for a quick stargaze before falling asleep. The iron bed is from Restoration Hardware, but the bedside tables are handcrafted from wood salvaged during the renovation. “One table even has the original builder’s initials carved into it!” says Bronson.
Guests are treated to their own private ensuite bath complete with plush towels and luxurious bath products. Jackalope wallpaper, sourced from Spoonflower, lends the perfect country touch.