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June 2012

Our Towns: Athol

Glamour! Scandal! Intrigue! Hardly the first words Athol calls to mind today, but this sleepy Hudson-side settlement has had its moments.

Its first settlers arrived shortly after the Revolution, naming their new home after the Scottish river valley from whence they came. Though Athol now refers loosely to the most populous section of the town of Thurman, it encompassed the entire town from 1813 until Stony Creek split off 40 years later.

Railroad mogul Thomas C. Durant boosted Athol’s fortunes in 1870, when he laid tracks near the river on the line to North Creek, spinning off a booming industry of hotels, boardinghouses and the dude ranches that came into vogue starting in the 1930s. Le Chalet Français opened in 1951, bringing haute French cuisine and a chichi clientele to the woods. The likes of Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner braved the narrow, twisty back roads in their limousines for a night of four-star fare.

The tourist industry was gangbusters until the 1960s, when the Mafia arrived. That was the rumor, anyway, after Cathy Carr, who sang the 1956 hit “Ivory Tower,” and her reputedly connected husband, Ronald Cash, bought Sun Canyon, one of the snazziest spreads in town. The couple entertained city cops and goons alike with samurai swordsmen, a chimp-assisted magician and real cowboys. Even Jack Lord, the B-Western actor and future Hawaii Five-O star, stayed at the ranch. The end of the rodeo was 1965, when two suspicious fires brought the complex down and Carr and Cash skedaddled.

Things have since quieted considerably. With the new Saratoga & North Creek Railway making stops at a rebuilt Thurman station, though, locals hope Athol might hum once again.

You can find Athol on Athol Road, in Warren County.

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