Charming Chappaqua – A Town That Takes Its Celebrities In Stride

By Anne Levin

Sixteen years ago, Bill and Hillary Clinton bought a house on a quiet cul de sac in Chappaqua, New York. The political power couple was putting down post-White-House roots so that Hillary could run, and win, the election to become United States senator from New York. The ink on the real estate deal was barely dry before the media was staking out this leafy town in the middle of Westchester County.

Now that Hillary is gearing up for a presidential run, little Chappaqua is certain to become the focus of renewed media attention. But that isn’t likely to faze the residents of this upscale village known for highly rated schools, lots of open land, and a train-commute to Manhattan that takes only 45 minutes. While Chappaqua is not as tony as Greenwich, it has had its share of celebrated residents. Past and present homeowners include Vanessa Williams, Ben Stiller, Alan Arkin, Andrew Cuomo, and Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora Guthrie.

Chappaqua citizens have grown to take sightings of the Clintons and these other celebrity homeowners in stride. The Clintons, when they are in town, are known to stroll the streets and patronize the local Starbucks. They might stop in at the gazebo, where concerts are held on some summer evenings, or patronize some of the shops. They talk to everybody.

Chappaqua 3

“The difference between our town compared with more densely populated towns in Westchester is that here, celebrities can blend in. They can go get their cars washed and shop in the stores. They have their security, but they walk around town like normal people,” says Barry Graziano, the brokers’ manager for Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate’s Chappaqua office, which he has overseen for the past three years. “They have embraced the community as if it’s their own. They’re almost always at big celebrations, and they make it a point to make it part of their schedules. They are definitely a presence.”

The Clinton house is on the north end of Chappaqua, on a cul de sac of seven to nine homes. Visible from the road, it is a 100-year-old Dutch Colonial with 11 rooms. “They’re in the ten o’clock position. They have security set up, but other than that it’s a typical house on a typical street,” Graziano said.

The couple paid approximately $1.7 million for their five-bedroom house on Old House Lane in 1999. What would it be worth today? “My systems suggest it would be between $2.5 million and $3 million, but that’s not counting some of the internal stuff and upgrades they’ve put in,” says Graziano. “It’s based on square footage and amenities, but it’s hard to say for sure.”

The number of homes sold in Chappaqua is up 46 percent year to year with a median sale price of $921,250 according to Graziano. “We’re big on Colonials,” he said of the housing stock. “We don’t have a lot of old-world Tudors, but we have old farmhouses. A couple of new developments have relatively young construction, and a lot of these communities have a mix of architectural styles. That difference in styles is what gives the neighborhoods character.”

Chappaqua 1

Chappaqua was home to Horace Greeley, the famous journalist and a founder of the Liberal Republican Party, in the nineteenth century. The local high school is named after him. The name Chappaqua comes from the Native American Mohegan tribes who called the area Shepequa, which refers to the abundance of water sources such as the Saw Mill River and Roaring Brook.

Until a few years ago, the campus of Reader’s Digest took up 120 acres in Chappaqua. The site became the subject of nearly a decade of debate when a developer announced plans to add retail and residential space to the existing office space. The proposal, after much modification, was finally approved last year.

The town prides itself on being family-friendly. “We do a lot of community events—Memorial Day, Fourth of July—and we have a quaint, low-key atmosphere,” says Graziano. “We have sporting areas and local trails. Places like Larchmont are closer to the city, but here you get more land for your money. Chappaqua is just a great community—a great place to raise kids.”