She called herself “blessed” to remain in Valhalla, even with property taxes that have grown to $15,000 a year and her unremunerative choice to be a stay-at-home mother to four children. (Mr. Vogel is the controller at a Westchester synagogue.)
Of particular value is an ordinance that allows the community to rent units within their residences. The Vogels created a one-bedroom apartment with a living room, eat-in kitchen and full bath. They rent it for $1,200 a month, including utilities and snow removal.
After Sept. 11, Westlake Drive, the two-lane road on top of the dam, was blocked to vehicles, cutting off a popular route to Armonk to the north and White Plains to the south, and diverting traffic into the heart of Valhalla. Carl Fulgenzi, the supervisor of the town of Mount Pleasant, said a traffic light approved for the corner of Legion Drive and Broadway will help motorists, who sometimes wait many minutes for a break in the flow of cars.
Concerns about traffic patterns also followed a proposal to close two railroad crossings in the hamlet. The measure is intended to prevent accidents like the one that occurred almost three years ago, when a Metro-North train hit an automobile that had pulled onto the tracks slightly north of the railroad station, killing six people, including the car’s driver.
In addition to the crossing at Commerce Street, where the accident happened, an intersection at Cleveland Street to the south might be eliminated because of its steep approach and what Mr. Fulgenzi described as many “near misses” there. “All crossings are considered inherently dangerous, and we will continue to review the residents’ and professionals’ concerns before we consider the closure of any crossing,” he wrote in an email.
What You’ll Find
Valhalla’s homes are typically suburban comfort architecture: capes, split levels and raised ranches dating from the mid-20th century or later. Occasionally, large colonial-style houses usurp modest properties or otherwise drop into the landscape.
Summit Estates at Westchester, a new Toll Brothers development near the neighboring hamlet of Hawthorne, N.Y., is offering homes on half-acre lots, starting at 2,723 square feet and $1.34 million.
Valhalla also has older residences, some with unusual back stories. In 2011, Wei Huang, a computer engineer living in New York City, bought a 125-year-old house on North Kensico Avenue that had been moved from the adjacent village of Kensico before the area was flooded with the expansion of the reservoir.
This gabled house with a wraparound porch, for which Mr. Huang paid $360,000, was in poor condition, but otherwise fit his needs. It was only an eight-minute walk from the train station and had a separate unit for his parents, who planned to move from Chinatown in Manhattan, but didn’t drive. The quarter-acre lot on a verdant hillside was more than enough for a vegetable garden. “I like fresh food,” Mr. Huang said.
Mr. Huang began repairing the home himself. But long before he finished, his parents found space in a senior residence in Chinatown. He recently listed the 2,000-square-foot property, as is, for $450,000.
Valhalla has a small commercial district along two blocks of Broadway, parallel to the Taconic State Parkway. The offerings are slim, and several storefronts are vacant. Many residents buy groceries at the Acme market in the Rose Hill Shopping Center in the hamlet of Thornwood, N.Y., about five minutes from downtown, or at the ShopRite farther up the road. Some go to the Stop and Shop in North White Plains, about 10 minutes away. The nearest Trader Joe’s is in Hartsdale, N.Y., about 15 minutes away.
Residents said a lack of support for local business is the price a small community pays in the age of Amazon. The problem is complicated by a shortage of parking downtown.
But Jonathan Gumowitz, a real estate broker in Valhalla who used to be president of the chamber of commerce, described the tiny business district as “an international food court.” He pointed out that it has Italian, Chinese, Indian and Spanish restaurants, as well as an “olive oil guy” and a liquor store. The Village Creamery and Sweet Shop, which opened three years ago, appeared to be thriving.
The nearby Kensico Dam plaza has regular cultural events, including concerts, outdoor movies and Fourth of July fireworks displays. During December, it is hosting the annual Westchester’s Winter Wonderland, with carnival rides, food trucks and a small
“I just think there’s too many people going through the town and not enough people staying,” Mr. Gumowitz said. “That’s why a lot of us don’t rely on Valhalla for our business. But if you look at a map, we happen to be in the center of the county, which is convenient to go anywhere.”
More business will be coming to Valhalla. A plan was announced this year for a 3 million-square-foot development near the Westchester Medical Center that will include a biotechnology research center; medical offices; a children’s living science center intended to promote health; a hotel; and more than 100,000 square feet of ground-level retail. The project is expected to create 9,000 permanent jobs.
What You’ll Pay
Douglas Lombardo, a broker at Stone Bay Realty Services, said Valhalla offers better home values and lower taxes than other Westchester communities with comparable or inferior schools. This makes it highly attractive, especially to people who prefer small towns. The market is dominated by single-family homes.
The downside is that the supply is low. As of Dec. 11, only two properties were available: a four-bedroom home on McKinley Avenue, priced at $449,000, and a two-bedroom house on Columbus Avenue that was valued mainly for its 1.6-acre property and was priced at $659,000. More are expected to be listed in the new year.
Data from the real estate site Trulia showed a median price for all home sales in Valhalla of $569,500, as of mid-August, based on 144 transactions. This figure represented a year-on-year increase of 3.4 percent.
On a recent drizzly Sunday afternoon in the Valhalla Park neighborhood, blocks from the Kensico Cemetery grounds, wood smoke perfumed the air and holiday lawn ornaments were ready for their frost.
Sticking up among the crop of low midcentury houses was a reminder of what came before: a building with arched windows and decorative brickwork that was probably once used by workers who built the Kensico Dam and gave heft to the city. Valhalla is quiet, but still shows its muscle.
Many homes in Valhalla are zoned for the Valhalla Union Free School District, which has four institutions, three of them in the hamlet.
The Virginia Road Elementary School in White Plains, N.Y., enrolls 304 students in kindergarten through second grade.
The Kensico School in Valhalla enrolls about 320 students in third through fifth grades. On 2015-2016 state tests, 50 percent met standards in English versus 39 percent statewide; 50 percent met standards in math versus 43 percent statewide.
Valhalla Middle School, which shares a building with Valhalla High School and is next to the Kensico School, enrolls about 350 students in sixth through eighth grades. On state tests, 48 percent met standards in English versus 37 percent statewide; 44 percent met standards in math versus 40 percent statewide.
Valhalla High School was one of 342 public and private high schools in the United States to be honored as a 2017 National Blue Ribbon School for overall academic excellence by the federal department of education. It enrolls about 500 students in ninth through 12th grades. Its 2016 mean SAT scores were 509 for reading, 522 for math and 511 for writing, versus 489, 501 and 477 statewide.
The remainder of Valhalla’s homes feed into the Mount Pleasant Central School District, with schools in Thornwood and Hawthorne.
Metro-North Harlem line trains depart for New York City about every half-hour during morning rush hour. The trip to Grand Central Terminal takes between 42 and 48 minutes, and costs $13 each way, peak fare; the monthly fare is $289.
How Valhalla got its name is a complicated aria. Here is the jingle version: In the mid-19th century, Valhalla was called Davis Brook and its train depot was Kensico Station. When the first post office opened in the depot building around 1860, it needed a name to distinguish it from the neighboring village of Kensico; the story goes that the postmaster’s wife, a student of literature and mythology, proposed Valhalla. Then, in the late 19th century, Xavier Reiter, a German-born horn player who lived in the hamlet and was well acquainted with Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, made the persuasive case to a civic committee that Davis Brook should also adopt the name. In 1904, the Kensico train station followed suit. As Neil S. Martin, a local historian wrote in 1979, “Too many mourners bound for Kensico Cemetery, further along the line, had been getting off at the wrong stop.”