The name Billings meant something in New York in the early 1800s. Today the village has been reduced to an intersection.
Back in the 1800s, Billings Gap was a low spot between high hills, a good place for a road that led east from the Hudson River Valley to the iron ore mines at the eastern edge of Dutchess County. The village of Billings, which grew up around the gap, sits 75 miles north of Manhattan in a landscape once dotted by dairy farms.
It was named for John Billings, a local auctioneer and leather tanner.
But the village's identity has been swallowed by the surrounding town of LaGrange. A reporter, who grew up nearby, never heard of Billings. Some call it a hamlet or neighborhood. Others identify it as the junction of two roads.
"The main drag is State Highway 82. It's famous for the teenage speeders and the tractor trailers who use it because it's off the Taconic Parkway," said Ivan Lantzky, a volunteer firefighter at the Billings Fire Station, a fire station located on Route 82 near its intersection with Route 55.
Trucks use the route because commercial vehicles are prohibited from using roads designated as parkways.
The town of LaGrange has its own identity problems. It sprawls across 40 square miles with no well-defined center, although there's a controversial proposal in the works to create a town center for LaGrange.
Billings lies close to far more posh addresses. The Hyde Park home of Franklin D. Roosevelt sits about 15 miles northwest of Billings, along with a "gilded age" mansion built by the Vanderbilts.
Millbrook, 14 miles to the north, is "a town with very deep pockets," as Lantzky described it, home to celebrities such as actor Liam Neeson, 100-acre horse farms and vast estates used as weekend retreats. From Millbrook, traffic funnels into LaGrange, where motorists get on the Taconic Parkway.
At one point, Billings had a creamery, but only two dairy farms remain in the town of LaGrange. Stanley Domin, a 50-year-old who grew up on the family dairy farm just north of Billings, is the third generation on the land, but expects to be the last to milk dairy cows.
"We're the biggest landowners in town," he said. "You head south, and you hit all houses. We're the last of the Mohicans."
He lives in a farmhouse built in the 1800s. The new houses in Billings often sit on two-acre lots.
"In the past 20 years, the houses have really been going up," Domin said. "Not little houses either - $700,000 to $900,000 houses."
The Domins regularly spot whitetail deer and foxes on their property. In June, they saw a moose near their barn. The animal drifted over from Connecti-cut, 50 miles away.
"Billings is really a name only, a gas station at the intersection," Domin said. There's one of these little strip malls. The next town, Freedom Plains, that's more of the town because it's got the McDonald's and more gas stations."
One recent addition to the hamlet of Billings has won enthusiastic fans. Three months ago, an Italian restaurant opened in the little strip mall, which is within sight of the Billings Fire Station.
"The homemade soup will knock your socks off," Lantzky said.
The restaurant, Enzo's Trattoria and Pizzeria, makes dynamite minestrone and pasta e fagioli, a pasta and bean soup.
Enzo Altobelli, who owns the restaurant with his father, Ivano, wanted a more suburban location, one with less competition from other pizzerias.
Billings is just the intersection, Altobelli said. The town is LaGrange. Then he hung up the phone to attend to his customers.