Rhinebeck, N.Y.: A Historic Community With Cultural Amenities

Gary Bassett moved to Rhinebeck, N.Y., in 1993, after being transferred by his employer, IBM, from Wisconsin to a plant in nearby Kingston. The village of about 2,600 residents in the Hudson Valley reminded him and his wife, Brenda Bassett, of their small hometown in central Pennsylvania, and they felt an immediate kinship with the place.

They’ve now lived there for nearly 30 years, which would make you an old-timer in most places. But Rhinebeck has a 300-plus-year history, and a long memory.

The village of Rhinebeck — which sits inside the town of Rhinebeck, like “the hole within the doughnut,” Mr. Bassett said — is home to one of the oldest operating inns in the country, Beekman Arms & Delamater Inn. And houses there are known not by the people who live in them today, but by those who lived in them a century ago. Both town and village are within the Hudson River Historic District, which includes more than 40 riverfront estates and, at 32 square miles, is one of the largest historic districts in the country.

Vanessa Bertozzi and her husband, Mickey Duzyj, are two recent transplants. The couple had been living in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where she worked for Etsy and he pursued a career as a filmmaker. But their apartment felt cramped after their second child was born, and Etsy, which has an office in Hudson, N.Y., offered Ms. Bertozzi the opportunity to move upstate.

The couple chose Rhinebeck because the public schools are good and because it gave their two sons a version of the small-town childhood that Ms. Bertozzi experienced in New England. In 2017, the couple paid $430,000 for a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home in a newer subdivision in the village. That looks like a bargain now, as Rhinebeck, like many upstate towns, has experienced soaring housing prices during the pandemic.

“It’s not a beautiful home, but because we got a good price, we’ve been able to redo stuff,” Ms. Bertozzi said. “We redid the deck and the front porch to give it more curb appeal. That’s been fun as first-time homeowners.”

Ms. Bertozzi has had little trouble adapting to life outside the city. Rhinebeck Village has ample cultural amenities, including a bookstore, a movie theater and two public libraries, while the town offers wide-open farmland, winding country roads and the Hudson River, which runs along its western border.

“Everyone takes such wonderful care of their gardens. There are tree-lined streets here,” Ms. Bertozzi said. “It’s a place that’s really proud of its beauty. It’s just a very attractive village.”

The village of Rhinebeck, at the center of the town, is small but vibrant and lively, especially on weekends. Packed into its 1.53 square miles are nearly two dozen restaurants; the well-known bakery Bread Alone; a high-end spa, Mirbeau Inn & Spa; several art galleries and clothing shops; and a candy store, Samuel’s Sweet Shop, co-owned by the actors Paul Rudd and Jeffery Dean Morgan. On a recent visit, there was hardly a vacant storefront.

The couple rented an 1883 Victorian on half an acre, a five-minute walk from the center of the village, and ended up buying it. Ms. Slaby, who grew up on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., had never envisioned living outside a big metro area. But now, she said, “We’re never going anywhere again. We’re an hour and a half from New York City. We both work remotely. Why would we ever leave?”

It is a point of pride for Mr. Bassett that Rhinebeck doesn’t have big-box stores, though he noted that there is a supermarket “out on the edge of the village.” The city of Kingston, directly across the river, provides locals with more food shopping options, along with a Home Depot, Walmart Supercenter and other chain retailers.

In July, the average sale price of homes in the village was $859,000, a 39 percent increase over September 2020, according to data provided by Mondello Upstate Properties. The average sale price for a home in the village in 2019 was $545,000.

Aside from price escalations, the main challenge for buyers is very low inventory, especially in the village, which is where many city transplants want to live. The village is pretty much built out, and with strict zoning regulations, new homes are not being added.

“I have a client who is coming from Brooklyn — her daughter is a teenager, she wants to be in town,” said Adelia Geiger, a broker with Gary DiMauro Real Estate. “And I can’t find them anything in the town. I can find them outside of town, but she doesn’t want to do that.”

The housing stock in the village is a mix of colonials, Victorians and Tudors, along with a few newer subdivisions and modest starter homes. Around $350,000 will get you “a basic two-bedroom, one-bath, on a quarter of an acre on the outskirts,” Ms. Mondello said. “If you want to buy a turnkey home with all the bells and whistles, you’re going to be paying at least $1.5 million.”

As of Sept. 2, listings ranged from a three-bedroom, two-bathroom 1837 Victorian, priced at $599,000, to an 1860s Victorian on a coveted street in the village, with a Wolf stove and stainless-steel appliances, priced at $1.5 million, with annual property taxes of $20,114.

Since the pandemic, homes frequently sell above the asking price, sometimes sight unseen and after a bidding war. “For some people,” Ms. Mondello said, “money is no object. We’ve seen a lot of that up here.”

The mix of small-town community and access to New York City has drawn many retirees to Rhinebeck. Richard McKeon, the rector at the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in the village, said that younger retirees in their 60s find Rhinebeck an engaging community.

“It’s a community that’s perceived as affluent, but it’s a community that has a big commitment to social justice,” Father McKeon said. “People bring a lot of their gifts to the community and want to give back. It’s fantastic for the parish. It doesn’t seem like a sleepy retirement village.”

As someone who moved from New York City, Ms. Bertozzi said, “I wouldn’t say it’s edgy. It’s very peaceful, with a little bustle on the weekends.”

For years, as the population aged, attendance at the local schools fell, putting the school system “on a slow and steady decline,” Mr. Bassett said. But as young families like Ms. Bertozzi’s have moved to the community, especially during the pandemic, that trend has started to reverse, and Rhinebeck once again feels like a community of families.

Now gentrification and housing affordability are a concern for local leaders in the village, but as Father McKeon said, “The town is really wide open. People can find their way without displacing other people.”

“The school system is a big draw,” said Ms. Geiger, the realtor. “You want a good school system, and Rhinebeck has one.”

Ms. Bertozzi, whose two sons are enrolled in the local schools, said: “The teachers and administration really care about the community.”

Children in both the town and the village attend schools in the Rhinebeck Central School District. During the 2020-21 school year, enrollment at Rhinebeck High School totaled 321. The graduation rate was 90.2 percent, compared with 83.4 percent statewide. And the average SAT scores were 580 in math and 568 in verbal, compared with statewide averages of 530 and 528, according to Whitney Druker, secretary to the superintendent for the school district.

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