Purple Hook, N.Y.: A Farming City With a Welcoming Group

Red Hook, N.Y.: A Farming Town With a Welcoming Community

The source of some apples, eggs, and radishes at farmers markets in New York City can be a head scratch, according to signs. Isn't Red Hook in industrial Brooklyn?

Far from it. The produce comes from a town in Dutchess County, about 100 miles north, that only spreads 11,000 people in 36 square miles – which means plenty of extra space for growing fruits and vegetables.

For some new emigrants, the distinction between the two red hooks is easy. "I'm more optimistic about connecting with people in Red Hook than I've ever been in Brooklyn," said Luke Schneiders, 39, a social worker who moved to Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint this spring after a decade of renting is where his railroad style apartment had a sink with no sink. "There is a much higher quality of life than I am used to."

This sense of community seems hard won. For years, Mr. Schneiders and his wife, Karen Alsen, 35, the education director of a nonprofit environmental organization, went on weekend "awareness missions" to explore potential future homes. Then 2020 struck, bringing with it two events that put a plan into action. One was apparently Covid-19, which enabled Ms. Alsen to work remotely. The other, last June, was the birth of a son.

The couple quickly narrowed their list to two finalists: northern Vermont and central Hudson Valley. The latter prevailed because it was closer to family and work.

In May, despite intense competition, the couple grabbed a three-bedroom, three-bathroom, underfloor heating home on more than seven acres for $ 559,000. There is also a barn, "I feel like I have to do a hobby," joked Schneider.

If this pastime involves farming, he's in good company. Much of Red Hook's rolling terrain is criss-crossed by farms, especially between Routes 9 and 9G, where the pairing of pastures and catskills can seem worthy of a painting.

All in all, crops are springing up from more than 200 lots, said Cheryl Kaszluga, the city's tax advisor. Some farms have multiple parcels and the number of working farms in Red Hook is considerable, with about 70 large ones, Ms. Kaszluga said.

Newcomers also help to keep the scene rustic. Under a 2006 law, buyers pay a tax of 2 percent on any portion of a home purchase that exceeds the city's annual median ($ 330,000 that year) to fund conservation. The money goes into creating easements and pays the farmers not to build houses on their land. Officials said that in 2019 city charter restrictions and nonprofits protected farmland that makes up about a quarter of the entire city, or 5,700 acres.

Still, Red Hook doesn't feel like a museum piece. Aptly named Old Farm Road is the site of a 52-acre, 102-unit property called Tradition at Red Hook by Kirchhoff Development and Bonura Hospitality Group, which is one of the largest new residential projects in the area in years. It breaks with tradition in many ways. In contrast to the 1960s subdivision on Cambridge Drive next door, the blocks here are dense and lined with sidewalks. A grassy central rectangle that is reminiscent of urban greenery guarantees open space (in addition to the 33 hectares that remain undeveloped).

"Whenever something new comes to a small town, there is always the idea that the city's flair is changing," said Karen Giek, 74, a retired education advisor and 41-year-old city resident who bought a house from Tradition in April, for $ 650,000. The single story, two bedroom home has an open floor plan and bespoke finishes, including granite countertops.

"But changes are inevitable," said Ms. Giek. As a city, she added, "We love to share what we have."

Red Hook, which extends from the Hudson River to the hills to the east, is not named for tomato-colored fishing tackle, although an illustration of this image can be seen on many signs.

Instead, the name is derived from the Dutch expression for "red dot" – what the Hudson's Cruger Island peninsula looked like to explorers on an autumn day in the 17th century when, according to historical reports, its sumac leaves were on fire. Today Cruger is part of the 1,722-acre Tivoli Bays Wildlife Management Area and Research Reserve, which offers hiking, kayaking and hunting along inviting coastal curves.

The town's hamlets and villages – two each – have different personalities. The quaint and serene village of Tivoli is a weekend breaker draw, as it was more than a century ago when New York nobles, many of whom were associated with the Livingston family, summered on country estates in the area.

Some of these properties survive as private residences, while Bard College in the hamlet of Annandale-on-Hudson has added others to its eclectic campus – including Montgomery Place, a neoclassical Livingston getaway, and Blithewood, a Beaux-art mansion.

But Kelly Road, which runs through the center of the city, feels like a suburb with its colonial houses and ranches.

A more down-to-earth crowd is drawn to the village of Red Hook, which has a mix of restaurants, yoga studios, and hardware stores on bustling Broadway and Market Streets. A grocery store in Hannaford is discreetly hidden behind trees, but shoppers in need of a big box experience might be better served in Kingston across the river.

Housing stocks became scarce as the pandemic raged. On July 1, 14 single-family homes were offered for sale for an average of $ 881,000, according to data from the Mid-Hudson Multiple Listing Service, compiled by Mondello Upstate Properties.

At the lower end, according to the data, was a no-frills artist's studio with half a bathroom on 12 acres for $ 395,000. Most expensive at $ 2.6 million was Migliorelli Farm, a fixture in both the upstate and downstate that featured a five-bedroom residence, a cider house, and two ponds on 210 acres (the listing did not include the farm stalls which line roads in the area).

Sales were brisk. As of June 30, 61 single-family homes had sold for an average of $ 484,000 that year, according to information from Margaret Niekrewicz, an associate broker with Mondello. By comparison, there were 43 sales over the same period in 2019 (a better reference point than 2020 that was hampered by months of no in-person demonstrations) averaging $ 327,000.

“They were city buyers, local buyers, a little bit of everything,” said Ms. Niekrewicz.

Farms may be a specialty in other places, but Red Hook makes them cultural hotspots. At the 300-acre Greig Farm, visitors can pick blueberries, buy handmade soap, and browse oil paintings. Founded in 1798, Rose Hill Farm serves cider in a year-old taproom in a restored beamed barn. Hardeman Orchards has weekend concerts in an 1850s barn (a reggae band is scheduled to play there on July 17th).

Others feel almost like sculpture parks. On Heermance Farm, colorful metal parts vie for attention with a stone house from around 1750.

The soundtrack is WKZE, an independent FM broadcaster broadcasting from North Broadway. One recent afternoon it filmed a fuzzy cover of Grateful Dead's "Cumberland Blues" in James Brown's "Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag."

Popular annual parties include September's Hardscrabble Day, a parade-focused event named after an early nickname for the Red Hook village. “We're a little bit Mayberry,” said Ms. Niekrewicz.

The public school system with around 1,640 students is considered to be strong in the region. Mill Road Primary and Mill Road Intermediate's two-in-one offering serves pre-kindergarten through fifth grade children in a complex surrounded by farmland. Students continue to Linden Avenue Middle School for sixth through eighth grades.

In 2019, the last available year, 56 percent of students in the district passed the standards for state English exams, up from 45 percent across the country. On state math exams, 49 percent of students passed the standards, up from 47 percent across the country.

Red Hook High School has a 91 percent graduation rate, compared to 85 percent nationwide. Since 2001, it has been one of the few Hudson Valley schools to offer the International Baccalaureate diploma curriculum for juniors and seniors. In 2020, the school's SAT average was 579 in reading and writing and 588 in math, compared to 536 in each state.

Residents who commute to New York City on a daily basis are rare. Those who go in occasionally often take Amtrak from Rhinecliff, a hamlet in Rhinebeck that usually runs four trains to Pennsylvania Station between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. The train takes about an hour and 40 minutes, and fares start at $ 23.

The drive to Midtown Manhattan takes about two hours, depending on traffic.

Behind a brick wall on West Market Street is Maizefield, a late 18th-century house listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The builder was David Van Ness, a captain in the Continental Army. His nephew, William Van Ness, a confidante of Aaron Burr, loaded the Vice President's pistol for the 1804 duel in which Alexander Hamilton was killed. (William is checked by name on the song "The World Was Wide Enough" in the musical "Hamilton".) Some reports suggest that Burr was hiding in Maizefield, then part of Rhinebeck, after shooting at Hamilton. But further evidence suggests that Burr lies deep in the nearby town of Kinderhook on the estate now known as Lindenwald.

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