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Hyde Park, N.Y.: A Gilded Age Getaway With a Friendly Vibe


Ann Weiser and Neil Krupnick moved to Hyde Park, N.Y., three and a half years ago, driven from their home on the North Fork of Long Island by boredom and high taxes. A friend introduced them to the historic town of Hyde Park in Dutchess County, about 90 miles north of Manhattan.

“You can’t run out of things to do in the Hudson Valley,” said Ms. Weiser, 62, a retired television executive.

The married couple found a 1960s modernist house across the street from their friend; it had three or four bedrooms (depending on where you tossed extra pillows) and unobstructed Hudson River views. They won a bidding war with an offer of $365,000. A stream coursed across the property of slightly less than an acre. When they sit on their deck and hear trains chugging along the river, they find the sound beautiful. They wave to the people.

With ennui now just a memory, Mr. Krupnick is a member of the town board. Ms. Weiser volunteers on the planning board and helped to found a nonprofit group called Friends of Hyde Park, which raises consciousness of the community with the sale of souvenirs at the summer farmer’s market and other activities.

“Most people are familiar with Rhinebeck and Poughkeepsie,” Ms. Weiser said, referring to the town 11 miles north and the city six miles south. “They are not aware that Hyde Park is a lovely and charming town.”

Best known as the home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Eleanor Roosevelt had her own house, called Val-Kill, nearby, but at a safe distance from her mother-in-law), Hyde Park was the seat of multiple titans. Up the road from the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site is the Beaux-Arts Frederick Vanderbilt mansion that McKim, Mead & White completed in 1899, with soaring columns and water views that allow you to see through the eyes of the Hudson River School. Farther north is the 65-room heap that the same firm built for Ogden Mills in the hamlet of Staatsburg. All of these properties and their lush grounds welcome the public.

So does the Culinary Institute of America and its five restaurants, on a 170-acre campus that was originally a Jesuit seminary. A 2019 survey by Dutchess Tourism information center found that the institute was the destination of more than a quarter of the visitors to the county.

What Hyde Park lacks is a vibrant town center. “Hyde Park more or less developed as a getaway for wealthy Gilded Age families,” said Shannon Butler, the town historian. “They liked the countryside and river access and enjoying nature. They had locals from the town come in and work on their farms, and had everything they needed. The town never really grew up.”

That changed in the 1940s after FDR’s death, when the Roosevelt estate, known as Springwood, became a tourist attraction, and a roadside Howard Johnson and movie theaters fed and entertained visitors. As IBM brought jobs to Poughkeepsie and Fishkill, modest houses rose in subdivisions carved out of farmland. New businesses sprang up in strip malls. In a 1977 PBS documentary about Hyde Park’s development, residents complain about the number of gas stations crammed into a half mile (seven at the time), and a representative of a proposed McDonald’s vows that the local franchise will dispense with its signature roof beams to better blend in with the historic architecture.

Today Hyde Park’s leaders are working to bring greater density and mixed uses to a rezoned stretch of Route 9. As presented in an initiative begun in 2012, a revitalized downtown would look more like the concentrated Victorian hearts of nearby Rhinebeck or Millbrook, with their shops, restaurants and galleries.

But first Hyde Park needs wastewater management. The town has $5.25 million in committed funding and is appealing to local business owners to borrow $13 million more to fulfill its longtime goal of a sewer. “Once we are able to establish the sewer district and the commercial center can be fully built, we expect a positive impact on the taxes, because we’ll have a greater commercial tax base,” said Aileen Rohr, the town supervisor. (National historic sites and educational institutions do not contribute tax dollars.)

Hyde Park is making clearer progress in attracting and accommodating visitors. Ground was recently broken for the Inn at Bellefield, the first manifestation of a 13-year-old plan to develop a 340-acre property across from the Culinary Institute. The school itself is in a partnership to build a luxury hotel that will offer cooking classes. And a former grocery store is being converted into the first sake brewery on the East Coast.

Residents stress that Hyde Park is more than an itinerary stop, but a place with timeless virtues. “It has a very small-town, friendly vibe,” Ms. Rohr said. “I grew up swimming in the river and sailing and boating and playing tennis at the local park. All those options still remain. In 45 minutes you can get to the Catskills, be in Connecticut or the Shawangunks or Massachusetts, yet we still have our own identity.”

The town of Hyde Park has about 21,000 residents in 37 square miles, making it less than 1 percent as dense as Manhattan. It contains a hamlet of the same name, as well as others called East Park, Staatsburg and Haviland.

From Revolutionary War-era architecture to midcentury split-levels, the town displays a leisurely timeline of styles. Sue Serino, who runs a real estate company in Hyde Park and is also a Republican member of the New York State Senate, embodies the breadth. She lives in a late-19th-century caretaker’s cottage on the former estate of Archibald Rogers, which was converted beginning in 1947 into the 650-home development known as Crumwold Acres. Her business office is in a charming red house with a double-decker porch on Route 9 that she believes dates to the 1800s. Her political headquarters is in the Bergh-Stoutenburgh House down the road, which was built in the 1770s and is one of three Dutch stone houses still standing in Hyde Park.

“You can tell I like history?” Ms. Serino asked.

Hyde Park has several other Dutch colonial buildings that were instigated by the style’s principal enthusiast, Franklin Roosevelt. “FDR was fascinated with his Dutch heritage,” Ms. Butler, the town historian, said. “He went over the top building everything in fieldstone.”

The Hyde Park post office, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Val-Kill, his retreat called Top Cottage, the expansion of his family home, the presidential library, the public library, the schools constructed with Works Progress Administration financing — “He loved architecture, but just one kind,” Ms. Butler said.

After Roosevelt’s death, the town created monuments to Art Deco (the magnificent Eveready Diner, which opened in 1995) and the jitterbug era (a circa-1955 drive-in movie theater and Roller Magic, a roller-skating rink). Its antiques stores are retro soup pots, with jumbles of temporal fragments floating in a broth of nostalgia.

No less transporting is its natural beauty. Hyde Park has more than 30 miles of hiking and biking trails. The townwide Hackett Hill Park is on 45 acres of open and forested land, with a summer adventure camp. Mills Norrie State Park, in Staatsburg, maintains 1,000 acres, with a marina and an environmental center. The Hudson is a perpetual source of delight. The private Rogers Point Boating Association has hugged its shore since 1953.

Hyde Park is the “best-kept little secret,” Ms. Serino said, “because you can find a house in the 220s-to-250s range, and you’re getting a nice little Cape Cod with two to three bedrooms in a walkable community.”

According to data furnished by William Raveis Real Estate, seven single-family houses — the dominant offering, although Hyde Park has townhouses as well — were sold in December 2019, at a median price of $285,000, an increase of 15.9 percent over December 2018. All but two of those properties sold below their list price. The average time on the market was 108 days.

Students from the Culinary Institute, Marist and Vassar colleges in Poughkeepsie, and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, often contribute to a population of renters that, according to the online listing service RentcafĂ©, constitutes more than a third of Hyde Park’s households. As of last month, the average rent was $1,081 a month, and the average apartment size was 762 square feet.

Atmospheric local wedding venues and a dearth of hotels make Hyde Park fertile ground for short-term rentals. In 2015, John Owens, 47, an executive at the insurance company AIG, paid $150,000 for a French Renaissance Revival house with a slate roof at the edge of the 211-acre Vanderbilt estate. It had been built in 1876 for the grandson of John Jacob Astor but was in sorry shape. Having put $700,000 into renovations, Mr. Owens, who is based in Manhattan, rents the three-bedroom house on Airbnb for $450 a night, and uses it as a weekend retreat.

He views the shabbiness of some of Hyde Park’s houses as an opportunity. Not everyone has to invest as heavily as he did in repairs. You can buy a “beautiful cottage” for $150,000, he said, that just needs “a little bit of TLC.”

As of Jan. 14, 76 single-family houses in Hyde Park were posted by the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service. The least expensive non-manufactured home in reasonable condition (described as “a rustic charmer”) was a 1930 one-bedroom cottage on Route 9, listed for $119,500, with annual taxes of $1,500. The most expensive was a 2006 four-bedroom house on River Road, with water views, on 1.89 acres, listed for $1.299 million, with taxes of $22,000.

Like the New England of “Little Women,” Hyde Park presents a stark contrast between the homes of the super-wealthy (now museums) and the modest dwellings that are their neighbors. The residents, as advertised, are exceptionally kind and helpful wherever you find them.

The Hyde Park Central School District enrolls 3,476 students in four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. The ethnic breakdown is 64.7 percent white, 16.7 percent Hispanic or Latino, 11.7 percent black or African-American, 4.8 percent multiracial and 1.9 percent Asian.

On 2019 state tests, 34 percent of district students from third through eighth grade met standards in English, versus 45 percent statewide; 30 percent met standards in math, versus 47 percent statewide.

The average SAT scores of the class of 2019 at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School were 549 in reading and writing and 552 in math, versus 531 and 533 statewide.

Metro-North trains on the Hudson line run from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central Terminal three or four times every hour between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Travel time is 95 to 108 minutes, and a monthly ticket is $521. Amtrak also runs trains to Pennsylvania Station from both Poughkeepsie and Rhinecliff. Driving time, via the Taconic State Parkway or the New York State Thruway, is about an hour and 45 minutes.

In the late 18th century, John Bard, a doctor who was a settler in an area known as Stoutenburgh and the great-grandfather of the founder of Bard College, named his estate Hyde Park after Edward Hyde, an English-born aristocrat who was the governor of New York and New Jersey. A local tavern that purloined the name (and applied it to a post office run on the premises) was ultimately responsible for rebranding the entire settlement. Stoutenburgh officially become Hyde Park in 1812, and the town was incorporated in 1821. Many lively tales about the community can be found on Ms. Butler’s blog, Stories from Historic Hyde Park.

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