What's Special about Red Hook, NY?
I Live in Red Hook, NY and I Love it!
Red Hook, NY is not my hometown but it is my daughter's. She was born in a hospital across the Hudson River in Kingston (had to drive there in a huge snowstorm, but that's another story!) and we have lived in the town of Red Hook all her life. The school system is always important in choosing where to live, and Red Hook has a pretty decent one which our daughter not only survived but enjoyed (well most of it!). She went to school here all the way from Elementary School through Middle School (with a year off to study abroad) and graduated from High School. Yes, the photo is from her graduation!
Now that she's finished her schooling and has gone off to college, we could theoretically move somewhere else, but Red Hook is special so we want to stay! If you want to find out what's special about Red Hook, read on.
A Short History of Red Hook
It is said that the name "Red Hook" came from the Dutch who were sailing up the Hudson River. They arrived at Cruger's Island, which is actually a peninsula or "hoek," when the leaves were turning "roode" or red. So they named the area "Roode Hoek." It might have seemed far upriver to the Europeans, but it soon became part of the Hudson Valley culture - part rural farming and part sophisticated culture. It is that mix that I really appreciate.
In the mid-17th century Colonel Pieter Schuyler acquired the land from the Native Americans who populated the area, in what became known as "Schuyler's Patent." When Rhinebeck was established in 1737, Red Hook was included. On June 2, 1812 Red Hook became a separate Township.
Today, the town of Red Hook actually includes 2 villages: the village of Red Hook (where we live) and the village of Tivoli. Upper Red Hook was incorporated as Tivoli in 1872, taking its name from a neighboring mansion in recollection of the Tivoli gardens in Rome. Until the end of the 18th century, the neighborhood of the Village of Red Hook was known as "Hardscrabble;" today Hardscrabble Plaza and the fall festival of "Hardscrabble Day" recall that name and the Village is a separate entity.
In addition, there are 2 little hamlets, which interestingly are both home to a college! Annandale-on-Hudson is the home of Bard College and the Unification Theological Seminary is located in the hamlet of Barrytown. Both hamlets are located right on the shore of the Hudson River.
Where is Red Hook?
The town of Red Hook, NY has the character of a small town, that "hometown Main Street America" atmosphere, but it's located close enough to New York City to have access to all the culture anyone could want without the disadvantages of a huge city, especially if you're raising children! With the Metro-North train stopping in Poughkeepsie, some 22 miles to its south, Red Hook is not bothered too much by the city, yet its easy enough to drive to the station in Poughkeepsie or even take an Amtrak from Rhinecliff for a more comfortable ride to the city. So as you discover what's special about Red Hook you'll find an interesting mix of the sophisticated city culture, small town advantages, and the cornfields of rural America!
OK, if you want to know exactly where it is, here's the Google Map showing Red Hook, NY. As you can see, it's quite a small town. That intersection used to boast the only stop light, but they've added a couple more in recent years!
Red Hook Bicentennial - Red Hook is 200 years old!
To celebrate 200 years as an independent town - through a "peaceable secession from Rhinebeck" - the Bicentennial Committee formed by the Egbert Benson Historical Society of Red Hook organized a wonderful year of celebrations in 2012. Check them out!
Videos of the Red Hook Bicentennial Celebrations
What's Special in Red Hook
Red Hook Public Library
The Red Hook Public Library building is a fine example of octagonal architecture. The octagon house was a unique style with its 8-sided floor plan and often featuring a veranda all round. Popular in the 1850s in the United States, the design was the "brainchild" of Orson Squire Fowler who argued that octagonal houses were cheaper to build, provided additional living space, received more natural light, and were more efficient in terms of heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.
Orson Squire Fowler himself designed this building, which has been the home of the library in Red Hook since 1935. Although the building is old, the library itself has made great efforts to keep up with technology. Several computers with internet access are available for public use, and they are always in use whenever I go to the library! As part of the Mid-Hudson Library System it has an online catalog so you can reserve books, magazines, and even DVDs from home and pick them up when you get an email to say they've arrived! With a cute little pond in the back that is the home of various ducks and other creatures, the library is really a nice place to visit. And it's just under a mile from my house, so it's the perfect distance to walk and get a breath of fresh air too!
The Elmendorph Inn is the oldest building in Red Hook. It was built in the mid-18th century and by 1785, the Inn had became a regular stop for passengers on the stagecoach line between New York City and Albany. It was used as the meeting place of the Red Hook Town Board after the town's incorporation in 1813. However by the middle of the 19th century there was little need for the inn and it became a private home, housed the area's first kindergarten, and later a country store and antique shop.
By the 1960s the Inn was abandoned and expected to be demolished. Instead, in 1977 the Friends of Elmendorph bought the building and a year later it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Inn has been restored, both the interior rooms and the exterior, and now functions as a center for community life and celebrations as well as history programs for school children.
Learn more about the Elmendorph Inn.
The Historic Village Diner in Red Hook is a vintage 1920s diner from the era when diners were designed to look like railroad dining cars, with chrome exteriors and curved walls. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
Having moved its location several times and also changing owners, the Diner still remains a well-known and much loved local institution.
As a "tin-can" diner it's pretty small - some booths and a counter, and an extra section on the side with some tables that are so close together you can hardly squeeze by. So I was really appreciative of the No Smoking laws coming to restaurants. Before that the air got so filled with cigarette smoke you could hardly breathe in there let alone enjoy the food! And actually they serve pretty good food, although their coffee is truly up to "diner" expectations!
Holy Cow Ice Cream
Now thinking of food, how could I continue without mentioning THE place in Red Hook - Holy Cow Ice Cream! This is truly a Red Hook institution.
A family-owned business (we see the boss jogging through town regularly) it has delicious homemade ice cream and oh so cheap prices. The serving people are mostly high school students, and there are always huge lines (like longer than usual) out the door on any evening when there's a game in town. Did I say the ice cream was cheap and delicious?
Holy Cow Ice Cream Cakes!
Holy Cow also make amazing ice cream cakes. My daughter is not a cake-lover, so her birthday parties mostly included figuring out how to keep the ice cream cake frozen and then unfreeze it at the right time. It's really hard to cut a totally frozen ice cream cake!
It's open all year, and has tables outside to sit at and eat your ice cream which are usually occupied except in the winter. It's located in the Hardscrabble Plaza, where our bank is, so my husband likes to do errands to the "Holy Cow" bank!
Fisher Center for Performing Arts
The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts is an amazing space located at Bard College. It was designed by the amazing Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry, who designed the incredible titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. You can see from the picture he's got quite a style!
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The Center has 2 theaters as well as rehearsal space and other professional support facilities. Naturally, as well as hosting performances of Bard College's music professors and students, famous orchestras come and perform there! The Fisher Center has become the home of the Bard Music Festival, which hosts companies from the United States and abroad during "Bard SummerScape" - a festival of opera, theater, and dance. Amazingly (and this is the one great advantage of not having an auditorium), the Red Hook High School Band and Chorus get to perform their spring concerts in this concert hall! So I have been able to enjoy this concert hall for free on several memorable occasions.
Learn more about the Richard Fisher Center
Montgomery Place was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis and Andrew Jackson Downing consulted on the gardens and grounds. Janet Livingston Montgomery built the house there, on the grounds of a working farm, to honor the memory of her husband, General Richard Montgomery, who had been killed in the battle for Quebec, becoming the first hero of the American Revolution. The estate was passed on through her Livingston relatives, who finally deeded the property to Historic Hudson Valley in 1986.
In 1988 Montgomery Place had been restored and was opened as a museum property. The grounds are open daily, from 9am-4pm; free admission. Tours of the house are available from mid-May through October on Thursday through Sundays from 11am-4pm; last tour at 3pm.
Learn more about Montgomery Place
The 380-acre property remains an example of Hudson Valley estate life. From the mansion's terrace and north pavilion are the hallmark inspiring vistas of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. The grounds maintain their character, with woodland trails, and gardens filled with flowers and fragrant herbs. The orchards continue to be productive. I remember well going to "pick-our-own" apples in the orchard when our daughter was very young and quite surprised to find apples growing on trees! I'm not sure if you can still pick your own, but you can certainly buy fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as jams and other delicious produce, from their roadside stand.
Poets' Walk is a public park located in Red Hook. The entrance is on the scenic River Road and it runs all the way to Hudson River. Mown grass and gravel pathways lead through 120 acres of fields and forest, offering spectacular views of the Hudson River. The Park is open from 9am till dusk.
It is a "romantic landscape," intended to celebrate the connection between landscape and poetry - hence "Poet's Walk." Although not a difficult hike, the walk is over a mile to the view of the river, and there are some uphill sections! But if you take it as it was planned, a leisurely stroll through nature with plenty of time for appreciation and reflection, it's thoroughly enjoyable. Just be warned, there's only a parking lot and nowhere to purchase snacks or drinks, so bring your own and take your trash home with you!
Learn more about Poet's Walk at Scenic Hudson.
View of the Hudson River Valley by Albert Bierstadt
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Red Hook is right on the Hudson River. And it's quite a river! No wonder all those rich people built their (summer) mansions along it, and the Hudson River School artists painted it.
We live here all year round, so we get to see the frozen version too. Probably, though, fall is the most beautiful time of year, when so many trees are brilliantly colored in reds, oranges, and golds.
When we look across the Hudson we can see the Catskills! They're not the highest and most impressive of mountains, not in the same league as the Rockies for example, but they're not bad. There are many parks for hiking, lots of fun things to do like horseback riding, and in the winter there are several notable ski resorts.
If You're Visiting Red Hook - Here's a great guide to the area
Now in its 7th edition (goodness, my copy is only the 2nd!) this is a comprehensive and practical guide for anyone planning a visit to the Hudson Valley. Written by Joanne Michaels, who lives, works, writes, eats, and enjoys the numerous activities available in the region, this book covers just about everything you might want to know to enjoy your visit to the Hudson Valley.
More about Red Hook, NY
© 2010 Jennifer P Tanabe