Rhinebeck Village Historic District
The Rhinebeck Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The village of Rhinebeck is situated on a relatively flat plain approximately one and a half miles east of the Hudson River and ninety miles north of New York City. The Rhinebeck Village Historic District includes some three hundred and forty residential, public and commercial structures located on approximately one hundred and sixty-seven acres of land. The Rhinebeck Village Historic District constitutes a large portion of the present day village. While the Rhinebeck Village Historic District includes building lots of varying size, most of the streetscapes show moderately scaled nineteenth-century buildings in the context of large hardwood trees, bluestone sidewalks, hitching posts and period nineteenth-century fences.
The predominant type of architecture is residential with a core of commercial structures located near the center of the village at the main intersection of Mill, Montgomery and Market Streets. The central business district includes a large, eighteenth-century hotel, numerous taverns, a converted mid-nineteenth century library, a general store and various other typical commercial structures. Numerous churches, dating throughout the nineteenth century, are located throughout the Rhinebeck Village Historic District. The architectural styles include: simple Colonial Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Bracketed, Victorian Residential, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, late nineteenth-century commercial and twentieth-century eclectic. Many of the mid- and late-nineteenth century residences also show Italianate, Eastlake and Renaissance Revival detailing. Both high style and vernacular architectural detailing and decoration are evident throughout the district. The earlier Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival buildings exhibit a restraint in exterior decoration characteristic of the Hudson Valley while the later examples of the Gothic Revival and Victorian Residential styles are quite flamboyant. Noticeable throughout the Rhinebeck Village Historic District, especially in the architecture of the mid to late nineteenth century, are certain decorative motifs which seem to have a common source in local fashion, taste and craft tradition. There is also evident a conformity to size and scale within the district with most residences ranging from between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half stories, and the commercial structures between two and three stories.
The overall density of the Rhinebeck Village Historic District remains today much as it was during the second half of the nineteenth century. The medium density residential areas surround the more highly concentrated commercial core at the center. Throughout the entire village considerable attention has been given to the preservation of the nineteenth-century ambience. Though some buildings have been modernized in the twentieth century, primarily through the addition of modern sidings, an obvious attempt has been made to preserve as much of the period detailing, decoration and structural integrity as possible.
The village of Rhinebeck is extraordinarily rich in significant historical associations ranging from those with George Washington, Richard Montgomery, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton during the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century to the interest of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the early twentieth century. These associations are supported by broader historical themes such as the founding of the village at a major eighteenth-century crossroad, and the subsequent growth of regionally important milling, agricultural, small-scale industrial and commercial enterprises. There are also a number of buildings of considerable architectural merit. Examples of all periods survive, from restrained Colonial style cottages to monumental Second Empire residences and Colonial Revival buildings. Of great importance to the Rhinebeck Village Historic District is the density of its intact period streetscapes coupled with the several outstanding structures. This has resulted in a unique community with a high level of historical and architectural consciousness.
In 1686 a handful of Dutch crossed the Hudson River from Kingston, New York and purchased 2200 acres of land (Kipsbergen) along the east bank of the river from the Indians. They became the first white settlers in the Rhinebeck area. Eleven years later, Judge Henry Beekman, also of Kingston, obtained a patent for lands north and east of Kipsbergen, including the site of the present village of Rhinebeck. "Beekman early sought settlers for his lands and he saw the need for, as well as the advantages of, a grist and saw mill near the river." To accomplish these plans, Judge Beekman brought Caspar Landsman, a miller (whose name was given to the Rhinebeck creek), and William Traphagen, a builder, to the area.
In 1703, New York's Colonial Assembly approved the development of the King's Highway (presently Rhinebeck's Mill and Montgomery Streets) as the major artery from New York City to Albany on the east side of the Hudson River. Approximately ninety miles north of New York, the King's Highway crossed the Sepasco Indian Trail (presently West Market Street and South Street) which ran east and west as the principal route from Connecticut to the Hudson River. William Traphagen purchased a large tract of land along the King's Highway from Judge Beekman in 1706. The first building in the vicinity was Traphagen's house and tavern, located some yards west of the intersection with the trail on the north side of the Sepasco Trail. Thus, "William Traphagen is responsible for the location of the village but the King's Highway made it possible." In 1715, Colonel Henry Beekman, son of the judge, located thirty-five Palatinate German families on farms in the area, bolstering the Dutch population by one hundred and forty people. These Palatines, fleeing Europe to escape religious persecution, had first settled in Columbia County, New York to provide naval stores for the British Royal Navy under contract with Robert R. Livingston. By 1733, the Reformed Dutch Church had been built in the center of the village, where the second Dutch Church stands today. Therefore, Rhinebeck was established as a gathering place for religious activities.
The Flatts, as Traphagen called the village, or Rhinebeck Flatts, proved to be a most successful enterprise. Not only was the intersection of the well-traveled Sepasco Trail and King's Highway a logical reason for establishing a settlement at Rhinebeck, but also the Landsman Kill which flowed parallel to the Indian trail provided the settlers with their primary source of power. Grist, woolen, saw and paper mills were concentrated around the junction of the King's Highway and the Landsman Kill at the southern edge of the village. Soon there was a wagoner, a cooper, a seinemaker, a shoemaker, a mason, a saddle and harness maker, a linen weaver, a tailor, a gunsmith, a tanner, a cordwainer, a wheelwright, a blacksmith and a carpenter in the neighborhood. Proximity to the Hudson River as a trade route was also important to the successful marketing of Rhinebeck's wares.
By the time the Hudson River Valley was pushed into the forefront of the Revolutionary War, the village of Rhinebeck was a prosperous community with its Reformed Dutch Church, several taverns and inns, mills and numerous dwellings located along the two principal arteries, fanning out from their intersection. Just prior to the outbreak of the war, Richard Montgomery, the famous general and hero who died at the Battle of Quebec, and his bride, Janet Livingston, moved to a cottage on the north side of the village.
In 1796, after the War for Independence, George Washington visited the second Traphagen's Tavern, by then known as Bogardus's, when he stayed with his friend Dr. Thomas Tillotson at "Linwood," southwest of the village. And, during the bitter election for Governor of New York in 1804, General Morgan Lewis of Rhinebeck established his headquarters at Potter's Tavern, lately Bogardus's. Lewis's opponent, Aaron Burr, was to be found in Kip's Tavern, since destroyed, which was known by his Anti-Federalist supporters as "Tammany Hall." The enmity of this campaign prompted the duel between Burr and Alexander Hamilton, the cousin of Colonel Philip J. Schuyler, who lived just east of the village.
The early nineteenth century also witnessed the opening of another road east of the village. Instead of doglegging around Bogardus's Tavern and the Reformed Dutch Church as the old route from east to west had, the new road was cut straight from West Market Street east. Laid out in 1802, the new road, the Ulster-Saulsbury Turnpike (East Market Street in the village), later New York Route 308, was established as the center of trading and commerce. Incorporated as a village in 1834, Rhinebeck came to be known, by the 1850's, as a growing agricultural and manufacturing center. In his Historic Old Rhinebeck: Echoes of Two Centuries, Howard Morse substantiates this by saying that a Rhinebeck label on products of the grist, fulling and paper mills was a recognized guarantee of merit. He goes on to say that the local furniture industry was extensive and in its prime as many as fifty experts in the trade were engaged in production; this furniture was said to have been shipped as far away as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even South Carolina. Morse continues, "In the making of vehicles the town had no superior. The carriages, coaches, wagons and sleighs of all kinds, bearing the Rhinebeck mark were in use throughout the New England and Middle States...Marquardt's rakes, harrows and plows satisfied the farmers. Kellogg's hats, Betterton's boots and shoes, Smith's clothes found wearers in remote sections. Their reputation as skilled workmen reached far and wide."
During this prosperous nineteenth century period, Levi P. Morton, Vice-President of the United States lived at Bois Dore, his residence just south of the village tavern on Mill Street. William Henry Harrison was visiting in 1888 when they received word that they had been elected to the country's two top offices. Later, in 1894, Morton was elected Governor of New York State.
At the close of the nineteenth century, L.R. Burleigh's Bird's-Eye View shows Rhinebeck as a populous village. The blocks immediately to the north, south, east and west of the main intersection were densely built up with commercial properties, and the residential neighborhoods bordering this area and on South, Livingston, Chestnut, Mulberry, Parsonage and Beech Streets were dotted with houses. With the exception of two dozen or so additional houses constructed on the periphery of the village during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the 1890 map of Rhinebeck depicts the layout and character of the present day Rhinebeck Village Historic District.
A later business phenomenon, begun around 1890 by George Saltford, was the violet-growing industry. By the end of the nineteenth century, this enterprise engaged nearly a fifth of the some 1600 residents of the village and, in 1908, Morse proclaimed that the cultivation and sale of violets was the main industry of the village. He estimated the yearly crop to have been worth more than $1,000,000 and that Rhinebeck supplied more than one fourth of the nation's violets. "Violet houses," he noted, "in some parts of the village are almost as numerous as dwellings." Several of these violet houses survive and are within the Rhinebeck Village Historic District.
In Historic Old Rhinebeck: Echoes of Two Centuries, Morse proudly described contemporary (1908) Rhinebeck as having all the modern amenities expected of a village its size. It possessed two banks, six churches, adequate schools, an exceptionally good public library, a branch of the Y.M.C.A., a theater, a hospital, the oldest hotel in America, a weekly newspaper, two railroads, a nearby ferry to Kingston, good government, paved streets, fire protection, pure water and plenty, day and night electrical light and power service. Also, Rhinebeck had gained renown as a vacation spot for hundreds of New York City people. Twenty years later plans for a new and improved post office came to the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thus, it was designed and built under the president's close personal scrutiny as a replica of the Kip-Beekman-Hermance House (c.1700), one of the Rhinebeck area's oldest buildings which had been destroyed by fire in 1910.
The built environment of the Rhinebeck Village Historic District remains much as it did during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, thus reflecting its stages of growth through different periods of commercial, public, industrial and residential architecture. In the village central business district, the cultural preferences of different generations of businessmen are illustrated within a small confine. Among the earliest extant buildings is the Beekman Arms Inn whose core is the eighteenth-century Traphagen Tavern, c.1766. The original mid-eighteenth century tavern was enlarged during the nineteenth century by the addition of a third story to the central section and a two and a half story north wing. In 1917, a two-and-a-half story south wing was constructed. The pervasive style of the Beekman Arms is Federal with its tall slender columns, French doors and Palladian window. Long renowned as a rendezvous for the country's politicians and vacationing New York City residents, the inn is considered America's oldest hotel in continuous operation. Opposite the Beekman Arms at 13 Montgomery Street is a small one-room Greek Revival structure with a temple front utilizing the Ionic order. It was owned by the prominent Rhinebeck lawyer, Ambrose Wager, during the nineteenth century and served as a law office then as it does today. Further north on Montgomery Street is the Gothic Revival Starr Institute, which was given to the village in 1862 for a library. A stately building of brick, it has central twin Gothic arched windows with tracery. A devastating fire in 1864 destroyed the buildings on the south side of East Market Street; yet it allowed for the construction of the present row of imposing brick store fronts with moulded cast-iron lintels influenced by the taste for Italianate decoration in architecture. Across East Market Street is a Bracketed style frame building which served Miss M.A. Elmendorf as her residence and millenary shop during the nineteenth century. Since it is one of a handful of commercial buildings predating the 1860's, the shop's style and frame construction make a significant contribution to the understanding of Rhinebeck's early commercial architecture. The Rhinebeck Savings Bank at 23 Montgomery Street, with its bold arches, decorative Corinthian capitals, and balustraded roof, shows that a mingling of the Richardsonian Romanesque and Colonial Revival styles were preferred by the community's prestigious bankers when they chose its design in about 1890. By contrast, the post office on Mill Street speaks of a Colonial Revival style which is derivative of a particular building. Thus, it illustrates the prevalent early twentieth-century trend of reverence for a community's own local architectural heritage. The building's stone construction, massive jerkinheaded roof with flared eaves over a one-story porch and two large chimneys are features which duplicate early photographs of the Kip-Beekman-Hermance House.
The earliest residences were located on East and West Market, Mill, Montgomery and South Streets; only those on the former three streets remain (with two exceptions which were moved). Among them is the eighteenth century Montgomery House, where General Richard Montgomery took command of the northern forces in 1775. This simple Colonial style, one-and-a-half story clapboard house was owned by Janet Livingston's family when she married Richard Montgomery in 1773. Originally it occupied the site at 88 Montgomery Street. Thomas Edgerley bought the property in 1860 and wished to build a contemporary house; realizing the historic value of the Montgomery House, he moved it to its present location on Livingston Street. It is now owned and operated by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and is open to the public. The McCarty House, 110 East Market Street, with its delicate cornice, French windows, six-paneled door and transom with tracery was initially conceived in the Federal style and accrued a bold Greek Revival porch some years later. Owned by Stephen McCarty, a local carpenter-builder, the house probably received its porch as a result of McCarty's designs. It is also documented that he owned the properties at 75 East Market Street and 21 Parsonage Street; both are in the Greek Revival mode and are possibly examples of McCarty's craftsmanship. The former house is a townhouse type with raised basement and narrow facade and its greatest length along the side. Its features, including full height pilasters and classical door surround, make it one of the most academically correct Greek Revival structures in Rhinebeck. The latter house, on Parsonage Street, is a modest dwelling with its gable end facing the street, a simple cornice and plain frieze with returns and low style classical door surround. It is theorized that several other Greek Revival buildings in the village, including an office and church structure, were designed by this local craftsman.
Most of Rhinebeck's residences were built during the second half of the nineteenth century, an era which offers great variety in architectural styles. Several Gothic cottage style dwellings attest to the influence of Andrew Jackson Downing and Alexander Jackson Davis; most notably the house at 44 Montgomery Street designed by A.J. Davis in 1844 for Henry Delamater, president of the First National Bank of Rhinebeck. The Delamater House, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, is one of the country's foremost examples of the Gothic style in architecture. Its board and batten construction, steeply pitched gables and intricate cutwork bargeboards and railings speak well to Davis's skill as a designer. On a more modest scale is the Gables (c.1860) at 2 South Street. A cottage obviously influenced by the ideology of the picturesque which Downing espoused, it is distinguished by its numerous steeply pitched gables on all sides at varying heights. The monumental stucco Italian Villa, Elmwood (c.1867) stands atop the knoll on the western edge of the village. Its four story central tower with flared roof is the most prominent feature; other period elements include the polychromed slate roof, arched windows and cast-iron lintels. A modest row of Bracketed style cottages, built during the same period by Ralph Decker of Rhinebeck, front East Market Street farther to the east. This row of four similar houses represents typical residential design in mid-nineteenth century Rhinebeck. The Second Empire style is represented by two of the most imposing residences in the village, both built by the Saratoga Springs, New York architect, C.B. Crofts. The Ambrose Wager House, opposite Elmwood, was built in about 1865 for one of Rhinebeck's most prominent lawyers. The villa is characterized by its four-story tower with bellcast mansard roof, arched recessed entrance, French windows, elaborate porches, quoining and a symmetrical plan. A decade later, Crofts returned to design the residence for John O'Brien (at 46 Livingston Street), a railway builder and New York State Senator. Although similar to the Wager House in its overall design, the O'Brien residence features different decorative detailing with its straight mansard roofs, ornate hood above the front entrance, two dimensional incised carving and anthemion-leaf cast-iron cresting. It is interesting to compare these monuments to the more modest Second Empire cottage at 140 East Market Street which also has a mansard roof and decorative door hood, but is only one-and-a-half stories tall. A fine example depicting the Queen Anne style in architecture is the house of irregular plan, three-sided bays, bracketed cornices and many porches at 31 Chestnut Street; its statement is made complete by its period carriage house. Diagonally across from the O'Brien House, at 23 Mulberry Street, stands a house constructed faithfully from plans for the "ideal home" conceived for Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Another Queen Anne period residence, it is distinguished by its diamond and scalloped shingles, tower and wide porch. In addition, many small nineteenth-century vernacular houses line the village streets. They are most frequently one-and-a-half stories tall, three bays wide and of frame construction. Their most distinctive feature is their decorative cutwork porches; several designs are used repeatedly and are undoubtedly the signature of a local craftsman.
Noteworthy houses of the early twentieth-century are also an asset to Rhinebeck's cultural heritage. A number of Colonial Revival residences were constructed along Montgomery Street; most notable among them is the brown-stained clapboarded example with undulating classical porch at number 67. Finally, a house of great historical interest is the cottage at 168 East Market Street on the outskirts of the village. It was built by the owner in 1929 from plans and materials purchased of Sears, Roebuck and Company which were shipped to Rhinecliff, New York via rail and then to the building site by horse and wagon. Its eclectic nature is evident in its central gable, gambrel roof and twenty over twenty sash windows.
Rhinebeck's extant churches offer a wide selection of architectural styles. The earliest is the Reformed Dutch built in 1802 of more expensive brick on the two street sides and common stone on the rear two sides, illustrating a typical building practice of that era in the Hudson Valley. Its fanlights and delicately carved trim also bespeak the Federal style of architecture. The small frame chapel at 37 Montgomery Street was constructed by the Baptist congregation in 1823 and was updated in the Queen Anne period with the addition of a heavily paneled door and intricate belvedere. Later, in 1890, a large Shingle style church was added. Its square tower, massive overhanging gables with undercut arches and similar porticoes make a unique statement within the Rhinebeck Village Historic District. The Livingston Street Lutheran Church is a particularly good example of Greek Revival architecture featuring columns in antis and architrave trim with mock acroteria at the door surround. The mid-nineteenth century Catholic Church (formerly Episcopal) on East Market Street is entirely sheathed with scalloped shingles, which were probably added during the 1881 renovations since they more accurately reflect that period's Queen Anne taste. A small Carpenter Gothic parish hall was added to the rear of the Catholic Church some years later. The nearby Methodist Church was built of brick in 1900 after its Greek Revival frame predecessor burned. It was organized by Freeborn Garrettson, a leader of Methodism in America and a native of Rhinebeck. The adjacent parish hall is in the rare Swiss mode with its zig-zagged board frieze, exterior wainscoting and board and batten construction. Built in 1896, the late Gothic Revival Episcopal Church on Montgomery Street exemplifies the popularity of that style for ecclesiastical architecture at the turn of the twentieth century. Its stone construction, castellated parapets, pointed arch windows and doors exhibit the character of the English country church, from which this style took its cue.
The most significant quality which the Rhinebeck Village Historic District offers is its cohesiveness as a built environment. The village has grown naturally from the eighteenth to the twentieth century and as a result presents a continuum of building styles from almost two centuries. In the central business district, at the main intersection, the varying scale from one and a half to three stories has been maintained even in the few modern intrusions which exist. Likewise, in the surrounding residential neighborhoods the dozen or so intrusions are in keeping with the historic scale, are dispersed throughout the district, and generally are set back off the street, sometimes on large lots. Thus, the historic ambience created by the village's dwellings, from two-room vernacular cottages to spacious villas, is maintained.
As a result of this cohesiveness and state of preservation, Rhinebeck's historic presence is readily apparent. This quality is enhanced by its streetscapes. Bends and turns in South Street are reminiscent of its origins as an Indian trail. Without exception, the residential streets are lined with large spreading trees and many nineteenth-century bluestone sidewalks are in evidence. Many properties gain additional import from their period accoutrements, such as barns, carriage houses, well houses, fanciful cutwork fences, carriage stepping stones and hitching posts.
When placed within the context of historic resources in the Hudson Valley or even within New York State, the Rhinebeck Village Historic District is among the most cohesive and best preserved historic environments. Yet Rhinebeck maintains an additional vitality; its economy is prospering. With the collapse of nineteenth and early twentieth-century economies in many cities and towns along the Hudson River, these areas also collapsed for the lack of a modern replacement economy. Even the few towns which retain their historic ambience owe their integrity to the twentieth century bypassing them. Rhinebeck is rare because it has succeeded in preserving the delicate balance of an historic fabric and a thriving economy to support that fabric. Adaptive reuse plays a major role in maintaining Rhinebeck's economic viability. A nineteenth-century hotel is presently a culinary supply shop and cafe; the Starr Institute formerly a library, Y.M.C.A. and theater, retains its theater but the other areas have been transformed into shops, a restaurant and a bookstore; a number of single family dwellings have been successfully converted into apartments.
That so much evidence of the life of a prosperous village of the last century has survived is the product of a continued historic consciousness. Beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's interest and continuing today in the efforts of the Rhinebeck Historical Society, which initiated the architectural survey in preparation for this nomination, the people of Rhinebeck have deemed preservation as a priority. That the Rhinebeck Village Historic District will continue to be preserved as an informing resource to both its residents and others is the purpose of this nomination.
Endnotes: 1 through 16 — Howard Morse, Historic Old Rhinebeck (Rhinebeck, N.Y.: Privately printed, 1908), p. 4.
Morse, Howard. Historic Old Rhinebeck: Echoes of Two Centuries. Rhinebeck, N.Y.: Privately printed by the author, 1908.
Burleigh, L.R. Rhinebeck, N.Y. Troy, N.Y.: L.R.Burleigh, 1890.
† L. Corwin Sharp, Townley M. Sharp, consultants, and Larry Gobrect, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Rhinebeck Village Historic District, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.