Rhinecliff, New York

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Rhinecliff rooftops overlooking the Hudson River in winter
Rhinecliff Fire Department antique

Rhinecliff is a 17th-century hamlet, census-designated place located along the Hudson River, 1 mile west of the town of Rhinebeck in northern Dutchess County, New York. It was founded in 1686 as the town of Kipsbergen by five Dutchmen, among them Hendrikus and Jacobus Kip, who moved from Kingston to live in the settlement along the eastern shore of the Hudson River. In 1849, under the influence of the Hudson River Valley school of painters, the hamlet was given the more picturesque name of Rhinecliff. The name Rhinecliff was borrowed from the original name of the Jones-Schermerhorn estate, now known as "Wyndcliffe", but originally called Rhinecliff.

According to Louis Auchincloss, Edith Wharton's biographer, Mrs. Edith Wharton was a frequent childhood visitor who later described Wyndclyffe as "The Willows" in Hudson River Bracketed.* In her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1933), Mrs. Wharton wrote about Wyndcliffe and her aunt.

...But no memories of those years survive, save those I have mentioned, and one other, a good deal dimmer, of going to stay one summer with my Aunt Elizabeth, my father's unmarried sister, who had a house at Rhinebeck-on-the-Hudson, This aunt, who I remember as a ramrod-backed old lady compounded of steel and granite, had been threatened in her youth with the 'consumption' which had already carried off a brother and sister. Few families in that day escaped the scourge of tuberculosis...when Elizabeth in her turn began to pine, her parents decided to try curing her at home. They therefore shut her up on October in her bedroom in the New York house in Mercer Street, lit the fire, sealed up the windows, and did not let her out again until the following June, when she emerged in perfect health, to live till seventy. "My aunt's house, called Rhinecliff, afterward became a vivid picture in the gallery of my little girlhood; but among those earliest impressions only one is connected with it; that of a night when, as I was ready to affirm, there was a Wolf under by bed..." The effect of terror produced by the house at Rhinecliff was no doubt due to what seemed to me its intolerable ugliness. My visual sensibility must always have been too keen for middling pleasure; my photographic memory of rooms and houses—even those seen but briefly, or at long intervals—was from my earliest years a source of inarticulate misery, for I was always vaguely frightened by ugliness. I can still remember hating everything at Rhinecliff, which, as I saw, on rediscovering it some years later, was an expensive but dour specimen of Hudson River Gothic; and from the first I was obscurely conscious of a queer resemblance between the granite exterior of Aunt Elizabeth and her grimly comfortable home, between her battlemented caps and the turrets of Rhinecliff...

Rhinecliff is one of the oldest intact hamlets along the Hudson River and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributor to the Hudson River National Historic Landmark District. At 20 miles (30 km) long, this Historic District is the largest National Historic Landmark (NHL)designation in the country. Rhinecliff is also included in the Local Waterfront Redevelopment Program (LWRP) and is designated: a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance (SASS), a contributor to the DEC Mid-Hudson Historic Shorelands Scenic District, a contributor to DEC Scenic Roads designations, and is in the Hudson River National Heritage Corridor. The quaintness and charm of the hamlet serve as the water and rail gateway to the larger town of Rhinebeck.

The hamlet is demarcated by large agricultural and wooded area to the north, east, and south, and bounded by the Hudson River on the west. Steep topography, formed by contorted slate ridges and valleys, define the site-specific and seemingly random orientation of the small, frame nineteenth-century houses and winding narrow roads. After experiencing a mid-nineteenth century building boom, the original hamlet boundaries and building density have changed very little over the last one hundred years.

As part of the town of Rhinebeck, the hamlet of Rhinecliff is included within the jurisdiction of the Town government. In 2005, the Town Board created the Rhinecliff Hamlet Advisory Council to facilitate communications between the Hamlet and Town. Goals of the Advisory Council are to work with the community on the protection of the historic hamlet, integration of a multi-use greenway connecting the Town with the hamlet, appropriate development of the waterfront, and sensitive residential development in outlying areas.

The town is also the setting of the fictional book series The It Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar and Hudson River Bracketed by Edith Wharton. Nearby notables, past and/or present, have included: Levi P. Morton, Vicent Astor, Sam Hall[disambiguation needed], Natalie Merchant, and Annie Leibovitz.

A proposal to build a large contemporary residence overlooking the Hudson on Grinnell Street in the hamlet is generating controversy in Rhinecliff. Several Rhinecliff residents have spoken out against the proposal, objecting to the size of the proposed residence, its modern style, and that it blocks views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. Other Rhinecliff residents have defended the proposal, arguing it will be a beautiful addition to the hamlet and that it blends the historic and the modern in a creative way. The matter is currently before both the Rhinebeck Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals and will be taken up again in July 2014.[1]

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Coordinates: 41°55′10″N 73°57′04″W / 41.91944°N 73.95111°W / 41.91944; -73.95111