Real Estate

Germantown, N.Y.: An Upstate Haven That Beckons Creatives

Germantown was supposed to be Jamil Hoskins’s second home. After he, his wife and their two young children spent the first year of the pandemic in the Columbia County town, they returned to Brooklyn for the 2021 school year. But city life seemed too fast and dangerous.

“I’m too scared of people speeding everywhere, and are they going to pop the curb?” said Mr. Hoskins, 43, who moved with his family to Germantown full-time last year, leaving their two-bedroom rental in Gowanus. “We were on Fourth Avenue, and what did it for us was when that person did the shooting on Fourth Avenue and 36th Street, on the subway. That was our line. There’s video of him walking by the school where our kids went.”

Mr. Hoskins, who owns NYC Art Handlers in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and his wife, Mariana Graciano, 40, a writer from Argentina who teaches online courses for Pace University and Bard College, started looking for a weekend house upstate in 2018.

The couple were amazed to discover how far their budget would go in Germantown, especially because taxes there are lower than in neighboring Dutchess County. In October 2019, they closed for $503,000 on a nearly 4,000-square-foot house on more than 13 acres, where they live with their children, Camilo, 6, and Nia, 5. “When we first saw this place, our jaws just hit the ground,” Mr. Hoskins said. “We couldn’t believe this place was here, and it had been on the market for quite a long time.”

There were other happy surprises. “I did not know how culturally rich this place was,” Mr. Hoskins said, citing the art galleries that have sprung up in Germantown’s commercial center and the town’s proximity to the 250-acre Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, the onetime home of Frederic Edwin Church, a founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting.

Sarah and Nick Suarez bought the antique building that houses Gaskins in 2014, moving to Germantown from Brooklyn and living in an apartment above the restaurant before buying a house nearby.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

“Germantown has become a real mix of families that have roots going back hundreds of years and those that are brand-new to the area,” said Patricia Hinkein, 67, the owner of Patricia A. Hinkein Realty and a Germantown native who still lives there. “It has a quiet, small-town feel with wonderful views of the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River, yet it’s within easy reach of Hudson, Rhinebeck and Bard College.”

Twenty years ago, Christopher Wiss, 63, a retired marketing executive, and his husband, Timothy Lammers, 67, a retired teacher, began splitting their time between a Germantown house on Main Street and an Upper West Side rental apartment. “We heard there were a lot of gay men in Germantown,” Mr. Wiss said. “I nicknamed it Gaymen Town.”

Alexander Gray, 52, and his husband, David Cabrera, 67, an artist, followed a similar path. The couple split their time between the Germantown house they bought in 2014, a rental apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan (where Mr. Gray owns an art gallery) and a condo in Palm Springs, Calif. In 2020, Mr. Gray opened a gallery in Germantown, Alexander Gray Associates, which is featuring an exhibition on queer portraiture, “Between Us,” through Oct. 15.

“Germantown has definitely kind of emerged as a safe space,” Mr. Gray said. “I fell in love with the community and the landscape when we started staying with a childhood friend of mine and his husband about 20 years ago. There are a lot of creatives — artists, writers — and the open views of the Catskills, all the rolling farmland. It’s so beautiful over here.”

51 MAPLE AVENUE | A four-bedroom, four-bathroom house built in 1790, on 1.1 acres, listed for $2.295 million. 917-273-2142Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

What You’ll Find

Germantown is on the east side of the Hudson River, between Hudson and Rhinebeck, and covers about 14 square miles, according to the Columbia County Real Property Tax Service Agency, although the census-designated place is just 3.6 square miles.

Its blossoming reputation as a hip outpost has been fueled partly by the celebrities, including Daniel Day-Lewis, who have bought property there. In a telling bit of marketing, the New York City developer Roger Bittenbender is using the Germantown name to promote a high-end 12-home development he is currently planning in the adjacent town of Clermont.

Germantown’s quaint, compact downtown area is lined with upscale businesses that have popped up in the past decade. Gaskins, a restaurant that opened in 2015, now draws customers from all over the region with its farm-to-table comfort food. “Everyone we meet in New York has been to Gaskins,” Mr. Wiss said.

Sarah Suarez, 42, owns Gaskins with her husband, Nick Suarez, 41, and serves on the town board. In 2016, the couple, who have a 6-year-old son, bought a three-bedroom ranch house on nine acres near the restaurant for $425,000. “We really liked that it was a small, walkable hamlet, and Otto’s Market was a real draw,” Ms. Suarez said, referring to the grocery store that has been around since 1927.

Steps from Gaskins, Otto’s offers groceries and prepared food. Noah and Rae Bernamoff, who rent an apartment in Dumbo, Brooklyn, bought the store with partners in 2017, along with a second home in Germantown that is now their primary residence. The couple, who wrote “The Mile End Cookbook: Redefining Jewish Comfort Food from Hash to Hamantaschen,” are the co-owners of Black Seed Bagels and several restaurants in New York City.

Gaskins was the only sit-down restaurant in town until March, when the Universal Café & Bar opened at Central House, an inn once owned by the Rockefeller family. Sisters Julia Carr and Leslie Carr-Avalos bought the 1876 building for $1.8 million last fall and gave it a modern makeover. Although it had always had restaurant space, there hadn’t been a restaurant there for more than 25 years.

335 NORTHERN BOULEVARD | A three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, built in 1992 on 0.62 acres, listed for $495,000. 845-876-8588Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Alder & Co. carries high-end clothing, accessories and household goods; a pair of socks there will set you back about $40. Mary MacGill offers clothing, ceramics and jewelry ranging in price from $95 for handmade stud earrings to $35,000 for a handmade diamond engagement ring. Luddite Antiques sells an eclectic mix of vintage items with a focus on lighting, and Michael Robbins specializes in made-to-order furniture.

Germantown has two small riverfront parks with boat launches at either end of the town center: Cheviot Park to the south and the Ernest R. Lasher Jr. Memorial Park to the north. Both offer impressive views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains. About a mile from the town center, the 143-acre Keep Conservation Foundation preserve has mowed paths through fields where birds nest and goldenrod and purple thistle grow.

Cheviot Park is one of two riverfront parks in Germantown with dramatic views of the Catskill Mountains. The park is just a third of an acre, but it has picnic tables and attracts bird-watchers.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

What You’ll Pay

Home prices in Germantown rose an astonishing 75 percent from 2019 to 2022, to a median sale price of $467,000, according to data from the Columbia Greene Board of Realtors. In the first eight months of this year, the median sale price rose even more, to $632,500.

The average property tax bill — including county, town and school taxes — is about $6,781, compared with $7,210 in Hudson, said Suzette M. Booy, the director of the Columbia County Real Property Tax Service Agency. In Rhinebeck, the average property tax bill is higher still — nearly $10,000 — said Jennifer Mund, Rhinebeck’s assessor.

As of mid-September, Zillow showed 17 single-family homes for sale in Germantown, from a 1,326-square-foot house with a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace on 0.25 acres, listed for $199,000, to a 3,067-square-foot antique farmhouse on 1.1 acres, listed for $2.295 million.

Alder & Co., which opened in 2017, is one of a new generation of upscale stores along Main Street. “We have very exclusive, high-end merchandise here in Germantown,” said Christopher Wiss, a Germantown resident. “Alder has Parisian pottery and fragrant cologne that I’ve only ever seen in Barneys.”Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The Vibe

The words “relaxed,” “peaceful” and “quiet” often come up when people describe Germantown.

Highbrow transplants and longtime locals mix socially, Mr. Gray said: “A dinner table could have a MacArthur grantee, a New York Times journalist, an artist with a show at the Guggenheim and a local landscaper.”

Ms. Graciano, the writer from Argentina, initially had a difficult time adjusting. “I felt it wasn’t a place of belonging for me at all, because I’m an immigrant,” she said. “I speak Spanish to my kids. My skin color is dark. But then slowly, through the school, you get to know the families, and actually there are a lot of immigrants.”

Mr. Hoskins, who is Black, said he feels relatively comfortable in Germantown. “In general, upstate is very white,” he said. “The thing I enjoy about Germantown is I’m in the woods. I don’t have a lot of neighbors.”

The Schools

The town is served by the Germantown Central School District. Students in prekindergarten through sixth grade attend Germantown Elementary School, then move on to Germantown Junior-Senior High School for seventh through 12th grade.

During the 2021-22 school year, according to the New York State Education Department, the district had a total enrollment of 466 students in kindergarten through 12th grade; roughly 86 percent identified as white, 8 percent as Hispanic, 5 percent as multiracial, 1 percent as Black and 1 percent as Asian or Pacific Islander.

In 2022, the mean SAT verbal score was 515 and the mean math score was 529, versus state means of 534 and 533. The high school’s graduation rate was 97 percent, compared with 87 percent for the state.

The Keep Conservation Foundation preserve offers a nesting habitat for sparrows, warblers and bluebirds, among other species.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The Commute

Germantown is roughly a 25-minute drive from Exit 67 on the Taconic State Parkway. The drive from Germantown to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in New York City takes a little more than two hours, depending on traffic. For an alternate route that also takes about two hours, cross the river at the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge and head south on Interstate 87.

The Amtrak train station in Rhinecliff is about a 22-minute drive. The trip from there to Penn Station takes about an hour and 50 minutes, and a round-trip ticket during peak hours ranges from $46 to $84, depending on when the ticket is bought.

The History

In 1710, about 1,200 Germans — known as Palatines, because many hailed from a region in Germany known as the Palatinate — landed on the east bank of the Hudson River, fleeing wars, poverty, high taxes and a harsh winter. The Palatines called their settlement East Camp, and in 1788, the New York State Legislature renamed the area Germantown, said Thomas Shannon, the town historian.

Around 1750, the neighborhood now known as Main Street developed, as sawmills and gristmills sprang up there, Mr. Shannon said. Most residents became subsistence farmers, but by the 1760s, apples, grapes and other fruits also were widely grown in Germantown. Residents supplemented their income by fishing and harvesting ice.

The New York Central Railroad provided jobs starting in the 1850s, but real estate became the main economic engine after World War II and still is today, along with tourism. Airbnbs have proliferated, and the town board has drafted regulations to cap their numbers.

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