Friday, May 11, 2012

Jane's Walk: Site 10

The park in front of the Columbia County Courthouse, named Washington Square, is a perfect place for ruminating on such topics as architecture, urban design, and twists of fate. The current Beaux Arts courthouse is the fifth Columbia County Courthouse and the third to be built on this site.

The cornerstone for the building was laid in September 1907, just eight months after the courthouse that preceded it, which was designed by local architect Henry S. Moul, was destroyed by fire. The building was completed a year later, in September 1908. It was designed by the celebrated architects Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, most famous for their work on Grand Central Station.

When the courthouse was built, everything that surrounds it was already there, with the exception of the post office, which was built a year or two later, and St. Mary's Church, which was built in 1929. In 1907, there were houses on both those sites, and a house on Allen Street, just west of the courthouse site, where now there is a parking lot. Warren and Wetmore were early advocates of the City Beautiful movement, which Emily Pulfer-Terino, writing in 2003 for Columbia County History & Heritage, defines as "America's first serious attempt at a new kind of urban planning that would create cohesive city environments"--"harmonious architectural ensembles."

In the courthouse, Warren and Wetmore designed a building that harmonizes with and makes reference to its surroundings. Its mass echoes the mass of the row of brick town houses along East Court Street. The shape of its dome may be a nod to the shape of the porch on 39 West Court Street. Its balustrade appears to be a subtle iteration of the balustrade on the now missing house to the west, which appears at the left in the photograph above. Its overall shape, size, and texture mirrors and balances the building, built a century earlier, at the opposite end of the Fourth Street transept: 400 State Street. In 1907, when 400 State Street was the orphanage, there would also have been an allegorical balance between the two buildings that anchor the two ends of the street: justice and mercy.

Contemplating the current courthouse, one wonders how, in its hour of need, after losing two courthouses to fire in less than a decade (the Moul courthouse had been built in 1901 after fire destroyed the previous one), Columbia County managed to retain the services of architects of the stature and reputation of Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore. The clue may be that Warren had connections to Columbia County and to the City of Hudson. His maternal grandmother, Mary Whitney Phoenix, had lived at Glenwood, the estate that once belonged to Dr. Oliver Bronson. Mrs. Phoenix was the benefactrix for whom Phoenix Hose Co., headquartered in one of the firehouses on Park Place, was named.


  1. Do you know if the architects of the present Courthouse planned a statue for the top of the dome similar to a previous Courthouse?
    The building that once stood to the West of the courthouse housed the C.C. Health Dept.
    dates unknown.
    The building to the East housed the C.C. Probation Dept. dates unknown.

  2. I hope no statue was planned, Tom. IMHO it would have ruined everything.

  3. Incredible story.Beautifully written.Point well taken.

    Hudson and Columbia County were fortunate to have had this grandson,in their midst.
    Considering Galloway lives 2 doors down from courthouse,maybe he could take some time
    to study and meditate on this civic masterpiece.
    With his wealth to retain ,as his" muse "Doris Duke did with her wealth,
    the best architects and craftsmen,in Duke's case she employed hundreds,
    Rem Koolas will be in town with his firm.
    God forbid this Civic layer cake of courts&cops&homeless SRO's should come to pass.
    That GalVan should touch a hair of Alms House head, except to repair and restore.
    The Historic Preservation Commission must be free to do its duty,enforce the law and protect our history and the future's

    The counter weight of the
    Alms House,soon to be GalVan headquarters,
    the Courthouse
    is the axis of Hudson
    "Justice and mercy" beautiful.
    How apropos to the founders philosophy
    The balance of those two buildings,
    built 100 years apart ,
    each of its own time.
    The old and the new so harmoniously complementary and perfectly at odds
    taking everything into consideration including the green space.
    What is not built on ,being just as crucial as what is..
    Lessons we need to learn or relearn quickly around here

    The stage magic that Warren & Whetmore preformed ,captured my attention when I first came to visit Hudson
    The forced perspective that leads your eye to believe the distance and grandness of the courthouse
    It isn't until you are almost through the door,that you realize
    how close & small it actually is.
    You can see the the Alms house from the Courthouse and vice versa
    Out of the ashes ,this building was designed and built within a year.

  4. A year.What's our excuse?
    What your excuse, T.Eric Galloway ,with these vacant neglected pieces of our heritage
    on our Main Street in your possession for 6,7,8 years?

    I'm not impressed that you are finally fixing one of your own historic BLDG"S roofs
    on Warren St ,that really stands out.
    It is in" National Register of Historic Places",after alland
    since the slates were falling off
    and birds had moved in,you really had to do something.
    The company, that as skilled as they are with slate,
    (well,this one was a little over your regular crew contractor-Manuel's head.)
    the owner,Ward Hamilton of Olde Mohawk
    on April 6th,2012,Mocked Carole on her own blog,for suggesting that GalVan move 900 Columbia to one of his empty lots on Union Street
    900 Columbia St
    posted March 30,2012
    I hope you make good on that,GalVan.I hope
    that Hamilton is wrong and it can be moved.
    You could use some good press and good karma
    and spend your own money,not the taxpayers

    What happened here,from 1907 til now?
    The City Hall and BOS I see today,wouldn't let
    Warren & Whetmore build.Its lucky when HUD was busy destroying downtown in the 1970's they didn't make it that far.
    Today,they would find some way to spend 5 years looking this gift horse in the mouth.
    The cement factory,apparently had effects on the space between Hudson's Officials ears
    that became generational and it can be contagious to new comers.
    but back to 1907
    Here is a case where someone of money and influence
    that was appropriately named ,Mrs.Phoenix
    gifted Hudson and Columbia County with,not just money
    at a time of emergency.
    She gifted the gift's of her grandson.
    And Hudson & Columbia County in 1907 accepted
    this gift and allowed Warren and Whetmore to
    design and build this Courthouse.It was done in one year.
    How long has Scalera had to build a Courthouse and Police Headquarters?
    And now we are reduced to the possibility of having one rented to us
    built on the backs of monies allocated for the poor, the homeless.
    Not from the pockets of some benefactor,
    but from a man manipulating tax breaks HUD , DSS Aids/HIV Chemiclally dependent Mentally Ill's money from taxpayers and grants
    allocated for these Homeless, will in return make himself and investors money.

    The Almshouse/SRO's money from taxpayers of today is gifting us a Courthouse/Police Headquarters
    to rent from this manipulative rich man.
    How shameful.
    How ironic.

    I hope that whomever has Historic Landmark jurisdiction, are monitoring
    Columbia Courthouse present ADA compliant modifications carefully.

    Thank you Carole.
    From reading this story I will never look at the Phoenix Hose House
    on Park Place, the same.

  5. @Prison Alley ... I never said it couldn't be moved. In fact, I was involved in directing Eric toward a firm that recently moved a similar structure in Schenectady. My exact quote follows:

    "It has been suggested that, since Jeff Rovitz of MHA offered to give the historic building to anyone willing to move it off the site, Eric Galloway should accept the challenge and move the house to the vacant lots he owns in the 200 block of Union Street where it can be in the company of other buildings of the same era."


    I quoted Carole then wrote one word: "Classic."

    1. That's correct.You did.
      It will be a great accomplishment to save 900 Columbia Street.I hope you can be of assistance to GalVan and help bring this to fruition.