Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A 100-Year-Old Guidebook

Among the treasures recently entrusted to me is a book called The Picturesque Hudson by Clifton Johnson, published in 1909. It follows the Hudson River from Manhattan to its source, giving "ample attention" to "the more striking features--picturesque, historic, literary, legendary." Here's part of what he has to say about Hudson.

A little to the north of Catskill, across the river, is the city of Hudson. The place was settled in 1784 by thirty New Englanders, mostly Quakers. They were men mighty in the handling of the harpoon who had sailed on many seas, and though Hudson is over a hundred miles inland they proposed to establish here a town devoted to whaling and kindred industries. Strangely enough, they made a success on just these lines, and not only whalers but other vessels brought their spoils to the town from the ends of the earth. The growth of the place was phenomenal and the proprietors waxed wealthy. But when steam navigation became a certainty, Hudson as a seaport was doomed; yet not till 1845 was the last ship sold that had engaged in the whaling business.

The city is built on a bluff which rises abruptly from the river, and the brow of the bluff affords a very attractive view of the river. Clinging to the verge of this height is a weatherworn, big-chimneyed house, evidently one of the oldest in the place. I got acquainted with its occupant--a negro, and ancient like his dwelling. He had always made his home in the vicinity, and so had his father before him. . . .

In early life my informant was for some time a porter on a steamboat, and as a result of his experience had concluded there was "just as much difference between New Englanders and the people of the Middle States as between day and night." "On the boats where I worked," said he, "if a passenger didn't tip you for carrying his bag you'd refuse to give it to him and tell him you'd lock it up. That would fetch money from most of them, but not from a New Englander. He'd get mad and say, 'Where's the cap'n?' No, you couldn't work an Eastern man, but you could git the New York and New Jersey men on skin games every time." . . .

Down at the steamboat landing, while waiting to continue my journey, I had a chat with another local resident. . . . I remarked on the frequency of the big ice-houses we could see across the river. "Yes," he responded, "they stand so thick all the way from Kingston to Albany that you can throw a stone from one to another the whole distance.  Men drive here from nine miles back in the country in the winter to work icing, and they go home every night. They bring dinner pails bigger'n that post in front of us, and they get two dollars a day and freeze to death. They have to be up at three in the morning in order to arrive here ready to begin at seven, and they freeze coming and they freeze again going home. It's no job I'd care for."

Johnson accompanies the account of his visit to Hudson with this photograph of a house he identifies as "The oldest house in Hudson," but he gives no indication of where in Hudson the house was located.


  1. Simple living - how sweet a pic is this.

  2. based on what was said, is the house in the extreme far left of this image?

    "and the brow of the bluff affords a very attractive view of the river. Clinging to the verge of this height is a weatherworn, big-chimneyed house, evidently one of the oldest in the place"

  3. The porter’s characterization of New Englanders is spot-on, and still pertained right up through my childhood in the Berkshires. (I would say that we are a frugal bunch, as distinct from being cheap.)