Sunday, March 30, 2014

Back to Hudson, Fifty Years Ago

As noted earlier this week, Gossips recently came into possession of a copy of Hudson's Comprehensive Development Plan from 1965. The document contains much that is of interest to those curious about the past, and much that is just curious. An example of the latter is the history of Hudson that prefaced the document. Gossips has read many histories of Hudson and even written one or two, but the history of Hudson that appeared in 1965 Comprehensive Development Plan may be the strangest one, especially in its interpretation of what was then Hudson's most recent history. Be warned. The concept of political correctness did not exist in 1965.

Hudson's Heritage
Hudson enjoyed a major role in the earliest history of New York State. During his explorations of the Hudson River in 1609, Henry Hudson landed twice on the present site of the City, and commented in his journal on the beauty of the surrounding country. Half a century later, in 1662, a patroon named Jan Van Hoesen purchased a tract of land from the Indians, which included all of present day Hudson and the land for miles around. An inland settlement was soon founded, and the area named "Klauver Rachen" or "Clover Reach," after the clover blanketing the luxuriant soil.
The original settlement was inland from the river, and, as trade developed, a river landing was needed. By the end of the Revolutionary War, Claverack Landing, as the site of present-day Hudson was then called, contained two wharves. From these wharves, a "waggon-way" led to Claverack and the farms to the east. The extension of this waggon-way served as an important link to a large territory extending into eastern Massachusetts and Connecticut. Agricultural and manufactured products bound for New York City markets were transferred to river sloops sailing from Claverack Landing. . . .
In 1783, Claverack Landing was sold to the "Proprietors," a group of about thirty New England merchants from New Bedford and Nantucket, who wished to restore their Revolution-shattered whaling industry. At the first meeting, the Proprietors formed a committee, which laid out streets and building lots. The original Proprietors' map shows locations for Front, Main (renamed Warren in 1799), State, Diamond (now Columbia), Union Second, and Third Streets. Lots were 50 feet by 120 feet, with twenty foot alleys or "gangways" at the rear.
River trade was flourishing when, on April 22, 1785, the City was officially named after Henry Hudson and given its Charter by the State of New York. Hudson became the third city in New York State, and the first to be created in the United States after the Declaration of Independence. The original Charter covered a greater area than that of present-day Hudson, reaching from the Town of Livingston on the south to Claverack Creek on the east and Stockport Creek on the north. 
Growth was so phenomenal that five years later, in 1790, the date of the first Census, the City had a population of 2,584 persons.
Water was in short supply and of poor quality, and in 1793 the State Legislature authorized the creation of the Hudson Aqueduct Company. This company leased or purchased springs, and laid bored logs to carry the clean water to cisterns in the City. The first real street improvements also took place at this time: sidewalks were installed on Main Street; Front Street required blasting between Main and Union; a bridge was necessary near the corner of Union and Front Streets.
Trade was prospering. As many as fifteen vessels a day departed from Hudson carrying lumber, fish, beef, port, and all kinds of country produce. In 1797, Hudson narrowly lost--by one vote--the distinction of becoming the capital of New York State.
Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act and the War of 1812 temporarily smothered the whaling industry and related commerce, but provided an opportunity for industry to grow, using manpower released from whaling. Tanneries, oil and candle works, sail and canvas makers and woolen mills were among early industries. In 1814, the only iron foundry between New York City and Albany was established, made possible by the combination of river access and the network of roads to the east.
The Proprietors returned to whaling, sending out ships to the Antarctic. In 1829, the whaling industry supported a fleet of fourteen square-rigged vessels. During this period many buildings were destroyed by fire, particularly those near the river. Streets were paved or repaved and sewers were installed. Part of the Town of Stockport was annexed away in 1833. In 1837 the City was reduced to its present size by the creation of the Town of Greenport.
As the City grew it became the Columbia County distribution center for all types of merchandise. Sailing sloops made the trip to New York in from eighteen hours to several days, depending on the winds and tides. The City was a major stop on passenger and freight runs to and from New York City and, following the opening of the Erie Canal, to the west as well. When steamboats appeared on the river, some of the earlier boats were largely owned by Hudson investors.
Irish immigrants came to Hudson to help with the construction of the New York Central Railroad, which started in 1848. Italian immigrants followed, to maintain the railroad. Polish immigrants were attracted to the area to work on the farms.
During the nineteenth century, Hudson became a coal distribution center. The coal was shipped from Pennsylvania by barge; in Hudson, it was transferred to coal cars by cheap Negro labor. This inexpensive labor was also used to extract local deposits of clay and cement, and to chop ice from the frozen river in the winter, to be stored in ice houses and shipped down the river in summer. Knitting and textile mills flourished.
In the early twentieth century, brickyards and cement plants were among the area's major industries. Yet Hudson's greatest industrial growth had ended by the first World War. Early industries had vanished: first whaling, then, with the introduction of central heating, long woolen underwear was outdated. Still later, the ice and brick industries became outdated. One of the latest to leave was the most notorious. Diamond Street, from Third to Fourth Streets, was known throughout the State as a "red light" district, the traditional adjunct of the shipping industry. This historic use of the land was ended in 1950, by Governor Thomas E. Dewey, who ordered the "entrepreneurs" and their employees to be dispersed.
A ghetto was created as the empty structures were quickly filled with Negro families, many of whom had migrated north to work on nearby farms.
The illustrations that accompany this history were added by Gossips. From top to bottom they are: (1) Plate 4, No. 12, Amerique Septentrionale. Etat de New York, by Jacques Louis Milbert; (2) the Penfield Map of the city of Hudson, 1799; (3) engraving of the Hudson Iron Works by Benson Lossing, The Hudson: From the Wilderness to the Sea, 1866; (4) photograph from Historic Hudson's Rowles Studio Collection; (5) photograph of a Hudson madame and her girls, from Diamond Street: The Story of the Little Town with the Big Red Light District, by Bruce Edward Hall

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