Sunday, February 21, 2016

More About the William F. Ball Place

The recent search of old newspapers for information about 260 State Street and its former owners uncovered a few interesting news items. The first appeared in the Hudson Evening Register for August 3, 1893, when William F. Ball and his family lived in the house. Given our current concerns about gun ownership and gun control, the story seems very timely.

What's currently being proposed for 260 State Street--furnished rooms and apartments available for short-term rental--does not require a use variance because the proposed use is considered the equivalent of a boarding house, which is a conditionally permitted use under Hudson's zoning code. The house has been a boarding house in the past. It seems that it became a boarding house soon after William F. Ball's death in 1908 and remained so for much of the first half of the 20th century. This notice appeared in the Hudson Evening Register for April 20, 1916.

In her brochure about 620 Union Street, distributed at Historic Hudson's annual meeting last spring, historian Ruth Piwonka wrote, "Boarding houses emerged in nineteenth century American cities. They offered a place to live and lodge, to make acquaintances and friends." Altruist and community leader, Sally McKinstry maintained her grand home at the corner of Union and Seventh streets as a boarding house. Of boarding houses in general and Sally McKinstry's boarding house in particular, Piwonka writes: "Perhaps the communal Shaker lifestyle spurred their development in northeastern United States. Further, the McKinstry’s Universalist church affiliation must have also contributed an intellectual character to the household. Several Hudson notables boarded at McKinstry’s; and probably the most intriguing is Anna Rossman, who grew up there. She is best known as Anna R. Bradbury, author of History of the City of Hudson."

Later in her life, Anna Bradbury lived in another boarding house, the one operated by Jane E. Heath and her daughter Sally Heath at 729 Warren Street. Bradbury lived there from 1904 to 1909. In 1905, according to Mirrored Memories: A Glimpse into the Photographic Collections of the Columbia County Historical Society, the eleven roomers at 729 Warren Street included "teachers, a mechanical engineer, a publisher, and several book agents."

By the middle of the 20th century, the status and character of boarding houses seems to have degenerated, so much so that in the 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life, one of the horrors of George Bailey's tour of Bedford Falls as it would be had he never been born was that his mother was operating a boarding house in the family home.

There is an interesting story associated with 260 State Street during its decades as a boarding house. It is the story of a divorce settlement, reported in the Columbia Republican for October 17, 1922.

The account of Maggie Prystajko's testimony at the trial, which was accomplished with the aid of an interpreter, Emory Kardos, because Mrs. Prystajko did not speak English, provides compelling insight into life in another era. The following is quoted from the Columbia Republican.
She came to this country from Poland. Began keeping house on State street near the Sixth street school. Began to take boarders four days after she arrived here. At one time, according to witnesses, she had as many as fourteen boarders. The men at the house paid $2.50 a month and furnished their own food and supplies. They slept at the Prystajko house and were there about nine months. Then went to the Altas plant, had ten boarders part of the time, six all of the time. She then moved in a big house on State street, above Fifth; there three years and a half. They paid $2.50 and $3 a month and furnished their own supplies. She then moved to 260 State street, about three years there. Had three boarders there who paid $4. She worked in the shirt factory two months, and in a dress factory. She received as high as $16 a week in these factories. Worked in knitting mill two years and a half, made as high as $17 per week. During this time her husband worked at the cement plant. He began to work at $21 a week, and when the war broke out got as high as $40 per week. She claimed that the husband's money and her money was put in bank after the bills for rent and provisions had been paid. The bank book was kept in the trunk at the house under lock and key. She told him she thought her name ought to be on the bank book. He replied, she said, that she needn't be afraid, "As the money was hers and his." Several times she asked to have her name put on the bank book. He replied, "The money is mine and yours."
When they split up, however, Prystajko decided the money was all his. "He had another woman," the article reports, and needed to keep it for her. The jury thought otherwise. They awarded one half of the $3,500 to his estranged wife.

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