Monday, February 29, 2016

Life in a Small City . . . with Help from Facebook

Dear Diary,
Tonight a request for help appeared on the Hudson Community Board on Facebook. Someone rushing to be with a family member reaching the end of a long battle with cancer had, in her haste, left her car in the short-term parking lot next to the Amtrak station. She couldn't return tonight and wanted advice on how to avoid having her car towed. There were comments from several people offering advice and help, but then there appeared a comment from our police chief: "Describe the car. We will make sure it is not towed. We will deal with this tomorrow. Take care of your family."
Sometimes the contention in our little city can drive you to distraction, but at other times the kindliness can move you to tears. Thank you, Chief Moore.
"Micropolitan Diary" is Gossips' homage to and blatant imitation of "Metropolitan Diary" in the New York Times. The term micropolitan was coined because Hudson is a metropolis in microcosm.

Galvan on My Mind

Last week, an eagle-eyed reader brought this legal notice to Gossips' attention. It had appeared the previous week in the Register-Star.

This raised some questions, not the least of which is why Galvan Asset Management, which presumably is somehow connected to the Galvan Foundation, the owner of countless buildings in Hudson, is headquartered in a building that they must be leasing from another entity? Whatever the notice means, it apparently doesn't mean that Galvan is shifting its acquisitive attention from Hudson to Philmont. It is rumored that Galvan is about to acquire or has already acquired another house on Allen Street.

Checking out the fancy dress on the Oscars red carpet in a New York Times slide show last night, I was reminded that Galvan doesn't always denote the partnership of T. Eric Galloway and Henry van Ameringen. Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner, generally considered one of the best dressed at the Oscars, wore a gown created by the UK design team Galvan.


This Just In

The Common Council Youth & Aging Committee meeting originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 2, has been rescheduled for Wednesday, March 9, at 6 p.m.

Police and Court Building Moves Ahead

At the Common Council Legal Committee meeting last Wednesday, city attorney Ken Dow reported that the contracts for the police and court building were ready for Council approval.

Dow revealed that one of the four original low bidders had withdrawn, but it seems the project will still be within the budget with the next higher bidder. There are four contracts: general construction, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work. 

A special meeting of the Common Council has been called for March 7 at 6:30 to authorize the mayor to enter into the contracts. At that same meeting, the Council will consider an amendment to the zoning code to make hotels a conditionally permitted use in the Residential/Special Commercial (R-S-C) district located in the First Ward. The informal meeting of the Common Council will follow the special meeting.

A Question for the Morning After

While everyone else is focused on Adam McKay's warning about "weirdo billionaires" when he accepted the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Big Short at last night's Academy Award ceremony, what Gossips wants to know is why he and Charles Randolph thanked Hudson, Tivoli, and Millerton?

My guess is that they spent a lot of time here when they were doing the writing, but that's only a guess.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Eyes on Cross Street

Cross Street is a street you don't hear about very often. It's only two blocks long, going from South Front Street to the bottom of the Second Street stairs. It's entirely possible that some people living in Hudson don't even know where it is. But last Wednesday night, three of the six proposals that came before the Zoning Board of Appeals for review were on Cross Street.

Bing Maps
The first was the subdivision of 20 and 22 Cross Street. There is a house at 20 Cross Street, but there is no house at 22 Cross Street. It was demolished years ago. At Wednesday's meeting, code enforcement officer Craig Haigh explained that his parents had owned the two properties when he was a kid growing up, and they had merged them. The current owners want to subdivide them again and sell off 22 Cross Street.

A public hearing on this proposal preceded the regular meeting of the ZBA, and after the public hearing, the subdivision was unanimously approved.

Although minutes earlier, at the Common Council Legal Committee meeting, the members had agreed to move forward an amendment to the zoning code that would make hotels a conditionally permitted use in this particular Residential/Special Commercial district, the principals from Redburn Development and their attorney, Kristal Heinz, appeared before the ZBA seeking a use variance to redevelop 41 Cross Street as a hotel. It appears to be a race to see which happens first: the Council amends the zoning law, or the ZBA grants a use variance. The Council will vote on the amendment to the zoning law at a special meeting on Monday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m. The ZBA will hold a public hearing on the request for a use variance on Wednesday, March 16, at 6 p.m.

When the proposal for the hotel at 41 Cross Street was first presented to the Planning Board back in December 2015, there was some question about whether or not Cross Street was included in the locally designated Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District. The description of the boundaries of the district would suggest that Cross Street was part of the district: "Cherry Alley on the north, Worth Avenue to the east, NYS Correction Facility property bordering East Allen Street to the south and Power Avenue and Cross Street bordering Allen Street to the south, Amtrak and Hudson River on the west." But, in the inventory of properties which is part of the historic designation, not a single building on Cross Street is listed.

Members of the Historic Preservation Commission have sought for months to correct the discrepancy, but instead of just going ahead and requesting that the Common Council amend the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District to include Cross Street, it was left to legal counsel--in this instance, city attorney Carl Whitbeck--to look into the matter and make a recommendation. That seems never to have happened. As a consequence, the HPC has no authority to review the plans for the exterior of the hotel proposed by Redburn Development. As it turns out, that's not a problem. The principals of Redburn Development are zealous about historic preservation and asked the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to do a resource evaluation. SHPO determined that the building is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and SHPO will be reviewing and approving the plans.

But now there's another reason to regret that Cross Street's status as part of a locally designated historic district is uncertain. The third Cross Street project before the ZBA on Wednesday night was a request for area variances--front and back setbacks and height--for a new residence to be constructed at 26 Cross Street. There are several vacant lots along the north side of Cross Street, but this isn't one of them. The new construction not only requires area variances but also the demolition of the house that is currently there.

Unfortunately, because of the uncertainty about the inclusion or exclusion of Cross Street in the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District, the HPC will not be involved in permitting the demolition of the existing house or in reviewing the design of the proposed new house for compatibility with the neighborhood.

The pictures below, from Peter Cipkowski's collection of photographs taken by his grandfather in the late 1920s or early 1930s, show a house on Cross Street that was the home of a member of the Cipkowski family. It's probably not 26 Cross Street (the door is in the wrong place), but it is very similar to 26 Cross Street.

The house at 26 Cross Street has been altered by post-World War II attempts to modernize it, but wouldn't it be grand if, instead of demolishing it, its owners, guided by these historic pictures of a neighboring house, would restore it to its original, charmingly vernacular late 19th-century design? 

There will be a public hearing on the request for area variances for what's proposed for 26 Cross Street on Wednesday, March 16, at 6 p.m. At the same time (not concurrently but sequentially), there will be public hearings on an area variance for a proposed new prefab garage on Partition Street behind 210 Allen Street; a use variance for 453 State Street, which was granted a use variance to 2004 to become a laundromat but now seeks another use variance to become professional offices; and an area variance for a new unit of Mount Ray Townhouses, which seeks to cover 35 percent of its lot instead of the permitted 30 percent.

Senior Moments Next Week

Commissioner for the Aging, Amanda Henry has announced another opportunity to view the spaces in the Galvan Armory (which seems to be what it's being called these days) that will be Hudson's Senior Center. The tour will take place at noon on Thursday, March 3.

Senior citizens and others interested in quality programming for Hudson residents of retirement age and beyond are also invited to attend the Common Council Youth & Aging Committee meeting the previous evening, Wednesday, March 2, at 6 p.m., at City Hall. Henry has been working diligently, gathering ideas and soliciting commitments, to structure a robust program for the elders of Hudson, one that goes beyond bingo and bus trips to the racino in Saratoga. To succeed in this, she needs the visible support of those who believe that Hudson deserves a variety of opportunities for its elders, programming that nurtures ongoing intellectual curiosity and builds community across generations and socioeconomic groups.

Schedule Change: The Youth & Aging Committee meeting originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 2, has been rescheduled for Wednesday, March 9, at 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

We Need a Different Word

Yesterday, Gossips attended the CEDC Strategic Planning Public Session. It was an information gathering session with the end goal being the formation of an action plan for the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, which will be presented to the public on April 19. Based on yesterday's session, it seems that the restructured CEDC may be taking a more primum non nocere approach to economic development, recognizing what makes Columbia County and Hudson appealing both to its residents and to the outside world and is the basis of its economy--open space, natural resources, historic architecture, heritage sites, farmland, rural and scenic vistas--and seeking to protect and enhance those characteristics rather than putting them at risk.

In the information sharing portion of the meeting, which preceded the information gathering part, four "industries of focus" for Columbia County were identified: agribusiness, the creative economy, technology, and tourism. Obviously, the word agribusiness is used because it embraces more than just growing crops and raising livestock--such things as wineries, goat farms producing cheeses, distilleries making spirits from locally grown fruit. Unfortunately, for many, the word agribusiness conjures up images of mega farms growing homogeneous crops for national corporations and factory farms raising chickens and pigs in unnatural and inhumane conditions. What's happening in Columbia County, both on family farms that have been here for generations and on new farms being established by young people committed to producing real food humanely and sustainably, is something quite different.

Clockwise from top left: Little Seed Gardens|Jason Houston; Letter Box Farm; 
Stewardship Farm; Letter Box Farm
For the agricultural enterprises happening in Columbia County, we need a different word--a better word than agribusiness.

Friday, February 26, 2016

News from the Legal Committee

There were four items on the agenda 0f the Legal Committee on Wednesday night, two in which merit attention. The first is the lodging tax.

Over the past two years, much time and effort went into the drafting the legislation for a lodging tax--a tax, similar to a sales tax, that would be charged to guests staying in the hotels and B&Bs of Hudson. The Common Council Finance and Legal committees collaborated, reaching out to the proprietors of hotels and B&Bs, as well as people with rooms available through AirBnB, to craft legislation that would benefit both the lodging industry in Hudson and the city as a whole with a new source of revenue. The local law enacting the lodging tax was put on the aldermen's desks, as the expression goes, in August 2015, and it has languished there ever since. 

For the City to impose a new tax requires an act of the state legislature. In September 2015, a resolution "requesting a bill proposal and a formal home rule request for the adoption of a lodging tax" was passed by the Common Council, but apparently that is as far as it went.

The status of the lodging tax has been a topic of discussion at the last two Legal Committee meetings. In order for the enabling legislation to happen, our two representatives in the state legislature--Didi Barrett in the Assembly and Kathy Marchione in the Senate--must introduce bills to be voted on by the two bodies, but in order for them to do that, someone from Hudson government must ask them to do it, but so far, no one has asked. The resolution passed by the Council in September 2015 concludes:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City of Hudson transmit this Resolution to Assembly member, Didi Barrett, and Senator Kathleen A. Marchione, requesting that a Bill be proposed and that a formal Home Rule Request be sought from the City of Hudson under Section 40 of the Municipal Home Rule Law of the State of New York.
Five months have passed, and the resolution has never been transmitted. At Wednesday's meeting, Alderman Michael O'Hara (First Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, reported that the city clerk had been "advised by counsel" to hold on to it, and she has.

Former Council president Don Moore, who was in the audience for the meeting, explained that the delay was owing to a "policy question of who was going to present this to Barrett and Marchione." He went on to say that a member of Marchione's staff had predicted that the senator would be reluctant to support legislation that levied a new tax; therefore, it would have to be made clear that the tax would not be paid by constituents of her district but by visitors to the district. Months ago, it is also reported that someone in Barrett's office had expressed the same reservations, triggered by the word tax.

Although the discussion at Wednesday's Legal Committee meeting brought some clarity to the situation, the question of who would present the request to Barrett and Marchione went unanswered. O'Hara said he would talk with Council president Claudia DeStefano, suggesting that she may be the one to do it.

The Legal Committee took up another issue related to lodging in Hudson: Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton's request to amend the zoning code to make hotels a conditionally permitted use in areas of the city zoned Residential/Special Commercial (R-S-C). The request was prompted by the proposal by Redburn Development to redevelop 41 Cross Street as a boutique hotel.

City attorney Ken Dow quoted from the city's Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) to show that allowing the development of hotels in the R-S-C was in keeping with the intent and the spirit of the LWRP. He also told the Legal Committee, "It should not be left to the ZBA to grant use variances," going on to say that a use variance was an "escape valve . . . to save people from having no use of their property." He advised, "If it is the sense of the legislature that [a hotel] is a suitable use, if you think it belongs there, you should put it there [by amending Article 325-13 of the zoning code]."

O'Hara suggested that the committee go ahead with the suggested change, but Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) objected. She wanted to know what parts of the city were zoned Residential/ Special Commercial. A zoning map was produced. When she saw that there were three areas in the city currently designated R-S-C, one of them in the Second Ward, she wanted to prohibit hotels lest hotels be built in preference over affordable housing.

In the end, it was determined that a subset of R-S-C would be created, and a resolution would be proposed to allow hotels in the R-S-C district located in the First Ward (R-S-C 1) but not in the other two (R-S-C 2).

A resolution to amend what is a permitted conditional use in an R-S-C district will come before the Common Council in a special meeting to be held on Monday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

News of Public Works

At last night's Common Council Public Works Committee meeting, DPW superintendent Rob Perry reported a number of things of interest. The first is the news that the street trash cans, which many would like to see replaced altogether, will have a marginally new and improved look. The plywood tops on the trash cans--there to prevent people from dumping their household trash in the cans--are being replaced with "a more durable and cleaner looking product."

The next item in Perry's report is testimony to the idea that one man's efforts can make a difference. It will be remembered that, a few years ago, Peter Jung spearheaded the project to restore the Gifford family grave site, where Hudson River School artist Sanford R. Gifford is buried.

Since completing that project, Jung has turned his attention to neglected grave sites in the vicinity of the Gifford family plot, pruning trees and cutting brush, with the knowledge, consent, and appreciation of Perry and cemetery clerk, Gail Grandinetti.

Jung's work in the cemetery led him to discover the adjacent abandoned Academy Hill playground, one of five municipal playgrounds that once existed throughout the city. Perry told the Public Works Committee last night that DPW crews had removed the piles of brush created by Jung's pruning and trimming in the cemetery and at the playground and suggested that "maybe the playground will be utilized again."

Perry also reported that DPW crews, together with buildings and grounds workers from the Hudson City School District, had cleaned the area that people had been using as a dump at the east end of Rope Alley. The picture below shows the site back in 2012 when Gossips did a post about the illegal dumping grounds in Hudson. Who knows how much more trash had accumulated in the intervening four years, but it's all clean now.

DPW workers have also been busy taking environmental samples from the property at 221-227 Tanners Lane, in accordance with the settlement the City has reached with property owner Heinrich Von Ritter.

When Perry had completed his report, committee member Abdus Miah (Second Ward) wanted to know when DPW workers would start building the ramp at Promenade Hill. Perry told him that he would have to reprice the project, because the cost of construction materials has gone up in the past two years. He also told Miah that the site work could not take place in the current weather conditions.

Supervisor Rick Scalera (Fifth Ward), who is a special adviser to the Galvan Foundation and whose daughter, Fourth Ward alderman Lauren Scalera, sits on the Public Works Committee, asked from the audience if "there was a number associated with the ramp in the grant application." When told that $60,000 had been allocated for the ramp in the application, he dismissed it as meaningless. He then asked Perry, "If you had more money, could you start tomorrow?" That question went unanswered, but when informed that the site was part of a National Register historic district and a locally designated historic district and therefore subject to review by the State Historic Preservation Office and Hudson's Historic Preservation Commission, he replied, "That could take two years." The implication seemed that all oversight would be waived for a temporary ramp.

The plan for the ramp included in the most recent grant application
Perry stressed the temporary nature of the ramp now being pursued. "The thing could be taken apart by lunch," he quipped. He added, however, "If you're going to spend the money, you'd like it to be permanent."

Turn Your Radios On . . . Later Today

Today, on WGXC's Thursday Afternoon Show, architectural historian Peter Watson will be the guest of the show's hosts, Ellen Thurston and Tom DePietro. Last Saturday, Watson began his two-part lecture series, cosponsored by Historic Hudson and the Columbia County Historical Society, with a scholarly and captivating lecture at Stair Galleries about "Architectural Composer" and preeminent 19th-century architect Alexander Jackson Davis: "Picturesque Transformations: A. J. Davis Reinvents Hudson Valley Architecture." 

Watson's second lecture in the series, "A Tale of Two Houses: Two Centuries of Change at the Bronson and Vanderpoel Houses," will explore the evolution of the Dr. Oliver Bronson House in Hudson and the Vanderpoel House, CCHS's "House of History," in Kinderhook. Both houses have been attributed, in their original design, to "master mechanic" Barnabas Waterman (1776-1839). That lecture will take place on Saturday, March 12, at The School (Jack Shainman Gallery), 25 Broad Street in Kinderhook.

The Thursday Afternoon Show is from 4 to 6 p.m. The conversation with Watson is expected to begin at 5:15. WGXC is heard at 90.7 F.M. or online at

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Bridge to Hudson's Future

On Tuesday night, what was meant to be a small subcommittee of the Common Council Economic Development Committee met to strategize a plan for securing funding for the Ferry Street bridge. It turned out that every member of the Economic Development Committee, with the exception of Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward), was present, along with HDC executive director Sheena Salvino, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton and her aide, Lisa Walsh, Common Council president Claudia DeStefano and former Council president, now Third Ward supervisor Don Moore, and the media: Register-Star reporter John Mason and Gossips. 

It will be remembered that last August then mayor William Hallenbeck held a press conference at the barricaded bridge, calling for help from all levels of government--county, state, and federal--in funding a replacement for the neglected and deteriorating bridge. In advance of the press conference, letters of invitation went out to elected officials at all levels of government, very few of whom showed up. It seems, however, that after the press conference there was no follow-up. 

Salvino recommended that Mayor Hamilton contact all of the same people and invite them to a meeting--not a press conference but a sit-down discussion at which the importance of the bridge and the need to replace it are presented and ways to fund the project are explored. It was agreed that this plan would be pursued.

Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward), who chairs the Economic Development Committee, asked if there had been "a conversation with the county." In response to Rector's question, Moore said that Supervisor Bill Hughes (Fourth Ward) was "talking actively about the governor's initiative for transportation infrastructure" and was "in contact with the governor's office."

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who serves on the Economic Development Committee, advised that there should be only one contact for the City. "We won't be well served," cautioned Friedman, "if there is a lot of disjointed effort." Moore remarked that the plan outlined by Salvino, which they had agreed to pursue, was the right approach and suggested that the Hudson supervisors could be part of meeting. He also warned against individual conversations, advising, "Efforts need to be coordinated."

Friedman suggested, "It's the mayor's job to lead this." He went on to advise, "The mayor should create a team, have a timeline, and manage it as a project." Several of the people present expressed their interest in being part of that team. 

The subject of the Ferry Street bridge will be taken up again at the next Economic Development Committee meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 17, at 6 p.m.

The Ramp of Least Resistance

Gossips reported on this more than a week ago, but today there's a story by John Mason in the Register-Star about the controversial ramp to be built at Promenade Hill: "'Temporary' ramp will give access to Promenade Hill." Although no one knows what the ramp will look like and if and how much it will deface the entrance to Promenade Hill, the Common Council last Tuesday passed a resolution, with only two dissenting votes, to move ahead with the construction, and the the mayor promptly signed it.

According to Mason's report, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), one of the two opponents of the ramp as proposed, in an interview, made a suggestion that was made two years ago: that the City negotiate with Evergreen Partners to allow Promenade Hill to be accessed through a gate in the fence that separates the park from Hudson Terrace, thus eliminating the need for a ramp. "Anything's better than anything ugly," said Friedman. "A good deal of our economy is built on the fact that our architecture is pleasing. To build something unpleasing would be a mistake; we need to be more creative and not doctrinaire."

Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward), who cast the other dissenting vote on the ramp, after stressing that he supported the need for a ramp, was quoted as saying, "Promenade Hill is the gateway to the Hudson River, it's also one of our most revered historic sites and it's within a historic district. I would like to see a well-thought-out plan for a ramp as part of a long-term plan for Promenade Hill that addresses safety, ADA compliance and all the aesthetics in keeping with a ramp in an historic district."

Meanwhile, the only person who has any real notion of what the ramp will look like, DPW superintendent Rob Perry seems eager to distance himself from any responsibility for the aesthetics of the ramp. Mason quotes him as saying, "When I presented it [to the council, in 2014] I told them it's not a pretty ramp, it's a functional ramp. It gets wheelchair bound individuals from one elevation to another elevation. It's basically a glorified deck. It will have elevation changes with appropriate inclines. It's functional and it's only functional."

In truth, Perry never presented the plan for the ramp to the Common Council; he presented it to the Public Works Committee, on May 28, 2014. At that meeting, then Council president Don Moore asked Perry why he had created such a plan, when the City was working on a grant application to fund design improvements to the entrance to Promenade Hill which would include a handicapped ramp. Perry explained that he had been pressured by Second Ward aldermen Tiffany Garriga and Abdus Miah to come up with the plan, and he did so to appease them. Now, it seems we may be stuck with it, although there's already been a comment on Gossips noting that the proposed handicapped ramp, ironically, does not meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Book Signing at Camphill Hudson

On Saturday, from 2 to 4 p.m., Billy Shannon will be signing copies of his book Hudson Rvier Zeitgeist: Interviews from 2015 in the Solaris Gift Shop at Camphill Hudson, 360 Warren Street.

Shannon (center) with Bill Rosecan and Elias | Photo: Jon Crispin
Shannon's book is a collection of seventeen interviews with long-time residents of Hudson, Germantown, and other nearby towns. The people interviewed range in age from their late fifties to 104; the conversations explore their personal experiences and struggles--firsthand memories of the Great Depression, Prohibition, the rise of automobiles, and the appearance of modern amenities like electricity and indoor plumbing in rural areas. Many of the interviews touch on the decline of industry in recent decades and the effects it has had and on other ways the area has changed.

Bill Rosecan, one of the people interviewed in the book, will be present at the informal signing. Copies of the limited edition book will be available for sale during and after the signing, as long as supplies last.

News of HCSD

John Mason reports today in the Register-Star that for the first time in thirteen years the Hudson City School District is not a district in need of improvement or corrective action or restructuring, nor is it a focus district: "School district turns corner." There is a downside to improvement. According to HCSD superintendent Maria Suttmeier, "When you're a focus district, you receive school improvement money, for extended learning time and professional development. We'll have to figure out how to keep improving without those."

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Daughters of Columbia County

That 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the Columbia County Historical Society has inspired Gossips to pore through the old newspapers at Fulton History in search of news about the society's beginnings. It seems it started out as the Daughters of Columbia County and soon after changed its name to the Columbia County Historical Society.

This morning I discovered an account in the Chatham Courier of the second annual meeting of the Daughters of Columbia County, which took place on May 5, 1918, at the Hotel McAlpin in New York. According to the report, "the room was filled to its capacity with members and their guests." It doesn't indicate which room was filled with ladies from Columbia County. I would like to think it was the Ladies' Cafe, but there is no mention of luncheon, only of tea being served at the end of the meeting, so it probably wasn't the Ladies' Cafe.

Hotel McAlpin Ladies' Cafe | Photo: Museum of the City of New York

At the meeting, annual reports were presented, new members elected, and new officers installed. The Chatham Courier reports: "The officers responded to their names as they were installed and in every case pledged loyalty to the county and to the society, whose aim is to honor it." That being done, those assembled sang "with great feeling" the following verses, to the tune of "Juanita." (Click here if you need to be reminded of that tune.)  

There is a place we love,
To each one of us it's dear.
When you have been there once,
You'll return each year.
Yes, we love Columbia,
Every inch is hallowed ground.
Such good times we've found.

Columbia, dear Columbia,
Thou art throned in every heart.
Columbia, dear Columbia,
O, how fair thou art.

You'll find a spirit there,
Which is very hard to name,
But if you've felt it once,
You're not quite the same.
All the cares and worries
Do not seem to matter there;
Mean and petty troubles
Vanish in the air.

Columbia, dear Columbia,
Thou art throned in every heart.
Columbia, dear Columbia,
O, how fair thou art.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Significant Year for History and Preservation

During this year--2016--three significant anniversaries are taking place. It is the centennial of the Columbia County Historical Society. It is the 50th anniversary of the saving of Olana. It is the 20th anniversary of the founding of Historic Hudson. 

Related to the first anniversary, marking a hundred years since the founding of the Columbia County Historical Society, Gossips discovered this letter to the editor, which appeared in the Columbia Republican on October 29, 1907, arguing the need for a historical society in Columbia County.


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.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Timing Is Everything

Today, the Register-Star reported that the American Legion is looking to sell its building on Fairview Avenue, between Green and Columbia streets: "Hudson American Legion post seeks smaller digs." Alas, had they come to this decision five years ago, one of Hudson's oldest surviving houses might have been spared the fate that befell it.

In one of the last ditch efforts to save 900 Columbia Street back in 2011, Deborah Kinney tried to find another site for the Mental Health Association to locate their new group home. One of those sites was the property of the American Legion. It was rumored that the Legionnaires were thinking of selling their building, located a stone's throw from 900 Columbia Street, in the part of Hudson zoned for such group homes. When Kinney approached them, however, they reportedly vehemently denied that they were considering selling their building. Now, five years later, with the 200-year-old building demolished and a house of undistinguished design taking its place, the American Legion Hall is for sale.

The same bad timing applies to the Hudson City School District's plan to divest itself of the John L. Edwards School. Years ago, in 2010 or maybe earlier, back when the Hudson Area Library still owned 400 State Street, there were rumors that HCSD might want to sell the JLE. It was so easy to imagine the City acquiring the building (despite the fact that HCSD allegedly wanted something like $4 million for it) and turning it into a municipal government campus. The police department could be there, the city court could be there, the code enforcement office could be there, City Hall could be there and finally be universally accessible, and the Hudson Area Library would be the centerpiece of it all with room to expand because there would no longer be the need for a playground. 

But alas, it took until now for HCSD to commit to closing JLE, and according to their plan, the building won't be vacant and available for sale until 2020. Meanwhile, after evading the problem for close to twenty years, the City of Hudson has finally taken steps to improve the woefully lacking police and court facilities and is now committed to pursuing the adaptive reuse of 701 Union Street as the new City of Hudson Police and Court Center.

It's not likely that the NYS Office of Court Administration will be willing to wait another decade for the City to correct the shortcomings of the city court facilities nor is it likely that the Common Council, which flinched at spending the $4.3 million needed to acquire and adapt 701 Union Street, would be willing to assume the expense of acquiring an elementary school building and redeveloping it for use as the police department, the city court, and City Hall.

But to return to the American Legion Hall and its imminent sale, after Gossips published the following picture of the bell water trough that once stood at the intersection of Green Street and Fairview Avenue and wondered about the buildings behind it, a reader suggested that a closer look at the American Legion building might be in order.

I did that today.

Although it's no longer possible to see the most prominent building in the historic photograph from the same vantage point (there's a house in the way), it is possible to see that building buried within the current American Legion Hall.

The fish scale shingles and the half moon vent on the east gable of the building are still there, and the mill work medallions that appear on the original building have been attached here and there on the various additions to the building.
Hudson is such an endlessly intriguing place!