Saturday, October 30, 2010

Contemplating Columbia

The discovery of this picture in the Hudson Area Library, which shows a Fourth of July parade coming down Columbia Street, probably in the 1930s, inspired new interest in Columbia Street. The first step was to confirm where this was taken, which wasn't difficult. The buildings in the picture are on the south side of Columbia Street just above Park Place.

Some buildings are missing at the east end of this streetscape today, and that fact got me thinking about how, of all the streets in Hudson, Columbia Street has suffered that greatest loss of historic architecture. At the lower end of Columbia, Urban Renewal took out the first two blocks and most of the north side of the 200 block. Above Third Street, many of the original buildings have been sacrificed to a different city-altering force: the demands of our autocentric society. The lost buildings on this stretch of Columbia Street are examples. Some were demolished, probably in the early 1940s, to build a gas station, now TJ Auto Service Center, and others to clear space for the St. Charles Hotel parking lot.

Near the top of Columbia Street, this house, where it is believed Martin Van Buren once had his law office, was demolished in 2000 or thereabout to create a parking lot for Columbia Memorial Hospital, and in 2003 or 2004, an Arts and Crafts bungalow, with what was reported to be remarkable interior woodwork, was demolished to make room for the hospital's parking garage. 

All along the south side of Columbia Street between Seventh and Fifth streets, buildings were demolished to clear space for municipal parking lots. One of those buildings had been the home of Hudson River School painter Sanford Gifford, which stood at the corner of Columbia and Sixth streets. The belvedere, added in 1870, was Sanford Gifford's studio, which he used when he was in Hudson.

In 1999, two buildings of some importance to Hudson history were demolished in the 300 block of Columbia Street to make way for the new (in 2003) county office building and the sea of parking lots that surrounds it. One, located on the south side of the street, was believed to be Hudson's earliest schoolhouse. The other, a residential building at 346-348 Columbia Street known as the "Chicken Shack" because a popular restaurant by that name had been located there in the 1940s, played an important role in the history of the African American community in Hudson.

Historic Hudson tried in vain to save both buildings. In the case of 346-348 Columbia Street, they made a formal proposal to the City of Hudson to acquire the building for the purpose of restoring it. The text of that proposal, which includes a history of the building and the chain of title, can be viewed here. Historic Hudson's commitment to restoring the building was earnest, but the City's willingness to entertain the possibility seems not to have been. The demolition of the building began--without benefit of a demolition permit--on the very afternoon that representatives of Historic Hudson were meeting with James Dolan, who was then executive director of HCDPA, and code enforcement officers to discuss Historic Hudson's plans for stabilizing the building. 


  1. I'll always miss that brick house the hospital tore down - Van Burens alleged law office.

    It stood prominently in all the early views of Hudson.

    Lost for some piece of lawn.

  2. The fact that these historic buildings are gone shows the mentality of the governing body throughout Hudson's history. When will it end? Will we ever get politicians that have any vision other than tear it down.

  3. When will Hudson demand that those who govern it use common sense, and the governed public hold them responsible for their decisions. The demolition of the Hudson River School painter Sanford Gifford's home and studio is unforgivable.
    Why did no one demand the heads of the Hospital Board be served to the community on a platter?
    Greg Hubbard

  4. Hudson once had the finest collection of Greek Revival buildings anywhere. It was a time capsule of the early 19th century which has been largely lost. To demolish such extraordinary buildings such as the General Worth Hotel, 346-348 Columbia Street and President Martin Van Buren's law office are criminal acts against the heritage of all Americans. You can possibly understand if it had been done in the 1960's when old was bad and new good, but for these buildings to have been destroyed on the eve of our far more enlightened 21st century is unpardonable. There is a deep pit in hell awaiting these cultural criminals. Too bad the law turns a blind eye away from these travesties.