Monday, October 18, 2010

The Documents in the Case: The General Worth Hotel, Part I

The demolition of the General Worth Hotel forty years ago continues to fascinate. The hotel is mentioned, although not by name, in Henry James’s The American Scene. Its demolition is the historic event at the center of the novel The Spirit of the Place, by Hudson native son Stephen Bergman, writing as Samuel Shem. It should have been Hudson’s Penn Station, but it wasn’t. Instead its demise was the beginning of an orgy of demolition and rebuilding in Hudson that altered forever the area around Promenade Hill and more than fifty acres in the Second Ward.  

Gossips recently discovered two newspaper articles from the fall of 1969. Their discovery is the beginning of an investigation of what was reported in the press about the controversy over the demolition of the General Worth. The Hudson River Valley Commission, which is mentioned in both articles, was a precursor of the Hudson River Valley Greenway—a state entity focused on the environmental and physical needs of the Hudson Valley—which existed in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Schenectady Gazette, September 10, 1969

Hudson Hearing Set on Razing Old Hotel

ALBANY (UPI)—The Hudson Valley Commission will hold a public hearing Sept. 15 in Hudson to determine whether the historic General Worth Hotel can be preserved.

The General Worth was built in 1837 and was the center of the city’s social and cultural life in the mid 19th century, when Hudson was a major river port. The hotel was closed six years ago and city officials want to demolish it.

Kingston Daily Freeman, October 10, 1969

Would Preserve Hudson Hotel

HUDSON—The Hudson River Valley Commission today urged that the City of Hudson, Columbia County, abandon its plan to demolish the historic General Worth Hotel, and, instead, recommended that the City or interested civic groups take advantage of Federal and State programs to renovate the building for present day community needs.

The Commission announced its findings on the importance of the General Worth Hotel following an extended review of the proposed demolition, including a public hearing held Sept. 15 in Hudson.

HRVC Chairman Fergus Reid III, who made the announcement, said that “the Commission finds that the General Worth Hotel is an historic resource of importance to the nation as well as to the citizens of this Hudson River Valley,” and described the 1837 building as “a building of prime importance as a rare example of a Greek Revival hotel, one of the earliest remaining prototypes of the urban hotel in America.”


  1. The "dean" of architecture critics, Ada Louise Huxtable, wrote about the General Worth's demise in The Wall Street Journal. Suffice to say the officials responsible did not come off well (rhapsodizing about a Dairy Queen which was going to replace it). Don't know if this is online, since it's such an old article, but someone with Lexis-Nexus could probably access it. —Sam Pratt

  2. Sam--I found it! It was in the New York Times not the Wall Street Journal, and I'll be publishing the relevant part of it on Gossips tomorrow. No mention of the Dairy Queen in this article, though.

  3. That's a different article; the WSJ piece was earlier, and specifically cites the Dairy Queen. But the full excerpt isn't available online. I'm writing a comment this as well. —Sam P.

  4. Sam--Now you've made me want to find the WSJ article more than ever. The General Worth must have been more of a cause celebre than I imagined if Huxtable wrote two articles about it.

  5. I had a hard copy years ago; I believe it came from Carole Clark or Peter Meyer. But it's anthologized in Huxtable's book “Kicked A Building Lately?” I don't know if that's available in any local libraries, but someone in town must have a copy... Via Google Books, I was able to extract a partial excerpt, which I've posted at:

    —Sam P.

  6. There's one copy in the Mid-Hudson Library System, and it's winging its way to me. Thanks for the information.

  7. What a loss for Hudson !
    The last few weeks every guest house , B&B and hotel room has been full. The Columbia County Lodging Association hotline has been flooded with calls from people wanting to stay in downtown Hudson.

  8. I remember those days very well. We, as in some of us, were furious with Mayor Wheeler and the hell-bent desire to demolish the hotel. I had been closed for a spell, but was beyond a doubt worth restoring and returning to its wondrous past. It was a very sad day when that disappeared. Many happy family occasions took place there. Almost as sad as the night Margaret Rockefeller had the Hermitage in Livingston demolished by a wrecking ball in the middle of the night. Taxes too much for the Rockefellers, I guess.