Friday, September 30, 2011

What's Behind the Windowless Walls?

Today, September 30, is the deadline for Kim Singletary to present a plan and a signed contract to stabilize this building at 255-257 Columbia Street. In the meantime, some interesting history of the building has been discovered. It would be more correct to say buildings, since before they were somehow connected on the inside and these windowless walls constructed around them, there were three buildings on the site. The one farthest west, where the peaked roof is, was a church: St. John's Methodist Episcopal Church. The one farthest east, at the corner, was a brick building with a storefront on the ground floor.

A reader, who lives near the building and has been concerned about the hazard presented by its alleged imminent collapse, discovered this excerpt from Franklin Ellis's History of Columbia County (1878) about St. John's Methodist Episcopal Church:
This organization was the result of a secession from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church of Hudson, which occurrred in April, 1872. On the 10th of that month a meeting of the seceders was held at the house of Henry Pitts, and at that meeting they formed themselves into a religious society, and took the name of "Friends of Religious Liberty." Of this society Philip Reading was chairman, Garret Deyo secretary, and Albert Porter treasurer. This society raised among its members the sum of $200, with which they purchased a lot on Diamond street, near the corner of Third, on which they commenced the erection of a church building. Many of the leading citizens of Hudson assisted them liberally, enabling them to complete the church at a cost of $3319.11, including furniture, and it was dedicated July 17, 1873,--but, as the building was found to be too small for the occasion, the services were held at the First Methodist church, the use of which was most courteously offered.
Four months before the church building was dedicated, the church organization changed its name to St. John's Methodist Episcopal Church. The church doesn't appear in the 1873 atlas, which shows the property still belonging to Mrs. Biddle, but it's there in the 1888 atlas.

"St. John's M.E. (colored)" begins appearing in the Hudson directories in 1874, and its location is given first as "Diamond bel N. Third," then starting in 1909 as "Fulton below North Third," then in 1921 as "255 Fulton," and finally in 1927 as "255 Columbia." The church disappears from the directories in 1941, and in 1944, the Colored Citizens Club of Hudson appears for the first time, located at 255 Columbia Street.

Although the Colored Citizens Club doesn't appear in the Hudson directories until 1944, there is evidence that it existed long before then. It is mentioned, for example, in the account of the 1926 fire that destroyed Farmers National Bank; the club had rooms on the building's second floor. And then there's this puzzlement: the 1923 Sanborn map identifies the building at 255 Fulton Street not as a church but as a club.

A Gossips reader submitted these photographs which give clear evidence of what's under those windowless walls. The first two show the back of the church building at 255 Columbia Street from the backyard of 15 North Third. Note that the building originally had an apse in its south wall. The final photograph shows the Third Street facade of the brick building at the corner of Columbia and Third streets. The first two pictures were taken in the 1940s. The third one was taken in 1958--suggesting that the rather brutal "adaptive reuse" of these buildings happened in the very late 1950s or early 1960s.

Historic photographs provided by Helen Arrott.


  1. How exciting would it be to unveil all these buildings again !

    Their shroud is probably what the real problem is. Has anyone of any real knowledge checked out these places ? Someone beyond Code Enforcement, Hughs, or Crawford Associates ... ?

    I bet the brick corner building is just fine structurally underneath.

  2. Vincent:

    What's been identified as the "real problem"--or at least as it was reported in the newspaper--is the west wall of the church, which they never bothered to enrobe.

    But you're absolutely right. Before they start knocking down buildings, they need to take down these silly walls and see how the buildings underneath have fared for the past 50 years.