Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The "Nantucket Houses" of Hudson

A reader recently sent me this photograph of a "Nantucket house" that once stood on Partition Street near West Court Street, and it inspired me to do a post about "Nantucket houses" and the stories surrounding their origins.

It is believed by many Hudsonians that there were and still are houses in Hudson that were brought here--whole or in parts--on ships from Nantucket by the Proprietors, the founders of Hudson. The basis for the notion seems to be this passage from Stephen B. Miller's book, Historical Sketches of Hudson, published in 1862:
In the Spring of 1784, the other proprietors followed with their families, bringing with them several vessels and in some instances the frames of dwellings, prepared in Nantucket, for erection upon their arrival. One of these houses, at least, was standing in the lower part of North Front street until a very few years since, and its frame is believed to be still a portion of the building since erected upon the spot. It was brought by Stephen Paddock. When Mr. Paddock arrived with his family, Col. Van Allen went on board of his vessel and offered them the hospitality of his house which they accepted, Mr. Paddock remarking "if that was a sample of the Dutch, they were are in a happy land."
In Hudson's Merchants and Whalers: The Rise and Fall of a River Port 1783-1850, Margaret Schram identifies "great forests of hardwoods suitable for shipbuilding--something that Nantucket and the other highly populated New England towns lacked" as one of the things that attracted the Proprietors to Claverack Landing. If the sources of hardwood that been exhausted where the Proprietors were coming from it seems unlikely that they would or even could create the frames for new houses before making the move.

Then there's this. In the 1930s, as the story goes, someone from the Nantucket Historical Society visited Hudson and made a presentation to the Fortnightly Club. The historic connection between Nantucket and Hudson was, of course, the subject of the talk. According to this account, the economy of Nantucket and other New England whaling ports was so devastated by the Revolutionary War that there was no market for houses. So, rather than leaving their houses abandoned, the frugal New England Quakers disassembled them, loaded the parts on their ships, and brought them along to Hudson. This story supports the notion that some houses in Hudson were "floaters"--transported here from New England aboard ships.

Some historians, however, consider the idea of "floaters" to be a popular and persistent but basically unfounded myth. Claverack Landing was not an untamed wilderness when the Proprietors arrived. There was a settlement here and farms nearby. Most of Proprietors found quarters with people already living here, as Miller reports Stephen Paddock and his family did, where they lived while their houses were being built. One historic document does indicate that two of the Proprietors brought portable, temporary shelters, like fishing shacks, with them and lived in these structures while constructing their houses. It's possible the existence of these shacks gave rise to the myth of the floaters.

There are certainly houses in Hudson that reflect the late 18th-century vernacular architecture of Nantucket--not necessarily because they were transported here from Nantucket but because they were built by and for people who were familiar and comfortable with that style of architecture. Some of the houses, in fact, are evidence of the architectural conservatism of early Hudson. The house that once stood on Partition Street--the house that inspired this post--was built around 1840, more than fifty years after the founding of Hudson, yet its design is that of houses built a half century or more earlier.

For more insight into Nantucket houses, David Voorhees, historian and chair of the Hudson Historic Preservation Commission, wrote an article about his own Nantucket house for Columbia County History & Heritage. Entitled "My Old Hudson Home," it appears on pages 9 and 10 of the Summer 2004 issue.

Examples of Hudson's "Nantucket Houses"  

217 State Street

245 State Street

418 Columbia Street
233 Union Street--a third story was subsequently added to this house

234 Union Street


  1. The Furgary boys should have claimed that their shacks were moved here from Nantucket.

  2. And 31 Allen Street. The main section, that is.

  3. My house was built by Seafarers from Nantucket that were living here before 1784.The first one of this family died in Hudson in 1750's
    The first photo you show ,could be my house ,except mine has a Central Fireplace.Also the lower floor of the extension was a barn and the upper floor sleeping quarters.They were basically point men for the Jenkins ET AL.when they were scouting for places to move to,to get away from the British,war and embargoes ETC. These guys had been living within the Dutch environment,but all were from Nantucket.They sold land they owned in Hudson to Jenkins ,so that he could have his grid.They had a brickyard going and were involved with sail and rope making when not at sea,many were captains.They stayed out of any Hudson politics.
    In the basement you can see and in some of main structure
    of this house ,it is made with whole trees.This house is very eccentric and as I have read their histories from here and Nantucket,so was most of this house's owners.Quite colorful characters.

  4. My building at 315 Warren is rumored to be from Nantucket, but we've been unable to find any supportive documents.

  5. The Furgary cabins were certainly made from recycled materials, some of them historic.

    In one example (there are more), the framing for one of the oldest cabins (all the way down on the left and sheathed with battered lard cans) was wood retrieved after the burning of an ice house opposite Roger's Island. The wood was rowed to Hudson in a dinghy.

    18th c. post-and-beam construction was all "scribe ruled," where Roman numerals were used at custom-made joints for later assembly - and perhaps in some cases for reassembly.

    Shipping the already-made, older frames would have satisfied the Quaker thrift, and without all that much effort. If I'd already cut all of those joints I'd want to do the same thing. Why start milling new wood if all you have to do is take the old house apart and float it? Post-and-beam relies on wooden pins - often made from black locust - and not nails.

    People with houses that are candidates might look for these scribe rule marks.

    I was so heartened that people took an interest in the Furgary cabins. They're quite marvelous and romantic in their own way. They embody distant and nobler times that are still a big part of the hunting and fishing culture.

    The implicit pruning that goes on when this or that bit of history is rubbed out can come very near to the barbarism that knocked the noses off of antique statues. It is obscene, and usually justified by good taste.

    We should not give up on Hudson's heritage.

  6. I've been told by a few Hudsonians that at one time Partition St. ran from what is now Front St. all the way to Claverack. I find this hard to believe. Also that prior to the present County Court House Partition St. was continuous from Front to 5th Sts.
    Is this correct? If it is true do you have info of what buildings were destroyed to create the present park & Court House?

  7. tmdonofrio, In the book mentioned in the post, Margaret Schram explains the significance and extent of the original Partition Street. I don't own the book, but to my best recollection she didn't write about whether or how it crossed Court Square (previously "Washington Square").

    On the other hand, another historian claims that Schram's book on Hudson was inaccurate in places, so who knows?

    I'd like to know more about Partition Street too.

  8. It was called Wagon Road and went from Claverack to Clavrack Landing,the River, renamed Patrician Street in a
    family land inheritance dispute between two brothers. or So it's told.Pretty sure it's a Dutch situation.

    There is much written on this .Besides the many great books ,Columbia Historical Society website will take you to Captain Ellis and his accounts of Hudson and rest of county.He is always very interesting.Everyone's version is slightly different,but then there is the deeds room above the DMV,that has lots of verifications of stories ,if you are the detective type.Also the history room at the library,while it's still there ,or if you can manage to get access to the DAR's library.I also have found much information on the Nantucket Historical Society website about Hudson families.They have a great pictorial,oral,and written collection on line and very through genealogy records,that connect all the settlers and founders of Hudson back to Nantucket.I am endlessly fascinated by this history as I am by what came before Hudson and what happened all the years up til now ,after the majority of Quaker,Nantucket folk left,at the end of the Whaling industry and who came next at the beginnings of the industrial revolution
    here ,many whose relatives are still in Hudson
    This study I am constantly involved in,makes living here, much more interesting for me.Brings it to life.Cotton Gelston,who is mentioned in a following post, is one of my favorite characters from the founding of Hudson and former denizen of Union St.
    Also, why besides its great source of news,
    I love Gossips of Rivertown and all the great stories and history that gets written and printed on these pages by Carole Osterink
    ,a great historian and storyteller and reporter.

  9. David Voorhees submitted this comment:

    Margaret Schram wrote: "Today's Partition Street partially follows the route of the old 'Waggon Road' that led from the river to Claverack and to the inland communities." (p. 12). Although she states that the name derives from the partition of lands between the Van Hoesen heirs, the road existed possibly as early as the 1660s. It was involved in a court suit over its usage in 1679. A seventeenth-century contemporary description of Claverack Landing, the wagon road, and the farms along Claverack Creek is preserved in the diary of Jaspar Danckaerts. On May 2, 1680, Danckaerts wrote:

    "2d, Thursday. We were here [Claverack Landing] laden full of grain, which had to be brought in four miles from the country. The boors who brought it in wagons, asked us to ride out with them to their places, which we did. We rode along a high ridge of blue rock on the right hand, the top of which was grown over. This stone is suitable for burning lime, as the people of Hysopus [Esopus, today Kingston], from the same kind, burn the best. Large, clear fountains flow out of these cliffs or hills, the first real fountains, and only one which we have met with in this country [today it is contained in the brick building on Rt 23-B]. We arrived at the places which consist of fine farms; the tillable land is like that of Schoon ecten deel [Schenectady], low, flat, and on the side of a creek, very delightful and pleasant to look upon, especially at the present time, when they were all green with the wheat coming up [probably along present-day Spook Rock Road]. The woodland also, is very good for [making] tillable land . . . Coming back to the shore, I made a sketch, as well as I could of the Catskill mountains, which now showed themselves nakedly." Jaspar Dankers and Peter Sluyter, Journal of a Voyage to New York, 1679-1680, pages 322-323.

  10. May I recommend that a future program(s) on the History of Hudson be opened for discussion with Hudson Opera House.
    I believe that it could become a nucleus for "Historians" of Hudson to come together & share their research, knowledge & folklore.

  11. Thank you for Danckaerts, David. I wonder if his "sketch" survives?

    After 340 years, the sights he described towards Claverack are all pretty much intact.

    I only wish that today's Hudsonians took a greater interest in the old Claverack Landing, our city's waterfront.

    Last year I lined up a dendrochronology study through Cornell to analyze some of our older wharf timbers. I got no support from anyone in the community - none - and without that support Cornell couldn't justify the expense.

    So as long as we don't ruin the place by further effacing the waterfront-as-artifact (including Furgary), maybe there will be enough left over for more serious students in future to learn and love our unique maritime identity.

    (To anyone who doesn't already know, the historian David Voorhees is apparently the only other ardent student of "Claverack Landing.")

  12. I came across your blog. Love it. I am following all the lines of the Paddock's and was researching the area when I found this site. Stephen Paddock was a whaler, and it does makes sense that they would use part of their home to move if they could find a way to "float" it in.