Friday, May 31, 2013

500 Block Loses Two Parking Spaces

Everyone agrees we need more lodging in Hudson, and for a year, we've been enthusiastically watching the progress of The Barlow, the boutique hotel that welcomed its first guests this past weekend. Throughout the lengthy permitting process, The Barlow got the cooperation and support of city government to make it happen. A plan was worked out, which required amending a local law to make annual parking permits transferrable from car to car, so that the hotel could provide offstreet parking for its guests. The hotel was granted an area variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals to install an awning that extends over the sidewalk. These things happened in a public process that invited public input, and the input received was universally enthusiastic and supportive. So one wonders why the final concession to the hotel's needs seems to have been done by fiat without anyone's prior knowledge.

Within the past twenty-four hours, it has come to Gossips attention that two parking spaces in the 500 block of Warren Street are no longer parking spaces. The curb has been painted yellow, the parking meters have been removed, and a sign reading "No Parking Loading Zone" has been installed.

According to the city charter, it is the police commissioner who has the authority to make decisions about parking: where it should be allowed and where it should be prohibited. At the last Common Council Police Committee meeting, Gary Graziano reported on a number of places where he had eliminated parking spaces at corners to improve sight lines and make intersections safer (Union at City Hall Place being one of them) and moved handicapped parking spaces, but I don't recall any mention of eliminating two spaces in front of The Barlow.

City Hall's new interest in accommodating Warren Street businesses is a welcome change from the way things used to be--back when Stair Galleries got no cooperation from the former police commissioner to create even a temporary loading zone in front of 549 Warren Street for their auctions which regularly brought hordes of people to Hudson. Our gratitude for this new attitude notwithstanding, we just had the experience on the 300 block of Warren Street of one business owner's desires being accommodated to the detriment of the other businesses on the block. Given that, it would have been nice if the decision to create a loading zone for The Barlow had been a more public process.

Thanks to Sam Pratt for bringing this to Gossips' attention.

Trains Through Hudson

Back in April, I attended a workshop presentation that Ken Flood was making to the Greenport Planning Board about the proposed Lone Star transloading facility, which will, without a doubt, bring more trains through Hudson on the tracks that transect the city around Seventh Street. In the discussion in Greenport, Planning Board chair Don Alger, who has a very long institutional memory, recalled that, at one time, trains traveling along that line could have as many as 50 cars, but in 1950, there was a problem with an ambulance being delayed by a train, and the City of Hudson succeeded in imposing an 18-car limit on trains passing through the city.

This morning, I had the bad fortune to get trapped by the train east of the railroad tracks when I wanted to be west of the railroad tracks. The train was already across State Street when I pulled out of the drive-thru at First Niagara. Mine was the third vehicle stopped in the westbound lane. It didn't immediately occur to me to count the cars, and when it did occur to me, I thought there wasn't much point because too many had already passed. Finally, prompted by frustration and amazement, I started counting. After what I think was more than half the train had already passed, I counted 23 cars! So much for that 18-car limit.

This morning's long, long train raises some questions. Is there in fact an 18-car limit? If there is, whose job is it to enforce that limit? If there isn't, what problems might this cause if the Hudson Police Department moves to the east side of the tracks?

'Tis a Puzzlement

At last report, Holcim was avowing, through its attorney, still to be committed to transferring ten waterfront acres south of the port to the City of Hudson, while the Common Council was brandishing the threat of eminent domain. There are a lot of questions surrounding this land acquisition, among them: How, when, and why did this piece of land become essential for state and federal approval of the LWRP? Why was city attorney Cheryl Roberts so adamant about denying (erroneously) that Standard Oil had ever owned the property? Why does it appear that Crawford & Associates is still maintaining that a Phase II environmental study is not required? What dire consequences will befall us if the City doesn't get the land?

And there is another question: Why did an email from Philip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, which was sent to Common Council president Don Moore on April 16, and copied to Mayor Hallenbeck, city attorney Roberts, and First Ward alderman David Marston, never get entered into the public record. Here is the text of that email:
To the Common Council President,
I am writing on behalf of Riverkeeper regarding the potential transfer of a parcel of waterfront land in Hudson from the Holcim company to the City of Hudson, specifically "Parcel B". It has come to my attention that this parcel may have been previously owned by the Standard Oil Company and used as a distribution site for petroleum products. It is also my understanding that the site has not undergone a Phase II assessment, and if transferred to the City of Hudson would be used as a waterfront park.
I am also aware that the Common Council may be holding a vote as early as this evening to decide whether to approve the pending land transfer. Given the question and concern that has been raised regarding the historical use and ownership of the site, and the potential industrial pollution that may be present but not currently assessed or characterized, I urge the Common Council not to hold a vote on whether to approve the land transfer until, at a minimum, the following outstanding questions are resolved;
  • Please confirm whether the parcel of land referred to as “Parcel B” of the Holcim site was previously owned by Standard Oil and operated as a distribution facility.
  • Please provide a public explanation as to why the site has not undergone environmental assessments, e.g. soil and groundwater testing, or a Phase II assessment, to determine whether Parcel B is contaminated as a result of prior use as an industrial facility.   
  • If environmental conditions on the site have been assessed, please provide the public with all sampling data and reports. 
  • If the site has not been assessed, I would urge the City to undertake, or require Holcim to undertake a comprehensive site assessment prior to deciding whether to approve the land transfer;  such assessment should include soil and groundwater testing onsite, as well as the sediments just offshore in the Hudson River.
  • Please publicly disclose under what terms the property will be transferred to the City of Hudson.  Is this envisioned to be simple transfer, wherein the City assumes all the liabilities of ownership, including environmental remediation liability, once the transfer is complete?  In the alternative, is Holcim indemnifying the City in any way against future liability related to site conditions or future remediation requirements?
I appreciate this opportunity to communicate our request and potential concerns to the Common Council, and look forward to engaging the Council in further discussions as to the disposition of the site. Please don’t hesitate to contact me by email or phone at the number below.
Unfortunately I am unable to attend the Common Council  meeting this evening, due to a prior commitment, but I will make every effort to attend the next meeting. Riverkeeper looks forward to working with the City to address any outstanding concerns regarding the site, to ensure that any development of the Hudson River waterfront in Hudson is conducted in a way that both benefits the community and protects the ecological integrity and health of the River. 
Philip Musagaas
Marston, who was copied on the email, made reference to it and read a part of it at the April Common Council meeting, but it was not distributed to all the aldermen and accepted as communication. The email was sent at 4:37 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16, the day of the meeting, which may explain why it was not distributed at that meeting, since less than an hour later Moore was at a Finance Committee meeting. There was, however, ample time between April and May Council meetings for the email to be copied and distributed so it could be accepted into the record at the May meeting, but that didn't happen, causing some to wonder why not.

See! Save! Celebrate! Detail 31

We've come to the end of May, and the end of Gossips' observance of National Preservation Month. You've got the weekend to go in search of any architectural details that may be eluding you. A walking list with photographs of all thirty-one details can be downloaded here

Create a numbered list, from 1 to 31, identify each detail by address, and submit your list electronically to Gossips before midnight Sunday, June 2. Be sure to identify yourself on your listby name, or pseudonym, if you're shy. On Monday, June 3, Gossips will publish the locations of all the details along with the names of the sharp-eyed readers who identified all (or most) of them correctly.

The series of details started with door panels, and appropriately, the last detail is also part of a door. The first one, I'm told, was a stumper. This one should be much easier.

Unpleasantness at the House of Beauty

The City of Hudson is set to auction this building405 Warren Streettomorrow at 10 a.m. The City was ready to sell it at auction a year ago, but litigation delayed the process. The court awarded title to the City several months ago, and earlier this year, the City posted a notice that tenants must vacate the building by May 15 or face eviction. Yesterday, however, when city treasurer Eileen Halloran took prospective bidders on a tour of the properties to be auctioned on Saturday, the tenants were still in place at 405 Warren Street, claiming to have no knowledge of their precarious situation. Joe Gentile has the story in today's Register-Star: "Foreclosure dispute traps city tenants."

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Empty Lot Backstory

When I was a kid growing up in western Michigan, the empty lots on my mostly pre- and a little bit post-World War II block were places where no one had built a house yet. They made convenient playgrounds for products of the baby boom, but before the boomers had grown up and moved on, the vacant lots had houses on them. 

By contrast, in the much older city of Hudson, the vacant lots are places where buildings used to be, and I'm always curious to know what was there and what happened to it. Recently someone gave me a bound copy of the Proceedings of the Common Council of the City of Hudson 1968-1969. Browsing it, I discovered the backstory of this empty lot in the 200 block of State Street--now an ersatz parking lot and, judging from the signs that adorn the fence, something of a problem area on the block.

On August 2, 1968, the first resolution presented and adopted by the Council read in part:
WHEREAS, the Commissioner of Public Works of the City of Hudson heretofore has filed his certificate in writing, certifying that the structure located at 239 State Street is in such a derlict [sic], unsound and structurally defective condition as to constitute an immediate hazard to the health, welfare and safety of a considerable number of persons . . . 
RESOLVED, that the Commissioner of Public Works be and he hereby is authorized and empowered to enter into an agreement for the immediate demolition of the structure located at 239 State Street at a cost not to exceed $1,300. . . .
Forty-five years later, nothing has taken the place of the unsound structure, and the Common Council is still passing resolutions to demolish neglected buildings. Curiously, the amount authorized recently for the demolition of a house on Fairview Avenue is exactly twenty times more than what was authorized in 1968: $26,000 in 2013 as compared with $1,300 in 1968.

Reminder: Auction of Foreclosed Properties

The City of Hudson will auction properties seized for nonpayment of taxes on Saturday, June 1, at 10 a.m. at City Hall. Today is the last opportunity to view the properties before the auction. If you are interested, present yourself at City Hall at 1 p.m. There are the four properties to be auctioned.

209-211 Columbia Street  Minimum bid: $19,309

318 State Street  Minimum bid: $38,854
405 Warren Street  Minimum bid: $264,041.87
24 Tanners Lane (vacant land)  Minimum bid: $17,243.58

See! Save! Celebrate! Detail 30

The month of May is almost over, and so is Gossips' observance of National Preservation Month. After tomorrow, you will have the weekend to finish your search for architectural details. Submit your answers electronically to this email address by midnight Sunday, June 2. On Monday, June 3, Gossips will reveal the locations of all of the details and the names of readers who identified them all correctly. That being said, here is the penultimate detail.

The Way It Was

After learning about the toppled steeple at the former Lutheran church, I went through my files to discover these two pictures of the church in its context. The first was taken in the latter part of the 19th century, probably a decade or so after the church was built in 1869. The second was taken by Byrne Fone early in the present century. 

Casualty of the Storm

The violent thunderstorm we had last night toppled the smaller steeple on the church building on Sixth and Columbia streets. This was the scene early this morning.

Originally St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, the building now houses Henry Hirsch's Waterfront Studios.

Thanks to Jamison Teale and Timothy Dunleavy for alerting Gossips to this catastrophe.

See also John Mason's story in the Register-Star: "Church steeple falls to wind or lightning."

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I Hate to Say "I Told You So," But . . .

Remember how the Columbia County Board of Elections, in particular Democrat commissioner Virginia Martin, fought to keep using the old lever voting machines? Today the New York Times reports that New York City, after spending $95 million over the past few years to implement electronic scanners, wants to go back to using the old lever machines: "New York City Wants to Revive Old Voting Machines." 

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Cicadas

We've all heard about the imminent return of the seventeen-year cicadas, but we haven't actually heard or seen them yet.

For those anxiously awaiting the arrival of the cicadas, a reader has provided the link to Cicada Tracker, a website that not only allows you to track their progress and predict their emergence here but provides further links to recipes--cicada sushi, cicada pizza, el chirper tacos--featuring the protein rich insects reported to be "nutty flavored."

See! Save! Celebrate! Detail 29

Gossips' observance of National Preservation Month is drawing to a close. Just three more details left to find. On Friday, Gossips will publish the final architectural detail in the series and a complete walking list of all thirty-one details. You will have the weekend to make a final search. Submit your numbered lists, identifying the addresses of the buildings where the details are found, before midnight Sunday, June 2. Click here for the email address to which you would make your submission.

Meanwhile, here is the detail for today.

There's a New Blog in Town

It is sometimes striking to realize how close to nature we are in our little city. The built environment of Hudson has been here for two hundred years, but there is always the sense that without constant human vigilance, nature would take it all back. 

Lisa Durfee has sometimes touched on the relationship between the natural and built environments in Hudson on her blog The Tainted Lady Lounge. A couple of years ago, she published a series of photographs (the one at the right being one of them) showing how, over the course of a decade, a volunteer tree grew and flourished while a nearby building decayed and collapsed. In another post, Durfee drew attention to poison ivy growing against the window inside an abandoned house.

To explore further our relationship with nature, Brendan Donegan has a new nature blog devoted to Hudson and its environs called Columbia, Naturally. So far, there have been posts about vultures in Hudson (the avian kind), trees in early spring, and peepers. The most recent post is about weeds--which reminded me of how Pat Patricelli, who lived in Hudson for a while more than a decade ago, used to create the most spectacular floral arrangements for Historic Hudson events using nothing but weeds gathered in the alleys. 

In future, Donegan promises another post about weeds, as well as more posts about trees, South Bay, and the gardens of Hudson. Check out Columbia, Naturally. Gossips recommends it.

The photograph of yarrow growing somewhere in Hudson is from Columbia, Naturally.

Back to South Bay

This morning at 10 a.m. on WGXC, Tom DePietro will be interviewing Patrick Doyle, Christopher Reed, and Timothy O'Connor of the South Bay Task Force. Topics for consideration will include Hudson's stalled Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), South Bay, the Brownfield Opportunities Area (BOA) program, and related issues. The discussion can be heard at 90.7 FM or online at

Photograph of East Branch Creek is by Timothy O'Connor

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Once-a-Year Chance Returns

Because it is located on the grounds of the Hudson Correctional Facility, opportunities to visit Hudson's own National Historic Landmark, the Dr. Oliver Bronson House, to marvel at its splendor and check on the progress of its stabilization and restoration, come only once a year. Your chance for 2013 is fast approaching.

This coming weekend, June 1 and 2, and the next weekend, June 8 and 9, Historic Hudson will make the Dr. Oliver Bronson House available to visitors as part of Path Through History Weekends, a New York State initiative to connect historic attractions throughout New York. On those two weekends, the house will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day, with guided tours available at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

During the second weekend--June 8 and 9--the Prison Public Memory Project will present an exhibition at the Dr. Oliver Bronson House entitled "If these walls could talk . . . ." Installations in several of the rooms will explore life inside the New York State Training School for Girls and the role the house played in the lives of girls who were sent there. From around 1917 until the training school closed in the early 1970s, the Dr. Oliver Bronson House was used as the residence of the training school's superintendent.

Of Interest

Everyone is linking to this article in Modern Farmer--Albany Business Review, Salon--so Gossips, a Chobani fan, may as well do it, too: "Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt's Dark Side."

See! Save! Celebrate! Detail 28

There are only a few days left in May, and Gossips' observance of National Preservation Month will soon come to an end. Because some have asked, let's rehearse when and how to submit your answers.

On Friday, May 31, the final architectural detail will be published, and a complete walking list, with all thirty-one details, will be made available for download. You will have one more weekend to search--June 1 and June 2. Your numbered lists of addresses where the details are located must be submitted electronically by midnight on Sunday, June 2, to this email address. Please put your name on your work.

On Monday, June 3, the addresses of the buildings where the thirty-one details are located will be revealed, along with the names of the observant readers who got them all right. 

Here's the detail for today.

Dog Tales: William Observes Memorial Day

Regular Gossips readers know that my beloved William is getting on in years. When I adopted him in August 1999, the shelter where I found him (he was a stray) set his age at two years. My own vet put his age at a year and a few months, and I went with her estimate. If she was right, William is fifteen now. If the shelter was right, he's closer to sixteen. Either way, he is pretty old for a dog his size, and every day with him now is a gift.

This morning, when I was heading out to watch the Memorial Day parade and attend the ceremonies at the courthouse, I wasn't planning to take William with me. We had already had a substantial walk at around 6 a.m., and I didn't think he was ready for another, but he disagreed. When I was about to walk out the door, he gave me that "Don't go without me" look, so I grabbed the leash, and off we went.

Before and during the parade, William reveled in the attention he was getting. People wanted to pet him, and he loved it. He met new people and made new friends.

William with Eddie LeSawyer
We watched the parade from the corner of Warren and Fourth, and by the time we'd followed the parade the one block to the courthouse, William was exhausted. He collapsed in the shade on the courthouse lawn and lay there through the speeches, the recitations, the music, and the gunfire. 

That was fine, but when it was time to go home, I couldn't coax him to stand up and walk the two blocks back to our house. As a few minutes grew into half an hour, I started to worry. Had accompanying me to the Memorial Day parade exacted from my beautiful William the last full measure of devotion? 

Finally I decided that, instead of standing over him feeling a mix of panic and impatience, I would sit down on the grass beside him, and we would just stay there and enjoy the spectacular day together. Of course, once I did that, William stood up and seemed ready to go, so I scrambled to my feet, and we made our way home.

Once there, William had a big drink of fresh water and lay down for a short nap before feasting on a lunch of all beef cocktail franks. Then he went back to sleep for the rest of the afternoon and woke up in the evening to have London broil for dinner.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Memorial Day Initiative

May 27, Memorial Day 2013, was the sesquicentennial of the death in battle of Colonel David S. Cowles, whose grave is the centerpiece of the burial ground in the Hudson City Cemetery dedicated to the men of Hudson who died in the Civil War. It is a compelling coincidence, particularly since the origins of Memorial Day--first called Decoration Day--go back to a time, immediately after the Civil War, when people observed the day by placing flowers on the graves of soldiers who died in the deadliest war in American history. It is also a persuasive moment to announce, as Common Council president Don Moore did this morning, an initiative to do needed repair and restoration to the Grand Army of the Republic plot in our historic cemetery.

The plan begins with an existing conditions assessment, which has been done pro bono by Ward Hamilton of Olde Mohawk Historic Preservation, with the help of research from Pat Fenoff, city historian, and advice from Vince Wallace, guardian of the GAR plot since he was a teenager working summers for the Department of Public Works in the 1940s. The document created by Hamilton can be viewed here. Also involved in facilitating and implementing the project are DPW superintendent Rob Perry, First Ward alderman David Marston, and Gossips.

The photograph above was taken on Memorial Day 2012. Here are some more historic images of this part of the cemetery.

Engraving from a drawing by F. Carroll Hankes which appeared in the Hudson Daily Evening Register on May 29, 1890

Undated photograph from Historic Hudson's Rowles Studio Collection

Post card in the collection of the Hudson Area Library

Post card circa 1921

Democrats Name Their Candidates

The Hudson City Democratic Committee tonight announced its slate of endorsed candidates. They are:

Mayor:  Victor Mendolia
Common Council President:  Don Moore (Incumbent)
Treasurer:  Heather Campbell

Supervisor:  Sarah Sterling (Incumbent)
Aldermen:  Nick Haddad (Incumbent)
David Marston (Incumbent)

Supervisor:  Ed Cross (Incumbent)
Aldermen:  Abdus Miah (Incumbent
Tiffany Garriga

Supervisor:  Ellen Thurston (Incumbent)
Aldermen:  John Friedman (Incumbent)
Henry Haddad

Supervisor:  William Hughes (Incumbent)
Aldermen:  Ohrine Stewart (Incumbent)
Alexis Keith

Supervisor:  Richard Scalera (Incumbent)
Aldermen:  Eileen Halloran
Megan Carr

Aaron Enfield, chair of the HCDC, commented: "The committee met with over two dozen candidates. Due to the high caliber of each interviewee and after many deliberations, a number of difficult decisions were made. But in the end, the Hudson City Democratic Committee feels confident that these individuals represent the best candidates to unite the city and move the city forward."

Remembering Colonel Cowles

The remains of Colonel David S. Cowles arrived back in Hudson in early June 1863, aboard the Oregon, the same steamer that had carried the 128th Regiment to New York City the previous September. The following notice appeared in a Hudson newspaper:
THE LAMENTED COL. COWLES.--The remains of Col. Cowles arrived in this city per steamer Oregon yesterday morning, in charge of the committee from this city appointed for that purpose. They were conveyed immediately to City Hall, where they remained in state until half-past 2 p.m. to-day when they were to be removed to the Presbyterian church.
The condition of the remains were such that it was found to be impracticable to open the coffin, either in New York or on its arrival here, which was a very great disappointment to not only his relatives, but also his many friends in this city and county.
The city is thronged with people as we go to press, and places of business closed in accordance with recommendation of Mayor.
On June 10, 1863, while in Louisiana the siege of Port Hudson continued, the Hudson Common Council, at a special meeting called by Mayor Jacob Ten Broeck, passed a resolution to create a "burial place for all officers and soldiers who have died or been killed, or may hereafter die or be killed in the service of the United States in the line of the duty during the present rebellion, who were residents of this city at the time of their enlistment."

In 1869, the remains of Colonel David S. Cowles were moved to the center of this burial plot, and a "single shaft of granite," which "cost $15,000 and weighs about eleven tons," was erected to mark his grave. On January 14, 1869, the Hudson Gazette said of the monument: "It is simple and substantial and will stand to mark the grave of a noble gentleman and Christian soldier for generations."

The burial place devoted to the Grand Army of the Republic as it appears today

See! Save! Celebrate! Detail 27

We are in the home stretch--the final week of Gossips' observance of National Preservation Month. There is still time to locate all the architectural details and earn recognition on Gossips and the admiration of your peers. Here is the detail for today.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More About the Death of Colonel Cowles

On May 29--two days after the assault on Port Hudson in which Colonel David S. Cowles lost his life--Charles H. Andrus, the assistant surgeon with the 128th New York Infantry Regiment, wrote this report and sent it back to New York aboard the same steamer that carried the body of Colonel Cowles. Andrus's report was published in the Poughkeepsie Eagle. Note the slight discrepencies between Andrus's report and what was recounted by Franklin Ellis in the History of Columbia County.
MAY 29, 1863--10 o'clock A.M.
Editors of the Eagle:--I have just returned from the performance of a sad duty, which was the preparation of the body of our late beloved Colonel for the purpose of sending it home, as we hope to do so by the steamer Columbia this morning. Colonel Cowles was killed at Port Hudson on Wednesday, the 27th inst., while leading his regiment in a charge on the main batteries of the enemy. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon that Gen. Dow's brigade was ordered to storm the works, and gallantly did the 128th New York and the 6th Michigan advance amid one of the most terrific showers of grape and shell that could be imagined. But they walked up in the face of it all, and scaling the parapet carried the works, driving the rebels from their guns. But unfortunately the other regiments of the brigade faltered (15th N. H. and 26th Conn.,) and failed to come to their support, consequently our men, with those of the 6th Michigan, were obliged to retire, and allow the rebels to retake their guns, and when the messenger left, the fighting was still going on, the rebels having come out of the intrenchments [sic].
It was at the time that the regiment mounted the parapet that the Colonel received his wound, which was that of a bayonet in the left groin just below the pubic bone. The femoral vein was severed, resulting in fatal hemorrhage. He lived about an hour. He refused to be taken from the field, preferring to remain and die there. Almost his last words were "tell my brother that I died with my face to the foe." To say that we greatly mourn his loss, but feebly express our feelings, for we dearly loved him. I learn that the loss of the 128th in killed was 40 to 50, while the number of wounded is of course much greater. Capt. [Arthur] De Wint, Co. F., was wounded, and Capt. [Edward] Gifford, Co. A., missing, supposed to be killed; Lieut. [Jacob] Armstrong, commanding Co. D., (Capt. [George] Parker being sick at this hospital,) was also killed; Sergeant [Thomas] Merritt of Co. I was killed. The names of the other of the Poughkeepsie Companies killed, I have as yet been unable to obtain. I was not on the field, having been left at the camp in charge of the sick and convalescent there. The body of the Colonel was brought to this city yesterday afternoon.
Nobly has the 128th N. Y. Regiment sustained the honor of Dutchess and Columbia in this affair. For certainly there is no record more gallant or daring than this of the 128th New York and the 6th Michigan.
Further particulars will perhaps have to be deferred until the sailing of another steamer.
Respectfully, &c.,
C. H. Andrus
1st Ass't. Surgeon 128th N. Y. V.

A Significant Sesquicentennial for Hudson

A hundred and fifty years ago, the country was in the middle of fighting the Civil War. In the last days of May 1863, the Union Army was preparing to attack Port Hudson near Baton Rouge, with the objective of taking control of the Mississippi River. Major General Nathaniel P. Banks was in command of between 30,000 and 40,000 Union soldiers for the operation, among them the 128th New York Infantry Regiment, from Columbia and Dutchess counties.

The 128th Regiment was commanded by David S. Cowles, who had played an active role in recruiting the volunteers. Born in Canaan, the son of a Congregationalist minister, Cowles studied at Yale, practiced law in Hudson, and had served for three terms as district attorney in Columbia County before the Civil War began. At the time Cowles took on the task of raising and commanding a regiment, he was forty-five years old.

The volunteers of the 128th gathered at the fairgrounds in Hudson and were mustered into service on September 4, 1862. Cowles was commissioned by the governor of New York to be the regiment's colonel. On September 5, 1862, the regiment sailed for New York on the steamboat Oregon and from there went by train to Baltimore, where they trained at Camp Millington.

The 128th Regiment spent the winter and spring of 1863 at New Orleans where, according to Captain Franklin Ellis in the History of Columbia County, "the regiment acquired a distinguished reputation for high discipline and soldierly conduct." On May 26, 1863--a hundred and fifty years ago today--Colonel Cowles was put in charge of two batteries of heavy guns and tasked with taking out the enemy's guns at the far left of their fortifications, or "works"--an objective that was achieved the following morning.

Newspaper illustration of the assault on Port Hudson from the National Archive
A full assault on Port Hudson took place the next day. Ellis describes what happened: 
About the middle of the day, May 27, Major-General [Thomas West] Sherman ordered an assault on the right, left, and centre of the enemy's works. The column on the Union left, with which the One Hundred and Twenty-eight participated, was under the immediate command of the commanding general. Immediately on moving, the head of the column became exposed to the full force of the enemy's fire,--discharge of grape, canister, and shell,--while sharpshooters from the tops of trees within the rebel works opened with deadly effect. General Sherman soon fell from a cannon-shot, which carried away a leg. Brigadier-General Dow, second in command, was wounded and carried to the rear. Colonel Clark, of the Sixth Michigan Volunteers, third in rank, was knocked senseless by the concussion of an exploding shell. Colonel Cowles, next in rank, then assumed command. By this time the column was badly shattered. The whole force reeled. With characteristic disregard of exposure in the moment of peril, Colonel Cowles rushed to the head of the column, and by voice and example stayed the recoiling regiments, rapidly re-formed their ranks, and taking his position at their head and quite in advance, by force of his own strong will, headed on the column in a rush at a "double-quick" to within six rods of the enemy's works, when he fell from the rifle-shot of a sharpshooter, which passed through his body just above the left groin. He was laid in a slight depression of the field, having resisted every attempt to take him to the rear, and refusing to be attended by more than one faithful sergeant,--Charles M. Bell, now [1878] a practicing lawyer at Hillsdale, in this county,--earnestly urging and commanding all the others to press forward, and constantly inquiring of the fate and fortune of the assault. It was soon seen that he had received a fatal wound. With composure he gave his watch to his attendant, requesting that it be returned to his mother, who had presented it to him in his boyhood, also his ring and other small articles. Then, as he felt his life-blood ebbing fast, he desired to be raised up that he might view the field and look into the enemy's works, exclaiming, "Oh, that I could have been spared a few minutes longer, and I believe we should have carried those works!" His thoughts reverted to his command, and, alluding to his own One Hundred and Twenty-eighth, he said to his attendant, "I believe, sergeant, that I have done my whole duty by it as a man and a soldier." Growing fainter with loss of blood, he said, "Tell my mother that I died with my face to the enemy." With full consciousness that the hand of death was upon him, he closed his eyes, ejaculated, "Christ Jesus receive my spirit!" and expired.
At 5 p.m. the commander of the 159th New York Regiment raised a white flag to signal a truce to remove the wounded and dead from the field, and the fighting ended for the day.

Tomorrow--Memorial Day 2013--is the sesquicentennial of the assault on Port Hudson and Colonel David S. Cowles' death.

See! Save! Celebrate! Detail 26

It's the final week of Gossips' observance of National Preservation Month, and there only six more details to find. Identify the location of all thirty-one, by address, and submit your answers to Gossips when the month of May is over. Here is the detail for today.

For Downton Abbey Fans

There's an article in the New York Times about Highclere Castle, the Victorian castle that is the fictional home of the Crawleys. The article reveals the enterprise required to live in an ancestral home that costs $1.5 million a year to maintain: "A Castle Becomes a Cash Register."  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Of Interest

Earlier this week, Stephen Bluhm wrote about Etsy's Hudson office on the Etsy News Blog.

See! Save! Celebrate! Detail 25

We could hope for better weather this weekend, but rain or shine Gossips' observance of National Preservation Month continues. There's a new cumulative walking list ready to be downloaded here. So grab an umbrella and go search for architectural details. Here is the one for today.

Memorable Moments at the HPC

The quirky glass mosaic signs touting "Clothing" and "Toggery" that are part of the facade of 613 Warren Street are soon to disappear.

On Friday morning, the Historic Preservation Commission granted a certificate of appropriateness to the owners of Finch to cover these mosaics with plywood, which will be painted to match the surrounding panels. The only member of the HPC who objected was Scott Baldinger, who told Gossips that he thought the action would turn 613 Warren into "the store in the gray flannel suit." 

Another issue taken up by the HPC on Friday was the proposal to restore the facade of 536 Warren Street. Back in February, a car jumped the curb and crashed into the building. The current owner, Jim Marinaccio decided to use the damage as an opportunity to redo the facade and give it a 19th-century appearance.

At the HPC meeting on May 10, an application was submitted for a certificate of appropriateness to replace the metal that now covers the storefront facade with wood panels. Marinaccio explained that there is no photographic documentation of what the storefront originally looked like and that the face of the brick under the metal had been broken up. He submitted this drawing to show the plan being proposed for the restoration.

Because the drawing submitted did not include measurements or information about materials, the application was incomplete. The HPC offered, however, to consider the application at its May 24 meeting--a meeting meant only to review and approve the language of the certificates of appropriateness--if the missing information could be submitted in time for the members to review it prior to the meeting. As it turned out, the missing information was submitted two days before the meeting, in a form that could not be electronically distributed to HPC members. Jack Alvarez, the architect member of the HPC, who was not able to be present at yesterday's meeting, had had no opportunity to review the new material and submit comments, and HPC chair Rick Rector was unwilling to proceed without his input.

Marinaccio left City Hall after being told, with apologies, that he would have to wait until June 14 for a decision but returned minutes later to report that the carpenter creating the panels had to start now or he couldn't do the job. Marinaccio wanted the HPC to approve the plans so the millwork could begin. HPC member Peggy Polenberg took his part, but then, in an effort to persuade the HPC to relax their scrutiny because what he wanted to do would be a great improvement, Marinaccio made the mistake of saying, "I'm not going to paint it orange. It will be very tasteful." Polenberg, of course, is the owner of the orange building, and after that faux pas, Baldinger wanted to know if she was going to change her vote and withdraw her support.

To accommodate Marinaccio, the HPC will hold a special meeting on Friday, May 31, at 10 a.m., to review the application.