Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ten Years Later

Saturday afternoon, as the Flag Day parade headed down Warren Street, a band of preservation stalwarts gathered at the Dr. Oliver Bronson House on the grounds of the Hudson Correctional Facility to dedicate the plaque, issued by the National Park Service, proclaiming the status of the house and grounds as a National Historic Landmark.

The designation was made ten years ago, in 2003, but the plaque was never displayed. It was waiting in the office of Donna Lewin, deputy superintendent at the Hudson Correctional Facility, for an appropriate moment, and that moment came this weekend--when the house was open to the public as part of the New York State Path Through History Weekend and the Prison Public Memory Project had an exhibition at the house.

In her remarks at the event, Lewin recalled inheriting, in 2003, a thick file of papers pertaining to the historic house and Historic Hudson from Herb McLaughlin, the previous superintendent of the Hudson Correctional Facility. She told how her son, who had grown up in the superintendent's house not far from the Bronson House, was astonished last summer to see "the house" in the movie The Bourne Legacy. She also remarked about how having a significant historic house on the premises of the prison often involved her in things that were atypical for someone who had spent her entire career in corrections: photo shoots for high-end magazines and weeks of filming a major motion picture.

The year that the Dr. Oliver Bronson House received its designation as a National Historic Landmark--2003--was an important and memorable one for the house and for Historic Hudson. The house merits its national significance for its association with the celebrated 19th-century American architect Alexander Jackson Davis, who was born in 1803. In 2003, Historic Hudson decided celebrate the 200th anniversary of Davis's birth with a gala celebration at the house: 200 people, who paid $200 each, would enjoy cocktails on the west veranda followed by a sumptuous dinner under a tent on the lawn. Elegant, tasteful, painstakingly planned--but, alas, it rained, and the event is remembered by those who attended as the "mud fest."

On the night before the disastrous fundraising gala, however, Historic Hudson had received some very significant good news. Earlier that week the enabling legislation that would allow the not-for-profit to enter into a long-term lease for the house with the State of New York and become its legal stewards passed in the State Assembly. Late on Friday, the enabling legislation passed the State Senate--the last bill to reach the senate floor before the summer recess.

Five years later, Historic Hudson finally got its lease with the state, and soon after engaged Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects, the Albany firm that has worked on such high-profile projects as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, to help them stabilize and restore the Dr. Oliver Bronson House. Now, ten years after the house was designated a National Historic Landmark, Historic Hudson is poised to begin Phase II of the restoration: the stabilization of the south side of the building, which includes the removal of the collapsing kitchen wing, which was a 20th-century addition to the house.

Today--Sunday, June 9--offers one more opportunity to visit the house and view the progress. The house will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., with guided tours at 1 and 3 p.m. If the house alone were not compelling enough, there is an absorbing exhibition installed at the house, created by the Prison Public Memory Project.

The exhibition is based on a box of documents from the New York State Training School for Girls--intake forms, letters, photographs, and administrative paperwork from the 1920s--discovered by Lisa Durfee at a garage sale on Clinton Street. For the exhibition, the documents have been reproduced and bound into ledger-sized volumes located in different rooms, to be perused by visitors. They make riveting reading. It's amazing how "Incorrigible" is routinely offered as the offense for which girls 12 to 15 were sent to a penal institution.



  1. Not to take away a jot of substantial significance from the plaque, but for god's sake, look at that howler of a grammatical error...."Dr. Oliver Bronson House and Estate HAS been designated...." Shouldn't this be "..House and Estate HAVE been..." since a plural subject (house and estate) take a matching plural verb (have). All this effort and expense and importance marred...unless an apologist out there can contort the House and Estate under the single subject "site"...sheesh.

    1. I think you defined exactly why the National Park Service did the plaque in this way. "Dr. Oliver Bronson House and Estate" is the site description, and since it's a single site, like macaroni and cheese, it takes a singular verb.

      Gee, Clown Town, I hope you're not so upset about this perceived grammatical error that you decide to blow up the house:

  2. Nice try, but sorry, it doesn't wash. Think of the children...oh, the horror!

  3. That benefit dInner in the rain was a disaster. The food didn't arrive, the place was soaked to the bone. I think power might even have given out. Badly executed badly conceived. One of the two worst charity benefits I've ever attended.

    -- Jock Spivy

  4. Another high-profile project that Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects worked on: the Stuyvesant Railroad Station. At least I like to think of it as high-profile.