Friday, June 21, 2013

The History of 900 Columbia Street

Last Friday, the Historic Preservation Commission received a letter from Walter Ritchie, submitted on behalf of the Galvan Foundation, requesting an extension of the certificate of appropriateness to move the historic house at 900 Columbia Street to three vacant lots on the 200 block of Union Street. The HPC was grateful for this evidence of Galvan's continuing commitment to saving the house from certain destruction and agreed to extend the certificate of appropriateness to cover the time when Galvan anticipated the move would be carried out--between August 15 and October 15, 2013. 

Since then, Ritchie has provided Gossips with the following well-researched history of the house, which supports the notion that much of the house's historic significance is its location and, in so doing, implicitly argues against removing it from its historic context. But, alas, moving the house remains the only way to save it from being demolished.

In the early nineteenth century, the easternmost part of the city of Hudson, known as “Prospect Hill,” was just starting to develop when Captain William Ashley (1763-1847) built a house on his land located at the intersection of the Columbia and Union Turnpike roads. According to Captain Franklin Ellis’s History of Columbia County, New York (1878), Ashley had been granted the privilege of naming the hill, for he was the first to build a house upon it. The appellation he chose was inspired by the fine prospect of the Hudson River and mountains beyond. Because Ashley’s property included two dwellings, one of which is lost, it is unknown if the house that remains standing at 900 Columbia Street was the first to be built on Prospect Hill. Nonetheless, the residence is one of the earliest houses to be erected near the Columbia and Union Turnpikes in the opening years of the nineteenth century.

William Ashley arrived in the city of Hudson shortly before 1796 with his wife, Nancy Pomeroy Ashley, and their three children. Known locally as “Captain Ashley,” he maintained a store on Prospect Hill and was one of the incorporators of the Hudson Academy, chartered in 1807. Ashley acquired the land on Prospect Hill between 1801 and 1815. His property consisted of approximately thirteen acres located at the intersection of the Union and Columbia Turnpikes. The large lot was bordered on the south by the Union Turnpike (today, the eastern end of Columbia Street) and on the north by the old road that led to Claverack, or current-day Green Street. By 1820, his property included two dwelling houses, a brick store, and several wood structures. Over the next few decades, the lot was greatly diminished in size as parts of the land were sold to various individuals. Ashley continued to reside in the house at 900 Columbia Street until his death in 1847.

About 1810-1815, Ashley built on the site of what is now 900 Columbia Street one of the two houses that stood on his land. The Federal-style two-and-one-half story brick house has a side-gabled roof, raised basement, and symmetrical five-bay main fa├žade with a center entrance that was originally surmounted by a fanlight. The side elevations, each with two chimneys, terminate in gables framed by cornices with returns. The window openings have stone lintels and sills, and were probably fitted with six-over-six-light windows when the house was built.

Photo credit: Scott Baldinger
Between 1859 and 1873, a later owner of the property enlarged the house by building onto the back a large service wing and introducing a one-bay addition to the east side. The entrance was redesigned with a new Italianate-style frame of pilasters rising to a pediment resting on a pair of console brackets and the earlier windows were replaced with modern two-over-two windows.

In 1906, the house was acquired by Claudius Rockefeller, who in 1907 deeded the property to the Hudson City Hospital for use as a home for nurses. The Doctor Crawford E. Fritts Memorial Home for Nurses, which served as a residence for the students of the nursing school associated with the hospital, was founded as a memorial to its namesake, a prominent and highly respected physician who practiced in Hudson in the late nineteenth century. When the dormitory for student nurses was relocated to the Cavell House in 1919, the Hudson City Hospital sold the property at 900 Columbia Street.

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