Sunday, June 16, 2013

The History of "The Apartments of Distinction"

The building at the corner of Union and Fifth streets, once known as "The Apartments of Distinction," now has a new slate mansard roof, reproduced chimneys, and restored dormer windows, making the rest of the building seem quite shabby and making most of us wonder what's next for the building. While its future may be unclear, Walter Ritchie has painstakingly researched its past. He wrote this history of the building expressly for Gossips readers.

Standing at 501 Union Street is a large Second Empire-style brick building constructed c. 1864 by John T. Haviland, a local shipping merchant. The sizeable square structure was most likely one of the earliest apartment buildings to be erected in the city. From 1883 to 1896, the building served as Hudson's first Home for the Aged.

About 1864, John T. Haviland, a Hudson commission agent and shipping merchant, built on his large lot at the southeast corner of Union and Fifth Streets a square three-and-one-half story brick building in the Second Empire style, the most prominent feature of which was a slate mansard roof with dormer windows and chimneys with decorative brickwork. Presumably from the time it was built, the structure contained a commercial establishment on the first floor and apartments on the upper levels.

From 1872 until at least 1878, Haviland, formerly a commission agent working in partnership with William H. Clark, maintained a shop on the first level of the building, initially as a wholesale shipping merchant and later as a wholesale grocer.

Architectural evidence suggests that when the building was constructed in the 1860s, the second, third, and mansard roof levels each contained one large apartment. In the twentieth century, the apartments were divided into smaller units that underwent numerous modifications. Today, the staircases located at the front and back of the building are used to access the apartments; however, in the nineteenth century, only the front staircase was for the use of residents while the back staircase, accessed by a door on the west elevation, was used strictly by the servants of the families who occupied the apartments.

From 1883 to 1896, the Home for the Aged, which was incorporated on May 10, 1883, rented the building as a temporary residence before acquiring its permanent home located at the intersection of South Seventh and Union Streets. When established, the Home for the Aged was the only charitable institution in the State of New York to bear that title. After arrangements had been made to rent the building at the southeast corner of Union and Fifth Streets, the organization made a public appeal for furnishings, which resulted in a steady flow of donated items including Brussels and Wilton carpeting and straw matting to cover the floors of the residents' rooms.

After the Home for the Aged vacated 501 Union Street, the property served once again as an apartment building.

The period image is the cover illustration from Decennial Souvenir, 1893: Home for the Aged, Hudson, New York, and shows the building as it appeared toward the end of the 19th century.


  1. As you recall, Carole, the house next to it, 34-36 S Fifth Street, where we lived for several years, is listed as the John T. Haviland House.


    1. Byrne--I was going to point this out in an addendum to this post, but thank you for doing it for me. Learning that John Haviland built 501 Union Street made me wonder why someone would build such a big building in such close proximity to his own home, but I guess the 19th century had different notions of density.

  2. Dear Byrne and Carol,

    I would like to share with you some details of the history of the lot at 501 Union Street. In 1860, John T. Haviland purchased from Phebe Beekman, Maritta Beekman, and William Hannah three separate lots on the south side of Union Street, near the intersection with Fifth Street. The lots were combined to form a parcel of land one hundred twenty-five feet wide (along Union, starting from the intersection of Union and Fifth Streets) by one hundred twenty feet deep (along South Fifth Street, starting from the intersection of Union and Fifth Streets). This large parcel included the lot on which Byrne's former house stands.

    In the 1870s, Haviland started selling off parts of his large 125 ft. x 120 ft. lot, ultimately reducing in size the lot on which the Second Empire-style apartment building stands to a parcel 75 ft. wide by 70 ft. deep--the current-day dimensions of the lot at 501 Union Street.

    The 1873 map of the city of Hudson indicates that a structure was standing on the lot that later became 34-36 South Fifth Street, and that Haviland was still the owner of this lot. There is a possibility that Haviland constructed the building on the lot, but Hudson city directories indicate that he never resided at 34-36 South Fifth Street. As a matter of fact, I found in 1860s issues of Hudson newspapers advertisements that announced the availability of 34-36 South Fifth Street for rent. In light of the fact that Haviland never resided at either 34-36 South Fifth Street or 501 Union Street, but maintained only a business on the first level of 501 Union, and in consideration of the fact that he rented 34-36 North Fifth Street as well as the apartments in the upper floors of 501 Union Street, we can conclude that these properties were business investments for Haviland.