Monday, August 12, 2013

Another Amazing Image of the Past

Timothy O'Connor found this unattributed c. 1860 engraving of Promenade Hill and the waterfront in Carl Carmer's book The Hudson, originally published in 1939.


  1. Thanks for the nod, Gossips,

    Following today's dedication ceremony for the newly-installed "rubbing medallion post," I read aloud my prepared protest concerning the monument's positioning in the Promenade's pride of place. Just about anywhere else in the park would have been fine, but why there?

    As usual for Hudson, public comment on the monument was never sought before now, nor did it seem terribly welcome while I read my statement today.

    But a word about the Promenade's design, and its great success as a public walking mall.

    Our Promenade, or "Parade," was established when the City of Hudson was founded, if not earlier. In 1795 it was granted to the Common Council "forever" by the Proprietors.

    In their Minutes, the Proprietors specified that the grant was "for the purpose of a Public Walk or Mall and for no other purpose whatever."

    Asking from our own age, when so many public walking malls have blatantly failed, to what does the Promenade owe its great success? It's almost as if its strolling path walks the visitor, and not the other way around.

    The 18th century was furnished with such a different set of perceptual values that you could justifiably argue that they were looking at an entirely different landscape. You might say that the collective representations of the Georgian Age marked a high point in the aesthetics of leisure, when walking promenades were established throughout the English-speaking world.

    Just look at the strollers in the above engraving! Ponder their world for a moment, of which our Promenade is a little remnant.

    As the great perceptual psychologist James Hillman wrote in "The Wonder of Wander," it was also in the 18th century that the art of garden-making reached an apogee:

    "In the art of the garden, it was considered essential that both the eye AND the foot be satisfied: the eye to see, the foot to travel through; the eye to encompass the whole and know it, the foot to remain within it and experience it. It was equally essential in that the eye and the foot NOT travel the same path."

    Our city's founders knew what they had at Parade Hill, and that unlike the walking malls of St. James or Ranelagh Gardens, with their aristocratic overtones, these Quakers knew that walking the city's bluff overlooking the Hudson was essentially a democratic experience.

    That's probably why the Proprietors granted the park to the Common Council, instead of to "the City."

    It's ironic then that the public had no say-so when alterations were made to the Promenade - ironic and typical.

    The message in Hudson is always the same, at least lately: mind your business residents, and learn your place.

    (Thomas Cole is rolling in his grave.)

  2. 1.

    After tonight's informal meeting of the Common Council, I pitched the following to Mr. Moore, select alderman and a handful of other officials. I appreciate the existence and forbearance of Gossips for permitting me to share the same with everyone else.

    I still seek a public hearing on the placement of the new monument-sign at the Promenade.

    As it is, the object is already installed by the DPW. This happened without anyone's foreknowledge. My alderman said he knew nothing about it until he saw the announcement for today's dedication ceremony.

    But shouldn't this have been the council's and the public's decision to make?

  3. 2.

    Some officials are fond of repeating that the Superintendent of the DPW can pretty much do whatever he wants with our parks. However, §C22-7 states that the Commissioner of Public Works shall have the "authority to make all ordinary repairs and improvements upon the parks." He still must answer to someone else.

    By laying responsibility at the DPW's door, the implication that is meant to fob me off is that the DPW answers to the mayor, and the mayor has no obligation to entertain public hearings.

    But the DPW does not always answer to the mayor.

    The City Charter permits the Common Council to "acquire [and] own" such things as a transit facility, while its operation and maintenance "shall be conducted by the [DPW] ... on behalf of the Common Council" (§C12-28).

    In the above example, the DPW would answer to the Common Council exclusively, and not the mayor.

    My claim is that it's the council that owns the Promenade Park, a distinction made by the grantors as a condition.

    The grantors also specified that their gift to the Common Council was "forever." I believe they did this for a reason, and that the condition holds to this day. (It does not fade with time, as one politician seemed to be saying earlier.)

    But even if we don't look too closely, and simply allow that "the city" in general owns the Promenade, the Charter states that the city "may take by gift, grant, bequest and devise ... real and personal property ... upon such terms as may be prescribed by the grantor or donor."

    "Upon such terms" we're right back to the grantor's prescription that the Promenade be owned by the Common Council , and owned by it forever.

    The grantors made a second condition which hints at the reason they specified the council as owner. Not surprisingly for the Proprietors of our city, their gift of the Promenade was a gift to the people, "for the purpose of a Public Walk or Mall AND FOR NO OTHER PURPOSE WHATEVER" (emphasis added).

    The Promenade is truly a people's park, and the people should have been consulted before "the city" went ahead and added anything to it without our knowledge.

    Initially for me, this was about an object, any object, being introduced into the walking path at the park's pride of place.

    I grew more annoyed at the reason for this admittedly handsome object: it is a public relations gimmick for a museum in Greene County. If you have to visit a website to figure out what it's even doing there, then it certainly has no business obstructing the Promenade's preeminent viewing spot. By the logic of the Proprietors, the Promenade is now drifting towards purposes other than walking.

    It was only lastly that I arrived back at an old theme, that our city politicians are too unclear about the propriety of their own decisions and actions, and that local government may well benefit by being prodded into knowing its own shape vis-a-vis the Charter. So this becomes representative of any number of changes instigated by "the city" without the public's knowledge or say-so.

    The Director of the museum told me today that she was open to having the object moved, if that's what residents desired. I told her that I aimed to find out what my neighbors desired of their people's park.

    I'd like this monument-sign to undergo a public hearing before the Common Council, which is solely responsible for changes other than maintenance and minor alterations to our Promenade Park.

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  5. Unfortunately the RS misquoted me today. My complaint had nothing at all to do with the city's "Historic Preservation Commission."

    However, it does have everything to do with the entity from which Mr. Perry takes his orders, which I argue should be the Common Council. So even though Mr Perry discussed the conflict in relation to the HPC, he nevertheless shone light on his duties as he understands them.

    To anyone paying attention, this episode should make it clear that this DPW assumes a wide latitude when it comes to making aesthetic decisions which may contradict the wishes of a grantor of property to the city.

    (I failed to provide the section above whereby the Charter specifies that the "City of Hudson" may take real property by gift or grant "upon such terms as may be prescribed by the grantor." This language appears at §C1-2. Of course the grantor of the Promenade specified that the Common Council was to own the park "forever." Incredibly, find that I have to argue with my neighbors that it's in their interest to hold the city to the conditions of the grant.)

    I also had a long and amicable discussion with Mr. Rector last night. We agreed that the overworked HPC has a long-term interest not to alienate people. Considering the kinds of actions that the DPW believes it can execute without oversight, I walked away from my conversation with Mr. Rector believing that we badly need a Commissioner of Parks.

    The situation as it stands is primitive. So how about a little help here?