Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hudson Before the Turn of the 20th Century

Another discovery from the stash of old newspaper clippings given to me by Susan Troy are these reminiscences, by George R. Ham, about the Hudson of his childhood. Ham was born in 1885, and he was 86 years old when these recollections were published in the Register-Star in January 1974. What is striking to us, from our 21st-century perspective, is the emphasis on ethnicity, but Ham was remembering a time toward the end of the "Age of Mass Migration" (1836 to 1914), when more than 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States, and country of origin no doubt seemed more significant then.

In Hudson before the turn of the century from 3rd Street to the river there were grand Irish families with here and there a German or French family. The homes and buildings were well cared for. North and South Front Streets had many nice stores owned and operated by the Irish. Only one Jewish family that I can recall, the Paunish family men's shop.

South Front had many nice hotels. I do not know of any Polish families, and remember but one Italian family, the Cardeales.

How well we got along in those days. As kids we never heard of any difference in religion. There was a Sunday School called The North Bay Mission between 1st and 2nd Streets which was well-attended. . . .

Many of the people in the lower part of the city owned row-boats and boat houses in the bays. They would get their firewood, some lumber, fish, hunt and pleasure from the grand old river.

In summer Irish, Dutch, French and others would fill long lines of rowboats with men, women and kids, drinks, sandwiches, cakes, for picnics at Cole's grove, Primen Hook [sic--Priming Hook] or Rogers Island.

The river was clean, nice sandy bottom, and was the source of our water supply. . . . 

Many people kept a horse in those days, and many owned two wheel dump carts. They would cart dirt, ashes and other things for pay. A coal yard between 2nd and 3rd on Diamond St., would have coal delivered at north dock, and would hire all the dump cart men to deliver it to the yard.

The only paved streets were Main St., as Warren was known then, which was paved with round cobble stones. [Note: The name of Main Street was officially changed to Warren Street in 1799.]

Living on Union or Allen Sts. was considered high hat. North of Main St. was like the other side of the track. The ultimate goal was to live anywhere on Main St. . . .

In summer we walked blocks to fetch fountain head drinking water from the widely spread street pumps.

And Promenade Hill! What a place, everything spic and span. Summer nights it was filled with young and old from all over the city and county.

Main St., side walks full of people coming and going, with the din of many steel shod horses on the cobble stones. . . .

And the fourth of July, how they did celebrate, dreaded by horse owners. The horses were scared to death, and would cause many runaways.

I cannot recall any fights or serious mischief. We had a healthy respect for our police, who carried clubs that looked a yard long to us kids, and they did not hesitate to give you a good whack on the backside if you got in the way or was too noisy. Today they would be ostracized for it but no one thought anything of it then. And if your parents heard of it you got some more whacks, but I believe did us some good.

How we enjoyed showing our city to visitors. First on the list was Promenade Hill. What a beautiful sight. The flats were visible only at very low tide. There was a dug-way for rowboats to cross straight to Athens, to see the lighthouse, a ferry boat to Athens, a passenger and freight to Catskill, a boat to Coxsackie. The capacity loads of people on the day boats between Albany and New York City, waving to us on the hill.

Every kid knew the time to look for the big boats, to watch the continuous passage of trains on the N. Y. Central. The long trains of cattle cars, loaded with beef, calves, sheep and pigs being shipped alive to New York City. Even in winter to watch the swarms of men working on the ice. The ice boats and skaters, and the mountains.

To watch the shad and herring fishers in the spring. Our pride in showing the Worth House, where everything happened first, where we saw our first electric light. To watch the stage coaches loading and unloading passengers and luggage. Then to show our beautiful Court House. I still think it a nicer building outside than the one we have today. Then to South 3rd St., to show the Bay Road and Mt. Merino.

Another sight was the bird's eye view of the city from Mt. Ray. Our pride in showing our new 4th St. school, the House of Refugees [sic] it was called then.

Then Underhill Pond, Green Street and the bell drinking fountain for horses.

And what industry with four always busy knitting mills, employing many men and a few young women, the Fiber Works, the Gifford Foundry. If you had a job at the car wheel shop you were above average.

The two busy brick yards . . . two breweries; C. H. Evans, world-known. The beautiful horses. Teamsters employed by these firms were considered the lucky men of the times.

The horse auctions held weekly drew large crowds. It was big news when a resident bought an outstanding horse at an outstanding price, or that a grocer, butcher or sportsman bought a new one.

Winter horse racing on Green St. was tops in sports. Any female brave enough to enter the sport was the darling of the city and county. Bobsled riding at night was another sport. With great long sleds loaded with young men and women, they would start at Academy Hill, down Columbia to Diamond to Front St. The young men spent hours preparing the slide, carrying water to freeze the slideway. North Front and Mill Sts. were reserved for us kids. The police would keep the horse traffic away at night. . . . 

Many of the most prominent citizens lived in the lower part of the city at that time. Wardells Drug Store was there bright and shiny. Things have changed.

Historic photographs courtesy Historic Hudson and Byrne Fone


  1. ...i've seen the bell fountain photo before and a few others taken from different directions, to the best of my thinking i place it at the intersection of Fairview and Green streets, the building behind it being the current American Legion still standing...

    1. That's exactly where it was--at the intersection of Green Street and Fairview Avenue.

  2. Great descriptive account of Hudson. Sounds like a great place to live.