Monday, September 9, 2013

Back to the 1970s

In May 1973, it was discovered that someone had stolen St. Winifred's sword. (Back then, the Register-Star spelled her name Winifride.) The sword was reported missing on May 2, but, on investigation, the police found that it had been gone for some time--perhaps for almost a year. (Not surprising since at that time the area surrounding Promenade Hill was the site of massive demolition and extensive construction.)

The article about the missing sword that appeared in the Register-Star for May 6, 1973, quotes extensively from a book entitled The Hudson Valley Sketchbook, which the article describes as "a fragmented history of the area by Mrs. Marion C. Smith of Hudson." Further research discovered that the book was self-published in about 1964. Smith provides some interesting information that isn't always part of the accounts of how the statue of St. Winifred found its way to Promenade Hill, and for this reason, Gossips, as the Register-Star did forty years ago, quotes what Mrs. Marion C. Smith had to say on the subject:
In 1795 when the city was young and a source of pride to its citizens, this section, then called the Parade, was granted to the Common Council, forever, as a public walk or mall, and for no other purpose whatever. About 100 years later, still recognizing it as a spectacularly attractive park, Hudsonians decided it should be beautified. By July 1896, eight flower beds had been laid out in the form of stars, crosses, crescents and four leaf clovers. Coleus and bright, blossoming flowers painted the hill with patches of gorgeous color. Still one thing was lacking. Such a charming garden was not complete without a fountain.
Consequently, C. H. Van Deusen was named to take subscriptions to provide something suitable. Although the response was good, those accountable for the welfare of the city's population were uneasy with the idea. The "Register" worried editorially because "engines at the pumping house are working night and day, seven days in the week" trying to supply barely enough of that important commodity, water. Planning to use it in such a frivolous manner was disconcerting. But a solution seemed imminent for "it is proposed," continued this article, "to put meters into public houses and manufactories and to charge for the water allowed to escape needlessly."
So the fountain project progressed unimpeded. A local architect, Michael O'Connor, was a personal friend of General John Watts de Peyster, a renowned philanthropist living in Tivoli. Knowing of his penchant for donating fine sculpture, Mr. O'Connor made known the yearning of the local people for a fountain. By a lucky coincidence, the general just happened to have one on hand. It had been intended for the Watts de Peyster Hospital and Invalid Children's Home, operated by the Women's Board of Domestic Missions of the Methodist Church near Verhank [sic], N.Y. Those good ladies, faced with the same problem that was plaguing the Hudsonians, refused to provide the water supply.
General de Peyster was more than glad to come to Hudson with his friend and inspect the possible site for his fountain. He found it most desirable, but wanted the approval of the sculptor, George E. Bissell of Poughkeepsie, before making his decision. Bissell, who also executed the statue of Abraham de Peyster, first mayor of New York City, which stands in Bowling Green, was "enraptured with the location," declaring that it overlooked some of the finest scenery he had ever witnessed. The general is said to have remarked facetiously that although Hudson had many saints, he thought they would use one more.
The Register-Star article from 1973 provides this additional information: "The St. Winifride statue is cast in bronze and stands 12 feet high. The fountain issued from the pedestal, which was constructed from a mass of natural moss-grown rocks taken from Becraft Mountain. The pedestal and basin were built by John Fitzgerald for the sum of $280." 


  1. So why is there no water at the fountain now?

  2. Why is there wqter and no fountain in the 7th Street Park?

  3. Thanks for the cue, Jennifer. I'll use this opportunity in an already-buried thread to argue for the establishment of a Commissioner of Parks.

    There's a crucial difference between the two fountains and the two parks, a difference that's right in front of us although nobody sees it.

    Notice above that Marion Smith had cited the conditions made by the grantors of the Promenade Hill Park: "this section, then called the Parade, was granted to the Common Council, forever."

    The Proprietors could have granted the park to "the city," but I believe they granted it to the council for a reason. Unlike any other park in Hudson, the Promenade is truly a peoples park; the council owns it and our representatives are obliged to explain - and to invite our comment - concerning whatever goes on there.

    The council is code-bound to honor the terms of that grant, whereas the 7th Street Park is owned and administered by "the city," which means the mayor.

    Any mayor is free to ignore questions about the 7th Street Park, which it is his or her park to administer as they see fit.

    In both cases though, in actual practice, the DPW Superintendent does what he sees is fit.

    This crucial difference between the parks ought to trigger the question to whom the DPW Superintendent is meant to answer in either case, the executive or the legislature?

    When I posed this question to Common Council President Moore and Mayor Hallenbeck, both expressed the belief that where actions in generic "parks" are concerned, the DPW Superintendent doesn't have to answer to anyone!

    Interpretation: it is Rob Perry to whom we should be addressing our fountain questions, and in fact any action or aesthetic decision concerning Hudson's parks.

    And this in a city full of artists, a city where our DPW Superintendent isn't even a Civil Servant!

    Can it be more obvious that the City of Hudson needs a Commissioner of Parks?

    I've asked Victor Mendolia to weigh in on the question and I await his reply. But why should he - or any other politician - consider the issue if there is only one resident who is interested enough to ask?

    Join me, please.

  4. I'm interested. I think it is a good idea to have a Commissioner of Parks. The 7th Street Park is very sad, as evidenced by Gossips two photos (the early 20th century one of the original fountain - beautiful, and the fountain how it looks today, surrounded by two iron railings and large 'high voltage' signs. Not a very good example of the 'friendly city'. I know John Friedman made an effort to get interest going in the restoration of the 7th Street Park - but I guess it didn't go anywhere. A Commission of Parks could get the ball rolling again and follow through.

  5. J - The same distinction you just made was made for me by someone else yesterday, another supporter of the idea:

    A COMMISSION of PARKS as opposed to a commissioner.

    Of course! And why in the world not?

    Best, T

  6. I'd be happy to join Jennifer as Commissioner of Parks.

    Parks are the jewels of any city - when a city has "civic pride" that is.