Monday, March 31, 2014

Gossips Can Do It, Too

On Tuesday, when Gossips posted the link to the ten best sentences from fiction or nonfiction chosen by the editors of The American Scholar, a few readers (well, three) were inspired to share their choices for best sentence, either in comments on the blog or privately. That inspired Gossips to wonder, "If The American Scholar can do it, why can't The Gossips of Rivertown?" 

One reason might be that Gossips has no staff of editors to suggest sentences and mull over the possibilities, but that doesn't have to a deterrent. Gossips has its well-read and cultured readers to do the suggesting, and its called upon when needed "editorial advisory board" to do the mulling over.

So, here's the invitation. Email Gossips your choice for the best sentence written in English--a sentence that stopped you in your tracks, a sentence that stunned you with its profundity, its truth, its ability to provoke thought or emotion, a sentence that you savored and remember or wrote down somewhere so you wouldn't forget. It can be from fiction or nonfiction. When you submit it, include the name of the author and the work.

The goal is to imitate The American Scholar and publish the ten best sentences, chosen from those submitted by Gossips readers, on April 16. If fewer than ten sentences are submitted, all of them (or maybe none of them) will be published. If more than ten are submitted, Gossips' editorial advisory board will mull and agonize and select the best ten, which will appear on Gossips on Wednesday, April 16.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Back to Hudson, Fifty Years Ago

As noted earlier this week, Gossips recently came into possession of a copy of Hudson's Comprehensive Development Plan from 1965. The document contains much that is of interest to those curious about the past, and much that is just curious. An example of the latter is the history of Hudson that prefaced the document. Gossips has read many histories of Hudson and even written one or two, but the history of Hudson that appeared in 1965 Comprehensive Development Plan may be the strangest one, especially in its interpretation of what was then Hudson's most recent history. Be warned. The concept of political correctness did not exist in 1965.

Hudson's Heritage
Hudson enjoyed a major role in the earliest history of New York State. During his explorations of the Hudson River in 1609, Henry Hudson landed twice on the present site of the City, and commented in his journal on the beauty of the surrounding country. Half a century later, in 1662, a patroon named Jan Van Hoesen purchased a tract of land from the Indians, which included all of present day Hudson and the land for miles around. An inland settlement was soon founded, and the area named "Klauver Rachen" or "Clover Reach," after the clover blanketing the luxuriant soil.
The original settlement was inland from the river, and, as trade developed, a river landing was needed. By the end of the Revolutionary War, Claverack Landing, as the site of present-day Hudson was then called, contained two wharves. From these wharves, a "waggon-way" led to Claverack and the farms to the east. The extension of this waggon-way served as an important link to a large territory extending into eastern Massachusetts and Connecticut. Agricultural and manufactured products bound for New York City markets were transferred to river sloops sailing from Claverack Landing. . . .
In 1783, Claverack Landing was sold to the "Proprietors," a group of about thirty New England merchants from New Bedford and Nantucket, who wished to restore their Revolution-shattered whaling industry. At the first meeting, the Proprietors formed a committee, which laid out streets and building lots. The original Proprietors' map shows locations for Front, Main (renamed Warren in 1799), State, Diamond (now Columbia), Union Second, and Third Streets. Lots were 50 feet by 120 feet, with twenty foot alleys or "gangways" at the rear.
River trade was flourishing when, on April 22, 1785, the City was officially named after Henry Hudson and given its Charter by the State of New York. Hudson became the third city in New York State, and the first to be created in the United States after the Declaration of Independence. The original Charter covered a greater area than that of present-day Hudson, reaching from the Town of Livingston on the south to Claverack Creek on the east and Stockport Creek on the north. 
Growth was so phenomenal that five years later, in 1790, the date of the first Census, the City had a population of 2,584 persons.
Water was in short supply and of poor quality, and in 1793 the State Legislature authorized the creation of the Hudson Aqueduct Company. This company leased or purchased springs, and laid bored logs to carry the clean water to cisterns in the City. The first real street improvements also took place at this time: sidewalks were installed on Main Street; Front Street required blasting between Main and Union; a bridge was necessary near the corner of Union and Front Streets.
Trade was prospering. As many as fifteen vessels a day departed from Hudson carrying lumber, fish, beef, port, and all kinds of country produce. In 1797, Hudson narrowly lost--by one vote--the distinction of becoming the capital of New York State.
Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act and the War of 1812 temporarily smothered the whaling industry and related commerce, but provided an opportunity for industry to grow, using manpower released from whaling. Tanneries, oil and candle works, sail and canvas makers and woolen mills were among early industries. In 1814, the only iron foundry between New York City and Albany was established, made possible by the combination of river access and the network of roads to the east.
The Proprietors returned to whaling, sending out ships to the Antarctic. In 1829, the whaling industry supported a fleet of fourteen square-rigged vessels. During this period many buildings were destroyed by fire, particularly those near the river. Streets were paved or repaved and sewers were installed. Part of the Town of Stockport was annexed away in 1833. In 1837 the City was reduced to its present size by the creation of the Town of Greenport.
As the City grew it became the Columbia County distribution center for all types of merchandise. Sailing sloops made the trip to New York in from eighteen hours to several days, depending on the winds and tides. The City was a major stop on passenger and freight runs to and from New York City and, following the opening of the Erie Canal, to the west as well. When steamboats appeared on the river, some of the earlier boats were largely owned by Hudson investors.
Irish immigrants came to Hudson to help with the construction of the New York Central Railroad, which started in 1848. Italian immigrants followed, to maintain the railroad. Polish immigrants were attracted to the area to work on the farms.
During the nineteenth century, Hudson became a coal distribution center. The coal was shipped from Pennsylvania by barge; in Hudson, it was transferred to coal cars by cheap Negro labor. This inexpensive labor was also used to extract local deposits of clay and cement, and to chop ice from the frozen river in the winter, to be stored in ice houses and shipped down the river in summer. Knitting and textile mills flourished.
In the early twentieth century, brickyards and cement plants were among the area's major industries. Yet Hudson's greatest industrial growth had ended by the first World War. Early industries had vanished: first whaling, then, with the introduction of central heating, long woolen underwear was outdated. Still later, the ice and brick industries became outdated. One of the latest to leave was the most notorious. Diamond Street, from Third to Fourth Streets, was known throughout the State as a "red light" district, the traditional adjunct of the shipping industry. This historic use of the land was ended in 1950, by Governor Thomas E. Dewey, who ordered the "entrepreneurs" and their employees to be dispersed.
A ghetto was created as the empty structures were quickly filled with Negro families, many of whom had migrated north to work on nearby farms.
The illustrations that accompany this history were added by Gossips. From top to bottom they are: (1) Plate 4, No. 12, Amerique Septentrionale. Etat de New York, by Jacques Louis Milbert; (2) the Penfield Map of the city of Hudson, 1799; (3) engraving of the Hudson Iron Works by Benson Lossing, The Hudson: From the Wilderness to the Sea, 1866; (4) photograph from Historic Hudson's Rowles Studio Collection; (5) photograph of a Hudson madame and her girls, from Diamond Street: The Story of the Little Town with the Big Red Light District, by Bruce Edward Hall

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Let's Be Careful Out There . . .

Earlier today, Gossips reported that the railing at 116 Warren Street had been pulled down. This act of presumed vandalism happened around 11:30 last night. 

Gossips has since received word of an apparent purse snatching, which also seems to have occurred below Third Street last night. A wallet, empty of cash and credit cards, was discovered this morning on Partition Street near Second.

Gossips' Picks for Saturday Night

Sampling chocolate and wine is always a good way to start the evening, and tonight there is an opportunity to do so at Verdigris Tea & Chocolate Bar, 135 Warren Street. The chocolate, produced by Grenada Chocolate Company, is not only artisanal and 100 percent organic, but it is also the only sustainably produced and shipped chocolate in the world. The cocoa beans are grown in the lush, pristine rainforest of Grenada, processed and packaged on the island, and then brought to market by an old-fashioned, square-rigged brigantine. (How it travels the proverbial last mile to Verdigris is not known.)

The chocolate--solid chocolate bars, Salty-licious bars (with Caribbean sea salt), and Nib-a-licious bars (with crispy cocoa nibs)--will be paired with wines chosen by Lewis Dimm of Fairview Wines & Spirits. The chocolate and wine tasting is from 5 to 7.

With a bit of chocolate and wine in your tummy, head upstreet to the Hudson Opera House, 327 Warren Street, for the opening of the retrospective exhibition of the work of R. O. Blechman.

If you need an introduction to the work of this "master of all things visual" (and Hudson Valley resident), Gossips recommends 
Seth Rogovoy's post on The Rogovoy Report and Blechman's own website.

The opening reception is from 5 to 7 p.m., but just before 6:30 dash back downstreet to Cafe Le Perche, 230 Warren Street, where the upstairs dining room is being inaugurated as performance space by James Braly presenting a workshop performance of The Monthly Nut (How Much Misery Does It Take to Be Happy?) Braly is the writer and performer of the Off-Broadway hit Life in a Martial Institution, which recently finished a fourteen-city tour. Braly's new monologue is described as "an autobiographical story that asks, "Can you love your lifestyle--without hating your life?" The pursuit of the answer to that question involves encounters "a boss who worships Hitler, a closeted secret admirer/kidnapper, a movie star, and a ghost." More information about the performance is available here.

Destruction on Warren Street

These photographs, sent to Gossips by a reader, were taken at 6:45 this morning. The railings around the staircase leading to the cellar entrance of 116 Warren Street have been pulled down in what may have been an act of vandalism.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Back to the House of Refuge

On Tuesday, Gossips begin figuratively tagging along on a tour of the House of Refuge taken August 1890 and recounted in the New York Press by Mary A. Worswick. We learned about the buildings and the routines and procedures of the then three-your-old institution. Today, we return to that report to learn more about how the House of Refuge went about its noble work of reforming fallen women.

Every young woman committed to the House of Refuge was initially assigned a place in the Second Division, located on the second floor of the prison building, "from which she may be reduced, if refractory, or promoted for good behavior." Promotion was first to the third floor of the prison building and then to one of the four cottages. Demotion was to the first floor of the prison building, where "the prisoners seem a hard set of women," or to an annex in the rear of the prison "where unruly inmates can be confined without disturbing the whole house." 

Mary Worswick focused on the life in the cottages.

When girls are promoted to the cottages they are given greater advantages and privileges. They have the assembly for work and study and attend school in the main building.
The cottages are neat brick structures, many windowed and with cheerful interiors, white walled and finished in light wood. The girls' rooms, opening out of the galleries, have each a white counterpaned bed, a chair and table. Each room has some fanciful decorations on its wall--cards, pictures, dried grasses, paper flowers, or bits of fancy work done by the girls in the one hour of recreation allowed them each evening.
There are four cottages, number one ranking first, each containing twenty-four inmates, under the charge of a supervisor and her assistant, and in them the idea of a family life is carried out as far as possible.
The girls are only locked in their rooms at night. They take their meals together in the neatly appointed dining room. After school hours and when all their housework is done they sit in groups in the long corridors, sewing or knitting or talking in subdued tones, but always under the supervision of the officers in charge.
Women with young infants when committed or those who become mothers after entrance are allowed to keep their children with them, and so it is that distributed between prison, cottages and hospital there are babies of all sizes, conditions and types of babyhood. . . .
The matron of the hospital is a trained nurse and under the advice of the consulting physician had charge of the sick and attends to the general health of all the inmates. Dissipation has made as great havoc in the bodies as vice has made in the souls of these women, and the majority of those who enter the Refuge are in broken health. Not alone moral, but physical, too, is the reform accomplished, as the general health of the institution testifies.
In the main building is the chapel, where services are held every Sunday and occasional lectures and entertainments for the benefit of the girls; also the sewing room where the sewing of the institution is done by the inmates, the officers' rooms, offices, etc., and the two large school rooms where the cottage girls attend. There is a general teacher and an inmate holds the position of monitor in the lower grade room.
Already a number of deserving girls have been conditionally discharged from the institution by the Board of Managers. Before leaving on parole a good home is provided for each girl, and if she desires to change her place afterward she must obtain consent from the Refuge. She is required to write every month, as to her welfare and conduct, to the superintendent, and her statement must vouched for by some responsible person. If she is sick or in trouble the Refuge doors are always open to her during the period of her parole.
After a continued course of good behavior outside the girl is granted the following absolute discharge:
"Since you entered this institution you have behaved in an orderly manner, exhibiting regret for the past and an earnest desire to live an honest and honorable life in the future. There is no reason why, by a continuation of such a course, you should not win the respect of any community in which you may hereafter live and become a well to do member of society. This discharge is granted in the expectation that such will be your success."
Thus the State says: "Go, and sin no more" to these modern Magdalens.
The photograph of the House of Refuge is from Historic Hudson's Rowles Studio Collection; the engravings accompanied Mary A. Worswick's article, which appeared in the New York Press on August 17, 1890.

Learning from the Experience of Others

The topic of zoning changes came up again at Wednesday night's Legal Committee meeting. The next zoning workshop has been postponed again--this time to the first week in May. It is now expected to take place on Friday, May 2, beginning at 9 a.m.

At Wednesday's Legal Committee meeting, Council president Don Moore wondered out loud if it was worth reading the zoning changes proposed in 2006. Committee chair John Friedman (Third Ward) acknowledged that "zoning is very high-level thinking and requires the ability to visualize" but suggested that reading the proposed document was "process of educating ourselves, and it isn't time wasted." Friedman further encouraged the committee, "I'd like to see us try to do what we can. [It will] help us narrow the scope of what needs to be done."

Visualizing is indeed an important part of zoning, and it is sometimes recommended that, before bulk and area regulations are adopted, a model be created--something computer generated or an actual three-dimensional model--to show what the city would look like if there were a "worst case" build out--if everything permitted by the city's zoning ended up being built, with the minimum front and side setbacks and the maximum height and lot coverage. The idea is that the decision makers use the model to decide if it's really what they want the city to look like.

The idea of a build-out model came to mind this morning, when a reader sent a link to an article in West Side Rag, a hyperlocal news source for the Upper West Side of Manhattan. 

The article reports on a plan to build a fourteen-story apartment building abutting the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street. As the article points out, the project does not need any special zoning permits, and there will be no intervention by the Landmarks Preservation Commission because, surprisingly, the cathedral is not landmarked.   

Image courtesy DNAinfo via a rendering by Handel Architects found on West Side Rag

Thursday, March 27, 2014

HPC Meeting Cancelled

Gossips got word tonight that the Historic Preservation Commission meeting scheduled for Friday morning has been cancelled. Three of the members will be absent, and because the HPC still has only six members--a replacement for Scott Baldinger who resigned in August has not yet been appointed--there would not be a quorum.  

The Hudson as Virtual Pipeline

On Wednesday, Gossips spent an hour listening to a Riverkeeper webinar entitled "Preventing a Crude Oil Spill on the Hudson." An enormous amount of information was presented in the webinar by Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director, and Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director--all of it frightening, for the Hudson River and for the people and the communities along its banks. Gossips summarizes that information with the goal of inspiring you to listen for yourself to the recorded version of the webinar, now online.

Photo credit: Capt. John Lipscomb, Riverkeeper
Crude oil is currently being transported by train along the west side of the Hudson River. Crude oil has never been moved through the Hudson Valley before, and what is being transported now are new types of crude oil. One type is Bakken crude, the product of fracking in North Dakota. This oil is volatile, very explosive and very unstable. Railroad workers call trains carrying Bakken crude "bomb trains." Two of these bomb trains--80 to 120 cars filled with nothing but crude oil and moving at 50 miles an hour--travel down the west side of the Hudson every day. The other type of crude oil comes from the Canadian tar sands. This oil is heavy, like asphalt, and impossible to clean up. According to Musegaas, it represents "a whole different dimension of environmental impact."

The notion of the Hudson as a "virtual pipeline" came to Gossips' notice at the beginning of February when Environmental Advocates warned of a plan to turn Albany into a transfer point where crude oil would be moved from railroad cars onto tankers and barges for the journey down the Hudson. What is being proposed is a facility to heat tar sand crude oil to make it less viscous and more liquid to make the transfer possible. There is also a plan to establish a similar transfer facility in the Town of New Windsor, just outside Newburgh.

Having these bomb trains traveling alongside the Hudson River, carrying Bakken crude in tanker cars that are inadequate for this volatile crude oil (85 percent of the 92,000 tankers cars currently being used have been determined to be unsafe), crossing over Hudson tributaries on bridges that are old and in need of repair, seems bad enough, but the possibility of oil being transported by ship and barge on the Hudson River would be even worse. There is now no way to clean up a crude oil spill on the upper Hudson, and even if the response capabilities existed (and they don't), the best that could be expected would be 15 to 20 percent recovery for Bakken crude, which floats, and 5 percent recovery for tar sands crude, which sinks in water. Riverkeeper is taking the position that the only way to protect the Hudson River is to prevent the transport of crude oil by barge and ship on the river. 

Photo credit: Dana Gulley, Riverkeeper
The transport of crude oil through the Hudson Valley started without official scrutiny or public notice, but in the past couple of months, things have changed. On March 24--the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill--the Department of Environmental Conservation, prompted by the attention being paid by the public, sent a letter to Global Partners, the company proposing the transfer facilities in Albany and New Windsor, informing them that they had not provided enough information and their permits would not be processed until adequate information was provided. The letter was simultaneously released to the press in Albany and Newburgh. Brian Nearing reported on it in the Times Union: "State demands detail on Albany port oil project."

Gossips urges readers to educate themselves on this issue and learn how to take action by listening to the Riverkeeper webinar.

Of Literary Interest

As I learned on NPR last night, the editors at The American Scholar have published their list of the ten best sentences in fiction and nonfiction written in English--sentences that "stop you in your tracks." You can view the list here. Gossips' personal favorite, predictably perhaps, may be the one from Pride and Prejudice.

Historic Preservation in the Time of Urban Renewal

When contemplating the wholesale destruction that was urban renewal in Hudson, it is often forgotten that there was some concession, albeit marginal, to the interests of historic preservation: the facade easement program. At the time, it was cutting edge. Federal funds were used to restore the facades of the few buildings included in the 1970 National Register Front Street-Parade Hill-Lower Warren Street Historic District that survived the devastation. Those fortunate buildings were located on the east side of South Front Street, the north side of the first block of Warren Street, and on both sides of the second block of Warren Street--the 100 block. 

Along with the picture of the buildings at the end of Warren Street published yesterday, Paul Barrett sent pictures of other buildings on Warren Street he had stumbled upon. It occurred to Gossips that these might be the "BEFORE" pictures of houses that were part of the facade easement program. 

There was this "BEFORE" picture of 22 and 24 Warren Street. Note the doorway at the right which appears to give entrance to nothing.

Comparing this picture with the buildings as they are today, now it would seem one building, shows that they were dramatically transformed, almost beyond recognition. One wonders what the justification for this was.

Comparing the "BEFORE" picture of 124 Warren Street (below) with the building as it is today shows (mercifully) no such bewildering alteration, only dramatic improvement, which, Gossips can attest, happened not during urban renewal but in the past ten or so years.

Equally gratifying is the fact that the hoods over the doorways of the houses on either side survived the installation of those aluminum awnings that seemed ubiquitous in mid-20th century Hudson.

The most interesting transformation occurred at 116 Warren Street, a rare textbook example of Federal period Adam style architecture. The "BEFORE" picture shows that an additional story had been added to the building, probably in the 1860s.

The picture below, provided by Bruce Bergmann, was taken in 1974 and shows the work on the facade of the building underway. (Note the tower of what was originally the Harder Knitting Company, a.k.a. Knauss Brothers mushroom factory and Candy Lane, in the background at the right.)

The added story was removed, and the building restored to the way it was when it was originally constructed in 1805 as the First Bank of Hudson.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Missing Piece

Yesterday, Gossips posted a picture of the buildings at the west end of Warren Street from the 1965 Comprehensive Development Plan juxtaposed with a picture of the same buildings today, noting that at some point between 1965 and 2014, one of the buildings had disappeared. 

This morning, Paul Barrett sent a picture of the missing building, apparently in the process of being demolished. 

The picture above had to have been taken early in the 1970s but after 1970, when the Front Street-Parade Hill-Lower Warren Street Historic District was first added to the National Register of Historic Places. In the picture, the two buildings on the northeast corner of Warren and Front streets, which were still there in 1970, are gone, and beyond the Washington Hose firehouse, almost unrecognizable with its flat roof, Hudson Terrace appears to be in the final stages of construction.

This aerial photograph shows the row of buildings at the end of Warren Street as it was in 1970.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fifty Years Ago in Hudson

Recently, Gossips was the grateful recipient of a copy of Hudson's 1965 Comprehensive Development Plan. There are several copies of this document in the History Room of the Hudson Area Library, and I've seen it many times, but this is the first time I've had my very own copy to peruse at my leisure and scan at will. So be prepared, readers, to learn a lot about Hudson and how the city perceived itself almost fifty years ago. Predictably, the first thing we will share is what the document has to say on the topic of historic architecture.
Hudson's history is reflected in its rich variety of nineteenth century architecture. Some interesting examples:
1. The oldest structure in the City, a small stone building near Power Avenue in "Simpsonville," was once--before the railroad cut the bays off from the river--on the riverfront.
Within five years of when this document was prepared, the houses that made up Simpsonville had been demolished, together with, presumably, this "small stone building" thought to be the oldest structure in Hudson.
2. The present Department of Public Works garage, although now dilapidated and soon to be leveled for a boat launch and parking lot, is one of the oldest factory structures in the City.
3. The present home of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the structure adjoining it to the east were built by Seth Jenkins and his son Robert; nearby is the Miller House on the corner of First Street.

4. The Labin Paddock house still stands, although in poor condition. (Labin Paddock helped Catherine the Great when her warship was in trouble, and the sword she sent him in gratitude is now in the Masonic Temple.)
According to Anna Bradbury, Laban (that's the correct spelling) Paddock's house was 117 Union Street. Fifty years later, it still stands, although no longer in poor condition. The Masonic Temple is now Mid-Hudson Media, and the whereabouts of Catherine the Great's sword is unknown.
5. Worth House, of Federal design, is on Union Street.

6. The Greek revival General Worth Hotel, rebuilt in 1836 after a fire, is across the street from the Howard Hotel, where Martin Van Buren stayed.
The General Worth Hotel, of course, was demolished in 1971. The building across the street did not become the Howard Hotel until 1894, so Martin Van Buren, who died in 1862, could not have stayed at the Howard Hotel, although he may have been a guest in the building when it was someone's residence.

 7. Among the many churches of particular interest are: the early Quaker Meeting House; the Greek revival St. Nicholas Ukranian [sic] Church on the corner of Second Street; Christ Protestant Episcopal Church, designed by William G. Harrison.
The County Courthouse fronts on handsome Washington Square (often called "Courthouse Square" by Hudson residents) which is bordered by some of the best maintained and most attractive nineteenth century buildings in the City. Facing toward the Courthouse at the northern end of Fourth Street is the beautiful stone structure housing the Library, a part of the school complex at the busy intersection of Fourth Street and State Street.
Throughout the older sections of the City box-like Nantucket cottages with large central chimneys are juxtaposed with richly ornamented frame Hudson River bracketed structures, simple Greek revival and elaborate Gothic revival or "gingerbread" homes. Architectural History Professor James Marsden Fitch commented after a recent visit to Hudson that the City contains many examples of Hudson River architectural style well worth preserving, and called the City "a dictionary of nineteenth century architecture." Structures of particular historic interest are largely concentrated west of Fourth Street, and those which are sturdy enough to warrant preservation are almost all south of Prison Alley. The preservation and restoration of Hudson's architectural heritage is an essential planning component for the redevelopment of the older section of the City (complementing the recently designated Historic Site of Olana) as well as an appropriate setting for new development.
Four years later, in 1969, when James Marsden Fitch came to town to advocate for the preservation of the General Worth Hotel, he was nearly run out of town. Despite the recommendation that preservation and restoration be "an essential planning component for the redevelopment of the older section of the City," the plan that was adopted and executed limited preservation and restoration to just a few blocks: the east side of South Front Street, the north side of the first block of Warren Street, and both sides of the 100 block of Warren Street. 

Even one of the buildings in the picture labeled "Warren Street Architecture" that appeared in the Comprehensive Development Plan is missing today.

Forty Years of Weighted Votes

In February 2011, when we were still waiting to know the outcome of the 2010 census, Gossips published a chart that tracked the weighted vote in Hudson from 1975, the year after the weighted vote system was adopted, to 2005 to show the changes effected in the weighted vote by the each decennial census. Today, I decided to add a new column to the chart, so it would be possible to track the changes in the weighted vote over the past forty years.

From 1975 until 2004, the weighted votes didn't change at all, because presumably it was decided that not much had changed in Hudson's population numbers so it wasn't necessary to recalculate the weighted vote.

After the 2000 census, the weighted vote was recalculated, with some significant changes. The big losers were the First Ward and the Fourth Ward, with the votes of their aldermen dropping from 188 to 94 and 184 to 94 respectively. The winners were the Second Ward, whose aldermen gained 24 votes each, and the Third Ward, whose representatives gained 46 votes each. 

Now, after the 2010 census, there are two significant changes in the weighted vote. The big loser is the Third Ward, whose aldermen now have 86 fewer votes each. The big winner is the Fifth Ward, whose aldermen have gained 86 votes each.

Third Ward Alderman: Henry Haddad (left) and John Friedman (right)

Fifth Ward Aldermen: Robert Donahue (left)  and Bart Delaney (right)

Inside the House of Refuge

A couple of weeks ago, Gossips stumbled upon the story of Elizabeth Doyle, the woman who served almost five years in the House of Refuge in Hudson for a theft she didn't commit. After she was released, Elizabeth Doyle told a "startling story of alleged harsh treatment of women prisoners in that institution" to a reporter from a New York City "yellow." This happened in 1901. Three years later, the House of Refuge closed, to be replaced by the New York State Training School for Girls. Despite the fact that the Hudson Daily Register at the time dismissed the report as "false from beginning to end," was this exposé instrumental in bringing an end to the House of Refuge?  

Gossips set out to find the answer and, as so often happens, found more information than was originally sought. Today, Gossips shares the first example of this abundance. 

In 1890, three years after the House of Refuge opened (and coincidentally three years after Nelly Bly feigned insanity to get herself committed to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island to investigate reports of brutality and neglect), it appears to have been the thing to do to send a woman reporter to tour the House of Refuge in Hudson. In January 1890, the Hudson Register sent a "lady representative" to the House of Refuge to report on the "noble work" done by the institution.

In August 1890, Mary A. Worswick made a similar visit and reported on it for the New York Press. The reports suggest that the management of the House of Refuge had a routine for members of the press who visited: they toured the facility--the three floors of the prison, the kitchen, the hospital, the cottages, and then were invited to be present when the superintendent "took the record" of a new arrival to "witness the forms gone through with, etc., on the commitment of each girl." 

The authors of both reports--the one in the Hudson Daily Register and the one in the New York Press--seem to have had similar purposes for writing: to expose, for gentle readers, the degradation of the lives that brought women to the House of Refuge and to bring attention to the noble efforts of those who undertook to reform them. Mary A. Worswick's report, subtitled "A Peep at the Character, Previous Lives and Education of the Some of the Inmates--A Deplorable Exhibition of Illiteracy--The Routine of Their Lives and Methods of Instruction--Sad Stories of the Downfall of Overworked and Ill Trained Children," also provides a vivid description of the institution and valuable insights into social consciousness at the turn of the century. The following is an excerpt from Mary A. Worswick's report.

"The Fallen Woman" has ever been a theme that has touched a chord of human sympathy. Society may have barred the door of its heaven upon the outcast, the virtuous pharisee may pass by her with averted eyes and garments drawn aside, but she is still a woman. We owe to her help, charity, humanity. She is in a large sense a victim of cause and circumstance of our social system, and there is no broader philanthropy than that attempted by the State in the establishment of reformation for women.
New York State has a worthy representative of this class of institution in the House of Refuge for Women at Hudson. The institution is beautifully situated on an elevation, just south of the city, commanding a wide horizoned view of the Hudson River and the Catskills. It consists of a main building, four cottages, hospital, prison and outbuildings, and within its wall there are now over two hundred young women convicted of various offenses.
The refuge has been in operation over three years. From all counties of the State, except New York and Kings, women between 15 and 30 years of age, for any misdemeanor, can be committed for a term of five years, unless sooner discharged by the board of managers. Prostitution and drunkenness are the most common crimes among these women. Crime is precocious, and there are children of 15 in the refuge who are old in their experiences of vice. 
It was with the permission of the superintendent, Mrs. Coon, that I went through the institution listening to the stories of the unfortunates, and finding everywhere illustrations of the noble work the refuge is doing in reclaiming young girls from lives of shame. The refuge is conducted on the cottage system. The prison and cottages are carefully graded, strict records are kept of the girls from the time they enter until they are discharged, and a system of promotion provides constant incentive to their improvement. Including the superintendent, there are eighteen women in charge of the various departments and buildings, besides the steward, who is the general business man of the institution, and attends to the overseeing of watchmen and stablemen employed about the place.
Each day has its duty, each hour its task. Here is the daily routine: Rise at 5:30 a.m. in summer, 6 a.m. in winter; breakfast at 6 a.m. in summer, 6:30 a.m. in winter; prayers, 7 a.m.; housework and sewing, 7:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; silent study or recitation, 10:30 a.m. to 12 m.; dinner, 12 m.; school, 9:30 a.m. to 12 m.; 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.; gymnastics twice a week, 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.; instruction in singing once a week, 3 to 4 p.m.; supper, 5 p.m.; silent study or work, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.; the rest of the evening is given to recreation; prayers, 8 p.m. in summer, 7:30 p.m. in winter; bed, 8:30 p.m. in summer, 8 p.m. in winter.
The prison is naturally the gloomiest building of the refuge. The three floors are divided into galleries and from each gallery open the cells. There are three dark cells in the lower part of the building for the solitary confinement of insubordinate females. An addition has recently been built in which a school for the prison girls has been opened.
The commitment of a new inmate is one of the sad sights of the refuge. The girl is brought to Hudson in charge of the deputy, the doors of the refuge prison close upon her, she is alone among strangers and behind iron bars. She may have been the boldest creature of the streets, hardened and shameless, but in this hour of her desolation she is only a wretched woman, abandoned to her misery and her tears, in the little office of the prison under the grave questioning of the superintendent, who takes her record. Then she is directed to stand against the wall where her height is measured on a wooden gauge. She is told that she may receive one visitor and write one letter each month and is given a small printed slip of paper to sign:
"I hereby authorize the superintendent and her assistants to receive, open, read, deliver, destroy, retain or return any letters addressed to me."
Finally she is put in charge of the prison matron to be given a bath, dressed in the plain prison outfit--the coarse cotton undergarments and blouse and skirt of blue denim--and assigned to the second division of the prison, where she will begin the routine of her new life.
Mary A. Worswick's account of her tour of the House of Refuge continues and includes descriptions of several of the women she met there. Gossips' coverage of her tour will continue, too, in a few days.

The photograph of the House of Refuge is from Historic Hudson's Rowles Studio Collection. The first drawing accompanying this post appeared in the Hudson Daily Register on January 16, 1890. The other three illustrations are from Mary A. Worswick's report in the New York Press for August 17, 1890.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Airport Committee Votes

Gossips has received word that the Airport Committee has agreed to recommend to the full Board of Supervisors the Porreca Plan to satisfy the safety zone requirements at the Columbia County airport. Sam Pratt has the story on his blog: "BREAKING: Committee approves Porreca Plan for Airport."

A Rare Photograph from the Past

Yesterday, a reader shared this amazing photograph, taken around 1890, from a vantage point somewhere on Academy Hill. In the foreground are two houses that no longer exist: 886 Columbia Street (left), the home of Augustus and Ellen McKinstry, and 900 Columbia Street (right), which was "disassembled" last year to be "reassembled" on the 200 block of Union Street. In the background is Green Street and some of the houses that were already there in 1890.  


Sunday, March 23, 2014

May You Live in Interesting Places

We all know that the Chinese invocation "May you live in interesting times" is actually a curse, but we have to hope that living in an interesting--indeed unique--place is not similarly ill-fated. Brendan Friedman, a student at Hofstra Law School, was quoted in the Register-Star last week as saying that Hudson is unique in that it is "the only city in New York with a weighted vote system."

Friedman is one of eight law students from Hofstra who will be studying our city government here in Hudson this semester in a seminar entitled Special Problems in Municipal Law. The students, working with their professor, Ashira Ostrow, and Eric Lane, dean of the law school, have identified four areas for investigation: separation of powers; environmental conservation, comparing Hudson with other cities along the river; ethics, comparing Hudson's ethics code with those of other municipalities; and our weighted vote system. Two students will work on each of the four topics, and Friedman, with Peter Barbieri, is taking on the weighted vote.  

Although the weighted vote has always struck many in Hudson as inequitable, the imbalance is greater now than it ever has been in the past. Two factors account for this: the change in New York State law that requires prisoners to be counted in the communities where they lived before they were incarcerated rather than the communities where they are incarcerated, which reduced the population of the Third Ward by 300; and the 2010 decennial census, which saw the population of the Fifth Ward increase while the population of the other wards decreased or remained about the same.

The Fifth Ward accounts for about 36 percent of the population, but as Barbieri is quoted in the Register-Star as saying, when the two aldermen from the largest ward vote together, as they typically do, "there's math that shows they have an influence beyond the 36 percent of the population they represent." 

It is easy to do the math. In a vote that requires a simple majority, the vote of each of the Fifth Ward aldermen--Robert "Doc" Donahue and Bart Delaney--is 364. A simple majority requires 1,015 votes. Donahue's and Delaney's votes together total 728 and represent 72 percent of the votes needed for a resolution or law to pass. It takes the Common Council president (190 votes), both the First Ward aldermen (95 each), and both Third Ward aldermen (180 each) voting together to achieve a number of comparable weight (740).

The unfortunate reality is that the aldermen elected from the Fifth Ward and very likely the people of the Fifth Ward, too, think things are just fine the way they are. In last year's discussions of the weighted vote, Cappy Pierro, then Fifth Ward alderman, was a staunch defender of the status quo, even though by that time he had allegedly already moved to Taghkanic. A statement from former mayor and now Fifth Ward supervisor Rick Scalera, quoted in the Register-Star, not surprisingly, echoes Pierro's defense of the status quo. "I don't see people complaining about it," Scalera is quoted as saying. "What's wrong with being unique? It would be a different story if the popular vote didn't reflect the weighted vote." 

One wonders who qualifies as "people" with Scalera, because the weighted vote has been talked about a lot in recent years. Granted, a decade or so ago, a referendum to eliminate the weighted vote system by redrawing the ward boundaries so that every ward had the same number of residents failed, but it is not difficult to understand why. The original four wards (the Fifth Ward wasn't created until 1886) have existed from Hudson's earliest days. Each ward has its own character, and people have a strong identification with their wards.

What is being talked about now is creating a sixth ward by dividing the Fifth Ward, which is already divided into two election districts, into two wards. Concurrent with that change would be having just one alderman represent each ward instead of two, reducing the Common Council from ten aldermen to six. 

Of course, this plan, which seems so simple and obvious runs into problems when it translates to the county level. Would six wards mean six supervisors? It's been suggested that Hudson should have only one supervisor. Since the county Board of Supervisors also operates on a weighted vote system, if there were only one supervisor representing Hudson that person would have an influence achievable now only if all five Hudson supervisors vote together. The argument against it, voiced recently by Supervisor Bill Hughes (Fourth Ward), is that each ward in Hudson is different, has its own concerns, and deserves its own representation. Supervisor Sarah Sterling (First Ward) has made the point that the work of the Board of Supervisors takes place primarily in committees, and, with five supervisors, Hudson is presented  on more committees than it could be if the city had only one supervisor.

The law students from Hofstra will spend a semester studying Hudson's weighted vote system and the other three topics they have chosen to investigate and will return in May with a report, which presumably will have some recommendations.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Bridge for Passing

The Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy, a.k.a. The Bridge, opened at 364 Warren Street on February 3. On Thursday, March 20, Tom DePietro interviewed Bruce Potter, superintendent of the Berkshire Union Free School District, a key player in The Bridge, on his WGXC radio show We the People. The interview is now archived and can be heard here.

Listening to the interview requires a fairly high comprehension of acronyms and eduspeak, but here are some salient facts of general interest. There are now 45 to 46 students being taught at this facility, from the Hudson City School District and the Catskill Central School District. Of those, 31 are enrolled in the Alternative Transition Program, meant to help at risk students graduate; the rest are special education students who previously would have been transported by bus to Canaan to attend classes. According to Potter, not having to transport students to Canaan saves from $40,000 to $60,000 a year.

The Bridge will operate at 364 Warren Street through the end of the next school year, in other words, until June 2015. June 2015 is also when Tom Gavin, building principal for The Bridge, will retire. In the meantime, the creators of The Bridge--Potter, HCSD superintendent Maria Suttmeier, and CCSD superintendent Kathleen Farrell--are "working with the Galvan Foundation to determine an appropriate location." According to Potter, the current building "maxes out" at 60 students, so they are looking for a new location that would have space for "a community room and a couple more classrooms" and some outdoor space. The building will be one that Galvan owns. 

Potter indicated that "Berkshire has relationships with Northern Dutchess schools," and it seems that students from these school districts--whether special education or ATP students or both wasn't clear--might be included in the program "if the location is appropriate."

When asked if, six weeks in, he was happy with the program's effectiveness, Potter said, "Happy is an understatement." The students' progress reports are outstanding, and attendance has been excellent.

On Thursday, April 3, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., there is to be a "Meet the Bridge" event for the public. Students in the program will be giving tours and making presentations, and there will be refreshments, catered by The Cascades. Those interested in attending must make their intentions known by contacting Melissa Daley at Berkshire Farm.