Monday, March 9, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Promenade Hill!

On this day, March 9, 220 years ago, the Proprietors granted Parade Hill to the Common Council "for a public walk or mall." 

Observe the momentous occasion by paying a visit to Promenade Hill today and be grateful that this public space from which to view significant scenic vistas on the Hudson has been preserved--sometimes, it seems, against all odds--for more than two centuries.

Thanks to Timothy O'Connor for reminding us of this anniversary

1 comment:

  1. A generation before the earliest Hudson River School painters, American art was mostly about portraiture.

    George Washington, who was not yet President when the proprietors founded the City of Hudson, was unusual in his taste for landscape paintings.

    In 1793, while still in Philadelphia, Washington bought two paintings of Hudson River scenes by William Winstanley:

    Later, after returning to Mount Vernon, Washington gave these paintings pride of place in a large dining room he called "the new room," while many other paintings and treasures remained in storage.

    Washington's story is illustrative.

    At nearly the same moment that the proprietors specified that the Promenade be "granted ... for the purpose of a Public Walk or Mall and for no other purpose whatever," American landscape painting was coming into being. It was also at this time that a growing interest in walking and walking malls was springing up everywhere.

    Even more intriguing is that the Promenade serves as something of an epistemological monument. Space-perception in the 18th c. was to be transformed by the next century's perceptual innovations, when the Cartesian CONCEPT of space as a 'res extensa' became the conventional EXPERIENCE in the empirically-minded English-speaking world.

    It was fitting then that in European art, the proto-Romantic rejection of this literal embodiment of scientism first appeared in France. The subversion of classicism, that profound belief in order and reason, was born out of the studio of the great Neoclassicist painter Jacques-Louis David. A painting such as 'The Death of Marat' (1793) foreshadowed every later rejection in every expression of Romanticism of a palpably lost innocence.

    Human perception itself was undergoing a transformation, and these new sensibilities - indeed, the invention of the Age of Sensibility (e.g., Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Reveries of a Solitary Walker") - would be further informed and enriched by the unprecedented American experience of space. Much about this American contribution was formed in the Hudson River Valley, which George Washington would have appreciated better than anyone can today.

    For these reasons, the Promenade is a totally unique historical artifact of human perception, which further argues that we ought to take the proprietors at their word (even though residents who preceded us didn't always).

    It's also how I explain the proprietors' decision to grant this Public Walk to the Common Council - which is to say the People - and not to "the city," as they might have.

    The Promenade may be the very first, truly "People's park" in the New World, 220 years old today.