Thursday, January 5, 2017

C. C. Alger, the Iron Works, and Boom and Bust

Gossips has written about Charles Coffey Alger on a few occasions in the past. Alger, the subject of an excellent lecture by Walter Ritchie last month, was the original owner of Gothic Revival house at 59 Allen Street, the designer and the one of the founders of the Hudson Iron Works, and an significant patron of Sanford Robinson Gifford. Recently, in a box of research files temporarily in my possession, I discovered these Alger-related items.   

The first is an image of the entire engraving that appeared on an 1858 map of Columbia County. The detail of the engraving that shows the house has been published on Gossips several times, but the engraving is equally interesting for the other structures shown in it. Although most of the buildings on Allen Street east of Second Street were not constructed until the late 1860s, Allen Street going west and Cross Street seem to be quite built up in 1858, and, of course, there are those buildings that appear to be on Front Street.

Another item found in the files is this picture of C. C. Alger himself. 

Perhaps the most interesting discovery is a photocopy of a letter to the editor that was published in the New-York Daily Times on May 28, 1853. Bearing the headline "The Old City of Hudson," the letter is early evidence of Hudson's boom and bust history. The entire letter can be read here, but we'll quote a bit of it. The point of the letter, written by someone who identified himself only as "A.," is to extol the regenerative impact on the city of the Hudson Iron Works. Here's how the letter begins:
Do you know anything about this City of Hudson? I presume not. Few persons do, and yet the time was when it was a place of no mean importance. It was settled in 1783-4, by an enterprising Company, chiefly from Nantucket. Energy and capital soon gave it a respectable rank among the commercial ports of our young country, and it was once the boast of its citizens that the tonnage owned in the city was greater than that owned in New-York, as most of the vessels sailing from that port were the property of Eastern merchants. Not only as a place of enterprising business was the City formerly one of note, but also as the headquarters of men of high standing at the bar. But as in the case of other places in this part of the land, revolutions in the mode of transportation gradually removed the centres of business, and during thirty years the business of the place declined, and for five or ten years back it has been called upon to live upon the capital of its former reputation, without which it would have been but a fourth-rate village, scarcely known or noticed. But now again its citizens are looking forward to better days.
Oddly, this letter, which makes reference to "revolutions in the mode of transportation," was written two years after the completion of the Hudson River Railroad, connecting Hudson with New York and Albany. According to the letter, what ensured Hudson's future was the vision of "its most enterprising men," who "purchased a valuable ore bed of red hemotite at West Stockbridge, and erected on made ground south of the City two large stacks with the corresponding buildings," to manufacture pig iron.

After celebrating the potential of the iron works to revitalize Hudson and expressing the hope that "the success of this attempt may lead to the establishment of other works for puddling and rolling iron, and eventually to the creation of a large and remunerating manufacturing interest," the letter concludes:
I ought not to neglect noticing the improvement in the outward aspect of the place. Of late years the streets that formerly were insufferably hot in Summer, have been adorned with shade trees of various kinds, and a part of Allen-street, on the south side of the city, will compare favorably with the famous streets of some of our noted villages for the beauty and taste of the dwellings and gardens, and the refreshing shade that already begins to render tolerable a stroll even on a Summer's day. Those who wish to keep up with the world will do well to take a look at this city before it becomes a disgrace not to know it.
And so it goes. We are back in the place where it is a disgrace not to know this city.

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