Monday, September 17, 2018

Properties Identified with Historic Personages

In Hudson's preservation ordinance, Chapter 169 of the city code, one of the criteria for a building to be designated as an individual landmark or as part of a historic district is being identified with a historic personage. Sadly, despite the fact that there is historian member of the Historic Preservation Commission, the association of buildings with historic personages is rarely considered when the HPC deliberates on applications for certificates of appropriateness. That may be because all buildings within a historic district have equal standing in the eyes of the HPC, or possibly because the HPC is often unaware of a building's history of ownership. A case in point is 356 Union Street.

When the building was acquired by Galvan Partners LLC in July 2004, it had been carved up into a rabbit warren of apartments. (Since then, ownership of the building has been transferred to Galvan Initiatives Foundation in December 2012 and then to Galvan Civic Housing LLC in March of this year.) According to the tax rolls, the house has been classified as an apartment building since 1999 and probably for many years before that. It's now being rehabbed by Galvan as an apartment building, and although the plans for the exterior renovations were never granted a certificate of appropriateness by the HPC, the slate on the mansard roof has been replaced--without replicating the rosette pattern of the original.

One wonders if the house would have gotten more careful consideration if it were generally known that this was originally the home of Dr. H. Lyle Smith, certainly one of Hudson's more celebrated historic personages.

Dr. H. Lyle Smith, who was born in New York City in 1843, settled in Hudson and began his medical practice here in 1867. For much of his career, he was the Health Officer for the City of Hudson. Smith's name often appeared in the newspaper, in connection with remarkable medical feats and gruesome accidents. For example, in 1868, when an ovarian tumor was removed from a woman, so large that it merited mention in the Hudson Evening Register, it was Smith who did the surgery and made the extracted growth available for viewing at his office. When the widow Killcollins tumbled down the cliff at Promenade Hill, Smith was summoned and attended to her fractured skull. Great detail of the procedure, during which "notwithstanding the severity of her injuries the poor woman retained her consciousness," was reported in the Register, as well as the doctor's opinion that there was little hope for her recovery. In 1873, Smith performed what the newspaper called "a curious and interesting surgical operation . . . known as 'Skin Grafting,'" taking skin from a father to cover the stump of his child's amputated leg, because "the skin which was hoped would grow and cover the end of the stump, mortified, leaving the bone and muscles bare and uncovered." In 1875, when an employee at Wardle's drugstore foolishly sampled belladonna, Smith was summoned. In 1890, when the body of a still-born baby was found in a starch box in the cemetery, Smith was the first to be called by the cemetery worker who made the discovery. When a young woman was run down in the street by a "scorcher" in 1898, Smith tended her wounds and assured her family "he did not anticipate any lasting injurious results from the accident."

What was Smith's most celebrated contribution to Hudson, however, had little to do with his medical practice. In 1896, Smith and his wife spent the summer touring Europe. In the fall of that year, his memoir of the journey, called Mary and I Go to Europe and written under the pseudonym "A. Piller, Doctor," was published by the Hendrick Hudson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Smith donated all proceeds from the sale of the book to Hudson's chapter of the DAR. In its review of the book, the Register had this to say:
The chronicle of the little journey in the world is told in happy ingenuous fashion, bits of anecdote and humorous incidents lightening the Baedeker details that must belong to every well-regulated trip to Europe, and all in all there are few literary folk who go forth "the sights for to see" who have observed as picturesquely and written as entertainingly as the doctor on his travels.
Mary and I Go to Europe was a great success. Not only did it raise money for the local chapter of the DAR but it also attracted the attention of Frances Chester White Hartley, the granddaughter of Robert Jenkins and great-granddaughter of Seth Jenkins. Frances Hartley had been born at 113 Warren Street, the house built by her grandfather in 1811. After reading Mary and I Go to Europe, she visited the city of her birth, the city founded by her great grandfather and his brother, and was persuaded by Smith to give her ancestral home to the Hendrick Hudson Chapter of the DAR, to be used as a museum and library. When the house was formally dedicated as the DAR Chapter House, the Hudson Republican reported:
To Dr. Smith much praise must be accorded for the doing of a grand work in the securing of this gift. It was his book of travel, the proceeds of which were given to the Hendrick Hudson Chapter, that drew Mrs. Hartley's attention to the Chapter's work and it was Dr. Smith's earnest plea which convinced her of the real need of this city. To no Hudsonian should more praise by given than to H. Lyle Smith, M.D.
There's a memorial to Smith in the DAR Chapter House, consisting of "a fine picture of Dr. H. Lyle Smith, the gift of Mrs. Smith" which hangs over "a handsome antique mahogany cabinet . . . a repository for the relics which he so highly prized." The memorial is "a testimony of the love and esteem which the Chapter had always felt for this dear friend, who had the Chapter interests so deeply at heart." It may also still be possible to buy a copy of Mary and I Go to Europe there.

Smith died in 1904 at the age of sixty-one and is buried in the Hudson City Cemetery.


No comments:

Post a Comment