Sunday, March 21, 2021

An Idea Whose Time Has Come . . . Again

Over the years, Gossips has told the history of the Public Square, now commonly known as Seventh Street Park, in parts, as information was discovered. Now, given the new initiative to make improvements to the park being spearheaded by Dorothy Heyl, Walter Chatham, and Dale Schafer, it makes sense to put it together in one post. 

Anna Bradbury recounts the story of the park's beginnings in her 1908 book History of the City of Hudson, New York, quoting from the minutes of the Common Council. It should be noted that the City of Hudson was incorporated on April 22, 1785.  
1785, July 25th. It was voted "that one house lot on Main street should be given to Ezekiel Gilbert, as a free donation, for his essential services done the proprietors, in bringing about the incorporation of the city."
Whether Mr. Gilbert built on this lot is uncertain, but in the year 1800, he occupied a pleasant country residence standing on or near the site of the St. Charles Hotel, and gave to the city a portion of the ground for the upper Public Square, with the intention of having it laid out as a park.
Bradbury tells us that, despite Gilbert's intention, "for some inscrutable reason it was denuded of its fine old forest trees, and paved with cobblestones." This picture gives an idea of what the area looked like in the first half of the 19th century.

Bradbury is also the source for understanding how, seventy-eight years after Gilbert gave the parcel to the City, the square wae transformed into a park.
[The Public Square] as we have seen was intended for a public park by the donor, but for some inscrutable reason it was denuded of its fine old forest trees, and paved with cobblestones. To complete the devastation, the Hudson and Berkshire Railroad was allowed to cross it, and thus it remained until 1878, when the matter was taken up by a resident on the upper side of the Square. Subscriptions were solicited and a sufficient sum was raised, together with the gift of the coping and trees from individuals, to transform the treeless desert into a refreshing little oasis. The Boston and Albany Railroad Company atoned in a measure for its presence, by generously furnishing sufficient gravel to fill in the whole surface of the Park.
Five years later, in 1883, the park got an important enhancement: a glorious fountain at its center. 

An article that appeared in the Hudson Evening Register on September 11, 1883, describes the fountain in detail.

An ornament to the City and a monument to 
Public Spirited Citizens. A Description of the Work of Art, 
and who were Instrumental in Preparing it. 
Now that the beautiful fountain in Public Park is nearly completed and our citizens have enjoyed the sight of "Venus Rising from the Sea," exhibiting in the most effective manner the power of our water supply, and proving that it can be put to ornamental as well as useful purposes, it is proper to speak in detail of this work of art, and award credit to those who were chiefly instrumental in procuring it.
The total height of the fountain, including the foundation, is eighteen feet. The pan is a gurgoyle octagan, eight feet five inches above the base: diameter of pan, eight feet, eleven inches. The ground basin is twenty five feet in diameter. The foundation is of Coral Marble, handsomely cut, from the quarries of Supervisor Fred. W. Jones, and was donated by the energetic and public spirited gentleman.
The foundation is capped by a fine slab of Vermont marble, which was generously donated by Patrick Hoctor, of the Hudson Granite and Marble Works. From this rises the base surrounded by the figures, all in graceful proportion and artistic design. But to be fully appreciated, it must be seen when the water in full force is playing through its numerous jets and rising and falling in fantastic forms.
Mr. D. Martin Haviland is entitled to much credit for his persevering efforts in securing to the city not only this beautiful foundation, but the handsome park in which it is located. One of the most unsightly spots in the city has within a few years been converted into one of the most attractive. In this enterprise Mr. Haviland's efforts have been generously seconded by the Boston & Albany Railroad Company, and the action of our Common Council, by the contributions of citizens, and by the local press.
At the outset we said the fountain was nearly completed. It only lacks the finishing touches of the artist's brush. This, we understand, Mr. Silas W. Tobey, the the veteran artist, has volunteered to do, and this assurance is sufficient guarantee that the work will be well done and in keeping with the fountain and its surroundings.
In 1883, with the fountain in place, the park was complete. All that was needed was for the trees to grow a bit to produce some shade.

A century later, however, in the heyday of urban renewal, it was determined that the park needed some updating, and the focus of those efforts was the fountain. Instead of a fountain surmounted by a statue of Venus Rising from the Sea, there was to be "Inspiration Fountain"--jets of water illumined by colored lights. In 1975, the old fountain was dug up. Its coral marble and the Vermont marble base was carted off to a junk yard on Columbia Street, where, according to local legend, it was smashed to smithereens. 

Venus, as a freestanding statue, was relegated to the northwest corner of the park, where in July 1978 she was bashed to pieces by vandals. (The statue is made of zinc.)

The statue was repaired and returned to her spot at the corner of Seventh and Columbia in November 1978.

Eleven months later, the statue was struck by a car driven by an intoxicated man and broken again.

Again it was repaired, but the repairs involved "filling all internal cavities with cement, plaster and epoxy and welding in heavy reinforcing." The statue was returned to the park and remained there until 1998. It now resides in a back corner of a DPW garage on North Second Street.

Improving Seventh Street Park has been the subject of discussion for quite a while now. In February 2012, a group met in the back room of Wunderbar to talk about improvements to area of Hudson above Sixth Street, which people were then beginning to call "Hudson's East End." The focus of the conversation was Seventh Street Park. Two years later, on a Friday night in June, many of the same folks gathered in the conference room at 1 North Front Street to hear Cathryn Dwyre present her concept for a reimagined public square

Dwyre began by dismissing the 1878 design of the park as a "Roman concept," already out of fashion when it was inappropriately imposed on the square--inappropriately because it pretended that the railroad tracks did not slice through the space. Dwyre's inspiration for what she was proposing came from Teardrop Park in lower Manhattan, Sou Fujimoto's Serpentine Pavilion in London, the Overhoff-Halprin fountain in Seattle, and the High Line, which she mentioned often in her presentation.  

Dwyre had created her design pro bono at the invitation of Sheena Salvino, then executive director of HDC and HCDPA. The design was created to accompany a grant application for park improvements. The City didn't get the grant, and the plan for reimagining the park, which was not particularly well received, was never pursued.

Now, in 2021, Heyl, Chatham, and Schafer are seeking a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the City to make improvements that would be financed by grants and private fundraising efforts. Last Tuesday, in a presentation to the Common Council, they outlined things that could be done to improve the park in the short term and in the long term.
Possible Short-Term Steps

  • Removal of the fences from around the fountain.
  • Removal of extraneous elements--the kiosk, the bollards.
  • Appropriate pruning of trees and bushes.
  • Consideration of attractive and inviting seating.

Possible Long-Term Steps

  • Consideration of the fountain.
  • Replacement of paving.
  • Landscaping, including trees and brushes.
  • Attractive lighting. 

They made the case for restoring the park, but for Hudsonians who have been talking about this for years, the issue is a no-brainer.

Let's hope that public spirited citizens in the 21st century can bring about the restoration of this important public space just as public spirited citizens in the 19th century succeeded in creating it. 


  1. We had the chance 5 or 6 years ago to replace the cracked and well-weathered pavement of the paths with something to be proud of. But Rob Perry, without consulting with anyone (as I recall), went ahead and covered all the paths with asphalt, the same stuff used to fill potholes on our streets. Let's just say it wasn't a job done by craftsmen.

  2. For a broke funky town the number of LIP STICK projects is endless ... seems Venus never had a chance ... lets bring her back for starters ... nice article.

  3. The park should be restored as it was designed to look. It was at its most beautiful when those post cards were made. That is what it should be.

  4. Another note of hope:

    Hudson Evening Register – Saturday, May 3, 1870

    Work On The Park.
    Park Commissioner D. M. Haviland has commenced work on the Park, and that barren waste formerly known as Public Square, begins to look like an inviting resort, rather than the Desert of Sahara. The center—that spot so long a dangerous pit, even more so than the one into which Joseph was cast in by his brethren – has been transformed into a fountain, which, when completed, will largely add to the beauty of the upper part of our neglected city. The “memorial trees” are doing well, and everything that has been done is highly creditable to all who have contributed, or given their services to further the work. There is still a large amount of labor to be done to complete it, and we hope the good work commenced will not be neglected, and that those instrumental in this adorning a blighted spot in tho heart of our city, may live to rest under the shade of trees they have planted, and that the breezes that blow across the waving grass will fan their brows in their declining days. Let the good work commenced be continued and redound to their name. •

    Hudson Evening Register – Friday, May 7, 1880
    Our Public Parks.
    The up town park looks very fine, with its coat of green. Yesterday Park Commissioner D. M. Haviland placed a spiral jet sprinkler on the fountain pipe. It attracted much attention, although it is not what is needed there. Let us have a good fountain, in full bloom.

  5. Since all this administration is capable of doing is bulldozing The Promenade before even taking bids - then considering Colarusso to save the day - please leave the park alone till the next administration .