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