Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Historic Fish Village: Why Does It Matter?

This morning's post about Promenade Hill and the construction bids that came in way over budget unexpectedly inspired a contentious debate in the comments about another DRI project: the historic fishing village, a.k.a. the Furgary Boat Club. For those who don't see the value in the site, this event, happening next Thursday, may be of interest.

 Virtual Talk on the History of Shantytown

The Hudson Area Library History Room on Zoom presents "The History of Shantytown (a.k.a. The Furgary) in Hudson," Thursday, March 25, 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Gary Sheffer, member of the library Board of Trustees and chair of the History Room Committee, interviews Leo Bower, lifelong local and a resident historian with a special expertise in Hudson's Shantytown. A question-and-answer period follows the program, which is our first live History Room on Zoom. Visit hudsonarealibrary.org for Zoom registration link or contact Brenda Shufelt at (518) 828-1792, ext. 106 or brenda.shufelt@hudsonarealibrary.org.
Most locals are familiar with the fishing shacks at the end of Dock Street in the North Bay area of Hudson just past the Kite's Nest River City Garden but many do not know the history of these shacks and how far back they go. They are part of a 14.4 acre parcel that was purchased originally in the 1600s by a German immigrant from Indigenous people. There have been businesses on the land including gristmills, slaughterhouses and tanneries. The first Shantytown shacks were constructed in the 1880s and through the middle of the next century they functioned as sites for shad, sturgeon, and herring fishing. Active use of Shantytown continued into the 21st century until the city decreed that the shacks could no longer be used. A project to demolish most of the shacks and restore a few is part of the city's 2017 NYS Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.
Shantytown was known specifically for shad fishing enterprises, which were important in sustaining local families through the Great Depression and World War II. Furthermore, Shantytown now represents one of the few shad fishing sites, an important cultural and economic phenomenon along the Hudson River, still existing. Consequently, Shantytown has been deemed a site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Daria Merwin, co-director of the Cultural Resource Survey Program at the New York State Museum in Albany, and Linda Mackey, a historic preservation specialist, have written that Shantytown has "the tangible remains of a traditional way of life that is rapidly disappearing," which "represent[s] a time when sturgeon and shad were abundant in the Hudson River and people made their livelihoods fishing the river and selling their catch on the shore."
This library's program will concentrate on the height of the Shantytown's shad fishing culture in the mid-20th century and the families and lifestyle during this time. Progress and obstacles to the preservation of Shantytown will also be discussed.
The preceding was quoted from the press release about the event distributed by the Hudson Area Library. 

Gossips Disclosure: My first visit to the shacks was in 1995, on a walking tour of the waterfront led by John Cody, who then chaired the Waterfront Committee of the Vision Plan Task Force. At that time, the site was known as the Furgary Boat Club, and approaching the cluster of shacks, I felt as if I had wandered onto the set of a Northeastern remake of Deliverance. Since then, after learning about the site's long, rich history, I have become an advocate for the shacks, and in 2015, as an interested third party, I submitted an official request to the State Historic Preservation Office for an eligibility evaluation of the site. That request resulted in a determination that the site met the eligibility requirements for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

28 comments:

  1. Good job Gossips, thanks.

    Very few know the actual plan for the site, though that never deters those who’ll opine in any event.

    The actual plan is to remove every shack but one on the side facing Kite’s Nest. The single shack left standing is the one on the left in the photo with the doors open. The significance of that shack, No. 13, for the historic fishery is really at the other end though, on the upriver side. There the doors used to open to let the harbor into the shack. We’ve got a photo of the Super brothers standing in their boat unloading Shad nets while inside the building.

    The other shacks to be saved are on the northeast axis, tucked away on the right as you come down the North Front Street hill. What you’ll see instead from Front Street and Kite’s Nest is a sweeping vista upriver with no sign of human development beyond the railroad.

    That was always a feature of our plan. We even Photoshopped what that will look like in our DRI application.

    But we can’t open the view without removing the shacks, and we can’t remove any shacks without remediating the ones that need it. That’s why our DRI application always included the cost of remediation which was among the reasons we won the award.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Carole. This was a breath of fresh air after reading a lot of the negative comments on the other thread last night. I'll never be able to relate to those who imagine a blank grassy space being more interesting than even a very-limited preservation effort at the corner of Dock & Front. Yes, the site overall is ugly and rough-looking and has been, increasingly so, since past Hudson officials asserted power there almost 9 years ago. But I encourage people to squint their eyes a little, imagine 10 or so of the roughest ones taken down, 4-6 of the more interesting ones left, stabilized, eventually preserved, and (most importantly) the activity that could prosper there again someday as a result. Creativity is required—similar to the creativity required to look at a garbage-strewn house with sagging soffits and broken windows and not reactively say, "That house needs to be torn down." Most people's judgments are wrong when looking at houses like that, because it can be so hard to see past what we see currently. And in this case, we're talking about a true last-of-its-kind piece of Hudson River saltiness. —Billy Shannon

    ReplyDelete
  3. I hope Leo brings his photo album - he has some wonderful pictures of old Hudson. At one time there were 66 bars on Warren!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I could believe in saving some shacks if the idea were practical. But it's not. At least 5 months ago I emailed pictures to DPW and the mayor of a broken window on the shack closest to the kayak/canoe launch (#13!) with jagged glass still in the pane. All that sharp glass is still there. Two weeks ago I noticed that two of the shacks had recently been vandalized and access to the interiors was possible. DPW is expected to fix these things. How is anyone going to stop this nonsense? Knock all the shacks down, erect a nice plaque or sign (paid for by the furgary lovers) and create a park with a view of the bay FOR EVERYONE. Vandalism and money waste problem solved. That spot has so much potential - without the shacks. B Huston

    ReplyDelete
  5. That's a great picture with the child at Furgary. Include it on the sign commemorating the shacks that gets erected after they all get bulldozed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let me simplify for the esteemed critic: without the DRI money the city could not afford to remove a single shack.

      I have no idea who you are, but your fixation and tone are that of a 15-year-old troll with a grudge.

      Your complaints which read like an uninformed screed are all answerable, but not until you're ready to engage in adult discourse.

      Delete
  6. Thank you, Bill Huston, for putting the city on notice of the dangerous conditions. When someone gets injured on the broken glass and rusty metal, the city will liable, and the bill for the judgment will be paid by the taxpayers.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Here’s a hypothetical question for the lawyers out there: If a child is injured at the shacks, would the municipality be liable under the attractive nuisance doctrine?

    ReplyDelete
  8. This issue does seem to bring out a toxic element from both sides which is unfortunate.

    I can see the value of historic preservation in this case. I do wonder if allowing the structures to become derelict has been a way to eventually force their removal through quiet neglect without the conflict and controversy of making a public decision to remove them explicitly. If so, that's cowardly governance.

    At the same time the town has hard choices to make about its budget, given the news about the park renovation bids. I could see the wisdom in arguing for the prioritization of Promenade Hill Park renovation over restoring these buildings in a context where there is not enough budget available to do everything the city would like to accomplish. Managing budgets are sadly often about making hard choices and it is rare that one can pursue every worthy project. It seems like the Promenade Hill renovation may be in danger from a budget perspective. It's not clear to me how the approved DRI project budgets work and if they can be shifted around. I do find it odd that I've not heard anyone mention an RFP going out on the Furgary portion of the DRI. Is this part of the same pattern of neglect until the buildings are too far gone to save? Why not get started on all of it? Why not find out if anyone is still willing to do the work for the money available to avoid a budget surprise like the one with the park?

    Should we restore what we can: certainly. How to pay for it, what level of restoration is possible within the DRI budget (and how long term maintenance will be funded) and whether or not those costs are a worthy investment versus other needs of the community seems like the right level to have the discussion at if we were to do so in good faith vs. the sort of comments one wouldn't make to each other's faces if we were all in person drinking a cup a coffee together that I've seen on this blog while discussing this project from all sides.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1.

      Good points Woodhull. I appreciate it.

      I’m the first to confess that any toxic comments from the pro-shack perspective are all mine, 100%.

      The issue is a complex one, and easy to manipulate with cheap simplifications. After years of thankless efforts I make no excuses for my contempt for these negative blowhards. I guess it’s some kind of fun being an unproductive menace, but then they'll move right on to the next complaint. How can an honest person respond to that? Even the few who’ll comment here in support of the shacks don’t know how to handle these trolls.

      I fear we’ll soon be told that our project can’t go forward for want of funds and public interest. I have to admit that, at least so far, most of the public “interest” in these threads issues from the destructive school of thought (and thanks a ton everyone else!).

      But what will happen when the funds we’d secured FOR THE VERY PURPOSE OF TEARING DOWN MOST OF THE SHACKS (still too subtle?) is now redirected to the Promenade? That’s right, the city will still be stuck with all of the shacks! And that’s the moment when this same handful of unserious, useless blowhards who never shut up about bulldozing every shack will just move on to some next new complaint.

      Delete
    2. 2.

      Anyway, to answer your specific questions, all of the money needed to restore the handful of shacks which NYS SHPO agreed are worthy of saving was never really in the budget in the first place. That’s why “restoration” to us always meant some kind of an attractive mothballing, and that's right in our DRI application. I still think it was a great approach to the problem; anyway, we won the money – at least we supposed we did.

      This project was always going to be a labor of love, and that was something the earlier DRI Committees rewarded, especially the first Committee with enthusiastic staffers from NYSDOS. It was the small-town spirit for them after they'd only worked with large cities.

      Unfortunately, the current DRI Committee was never able to reconcile with that notion or spirit. Any degree of funkiness, even of the barn-raising variety, is just not who these people are or what they're about (although I’m quick to add that Michael has been consistently helpful and we will continue to depend on his willingness and knowledge going forward).

      But the less people hear about the shacks project the less they’re apt to get involved. So it was equally unfortunate that the DRI Committee, having learned nothing from the city's failed LWRP and BOA programs, risked the DRI program too by similarly cutting off public participation (always keeping in mind attorney Cheryl Roberts’ role in these past debacles).

      To make the most of the few funds which wil remain after the required remediation and demolition, what we need more than anything now is a committment from the Committee to heed the site's actual remediation needs. The abatement will eat up a lot of the funds, but as long as the Committee rules with sweeping generalizations, accepting uncritically that a badly outdated contaminants study is good enough for their single-bid process, then we should all expect maximum mismanagement and wastefulness.

      In fact the Committee has already inquired “if anyone is still willing to do the work for the money available,” to quote you from above Woodhull. They did exactly that by using only the outdated contaminants study to seek out a single company who’ll take every cent of the award to remediate and remove every shack.

      What we need is a bidding process, and a company interested enough to visit the site and make its own updated assessment using the 2015 study as a guide.

      This was never a serious Committee because residents never expected it to be. That would require too much public scrutiny.

      Now that everyone’s suddenly paying attention, though, thanks to the debacle at the Promenade, you're all seeing what the process has been like from the perspective of our own project.

      We’ve been saying all along that there are serious problems here, but the real problem was that nobody ever cared before.

      Welcome to the party.

      Delete
  9. Today will be a beautiful spring day, so I will be riding my bike to the shacks to enjoy the view of the North Bay. I encourage others to visit the site this weekend as well. But, be careful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why not puck up some trash while you're there?

      Please help us, rather than just assume it's someone else's job.

      Most angering for me was the assumption made by another commenter that any labor and new materials seen down there are not OUR OWN labor and OUR OWN materials bought with OUR OWN money!

      And that from a writer who'd never think of picking up trash, though he'd bend in an instant for a $20.

      Why not join us to protect local history, General Worth, rather than reinforce the ignorant opinions of riff-raff and blow-ins.

      And yes, while visiting the site please do be careful!

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll bring a trash bag in my panniers.

      Delete
  10. I recommend people google "fishtown, Michigan and see the sights potential

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, indeed, I love it!
      As a kid I lived in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. The old waterfront then reminds me of these places. Was always a special treat to mingle among the traditional fishing boats and wharves. I seem to recall small wooden bungalows alongside in spots. A unforgettable way to connect with the waterfront whether it's the Atlantic Ocean or the Hudson River. I don't know how these organizations get started but when I moved up here there was (still is) Friends of Olana, Clermont and so on. They have been extraordinarily successful in their missions. Raising funds and awareness of the historical sites is the main objective. I hope it's not too late for the Shacks!

      Delete
  11. I just signed up for the History Room Zoom. To supplement it, why doesn't Historic Hudson host an open house for the public of the grounds of Furgary, just like the open house it held to educate the public about the creation of Bronson Park?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I drove my car to Furgary today to pick up trash, but there is only so much one person can do. There is a big bag of trash in the trunk that I’ll be taking to the dump on Monday morning.
    There is broken glass on the ground throughout the site, as well as boards with nails and jagged pieces of metal. In other words, the site is in a dangerous condition. The city should erect a fence and “no trespassing” signs before someone gets seriously injured.
    As I mentioned before, the municipality has a legal duty to maintain property it owns in reasonably safe condition. It has clearly breached its duty. If someone crashes through a rotted porch of one of the shacks, falls into the water, and drowns, the city could be hit with a seven figure jury verdict. And you, dear reader, will foot the bill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed.

      As responsible promoters of the shacks, and also the DRI applicants who won the award, my two colleagues argued from the get-go that removing the fence that was erected in 2012 was a huge mistake.

      To answer an earlier question you asked (and I'm sure you knew the answer when you asked it), the whole site seems the very definition of an attractive nuissance.

      Speaking now on our own behalves, we're not ignorant of the insurance requirements for our project. In fact, we're being advise by a Manhattan-based insurance executive. The project is not that far along though, which gives people the false impression that we're unprepared and haven't thought of any of this. In fact, that's all we've been able to do for years!

      But back to your immediate suggestion, we couldn't agree more that the site is hazardous and should have been re-fenced a long time ago.

      It's not even implausible that there are those who'd like to see somebody get hurt and the city sued. I believe that's what's really going on.

      Delete
    2. p.s. Thanks for neatening the site. We've done it for years and are, by now, pretty burnt out.

      Delete
  13. Let’s back up for a minute and take a look at the big picture for the waterfront.
    When I participated in Riverkeeper Sweep two years ago, Nick Zachos took us on an informal guided tour of the spit of land near Henry Hudson Park where he hoped to create an environmental education center.
    Frankly, I think Furgary would be a more desirable location for such an entity. Thinking outside the box, why not move the container that was supposed to serve as the environmental education center to Furgary as a temporary home? Then, restore a couple of shacks, which could serve as the permanent home of Hudson’s environmental education center.
    I expect to be crucified for airing this suggestion. C’est la vie. Fire away!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1.

      General Worth, you must be new to Hudson, or perhaps new to the world itself.

      You are certainly new to the hard work of policy-building in a Home Rule state.

      For the DRI program, the NYS DOS sponsored a series of workshops with city residents in which large numbers of participants did exactly what you’re now suggesting we do again: take a look at the big picture for the waterfront.

      Would it surprise anyone to learn that I’ve had emails since Friday from more than one person new to this project with big ideas for the shacks. Predictably, there was little understanding of the actual issues involved. (Come to think of it, there’s not a single City official who comprehends what this project involves, certainly not vis-a-vis the City Code. It’s stupefying, but I hasten to add that it was no different in the previous administration!)

      I’m not saying they were all bad ideas emailed to me, but the grander the fantasy the more hubristic and hazardous it seemed. The danger is that modest and hard-won plans begin to unravel the moment a Pied Piper shows up promising new rainbows elsewhere (which is usually come derivative of nowhere). Experience shows that these are often the people who are nowhere to be found when the real work begins.

      A different approach to arriving in a new place (or at any new circumstance) might be to acknowledge that others have preceded you. They may even have a pretty good idea of what’s actually achievable, given state and local laws, the constraints of different funding streams (in your example the DRI [DOS] and Hudson River Estuary Program [DEC]), funding amounts and, not least on the list, the attention spans of the potential reservoir of much-needed volunteers.

      I don’t want to alienate you if you’re willing to help, but why is it so difficult to approach that which precedes us with humility? What may look and feel like creative out-of-the-box thinking, progressive innovation, appears as selfish to those in the trenches who’ve been laboring thanklessly for years.

      Now I must take time out of my other projects to put out a potential brushfire, by explaining funding streams to you, and DRI contracts as opposed to DEC contracts [they’re not the same], and the harm engendered by impolite presumptions when I’d have been much happier sharing this information if asked about it.

      Delete
    2. 2.

      You’ll think it unfair, but because you’ve made your suggestions in public I’m going to use you to highlight the menace of the well-meaning blow-in.

      The blow-in is a Utopian type (etym: “nowhere”) whose fundamental loyalties are merely conceptual in nature. Missing are the concrete relations which inform a more practical bearing. In turn, and often through the school of hard knocks, this teaches forbearance in support of deeper and more durable continuities. (To me, this is the very thing that the shacks represent, and why I dearly wish the original occupants would take a greater interest.)

      For the blow-in with little or no sense of PLACE, everything is ideation. In that department it’s too easy to believe that one knows better and more than locals ever can (“local” being a meaningless concept in Utopia). It unwittingly leads the well-meaning new arrival to acts of disrespect (etym: respicere, to look back, regard), as in the present example.

      For me, this is the same destructive socio-pathology summed up by that truly hideous phrase that “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

      Again General Worth, I’m sorry to use your faux pas as my platform for a diatribe about good manners, but is it even a little bit possible for you to appreciate just how annoying and disrespectful your suggestions are?

      Try a different approach and you’ll find that your forerunners are welcoming and receptive people. However, a little respect for the exhaustive planning efforts of precursors typically goes a long way.

      Inclosing, please understand that I’m 100% supportive of the Nack Center. I made a substantial contribution to its grant application, and I don’t regret it. But if you’re getting your ideas of some “big picture” from Nick Zachos, who loosely represents that project, then it was his big idea for the future of the waterfront that did not win DRI funding. That was after some dumb locals explained to NYS DOS that the site plan for his project cleverly omitted the need to use state-owned under water lands. And that was the end of that.

      I do feel a bit badly being so frank in my remarks, so I want to repeat that you're still welcome to the project and to this place, which is - miraculously and for the moment - still a place.

      Delete
  14. Noted. I hope the Nack Center is a success at its proposed location. However, it is unfortunate that poison ivy is rampant at the site, kids will have to cross the no mans land of the train tracks, and kids will inhale the dust raised by truck traffic. Shantytown would have been a superior location.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope it's a success too. Many, myself included, think it's not such a terrible site. They've got river access, the poison ivy can be brought under control, the wood trestle easily revived, and there were always going to be trucks so that's no surprise.

      Besides, their grant locks them in at that site, so announcing that Shantytown as "a superior location" is bit like wishing for unicorns. It doesn't help the conversation because it confuses all of the other readers who know as little as you do. I'm hoping you can appreciate that, but that would require respect for complex arrangements that precede you. Is that possible? I hope so.

      Delete