Sunday, April 18, 2021

HPC to Hold a Public Hearing

It is rare when the Historic Preservation Commission schedules a public hearing, but they have had a couple in recent weeks. There was a public hearing on 59 Allen Street, the Charles Alger House, on March 12. This Friday, April 23, there will be a public hearing on what is proposed for 400 State Street, the building that started its life in 1818 as the Hudson Almshouse, was most recently (from 1959 to 2016) the home of the Hudson Area Library, and served as many different things in between.  

What is being proposed is removing the fire escapes and replacing all the windows, including the tall casement windows on the ground floor of the central part of the building, with nine over nine double hung windows. According to Walter Chatham, who presented the proposal to the Hudson Preservation Commission on April 9, the plan is also includes replacing the fanlight windows. 

There are a few problems with the proposal. First, although there are lots of images of the building in its various iterations over the past two centuries, there is no evidence that the building ever had nine over nine windows. The earliest image of the building, which is an engraving from the time it was the Hudson Lunatic Asylum (1830 to 1850) show the configuration of the windows was twelve over twelve, and there is no reason to believe the windows were changed from the time the building was the almshouse to the time it was the lunatic asylum.   

We know that significant alterations were made to the building around 1865. Up until that time, it had had institutional uses--an almshouse, a lunatic asylum, an academy for young women--but in 1865, the building was acquired by Captain George H. Power, at that time one of the richest men in Hudson. He made extensive changes to transform what had been an institutional building into a residence for his family: his wife, Adeline; their six children, four daughters and two sons, ranging in age (in 1865) from 25 to 3; and an Irish-born domestic named Ellen Leach. On May 12, 1866, this item appeared in the Hudson Daily Register, reporting on the work underway at 400 State Street:
Among the larger improvements in the city this Spring is that being made by Capt. Geo. H. Power, on his residence in State Street, formerly occupied by the Rev. J. B. Hague as a Seminary for young ladies. The building, when completed, will be a decided ornament to that part of our city, as extensive alterations and improvements have been made since its purchase.
The two over two double hung windows, as well as the long casement windows on the ground floor, probably date from Power's adaptive reuse of the building as his private residence.

The notion of replacing the fanlight over the building's entrance is also problematic. Up until 2008, the opening for the central fanlight was filled in with black-painted plywood, just as the smaller fanlights in the two wings still are. It is not known when the fanlights disappeared. It could have been at any time during the years the building was the Hudson Orphanage (1881 to 1957) or during the time it was owned by the Hudson City School District (1957 to 2005). Gossips can attest that they were missing when I moved to Hudson in 1993 and no doubt had been for decades prior to that. 

In 2005, the Hudson Area Library purchased the building that had been its home since its founding in 1959, with the intention of restoring the building and reconfiguring the interior spaces to make it more compatible with its use as a library. In the early stages of the restoration effort, it was decided the re-creating the fanlight window over the central entrance to the building would send a message of hope and confidence in the building's future. The arc of black- painted plywood over the entrance made the building look too forlorn and neglected.

The fanlight window now there was created by Honeoye Falls Millwork, patterned after archival images of the building provided to them. The fanlight is even featured on their website. The reproduced fanlight was unveiled with great ceremony in April 2008.

William Krattinger from SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office), who prepared the nomination for the building's individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places, took this memorable picture of the view through the new fanlight.

Photo: William Krattinger
When I shared some of this information about the fanlight with Chatham, he responded, "I said replace if necessary. If it's in good shape or repairable, we would go that route." The fanlight window, fabricated by highly respected window restorers, is only thirteen years old. 

Of interest, too, is that, when presenting the proposal to the HPC, Chatham suggested that the Galvan Foundation's offer to give 400 State Street to the City for use as City Hall was unlikely to happen and urged the commissioners, "Let's figure out together an appropriate use for this building."

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