Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Sidewalks of Hudson

The Common Council Sidewalk Committee met earlier this week. Having spent the better part of a year crafting the letter that went out to all property owners with the June water bills, reminding them that they were responsible for the maintenance and repair of the sidewalk adjacent to their property, the committee is now ready to focus on a sidewalk law that would somehow make the care and keeping of sidewalks a shared responsibility. 

Just before that meeting, I came upon this article in Strong Towns: "Doing the Math on Sidewalks." It's a short article and well worth reading. It gives expression to a lot of the issues Hudson is facing today with its sidewalks. For example, there is this paragraph:
Once upon a time, a city had to pay for everything itself. No federal or state grants, and no borrowing. Every amenity had to be paid for up front. The same financial arrangement applied to the maintenance of those amenities. Cash up front, or your sidewalks would be left to crumble. In this environment, cities and towns were conservative. They didn't build sidewalks until they knew they had enough money to build and maintain them in perpetuity.
Thinking of Hudson in light of this paragraph, it is clear that the City solved the problem of funding maintenance in perpetuity by simply shifting the responsibility to individual property owners, and as a consequence we have ended up with the patchwork of sidewalks we have today. It is quite likely that at one time the central part of the city, excluding the Boulevards and the adjacent neighborhoods off Harry Howard Avenue, which were developed at a time when the automobile was making sidewalks less valued, had sidewalks uniformly paved with slabs of bluestone. Here and there throughout the city that bluestone still survives, in varying states of repair.

Curious to know when the bluestone sidewalks first appeared in Hudson and how the installation was financed, I consulted the minutes of the Common Council, all available online at the City of Hudson website. The minutes are not searchable, so I decided to start with 1867, two years after the Civil War ended and a bit of a postwar economic boom was fueling some new development in Hudson. Perhaps this was a year that saw the installation of some of the bluestone sidewalks in Hudson. 

I was wrong, but reading the Council minutes for that year yielded some interesting information. In 1867, there was a standing committee on the Common Council called the Street Committee, and sidewalks were in the purview of this committee. The following excerpt is from a meeting that took place in October 1867 and reveals that property owners at this time in Hudson history could petition the Council for sidewalks.
The Mayor from the Street Committee to which was referred the petition of H. Macy and others for a sidewalk on the south side of Union st., westerly of the lot of Hiram Macy, reported in favor of deferring the work until another season.

The Hudson city directory for 1866-1867 indicates that Hiram Macy lived at 309 Union Street, which, became 547 Union Street after all the house numbers were changed to implement 100 blocks in 1889. (The mayor at the time was J. W. Hoysradt, who then lived at 59 Allen Street.) 

The previous excerpt suggests that Union Street from Sixth Street west to some undefined point, possibly as far as the courthouse, did not have sidewalks in 1867, but the next excerpt, also from October 1867, suggests that there were sidewalks on Fourth Street in 1867 and had been for long enough for the sidewalks to require some repair.
Resolved, That the Street Committee are hereby authorized to have and cause the side-walks from Warren-street to Long Alley, on the westerly side of Fourth street to be re-laid and re-paved under their direction, and in case of a refusal of lot owners to comply with this resolution, then that said Committee be authorized and directed to present an Ordinance for the re-laying and repaving of said side-walks, at the Regular Meeting of the Common Council; the same to be re-laid and re-paved on a grade to be fixed and given by the City Surveyor.
The terms re-laid and re-paved suggest the sidewalks in question were bluestone. It is not clear from the previous excerpt what constituted refusal to comply, but following excerpt clarifies what was expected from property owners if the Street Committee deemed their sidewalk in need of repair.
Resolved, That the side-walk on the easterly side of City Hall Place, between Warren street and Cherry Alley, also the side-walk on Warren street in front of lot now occupied by Abram Harris be re-paved and repaired under the direction of the Street Committee, and in case of a refusal of the owners of said lots so to repair and repave, then the Street Committee be and are hereby directed to report by Ordinance at the next Regular Meeting of the Council for such repairing and repaving, and that the Clerk be directed to serve the necessary action on such lot owners.
The final excerpt, from the minutes for a Council meeting in November 1867, clarifies that, although we are assuming the sidewalks being relaid and repaved were bluestone, not all the sidewalks in Hudson in 1867 were bluestone. 
Resolved, That the plank sidewalk on the easterly side of Fifth street be repaired and relaid under the direction of the Street Committee, and that the Clerk cause copies of this resolution to be served on the several lot owners.
The Common Council minutes from 1867 provide a picture of a vigilant Street Committee, one that seems to have been unusually active in months of October and November identifying sidewalks in need to repair and getting the Council to pass resolutions directing property owners to fix them. Obviously that kind of vigilance ceased sometime in the ensuing century and a half, and today's Council is trying to make up for lost time.


  1. Thank you Carole, for this history of sidewalk politics. Since at least one of the pics of "bad" sidewalks seems to be mine, I would like to remind folks of the aesthetic joys of grass in blue stone cracks (aw nature!) not to mention the practical mattes of such soft buffers in walking on a sidewalk that has natural -- bright green -- notations of walkways....

  2. Excuse me, but are we entering the AI of sidewalks?