You can’t help but notice how the past influences so much of what’s beautiful and intriguing about the Hudson Valley – and how that history, highlighted here, helped make America.
Carved by huge glaciers during successive ice ages, the Hudson Valley was home to Native American tribes for thousands of years. The Mahicans aptly named the river Muhkeakantuck (“river that flows two ways”): a tidal estuary where salty sea water meets fresh water, its currents remain treacherous. But the river offered a bounty of fish and was a critical thoroughfare for the Indians who hunted the surrounding lands and created a flourishing culture (with a democratic government, no less).
Enter the Europeans
The valley, by turns verdant and ice bound, exquisite and forbidding, was an astonishment to Henry Hudson and his crew, who stumbled upon it in 1609 while seeking northwest passage to the Pacific on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. The enterprising Dutch quickly established New Netherland; wealthy Patroons received rights to huge tracts of land bought from the Indians and worked by tenant farmers. Up and down the river, trading posts did a lively business exchanging beaver pelts for European goods, and towns and forts sprouted up.
New Netherland, spanning Albany to New Amsterdam (today’s New York City), thrived until 1664 when the English decided to stake their claim. Enter a giant show of British naval might down in the city, and Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant surrendered. Not a shot was fired, and “New York” was born.
Dutch and English landholders with names like Livingston, Rensselaer, Stuyvesant, Cortlandt, Schuyler, and Morris not only became leaders in a young nation, they also began building glorious, riverfront mansions on their vast holdings. After all, this was prime real estate: mountains in the distance, a majestic river at their doorstep. Today, Clermont, Montgomery Place, Edgewater, Rokeby and other estates bear witness to their wealth and differing tastes, including a fondness for the genius of architects like Andrew Jackson Downing, Vaux, Alexander Jackson Davis.
George Washington knew that control of the Hudson River was critical in winning the war for independence. And so, battles raged up and down the valley. Our “neighborhood” is home to countless reminders of the era, from grave sites to the General Richard and Janet Livingston Montgomery House, the oldest house in the village of Rhinebeck and home of the Revolutionary War hero.
A 19th Century of Expansion
Tourism began to flourish in the early 1800s, as city residents made the arduous journey to the Catskill Mountain House and other grand hotels, first by carriage, then by steamboat and railroad.
Thomas Cole and his student Frederick Church established their studios on either side of the river, and a great American art tradition was born: The Hudson River School.
With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York City and the Hudson Valley were connected with the Midwest and Great Lakes; industry and commerce thrived. Fishing and whaling made the city of Hudson a major seaport in the early 19th century. Ice became a valued commodity, and wooden icehouses – some the size of football fields – cropped up all along the river, changing the way people ate (including making it possible to transport all that fish). Brickmaking was a major industry from the late 1700s to the 1940s. Bluestone and natural cement quarried upstate were used to build New York City. By the mid 19th century, the river provided a corridor for coal, machinery and building materials.
Old industries gave way to new ones as the world’s needs shifted. Industrial waste pushed the river (which once boasted over 200 species of fish) towards a tipping point by the 1960s. Towns and villages that once thrived on manufacturing and tourism slid into hard times.
But that was then. This is now: a clean river enjoyed by kayakers, swimmers and fishermen. A new crop of farmers turning the Hudson Valley into our own, more rustic version of Napa. And always, there’s the beauty of what’s been called “America’s Rhineland.” Culture, community, beauty, and relative bargains – real estate-wise – make our stomping grounds the perfect location for your escape from the city. Now, it’s just a matter of finding the spot that speaks to you. And historically, that’s been the best adventure of all.