Beyond the current buzz, behind the facades of Hudson’s veritable encyclopedia of American architecture, there’s a classic story of success, decline and revival.
It begins with explorer Henry Hudson’s arrival in 1609, the purchase of land in 1663 from the Mohicans by a Dutchman, Jan Franse Van Hoesen, and the founding of Claverack Landing, a tiny farming and fishing settlement. A century later, the whaling industry dropped anchor when Quakers arrived from New England in search of a new port. Known as “The Proprietors,” they renamed the now-bustling port Hudson, mapping out a grid to create one of the country’s first planned cities.
Hudson’s economy boomed with the need for whale blubber to light the world’s lamps. Ships arrived from Europe and South America with exotic cargo, and on one weekend alone in 1801, three thousand farmers delivered goods to twenty-three ships setting out for worldwide ports. By the mid 19th century, whale blubber was out, kerosene was in, and the last whaling ship set sail. But an industrial revolution was brewing in America, and Hudson became a manufacturing center. Steamships connected New York City and Albany with Hudson’s port; a new railroad connected all three with Boston. Foundries turned out steam engines and turbines. Textile mills, tanneries, and six banks did a brisk business until industry waned late in the century. The river was polluted. The Hudson River School painters were no longer intoxicated by the view. The local economy was in decline, although one industry was still generating heat: brothels. Hudson was known as “the little town with the big red-light district.” Prostitutes, madams and their clientele partied in fifteen houses on Columbia Street until, in 1950,the State Police raided the joints. By the 1970s, Hudson was a small, struggling city.
But that was then.
Fast forward to the 1980s. A hardy band of antiques dealers and artists discover Hudson’s superb architecture and bargain prices and stake their claim. Like the early settlers, they had rough conditions to contend with. Equally determined, however, they set up shop, restored unappreciated buildings, and the revival was on. Where to eat? Restaurants opened their doors. The Hudson Opera House reopened as an arts venue. A commission was set up by preservation-minded residents to assure the integrity of structures within six designated historic districts. Concerned citizens banded together to successfully fight a new cement plant and restore the health of the river. Concerts have taken the place of discarded scrap on the riverfront.
There have been growing pains, of course, but in the wake of that first wave, new arrivals continue to reinvigorate the place while treasuring its past. Warren Street’s latest incarnation offers just enough high fashion, art galleries and mid-century furniture to keep you from city withdrawal, but the pace is way more relaxed. So, ride your bike over to a cafe for a great cup of coffee and a chat; stroll this walkable city to explore its less familiar neighborhoods. Hip yet historic, Henry wouldn’t recognize the trendy restaurants, music venues and boutiques, but Hudson has definitely arrived.