History of the City of Hudson


Hudson, the first city chartered in the US after the American Revolution, is located on the west side of the Hudson River, in Columbia County. It has a population of about 6,700 and occupies 2.3 square miles, which were originally purchased by Dutch settlers from the Mohicans in 1662.  In 1783, it was sold by the Dutch families to a group of whalers and merchants from Nantucket and Rhode Island, who feared that the English would attempt to recapture their vulnerable seacoast towns and sought the safe haven of a port with less exposure to the sea.  The “Proprietors,” as the association of whalers and merchants called themselves, were Quakers whose language and beliefs differed from those of the Dutch farmers from whom they had purchased the land, particularly in that while the Dutch relied on slave labor, the Proprietors would not.  They laid out a formal street grid for Hudson before even moving their families to the site, and in some cases brought prefabricated houses with them by boat.  Intent on swift development of their new city, they built houses, warehouses, a distillery, and commercial buildings. Their residences of this period were built in the federal style (as exemplified by the 1809 Robert Jenkins House, now the DAR building, at 113 Warren Street), and emphasized symmetry in two-story buildings built of brick or clapboard, with side or center halls.

Chartered as a City in 1785, Hudson grew rapidly, becoming a shipping hub from which farm produce and other goods produced upstate were delivered to New York City and international destinations.  Also manufactured in Hudson within a few years of its incorporation were goods associated with the shipping trade, including rope, sails, and ships.  Notable Hudsonians of this period include Martin Van Buren (later President Van Buren, who opened his first law office in Hudson), General William Jenkins Worth (who liberated Texas in the Mexican-American War), and Hudson River School landscape painters such as Sanford Robinson Gifford (born in 1823), and Ernest and Arthur Parton.

Hudson’s shipping fortunes, along with its related industries, were eclipsed by the arrival of the railroad in 1850.  At that point, its commerce shifted to manufacturing of goods including stoves (in a foundry located by the river), bricks, tools, fire engines, knitting mills, and cement.  Hudson had evolved into a thriving hub of industry and retail shopping (as witness the Nineteenth Century Shopping Tour included on this site).  During this period, Hudson was also a center for the Hudson River School of painters, including Frederic Church, whose house outside of Hudson at Olana, with its protected view shed across the Hudson River, remains a local attraction.  Buildings constructed in this period of Victorian architecture include many on Warren, Union and Allen Streets.

Hudson’s commercial fortunes began to decline again in the late nineteenth century, and further eroded into the mid-twentieth century as industry began to leave upstate New York; and it became a well known center of vice.  The gambling and prostitution that flourished on Diamond (now Columbia) Street (as well as elsewhere in the City) were detailed in Bruce Edward Hall’s book, Diamond Street: The Story of the Little Town with the Big Red Light District.  In 1951, Governor Thomas Dewey dispatched New York State Police to shut down the gambling and prostitution industries, and Hudson languished once again.

However, as the City declined, many of its historic buildings were simply boarded up, as there was no commercial incentive to demolish and replace them.  Paradoxically, this neglect enabled a new renaissance, as antique dealers and others appreciating that historic architecture began to move into Hudson in the mid-1980s, commencing a wave of restoration and commercial revitalization that supplemented the efforts of other like-minded residents.  They were followed by a large population of artists and freelancers, restaurateurs and shopkeepers, whose energy and creativity has helped propel Hudson into the attraction that it is today.

“History is a lie agreed upon.” – Napoleon

“History is written by the victors.” – Churchill

“History is almost always written by the victors and conquerors and given their view.  Or at any rate, the victors’ version is given prominence and holds the field.” – Nehru

Please Note: The proprietors of this website are aficionados rather than historians, and do not pretend to be experts on the history of the City of Hudson.  The quotes attributed above (and even the attributions are subject to debate) were written or spoken primarily in the context of armed conflicts, but also apply when considering various written historical accounts of the same subject.  Those interested in further reading on the history of the City of Hudson may wish to peruse some or all of the works listed both below and on the “Resources” tab provided on the home page. Please bear in mind that the authors of these works (particularly those that were published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) approach the subject from their own perspectives.  Their accounts may in some details disagree; and portions of historical society may have been omitted, potentially for lack of available research.  For example, there has been an African American presence in Columbia County since the eighteenth century, but little mention is made of it in the nineteenth and twentieth-century works listed below.

Suggested Reading:  Books and Articles:

The Gossips of Rivertown, with Sketches in Prose and Verse by Alice B. Nealy, 1850 Available in ebook format (check abebooks.com).

Historical Sketches of Hudson, by Stephen B. Miller (1862) (Available in ebook format (check abebooks.com).

History of Columbia County, New York, by Everts & Ensign (1878).  Available in ebook format (check abebooks.com).

History of the City of Hudson New York with biographical sketches of Henry Hudson and Robert Fulton, by Anna Rossman Bradbury (1908.  Available in ebook format (check abebooks.com).

Diamond Street: The Story of the Little Town with the Big Red Light District, by Bruce Edward Hall, Black Dome Press Corp. (1994)

Hudson’s Merchants and Whalers: The Rise and Fall of a River Port, 1783-1850, by Margaret B. Schram, Black Dome Press Corp. (2004)

Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, by Byrne Fone, Black Dome Press Corp. (2005)

Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson, by John Brooke,  Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press (2010)

In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831, by Susan Stessin-Cohn and Ashley Hurlbert-Biagini, Black Dome Press Corp. (2016)

Slavery and Freedom in the Mid-Hudson Valley (SUNY series, An American Region: Studies in the Hudson Valley), by Michael E. Groth (2017)

Article:  http://www.hvmag.com/Hudson-Valley-Magazine/February-2017/African-American-History-A-Past-Rooted-in-the-Hudson-Valley/

Article: Federal Census of Hudson, 1860, by John Fout, page 8: Columbia County History and Heritage, Fall 2004, Published by the Columbia County Historical Society: http://www.cchsny.org/uploads/3/2/1/7/32173371/cchh_fall_04.pdf

Article: Did the Underground Railroad Run through Columbia County? , by Jim Hamilton, page 14: Columbia County History and Heritage, Fall 2004, Published by the Columbia County Historical Society:  http://www.cchsny.org/uploads/3/2/1/7/32173371/cchh_fall_04.pdf

Available eBooks (scanned to a .pdf)

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