Visiting the Hudson River Valley
by Maxine Carter-Lome
If you’ve ever visited or spent time in the Hudson River Valley of New York State, than you know something about the natural beauty and rich history of this early settlement region of our country. If not, we hope this issue inspires you to take a trip.
The river that flows through what is now the Hudson River Valley was first discovered by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 but named for the Englishman Henry Hudson, who sailed for the Dutch East India Company in 1609 in search of a “northwest passage” to the Pacific Ocean. The River originates in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York near Albany and flows southward through the eastern edge of the state into the Upper New York Bay between New York City and Jersey City.
Although not the route Hudson hoped to find, the Dutch sponsors of his voyage smartly recognized the new trading opportunities the river could provide and quickly settled three major, strategic outposts: New Amsterdam, Wiltwyck, and Fort Orange. New Amsterdam was founded at the mouth of the Hudson River, and would later become known as New York City. Wiltwyck was founded roughly halfway up the Hudson River between New Amsterdam and Fort Orange. That outpost would later become Kingston. Fort Orange was the outpost that was the furthest up the Hudson River. That outpost would later become known as Albany. The map from 1650 on this issue’s cover richly illustrates the region’s early settlement and Dutch influence. The Dutch West India Company operated a monopoly on the region for roughly twenty years before other businessmen were allowed to set up their own ventures in the colony.
While the Dutch attempted to maintain a stronghold in the cities along the River, encroachment from indigenous tribes and the British kept the region in constant motion until British defenses broke through in 1647 at New Amsterdam, and Director-General Peter Stuyvesant was forced to surrender the city and the colony to the British, who in triumph renamed it New York after the Duke of York. Thus ended Dutch control over New York and the Hudson River, but not its influence. You can learn more about the settlement and evolution of the Hudson River Valley in Erica Lome’s feature, “America’s Eden: A Historic Look at the Hudson River Valley.”
The towns that make up the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill mountain range that frames them have seen more than their fair share of history. Artists, naturalists, writers, industrialists, revolutionaries, politicians, and presidents have been drawn to this region for more than 350 years. It has given rise to American folktales (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle), and a uniquely American movement of landscape painting known as the Hudson River School of Art. General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, made his headquarters and residence for eight months in Newburgh, New York in 1782 as the War drew to an end; Robert Fulton’s steamship made its maiden voyage down the Hudson River from Clermont; and Franklin Roosevelt made Springwood in Hyde Park his lifelong home, saying, “All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River.”
The centuries of residents that have settled in the towns and cities along this 315-mile meandering stretch of water have looked to the River as a source of food, transportation, protection, inspiration, recreation, and employment. Agricultural farms, mills, and later industrial manufacturing plants helped build and populate many of these river towns for generations but eventually, industry and man’s dominion over the land took its toll on the River in the form of industrial waste, notably PCBs, raw sewage, oil, paper mill discharges, and organic runoff.
In 1984, the EPA placed 200 miles of river, between Hudson Falls and the Battery in New York City, on its National Priorities List of the country’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites. By then, not a single fish was found in many areas, and commercial fishing, once a thriving source of income, was virtually nonexistent. Enter singer, songwriter, and environ-mental activist Pete Seeger.
Devastated by what was happening to the “Mighty Hudson,” Seeger decided “to build a boat to save the river.” Holding small, fundraising river concerts throughout the Hudson River Valley, he literally passed his banjo among the crowd, collecting contributions to build the sloop Clearwater, today a world-renowned floating classroom and symbol of the American Environmental Movement. This summer the “Clearwater Festival – Hudson River Revival” celebrated its 50th anniversary, still gathering thousands for a weekend of folk music and environmental activism. Thanks in great part to the awareness Seeger brought to the plight of the River, the Federal Clean Water Act was signed in 1972 to regulate pollutant discharges at industrial facilities and protect the Hudson River from further damage. Environmental oversight, stringent monitoring, and massive cleanup projects in the recent decades are bringing the river back to life but damage has been done, the full extent of which may not be known for generations.
Given a second chance and a renewed appreciation for the region’s natural beauty and assets, the Hudson River Valley today is flourishing as a destination for antiquers, history lovers, recreational enthusiasts, foodies, wine lovers, and artists; something for everyone. In this issue, we share a few of the “not-to-be-missed” historic homes and sites on page 26, and from personal experience I can tell you that the towns of Nyack, Rhinebeck, Hyde Park, Kingston, and Hudson, New York have some great antique shops. Enjoy the experience!
Visiting the Hudson River Valley