I remember the first time I saw Hudson. It was the winter of 1985 and my parents had picked me up at the Amtrak station to take me to their recently purchased house in Chatham. My mom asked my father to drive down Warren Street so that I could see the town. As we turned up Warren from Front, she explained that the state had been providing funds to the city for basic street and facade improvements but that, for the most part, it was a ghost town.
And so it seemed. But as we continued up the street, I exclaimed “Oh my God, it keeps going on and on,” amazed to see such a contiguous a collection of intact historic buildings so off the beaten path. When we reached the derelict but augustly handsome Opera House, I said “stop the car!” (which I think my dad did, at least long enough for me to write down the info on the for-sale sign attached to it). By the time we reached the streamlined moderne diner, so tightly jimmied into the 19th-century streetscape, I was smitten and made a mental note that Hudson might be a place I’d like to live in some day.
I’ve had urban epiphanies such as these before and since, moments when grand architectural intentions of the past suddenly popped up into a tableau- vivant present: once in London, on top of a double decker bus as it turned into the crescent of Regent Street, a moment in which I could swear I heard trumpets playing Handel; in an18th century underpass leading to the Place des Vosges in Paris, where I came upon a gaggle of French schoolchildren yelling out “les igloos!” after being asked “Ou habitez les Eskimos?” by their (impeccably clad) teacher; while hanging with a friend at the Central Park Lake one summer evening in1974, marveling at the glowing limestone linearity of the Fifth Avenue skyline, the drumbeat of tropical lands and the smell of pot filling the air around us; the list goes on and includes such moments in cities such as Los Angeles, Provincetown, Boston, and South Beach.
Hudson was the smallest (and least “vivant”) of those but made no less memorable an impression. And continues to do so, as it is reclaimed, lot by lot, by the kind of private investment this town’s noble infrastructure deserves. Way too often, however, we’re confronted by a municipal and county level mentality that is constantly finding new ways to chip away at the town’s birthright—the extraordinary appeal of its physical landscape, both natural and man- made — as well as the morale of the people who moved here because of it. (This can be done in so many ways: long term inertia and lack of imaginative initiative can be just as damaging as poor or wrongheaded planning and design.)
The latest battle–against the proposed demolition of the early 19th century Peter Miller house at 900 Columbia Street–is the kind of thing people fought against in the 60s, 70s and 80s but just shouldn’t be happening now, at least not here. It’s particularly disheartening because the group that owns the building, the Mental Health Association of Greene and Columbia Counties, is a worthy organization that should be counted as one of the good guys. At the same time, the structure in question is neither on the historic register nor in a landmark district– at least not yet— but it is a handsome devil, and its absence would leave a gaping hole in an already compromised area that needs all the good old buildings it has. Still, it is happening…so let’s all do what we can to stop it (sign the petition here) and move on to the next, hopefully more positive thing right away. –Scott Baldinger