Local Lore


Fishermen in Athens, looking toward the Hudson, New York waterfront
(date and artist unknown). Source: Historic Hudson

Hudson was the first chartered city in the United States. It was founded on the river of the same name by whalers and merchants hailing from Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Rhode Island who sought an inland port safe from 18th-century piracy.

The original residents established a rational grid of streets and parks over the uneven terrain previously called Claverack Landing. They began building handsome houses, banks, department stores and other commercial buildings in what would become a living catalogue of American vernacular styles.

Hudson grew quickly in its early years. It almost became the capital of New York, missing out by only one vote. In addition to whale oil, Hudson was for many decades a thriving commercial center producing a wide variety of goods including beer, matches, mushrooms and pocketbooks.

Man on Street, From Car, Hudson, New York (1933–34) by Walker Evans
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Over time (as carefully detailed in Bruce Edward Hall’s Diamond Street) Hudson also became infamous as a town of ill-repute. Gambling and prostitution flourished with a wink and a nod from local regional authorities—until 1951, when Governor Dewey finally broke up the rackets with a massive, headline-grabbing raid.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Hudson steadily developed an international reputation as an antiques mecca, with dozens of locally-owned stores lining Warren Street. Over the past decade the city has gradually diversified its commercial base to include restaurants, sporting goods, art galleries, housewares, live music and nightlife, and more.

Hudson is also advantageously situated. With an Amtrak station right in town, and both the Taconic Parkway and the Thruway close by, New York City is just under two hours ride or drive away. In under an hour, one can also reach the best hiking and skiiing of the Catskills, the State capital in Albany, or the music and culture of the Berkshires.

The scenery and surroundings are equally spectacular. New residents discover that the intense and vivid sunsets depicted in the paintings of the Hudson River School are in fact realistic, not exaggerated. The City benefits from its setting in a largely rural and agricultural county, where farm stands, scenic drives and historic sites can be found in every direction.

Full of both character and characters, Hudson isn’t a generic or monocultural place. Small-town traditions, immigrant populations, and avant-garde culture manage to coexist here. Hudson’s diverse and active community takes a keen interest in community affairs and local issues such as historic preservation and open government.

Odds Against Tomorrow (Harry Belafonte, Shelley Winters), 1959
Ironweed (Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep), 1987
Nobody’s Fool (Paul Newman, Melanie Griffith),1994
Two Square Miles (PBS documentary), 2006
Ghost Dance (Independent film), 2007
The Cake Eaters (Kristen Stewart), 2008

Hudson has been featured in numerous magazines and other publications as a magnet for arts, antiques, and culture. The city has been the subject of articles in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Wallpaper, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Preservation Magazine, and many others. Hudson was named one of the “Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in the U.S.A.” in the May 2006 issue of Budget Travel. In 2010, The Times featured Hudson’s growing music scene.

The Illusionist, by Dinitia Smith
Center Street, by Leonard Wise
The Spirit of the Place, by Samuel Shem

The American Scene by Henry James (1907)
A Visible Heritage by Ruth Piwonka & Roderic H. Blackburn (1977)
The Hudson Valley: A History and Guide by Tim Mulligan (1981)
Diamond Street by Bruce Edward Hall (1994)
Historic Hudson by Byrne Fone (2005)
Hudson’s Merchants and Whalers by Margaret Schram (2005)
At Home in the Hudson Valley by Allison Serrell (2005)

—Written & compiled by Sam Pratt