Hudson River: Currents in Time, 1976


The river runs past many lives. It leads it’s
own parade in time. It has been here a near eternity. A source of change and wealth. It
has been a sea of inspiration and war. It will witness and direct the future as it has
our past. Another heaven and earth would have to pass before such a thing could be created
again. And no other river has such a claim on our emotions and history as the Hudson.
The river begins in time. The rocks that flowed from the Earth and covered ancient seas are
worn in the 70 million years of the river’s rushing. The river has known and cradled life.
It witness the glacial northern ice that covered the world, and it too changed in the flow
of time. But, the river existed in its own terms and we know it only in ours. To the
different people who have known the river it has meant different things. Man defines
the time and space it occupies. We give it a name – The Hudson. Even if man were not
here the Hudson River would still have nature’s purpose. We are just a passing chapter in
the river’s history. It has plenty to do without us. I’m Ann LaBastille an ecologist, a conservationist
and an Adirondack guide. The river begins in the high peaks area of the Adirondack Mountains
where few marks have been made by man. It starts way up on the shoulders of Mount Marcy
in a little pond called Lake Tear of the Clouds. And from this humble beginning, the river
meanders through rocky gorges and deep woods to its main body. Where it first becomes it’s
own master, the Hudson is very powerful and frantic. Further downstream when it reaches
Glen Falls the river gentles down and begins to feel the impact of man. And along with
man’s touch there is the tainting of the water. Towns and industry multiply now as the river
moves southward. And as it approaches Albany and Troy it is joined by the Mohawk. It’s
largest tributary. At the high dam and locks at Troy the river is first influenced by the
sea. There are tides even this far inland and traces of the ocean’s salt in the water.
South of Albany the river widens, it flattens out, touches Catskill, Hudson, Kingston and
Poughkeepsie. In the Hudson Highlands are the great cliffs and hills around Storm King
and Bear Mountain. And just south is Haverstraw Bay. The Hudson River flows southward to the
Palisades and eventually, the city. And then finally it enters the Hudson River canyon,
a deep trough etched into the continental shelf before disappearing into the abyss of
the ocean. The Hudson is roughly 315 miles long. From it’s source at Lake Tear of the
Clouds in the Adirondacks to where it reaches the Battery on Manhattan Island. It’s a changeable
river from a high mountain torrent to a deep implacable current, and of course it’s a beautiful
river. Especially up here in it’s wildness and it’s purity. And here of course there’s
the precious commodity, silence. The first man to perceive and define the river called
it Muhhekummetuk and to them the river was seen as a living power. These people of the
river journeyed from the west some 6,000 years ago and there is a legend that their god told
them to journey eastward till they reached a river that flowed both ways. And that this
would be a fertile land. Where their people would prosper. There are no Indians living
along the river now. But there was a time when there were many villages along it’s banks.
My name is Goddiane. I am from a Seneca Iroquois village in upstate New York. I am part Mahican
and the Mahicans lived in the northern reaches of the Hudson River. The people lived in the
valley before western colonization were not really a nation. But, rather they shared a
common language Algonquian. And the tribes that lived along the banks were the Leni Lenape
called later by the English the Delaware. And from south to north there were the Unalachtigo
then the Unami and Munsee. North of them they were the Esopus. The Mahicans up to Albany.
On the other bank were Wiechquaeskeck and Canarsie to the south. Muhhekunnetuk or “River
of the Mahicans” was revered as a river of power. The
villages were small perhaps no more than a 100 people living in any one settlement and
the smaller villages were simply kinship groups or extended families. And to these people
the idea of a nation in the European sense or even in the context of the later Iroquois
League was strange. There were ceremonies directed toward harvest, what they got out
of the water and the land. And the life of these people along the river seems in retrospect
an idyllic one. By the time western colonization began in earnest the paradise whether real
or imagined was gone. The Algonquian river Indians found themselves crushed between western
man pushing from the east and south and the Iroquois nations harassing them from the northwest.
They were good fighters some of the river Indians. My great grandfather was a Mahican.
I was told that when the French were given a choice between the Iroquois and the Mahican,
they chose the Mahican as the better warrior every time. But the river Indians were not
politically organized and within 200 years after contact with western man they were exhausted.
Emotionally, culturally, politically exhausted. Caught in between the vice of the Iroquois
and the Europeans they disappeared. Toward the end of their tenure, a Delaware spokesman
said to the English, “You take the land. There is no body living on it. We have lost ourselves.
We have disappeared like a breathe of homeless wind. There is nobody living here. You take
it. [speaking in Algonquian].” The first western man to record seeing the Hudson was Giovanni
de Verrazzano, a Florentine navigator sailing under the patronage of Francis I of France.
After charting the coasts of the Carolinas, Verazzanno sailed north in the spring of 1524.
And on April the 17th his ship LaDauphine sailing before a soft southwest wind entered
what we now call New York Bay. This river he called the Great River and the surrounding
land Angouleme in honor of the queen mother, Louise de Savoie, Duchess d’Angouleme and
he recorded his discovery in a brief account. “We past up with our boat into the said river
and saw the country very well peopled. The people are almost like unto the others and
clad with feathers of fowls of diverse colors. They came towards use very cheerfully, making
great shouts of admiration. Showing us where we might come to land most safely with our
boat. We entered up the said river into the land about half a league. Where it made a
most pleasant lake about three league in compass. On the which they road from the one side to
the other. To the number of 30 of their small boats and behold a contrary flaw of wind coming
from the sea. We were then forced to return to our ship leaving this land to our great
discontentment. For the great commodity and pleasantness there of which we suppose is
not without some riches.” Fearing the winds that might destroy his ship in the narrows,
Verrazzano left the harbor and sailed northeast to chart the coast of New England. He never
returned to this land of great commodity and pleasantness, and his failure to to further
explore the great river was one of the missed opportunities in the exploration of the New
World. But, the river was discovered. The Dutch and English would follow. They would
define it further. For the first European navigators, the Hudson was
viewed as a possible route to the riches of the Orient. Even before Verrazzano’s discover,
John Cabot sailing under the English flag may have explored the great river. A Portuguese
mariner, Esteban Gomez sailing for the Spanish crown noted the river in 1525 while searching
for a northwest passage. There were probably other unrecorded visitors. But it was not
until 1609 that Henry Hudson, an English navigator sailing for the Dutch East Indian Company
charted the river to present day Albany. Europeans now realized that this was not a northwest
passage but as Verrazzano had conjectured it was a land not without some riches. In
the four weeks that Hudson’s Half Moon explored the river valley, Robert Juvet a ship’s officer
kept a detailed log of the adventure. He noted the corn and oysters. The beans and tobacco
traded to them by the Indians. He observed that the lands were pleasant with grass and
flowers and goodly trees as ever they had seen. As he charted the harbors he saw many
salmons and mullets, and rays, basses and barbels. And at the Half Moon northern most
river anchorage the people can flocking aboard and brought us grapes which we bought for
trifles. And many brought us beaver skins and otter skins which we bought for beads,
knives and hatchets. The Dutch being good businessmen made the most of these observations
and they were to give the river a new meaning. By the mid 1600s the patterns of Dutch settlement
had taken form. Some forts and villages were established. As well as some farms and larger
feudal land holdings called patroonships. But large scale colonization of the river
valley was never their primary purpose. The Dutch viewed the valley in terms of goods
that could be traded in the European markets furs, lumber and grains. And the river which
they called Mouritse or the North River was the road to these riches. In the 50 years
they controlled the river the Dutch never really consolidated their power and like the
Indians before them were soon easily displaced. A small British fleet in 1664 forced New Amsterdam
to surrender. The city became New York. Fort Orange became Fort Albany. Kingston became
Wittwijck and although the river has still referred to by many as the North River, the
English preferred to call it after their countryman Hudson’s River and unlike the Dutch the English
successfully colonized the river valley. Although the Dutch assimilated somewhat with the growing
English population they retained a good deal of their own identity and character and much
remains of the Dutch in the valley. Their homes, their names and their legends. 200
years after the Dutch first came to the valley one of American’s first men of letters, Washington
Irving penned the Knickerbocker history a musical satire which he titled A History of
New York from the Beginning of the World to the end of the Dutch Dynasty containing among
surprising and curious matters the unutterable pondering of Walter the Doubter, the disastrous
projects of William the Testy, and the chivalric achievements of Peter the Headstrong. The
three Dutch governors of New Amsterdam. Being the only authentic history of the times that
had ever been published. Washington Irving’s settled here at Sunnyside on the banks of
the river. The writer himself said “the Hudson here is in a manor my first and last love.
And after all my wanderings and seeming infidelities I return to it with a heartfelt preference
over all the other rivers in the world.” Some of his most romantic tales were contained
n a collection of stories called The Sketchbook which he made further use of Dutch characters
and legends. It was here in the highlands that Irving’s Rip Van Winkle encountered the
ghosts of Hendrick Hudson crew. Where the crash of their 9 pins echoed among the mountains
like rumbly pins of thunder. And there are older legends. There is a ghost ship that
hundreds of years ago was seen to enter the lower river and although fired upon with cannon
and carrying no sails vanished into the upper river where some say it still can be seen
on stormy nights. And there are other ghosts on the river. On a still night the spirit
of a oarsmen can be seen rowing endlessly on the river. Condemned for eternity for having
broken a Sabbath 200 years ago and some believe in other spirits still roams about. The same
one Irving’s Ichabod Crane encountered one dark evening centuries ago- the spirit of
the headless horseman. The river continues in time. Events and men change its meaning
but the definition they give are often only for a moment. The cemetery has been here for
about 100 years here on Mount Saint Gabriel at Peekskill above the Hudson. But a 100 years
before that, this was temporary homes for the soldiers of the Continental Army. I’m
Dina Link an archaeologist and this is my site where my students and I are excavating
the remains of one of these barracks. Gun flints, muskets balls, the pieces of ceramics
and pipe. Are the pieces that we may be coming up with. It comes so much closer to the real
history. Here you are touching something physical which was there. Prior to the war, the Hudson
Highlands was looked upon as a barren wasteland but with the war effort it gained major strategic
importance, and it had been referred to as the key to the continent by General Washington.
If control of the Hudson had been maintained by the British they really would of split
the colonies and could of dealt with each section individually. The British campaign of 1777 involved three armies,
one coming south from Canada, another going east from Oswego along the Mohawk River and
another coming North from New York. What happened was that the army coming from the west was
defeated at Oriskany. The army from New York under General Howe failed to receive its orders
and went to the Chesapeake instead and the third army under General Burgoyne reached
Saratoga and at Saratoga he was routed by the American forces due to not receiving the
support from other armies. While the Battle of Saratoga was going on news of it reached
General Clinton in New York who had been left behind in place of General Howe. And, Clinton
tried to aid Burgoyne’s problem at Saratoga by attacking the forts in the Highlands. He
was entirely successful in this and gained the highlands in a matter of a couple of days.
After the Battle of Saratoga was over and General Burgoyne had surrendered, Clinton
feeling insecure in the highlands and knowing that he could no longer help Burgoyne left
the highlands and returned to New York City, and with that move the Americans came back
immediately and refortified in the highlands taking advantage of all of their past mistakes.
And in essence prevented the British from ever again having a chance for the Hudson
River as they had before. The last attempt for the highlands was by strategy. It involved
the turning over of West Point by its commander General Arnold. General Benedict Arnold of
the American armies felt that his activities, his valor was not justly appreciated by the
Americans and feeling as he did so strongly he conspired to turn over West Point to the
British. This again luckily failed for a number of simple reasons the most blatant being that
Arnold’s courier Andre was captured at Tarrytown with notes from General Arnold dealing with
betrayal of the American cause. The events leading up to Andre’s capture were rather
complex and small and yet had they not occurred in the way they did the British would of gained
the highlands and with control of the highlands could of subdued the rebellion. It’s interesting
how so many small things can effect such a great cause. And just for that brief moment
in time the whole destiny of the American colonies hung on control of the river. People
have come to the river because it provides food. A place to live and for some money.
But in the back of almost every human being’s mind is also just a little sense of beauty
and a sense of the past. Pete Seeger lives in Beacon on the Hudson. He has always loved
the river and the boats that have graced it. The people who live here thousands of years
ago my guess is they felt very very very close to this river. As some people do today. And
their canoes were not usually birch bark but a dug out canoe which we are trying to make
out here on the waterfront. My guess from the old pictures we have seen that when looking
at the Hudson River almost anywhere between Albany and New York a 100 years ago it would
of been dotted with sails. Little sloops, big cargo boats. You would of seen rafts with
logs on them. Would of been fisherman’s boats. occasional whaling ships. The Hudson river
was just dotted with sails in those days and the Clearwater is a replica of one of these
mid 19th century sloop. The Dutch sloops were board in the beam and bluff in the bow like
they say the Dutch women were. But in the 19th century the ocean going boats got too
big to sail up the river. A specialized form of sloop was invented. They were built for
speed. Acaptain owned his boat, he’d pick up produce up river, take it to New York sell
it. Then he’d have a list of things he had to buy well here’s what Mr. Livingston wants
to get a new stove, somebody else wants to get 5 sacks of plaster. He’d go around make
his shopping list up and drop them off. But a 100 years ago there were 4 or 500 boats
like the Clearwater that carried bricks, sand, lumber actually most of New York’s brownstone
houses are built with materials hauled on sloops- Connecticut brownstone and Haverstraw
brick and Catskill lumber. But the steamboats first took the passenger business, later on
in the 20th century they took all the business and the last few Hudson River sloops were
towed away and sunk somewhere, or rotted away in a mud bank. But ordinary human beings,
no one claiming to be a genius ended up creating some of the most beautiful works of art. I
believe that humankind has ever produced. I call the Clearwater a symphony of curves.
There are very few straight lines on it. Even the mast bends in
a strong breeze. When we wanted to build the Clearwater we showed the blueprints to a millionaire.
He could of built a whole boat in one year and never missed the money. He said oh it’s
a beautiful boat but what do you want to sail on the Hudson for? i sail in the Virgin Islands
without knowing it he gave us the best reason for building a boat because there are people
here who are not going to run away and these people are going to save the Hudson and people
have come back to this river in spite of all the bad things that have gone on. I’m convinced
that 100 years from now this river is going to be very, very clean. Admittedly, it might
happen in two ways. The human race is going to straighten up and fly right and we’ll get
rid of the pollution or we won’t straighten up and fly right in which case we’ll be back
to the stone age in a 100 years and this hundred will be clean as a whistle. It’s noticeably
cleaner, but has a long way to go. The river has produced great wealth as does any
natural resource. The lumber of the Adirondacks and Catskills, the revenues from trade and
commerce on the Erie Canal, but often what remains of prosperous times disappears as
quickly as the faces of dead merchants. There were the land controllers, the Patroons of
early centuries. The robber barons and railroad magnates of later times and many who amast
great wealth choose the very scenic beauty of the river as a back drop for their affluence.
One of the charms of the Hudson is its diversity of scenery for one thing and its diversity
of architectural styles. Ben Frazer owns an antique shop in Cold Spring but some of his
favorite antiques can’t be found here. They are old houses. And one of the notable one’s
he saved from destruction was Boscobel, an early 19th century mansion. Well I think an
area which has something from the past that has absolutely no character at all and I always
felt that this area it deserved a rather special effort. A large number of early houses were
of course farmhouses. There was the Dutch influence, English influence and New Paltz
has that street of Huguenot houses. The interesting thing to me is that they were almost uniformly
attractive, well proportioned and dignified no matter how small they were. The 19 century
houses did exhibit a much greater display of wealth although they remain dignified and
formal. i was motivated in the case of Boscobel by the fact that the building was unique.
That there was really nothing like it in the whole country and that it was so strikingly
beautiful that it just shouldn’t be allowed to be destroyed. We payed the rector a 1,000
for it and the government sold it to him for $35 so he made quite a nice profit without
having to lift a finger. in the Victorian period the river probably appealed to a large
number of people as a romantic and beautiful spot. Harking back to the English standards
of country places. Secondly, the Hudson provided the method of transportation to the country
and was greatly enhanced by the railroad. Olana, I think is possibly the high point
of the Romantic period in which Frederick Church who has traveled a great deal built
a Persian or Moorish Victorian house the situation is spectacular and romantic. The whole place
definitely should be preserved forever because no one will ever see such a thing again. The
Roosevelt house, the name of which is actually Springwood started off about 1830 but it’s
been tinkered with and altered out of all architectural recognizance. The Vanderbilt
house was built in 1895 or 1897 and is very definitely the most ostentatious. They didn’t
mind in the least letting people know that they had it. They really ends the great period
of building on the Hudson and i think it’s very interesting that until certainly about
the Depression these large estates particularly on the east bank, they practically touched
one another almost from New York to Albany. And, when they still ticked as they were meant
to do the result was a magnificent parade. Well that time is gone forever but the houses
remain as long as they are maintained as a pleasant reminder of this vanished era. The
source of the Hudson was not discovered until the last half of the 19th century. It’s ironic
because the river had already been central to the lives of so many people and ideas.
And yet no one had bothered to trace it to it’s beginnings. It’s ironic also because
the discovery of the source took place at a time when some men where occupied with taking
wealth out of the land, while others like the discoverers of the source were evoking
an image of the land that would extend into our present time and redefine man’s relation
to the natural world. In 1872 a surveying expedition under the supervision of an Adirondack
guide William Nye followed the Hudson’s head waters back into the high country near the
summit of Mount Marcy. The director of the expedition Van Planck Cauldron recorded the
event in his notes. “We commence to ascend the stream, hurrying along on the slippery
boulders, leaping from one rock to another. Suddenly before us through the trees gleamed
a sheet of water for there were Marcy’s slopes beyond while the water of the lake was studded
with those rocks which we had looked at with our telescopes from Marcy. It was the lake
and flowed not to the ausable and Saint Lawrence, but to the Hudson. First seen as we then saw
it dark and dripping with the moisture of the heavens it seemed in it’s minuteness and
prettiness a variable Tear of the Clouds the summit water as I named it.” The conservation
movement although its historic roots reached to men like Thoreau took substantial shape
by the late 19th century and it’s basic question of what is man’s proper relation to nature?
was shared by another 19th century movement that expressed it’s ideas in a different form.
The Hudson River School as we use the term today describes the landscape painters that
developed around New York City during the middle portion of the 19th century and if
you’re a landscape painter you want to paint the nearest, most beautiful thing as a rule.
I’m John Hallet. I’m curator of American paintings and sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of
Art in New York. The role of man in the great majority of these landscape paintings is small
or non existent. Man is assumed by the artist to be the viewer and to be surrounded by nature.
They believed strongly in the romantic tradition if you will that the hand of God was everywhere
in nature and it was their aim. Their stated aim to isolate if possible the essence of
this godliness in nature in their landscape paintings. The great majority of the Hudson
River School of Landscapes were produced between 1825 when Thomas Cole was discovered through
1875. The patrons for the landscape painters were primarily commercial men, business men
who grew rich with the opening of the Erie Canal and Thomas Cole’s patrons were one was
a grocer who made a fortune. Another was a banker in Baltimore. It was such men that
provided support for the artists. The period from about 1875 through 1945 practically,
the Hudson River School of pictures languished in basements in museums and homes all over
the country because no one wanted to look at them. They were indeed in disfavor. i think
the best of the Hudson River School of paintings can be called great paintings of course the
taste and perception of quality in art changes from generation to generation. My personal
feeling toward these pictures is that they are very beautiful indeed to me. Charlie?How
many of these have you gotten this year? This is the fourth or the fifth. What’s the total
length? 7 foot 4 inches. Although some stretches of the Hudson are still polluted, overall
it’s cleaner than it was a few years ago. And some fish have responded by increasing
in numbers such as the Atlantic Sturgeon and few men have contributed more to the river
than writer conservationist Bob Boyle. You want to start cleaning it? You have to clean
it in a special way because it’s like a leather skin. What do you think of the meat? It looks
beautiful. Why? Because it’s pink! Ha. Because it’s fresh. What different dishes would you
make from it? Put mushrooms and shallots, a little white wine. You could really treat
it the same way you treat veal. You tell me it had Bluefish up this far? Oh yeah. Charley
fished a lot this time last year they were all over the river. The river is loaded with
fish. Properly managed you could probably feed Japan out of this river. But the point
is that it would take another Heaven and Earth to pass to come again before you could recreate
these biological components of the river system. You known rivers are very symbolic
of life. The river is born, river reaches maturity, river dies. i think the appeal of
the river such as the Hudson is very strong to many people. Particularly to the river
fishermen at Ver Planck. Charley White goes out for Sturgeon not to make money at it but
like Ahab going after Moby Dick. It’s their holy grail. It’s their passion and men who
work very closely with nature such as Charley White and Jimmy Carey and the other fishermen
at Ver Planck really feel as though they have their hand on the pulse of god. But the hands
of other men are still strong on the river where some pollutants are removed. New ones
appear like the industrial chemicals referred to as PCBs. The presence of which in fish
make them inedible and the river which is necessary to the lives of so many people is
threatened again. No river in American history has more devotees than the Hudson. Devotees
of all kinds, from the Sturgeon fishermen at Ver Planck to turn back the clock to Thomas
Cole and the artists of the Hudson River School. A feeling for nature in this country was born
on the Hudson River. Winslow Homer did his finest work when fishing the upper Hudson
in the Adirondacks. It’s always brought forth a deep response from man, Washington Irving
reading his folktales, modern day conservationists or just the everyday person who happens to
look at the river. You would have to be utterly devoid of feeling to journey along the river
valley and not be moved by what he sees. The river exists without us as it has for millennia
but without it to reflect and act upon our past and our future would be less. The river
continues in time and defines it’s own reality even as it gives itself endlessly to the sea.
[music].

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