The history of Hudson is long and complex. Trampled underfoot by whole epochs of native peoples; fought and sweated over by armies from distant lands and homesteaders seeking new lives, the Hudson Valley has always been and remains a vital core to all human history on the North American continent.
Within that vast area of fertility, intense human activity, and far reaching ambitions, an endless, dazzling array of stories unfolds before the inquiring eye. For a visitor seeking to be steeped in the rich history of Hudson and decibels of destiny echoing through this land, the story of the town of Hudson in Columbia County is fulfilling in every way.
For centuries, the native Mahican tribe hunted the land around Hudson, making up the largest native tribe to the Hudson Valley. To the native peoples of the region, the Mahicans were Muhhekunneuw , or: people of the great river.
Europeans Arrived in 1609
With the arrival and first contact with Europeans in 1609, the Mahicans began to recede in significance, being forced to sell off their land, or simply being forced off. In 1662, Dutch settlers purchased the land around modern day Hudson, and incorporated it into what was then the Town of Claverack. Due to the easy river access and safe harbor of the waterfront, the town became a local aquatic access point, giving rise to Hudson’s first name: Claverack Landing.
In the generations that followed, ambitious whalers drunk off of the massive profits to be pulled from the oceans of the world sought refuge where no marauders or privateers could loot their rich stores and piles of wealth. The traditional whaling communities of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Providence proved to be far too exposed in the early days of European colonization. Thus, with easy and safe deep water access all the way from the coast up the river, the whalers found that the little township of Claverack Landing afforded everything they needed, including expediency of access to the ocean and important trading hubs, and sufficient insulation from raiders operating on the high seas.
Then Along Came Henry Hudson
In 1785, to honor the name of the Dutch explorer Henry Hudson, and in keeping with the already rich maritime history of the place, the town was incorporated as the city of Hudson. The population of Hudson exploded and became the 24th largest city in the United States by 1790. In 1820, Hudson was the fourth largest human settlement in New York State.
As shipping became less volatile, so the importance of Hudson as a maritime hub receded. The importance of the city, so long tied to industry, now gave way to the natural wonders that had always been at the bedrock of its significance. Painters, philosophers, and poets all flocked to the Hudson Valley, discovering a rich dialogue of natural charm and simple human existence, and began to see patterns of beauty that they reflected in great works of literature and painting which have echoed down through the ages, and continue to inspire us to this day. The American transcendentalists pondered the deep connection of all living things, and the painters of the Hudson River School stood atop Mount Merino and marveled at the daily spectacular of the sunset beyond the Catskill mountains. Great artists including the two great painters of the Hudson River School, Frederick Edwin Church and Thomas Cole, made their homes just outside of the city near Mount Merino.
The history of Hudson, a town like and unlike any other, included periods of decline and periods of surging growth. Prostitution, gambling, and licentiousness became synonymous with the city’s name in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The town slumped following a torrent of arrests and crackdowns, and for decades, the city fell into disarray.
Though the city peaked and was ripped from below by the forces of change, the magnificence of the town’s place in the valley and in American history have continued to excite and inspire. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a resurgence of growth has completely revitalized the town and changed the history of Hudson. Stores selling the antique relics of glorious bygone days line the streets, and the youthful, hungry for a place where the soul, the body, and the mind are all fed in abundance have found Hudson to be a place like no other. The city of Hudson still holds that light of human inspiration aloft, and will probably continue to in the future.