The Way it Was
Back in the day: Stories and photos tell the rich history of the Valley in an array of informative new books
The times, they are a-changin’, and these books aim to capture it all. Early photos depicting stops along the old Hudson Line recall the region’s past
Photographs courtesy Turner Publishing Company
Last year’s Quadricentennial celebrations have spawned a number of intriguing new books about the Valley and its history. Here’s a brief look at six of them.
Both the steamboat and the train had a major role in revolutionizing travel and commerce in the mid-1800s. While Fulton’s ships ferried passengers and products along the Hudson and the Erie Canal, the Hudson River Railroad linked river communities like Garrison, Poughkeepsie, and Kingston to one another, and — perhaps even more importantly — to Manhattan. In Historic Photos of the Hudson Line (Turner Publishing Co., $39.95), Henry John Steiner chronicles the growth of this early railroad — and the region it served — with close to 200 rare black-and-white photographs culled from the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the New York State Archives. Using minimal text (most of it in caption form), Steiner — the municipal historian for the village of Sleepy Hollow — lets the large-format photos tell the story; the images range from bucolic views of sailboats and shorelines to military and political parades and important events of the time (such as Glenn Curtiss’ historic solo airplane flight from Albany to New York City).
Noted Valley conservationist Frances Dunwell’s latest book, The Hudson: America’s River (Columbia University Press, $29.95) is a comprehensive portrait of our well-loved waterway. Beginning with Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage and concluding with the 1960s birth of environmentalism, Dunwell describes the river’s influence on our nation’s ecological, cultural, political, and social development. The author pays special attention to some of the area’s better known personalities (Robert Fulton and Thomas Cole among them), recounting their achievements in well-documented detail. With illustrations ranging from early engravings and picture postcards to four-color reproductions of Hudson River School paintings, this lively volume brings Valley history to life in a readily accessible way.
Local history told from a more academic perspective can be found in Main Street to Mainframes: Landscape and Social Change in Poughkeepsie by Harvey K. Flad and Clyde Griffen (SUNY Press, $30). The authors, both emeritus professors at Vassar College, highlight how, over the last 300 years, the Dutchess County hub grew from an agricultural market town to a small city with a diversified economy, and eventually to an urban center dependent on a single employer. (Current and former IBMers will likely find the sizeable section on the company especially compelling.) The book argues that Poughkeepsie’s story mirrors that of many other small cities in the Northeast, and that some of the problems it has faced — the exodus of Main Street businesses for the suburbs, for example — offer important lessons for community planners.
Ulster County residents are sure to find Deana F. Decker’s Hurley, New York: A Brief History (The History Press, $19.99) of special interest. Originally settled by the Dutch, the town has seen its share of turbulence (the Lenape tribe fought over it, as did both sides in the Revolutionary War); it also played an important role in the Underground Railroad (Sojourner Truth was one of its residents), and artist Winslow Homer included a town building in at least one of his paintings. Decker chronicles the ups and downs of the area’s 350-year history, and describes in detail the lives of the town’s forebears — some of who became decorated soldiers, foreign ambassadors, and influential politicians.
Hudson River Panorama by Tammis K. Groft, W. Douglas McCombs, and Ruth Greene-McNally (Excelsior Editions/SUNY Press, $29.95), the companion catalogue to the Albany Institute of History and Art exhibit of the same name, showcases many of the artworks featured in the show (whose run recently was extended through 2011). Organized around four interlocking themes — natural history and environment; transportation; trade, commerce, and industry; and culture and symbol — the Hudson’s saga is told via the items in the AIHA’s varied collection, which includes everything from a 1990s painting of Olana to an iron link from the “great chain” that stretched across the river at West Point during the Revolutionary War. While not as comprehensive as Dunwell’s book, this handsomely illustrated paperback is a neat primer of the region’s early history.
Undoubtedly the most unusual tome in this literary sextet is photographer Greg Miller’s Panorama of the Hudson River (SUNY Press, $18). First, a little background: In 1910, steamboats on the Hudson often sold souvenir books of photographs taken along the river. One such book, Panorama of the Hudson River, depicted every inch of the Hudson’s banks — both east and west — from Manhattan to Albany. Fast-forward to last year, when Miller spent several weeks on the river recreating a 21st century version of the original photo panorama. The resulting 80 foot-long image has been reprinted alongside the original 1910 version, and — from Feb. 6 through March 28 — can be seen at SUNY New Paltz’s Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art. (Click here for the event information.) The book is a reproduction of the museum exhibit, juxtaposing the 1910 view with Miller’s, taken nearly 100 years later. Valleyites will find it a fascinating historical look at how our Hudson River has changed — and how, in some places, it has stayed almost exactly the same.