The Hudson River and me -- 06/28/11

My entry the other day about swimming in the Hudson River got me to thinking about rivers and about where I have lived over these past 68 years... which almost always has been near a river. So think of this as a companion piece to that entry.

I grew up along the Hudson River.

More specifically, I grew up in a house on a hillside overlooking the confluence of the Rondout Creek with the Hudson River at a spot where the Hudson is about a mile wide. The word Rondout is apparently a corruption of the Dutch equivalent of redoubt or fort -- they wrote it as reduyt and I know neither modern Dutch nor 17th century Dutch and people tended to be fairly creative about spelling in those days anyway. This fort that was established within five years of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage was really a trading post for fur-trading with the indigenous inhabitants -- mostly the Esopus tribe. Note that this trading post was there six years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts (but, as I mentioned regarding Rhode Island and Massachusetts, Europeans had been visiting North America for quite a while before the Pilgrims came over).

Of course Henry Hudson didn't really discover the river that is named after him. It was Giovanni da Verrazzano who was the first European explorer to sail into New York Harbor. He was looking for a water passage to the Pacific -- a short cut to China and India -- and I have read that apparently he thought that the river flowed from a large lake so he ignored it and continued on up the coast. A few days later he discovered Rhode Island. Well, what he discovered was Narragansett Bay and an island that he said reminded him of the Isle of Rhodes. He may actually have been talking about Block Island, but people seemed to think he meant Aquidneck Island (where Newport is). His voyage was in 1524, his letter where he discussed this was printed in English in 1582 and in 1600, and some of the early settlers seem to have known of it, and in 1637 Roger Williams wrote to John Winthrop in the Massachusetts Bay Colony about "Aquednetick called by us Rode Island." So 85 years after Verrazzano saw it, Hudson sailed up the Hudson River (in the employ of the Dutch East India Company which was also interested in a short cut to India) and the river has his name. (Of course Verrazzano has a couple of big bridges named for him -- one in NY and one here in RI.)


There, you see how I get distracted and wander off down various and sundry interesting paths and byways.

Okay, back to the Hudson River and growing up with it. It is a majestic sight and I had a great view from my bedroom window. At night I could see the flashing light of the lighthouse that stood at the entrance to the Rondout (and still does) and if there was any traffic on the river I could see the lights of the ships and barges on the river. (The house I grew up in and a telephoto view of the lighthouse can be seen in this July 2007 entry.)

The Hudson is a tidal river. There is a substantial tidal difference even ninety miles upstream where Kingston is. For us as kids this was mostly important when going swimming at the city beach. It wasn't much fun going in the water at low tide, it was too shallow, even out at the floating platform it was not much beyond waist deep when we were teenagers and the bottom was muddy under your feet (and there was a rope line stretched between buoys not much further out and the lifeguards would not let us go past that rope). At high tide it was fine, the water at the float was above our heads and it was great swimming out to the float and climbing on and then jumping off to make a big splash. (It was different over at the old abandoned docks... even at dead low tide it was still far over our heads.)

That fishing spot where my father used to take me fishing when I was really little was in the tidal basin between the swamp and wetlands that the city filled in (which they insisted on calling a "sanitary land fill" project -- and which today would get them brought up on federal environmental protection charges) and the long narrow strip of man-made land put in by the Ulster and Delaware Railroad around 1895. Their original passenger station was in downtown Kingston, in what had originally been the town of Rondout. Passenger ships from New York would enter the Rondout Creek and dock near the train station. The Hudson River Day Line ships had taken to docking at Rhinecliff, on the opposite side of the Hudson, because it took too much time to come into the crowded and busy Rondout (their schedule was New York to Albany in nine hours), so passengers for Kingston (or who wanted to continue to the Catskills by rail) then had to take the Kingston-Rhinecliff ferry. Then the line began using huge steamboats (four and five hundred feet long) that were truly too large for the Rondout. Once the railroad completed its extension, the big steamboats could easily dock at Kingston Point and passengers could easily transfer to the Ulster & Delaware... of, if Kingston was their intended destination, they could easily walk across the little pedestrian bridge to the park at Kingston Point and catch a trolley.

Of course the trolleys were long gone by the time I was a kid -- much to my chagrin because they seemed as if they would be much more fun than the boring city transit buses of my youth. Although I did get to ride on trolleys in Albany on their last day of running while visiting my aunt and uncle who lived there. My Aunt Edna (my mother's twin sister) came down to Kingston by train (West Shore Railroad) and brought me back up to Albany with her when it got close to my mother's due date with my brother Charlie. In fact, I Googled around just now and discovered that the last day of trolley service in Albany was August 31, 1946 -- which was the very day Charlie was born.

It was to visit that aunt that I actually got to ride on a Day Line ship from Kingston to Albany. This must have been earlier in 1946 or perhaps even back in 1945. All I really remember is being on a ship that was big -- but I had nothing to compare it with except that it was much bigger than our house as I don't think I was on a the Kingston-Rhinecliff ferry until I was four or five. My only memories of it are sitting in a very large room that had lots of chairs (again, no fine distinctions here, no details at all) and very vaguely of being on deck and being urged to look at the scenery but any memories of anything I might have seen are totally gone -- my big memory was of the building where we disembarked at Albany. There was a roofed over area for taxis (and, possibly, for drivers picking up passengers?) but it really blew my mind because to my young eyes I was in a building that was so big it had streets with automobiles driving inside it and I thought it was amazing.

The Day Line stopped running steamboats from New York to Albany around 1948 when it went bankrupt, was sold, then ran excursions from New York City to Bear Mountain State Park, and (as far as I can find) no longer appears to be in business.

My original title for this was "Rivers and me" but I just had so much to say about growing up on the Hudson that I never got to any other rivers. I guess I'll have to cover them some other time. Ah well, I lived by the Hudson for a couple of decades -- birth until college at 18, a couple of summers while in college, and then two years of being back home and commuting to school. You won't find it on a list of the major thirty or so rivers of North America (just isn't long enough) but the part of it that I grew up with is certainly majestic and stately... and most other rivers I have encountered seem rather small in comparison.

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