|Soon after the Revolutionary War, a group of seafaring men from Providence and Newport, Nantucket and Edgartown, fearing retaliation from the British, sought a safe harbor for their vessels. In the spring of 1783, Thomas and Seth Jenkins set out to find such a place and found it in on the banks of the Hudson. They purchased a large tract of land known as Claverack Landing. By that fall, the founders of Hudson, most of whom were Quakers, began arriving in ships with their families and possessions. Some even brought with them houses that had been framed out in Nantucket.
At their first meeting in 1784, the founders, who called themselves Proprietors, set to work designing the city. In 1785, the City of Hudson was chartered, making it the first city to be chartered in the new United States.
By 1788, Hudson had become a commercial city with a considerable population, warehouses, wharves and docks, ropewalks, and the din of industry. Its economic mainstays were whaling, sealing, and international trade. The discovery of petroleum in the mid-1800s decreased the demand for whale oil, and this, combined with the coming of the railroad in the late 1840s, which transected the north and south bays, caused Hudson to enter a period of decline.
Even as the railroads sealed the fate of one era, they fostered the beginning of a new era and enabled new industries to prosper. In the 19th century, knitting mills and cotton mills opened and brickyards flourished, as did breweries and an iron works. But by the end of the 19th century the economy of the city once again began to decline. The cement industry, which had arrived about 1900 and dominated the economy until the Great Depression, finally closed in the late 1960s.
During the middle years of the 20th century, Hudson’s economy continued to be depressed, and because no one could afford to do so, or was able or interested in doing so, many of Hudson’s elegantly simple buildings, along with its mansions, rode through time unappreciated, neglected, then abandoned, and finally, for some, demolished. Despite depredation caused not only by neglect and the passage of time, but by planned demolition and ill-considered destruction, it remains a cause for celebration that the city of Hudson has retained so much of its superb architectural heritage.
In the past two decades, Hudson has renewed itself as it had twice before in the 18th and mid-19th centuries. The city, with its architecture and unique character, has come once more to be avidly appreciated, and more importantly, saved and restored by some long-time residents and by many new devotees of the city—all the spiritual if not the actual heirs of those who built—and rebuilt—Hudson better than they found it.