Hudson, NY: Successful, Small-Scale Revival– Can Providence Learn from It? Architecture Critic Morga

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

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Jocelyn Sinauer, a graduate of Massachusetts College of Art, moved her European furnishings store from Peterborough, New Hampshire to Hudson ten years ago. PHOTO: William Morgan

Hudson, New York is a small city on the move. One former Providence resident and now a furnishing dealer in Hudson says there is more action in the New York small city than back in the RI capitol.

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Kevin Regan moved from Providence to Hudson in 2008. 

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Kevin Regan moved from Providence to Hudson in 2008. PHOTO: Will Morgan

Regan started out on upper Wickenden Street in Fox Point, but declares that Hudson is the right place for his business. Regan misses Providence, (he studied illustration at RISD with David Macaulay and Chris Van Allsberg), but Hudson has given him “a great life” and he loves its “bohemian lifestyle.”

Hudson illustrates how history and high-end tourism can rescue a city. This town on the Hudson River, 120 miles north of New York City, was one of the fastest-growing places in America during the height of the pandemic. What makes Hudson “Upstate’s favorite downtown”? Does it offer any offers lessons for Providence?

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Warren Street, Hudson’s main drag runs for more than a mile uphill from the Hudson River; with few exceptions, its townscape is intact. PHOTO: Will Morgan

Founded by whalers from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in search of a safe harbor during the Revolution, Hudson boomed until the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania. Following whaling’s demise, Hudson became a typical small working-class city, home to a leather factory, a match company, and a brewery. During Prohibition and the Depression, Hudson was known for bootlegging and brothels. Despite landing a couple of cement factories, Hudson was a typical struggling upstate backwater, and until the 1980s, a city of crack houses and despair.

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One of the splendid Greek revival houses erected during Hudson’s heyday as a whaling port. PHOTO: Will Morgan

The cycles of boom and bust seemed to end when Hudson was discovered and revived, primarily by New York City antiques dealers. As with Providence, Hudson had been spared urban renewal, so there was an abundance of architecturally distinguished homes and commercial buildings that were incredibly affordable. New York City dealers who initially used the town for warehousing discovered that people would travel to Hudson to wander a mile-long street of quality antique shops interspersed with the restaurants, boutique hotels, galleries, and theatres that followed the “creatives.” Proximity to the fertile agriculture of the Hudson Valley fueled a cadre of notable farm-to-table chefs.

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Mid-century modern gallery, one of dozens of antique shops and galleries on Warren Street. PHOTO: Will Morgan

Sometimes called Brooklyn North, and a welcome haven for gays, Hudson’s abundant historic architecture, cheap rents, plus fresh air and rural landscapes nearby, made Hudson a destination. Newcomers came here and stayed, supporting and strengthening the community. Princeton Architectural Press, for example, moved here from New York City in 2015; its publisher came “in search of a better life.”

The fragile peace between the newcomers and the less-well-off natives almost burst into class welfare twenty years ago when a Swiss company tried to build a $300 million cement factory here. This was like Hudson’s Fane Tower or 38 Studios. Although very few jobs would really have materialized, the sprawling manufacturing complex plant would have brought pollution, destruction of the town’s scenic river views, as well as an end to its tourist trade. Finally halted for environmental shortcomings, the promise of the plant was the classic battle between “jobs are the only thing that can save us” to a more nuanced, multi-pronged, incremental approach relying on longer-term economic development. The Swiss tempted the city with an offer of $4 million a year for two decades, surely not even a fraction of what tourism now bring into Hudson.

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Might Hudson give us some clues about how to get jobs without industry?  Can a city of antique shops really compete? A New York Times study of 926 metro areas during the pandemic showed that Hudson had the biggest rate of in-migration in the United States. Most of those newcomers were New Yorkers drawn by Hudson’s cultural reputation. Wealthier, more educated buyers often force the poor to move farther out. The value of houses has risen astronomically, while former crack houses now sell for over $ 1 million.

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Restoration of Victorian row houses on Allen Street. PHOTO: Will Morgan

“People who work here cannot afford to live here,” says Gail Peachin, who joined the wave of antique dealers who settled in Hudson a quarter of a century ago. She was forced out of her gallery on Warren Street by increased rents, now has her shop in a warehouse down by the river, and commutes from the other side of the Catskills.

Hudson is blessed by being really a large town, yet it has the critical mass of a city. Its success has led to serious gentrification issues, yet basic principles of historic preservation, density, and community activism seem to prevail. When a special place is able to promote culture as a draw, it has a better chance of survival than putting all its hopes, say, in an Amazon distribution center or a chemical plant. Problems of social and economic inequity won’t disappear just because a lot of New Yorkers want to live there, but at least Hudson understands that aiming high is better than signing up for a short-lived fix.

Hudson-based Princeton Architectural Press has published four books by GoLocal architecture critic Morgan, including Yankee Modern and Snowbound: Dwelling in Winter. Related Articles Enjoy this post? Share it with others.

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