the lordly Hudson
Updated: Jan 28
That was how Washington Irving, 19th century writer, described the Hudson River. For over 200 years, writers and artists have captured the river in paintings, drawings, literature, and photographs, and surveyors and scientists have mapped and measured its every parcel. #WashingtonIrving #HudsonRiver
For 200 years it's been a place for dreamy reverie. This is what the artists of the Hudson River School saw:
Weekend homes, summer vacations, time outdoors to commune with nature and enjoy a brisk walk through the woods. Right? Well, yes, but...
... the Hudson has also been the source of endless commercial schemes. #HudsonRiverSchool
Take one of the schemes of the Carpenter Brothers, one of the biggest quarrying companies in the Palisades. One of the distinctive rock formations on the Palisades was known as Indian Head. The formation was as tall as a 20-story building. It projected above the Hudson River just north of Fort Lee, where George Washington had camped with the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The Carpenter Brothers owned the site and decided to demolish the rock formation to produce crushed stone for paving roads. They invited crowds to watch the spectacle of the demolition from the cliff tops. Within a year the entire formation was gone. Not to mention all the debris that washed into the Hudson. #ThePalisades
In a nutshell, this is the entire conflict that has enveloped the Hudson for 200 years. Yes, the commercial development has obvious benefits, but at what aesthetic and environmental costs? For the better part of the 20th century the pendulum swung towards commercial development. The environmental consequences were nothing short of catastrophic. The New-York Historical Society currently offers a superb exhibit (through August 4, 2019) on the historic beauty of the 315-mile odyssey that originates in the #AdirondackMountains of northern New York State and flows south through the #HudsonValley to the Upper New York Bay and eventually drains into the Atlantic Ocean at #NewYorkHarbor. #TheNewYorkHistoricalSociety
But this exhibit really takes things to a whole other level. After starting off slow with the bucolic, romantic images of the Hudson River School, and then showing us the environmental impact of 19th-20th century industrialization, the exhibit surprised me with a third section devoted to the environmental warriors in both New York and New Jersey who weren't content with just sitting by and bemoaning the deterioration of the river. For the last 100 years and more, people have been fighting, first as individuals and then coming together in large groups to restore and protect the pristine beauty of the Hudson. #HudsonRiverProtection #HudsonRiverEnvironmentalistMovement
Verplanck Colvin (1847-1920) was one of the first to grow alarmed at how excessive logging affected waterways. It was making the Hudson more shallow. To chart and support his call for restraint he returned to the Adirondacks every year for decades to map the terrain and demonstrate the erosion that logging was causing. But his solitary campaign was successful. In 1894, an amendment to the state constitution ended large-scale commercial logging on state land in the Adirondacks. #logging
Cecilia Gaines (1867-1943) was an astute and determined voice in the fight to protect the Palisades. To Gaines, saving the Palisades was a moral and patriotic responsibility.
But the big story of the exhibit is the successful effort to stop #GeneralElectric's creation of a power plant at #StormKing. GE had opened a nuclear power plant at Indian Point in 1963 and they may have been able to get the much coveted license to open Storm King if it had not been for a local fisherman, Robert Boyle, who was also a writer for #SportsIllustrated. Bob noticed that fish were dying inexplicably. One angry fisherman described a photo he had taken. “The fish seen here were supposed to be about one or two days’ accumulation. They were piled to a depth of several feet. They covered an area encompassing more than a city lot.”
Neighbors meeting around a kitchen table decided to take action. They went into court and successfully argued that they had the right to challenge GE. Those early successes led the way for the national environmental movement.
This exhibit perfectly expresses my own particular philosophy and that of Sunrise Lane:
We each have the power to affect change.