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Introduction Folk wisdom tells us that we cannot step into the same river twice, and no American waterway proves the adage as well as the Hudson River. Only the seventyfirst -longest river in the United States, the Hudson’s 315 miles transverse some of the loveliest land in the nation. Four centuries of history along its banks shaped American life and determined national development. Henry James, a somewhat unlikely product of its environment, described the stream with typical understatement as “perpetually interesting.” It remains a work in progress, a place of constant change, a river that has consistently helped to forge the American character. Stretching from Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondack Mountains to the unparalleled vistas of New York Bay, the Hudson is a natural wonder. Born 250 million years ago, its evolution can be read in rock strata, fossils, and the eight seismic fault lines that grind beneath its placid surface. However, the course of today’s Hudson was set a mere fifteen thousand years ago after the glaciers of the Wisconsin Ice Age receded and the solid mass of ice above what is now New York City melted. The immense volume of water created a lake that soon breached the gravel and stone debris left behind by the retreating glaciers. Water originating in the far Adirondacks once again flowed without opposition into the Hudson Submarine Canyon, a 9,000-foot gorge that extends for 150 miles beyond the continent . The natural history of the Hudson plays only a peripheral role in our story. Our true subject is the abundant variety of human experience along “America’s River,” not the 206 species of fish that make it their home. Nor will we add to the immense volume of books that analyze the Hudson’s outlet to the sea, the immense world metropolis that surrounds the natural wonder of New York City’s harbor. Rather, our attention is devoted to the people and communities that grew up north of Manhattan and the Bronx, the miles of river that stretch from the Palisades to the slopes of Mount Marcy. Our entry into the fabric of their life will be through a rarely noticed but most valuable artifact of history, the Hudson Valley as it appears in a rich selection of historic picture postcards. Introduction ix Practically everyone has mailed a postcard, which is a practical way to keep us in touch with friends and commemorate a vacation visit. But as historical documents , postcards can illuminate scenes and events of the past. They are not only beautiful and evocative, but they also provide a fascinating pathway into the past. The postcard is little more than a century old. Before the 1890s, Americans who hoped to recapture a travel experience had to write a letter or send a message on a blank postal card available only through the government. The United States first authorized picture postcards to commemorate Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The innovation proved such a success that Congress in 1898 permitted privately printed cards bearing other scenes to enter the mails, so long as they bore government stamps. Since almost any vista could adorn the cards, myriad subjects became available in only a few years, and collecting cards became a popular hobby. Views of American cities were a favorite subject, since most citizens had not yet traveled widely and Manhattan, the heart of the nation’s largest city, was a particularly popular subject. After 1900, Hudson Valley sites also provided desirable images. The earliest postcards are easy to spot, since until 1907 all personal messages were written on margins next to the picture. In that year postal authorities created the more familiar split-back card, holding message and address. The great New York Hudson and Fulton celebration (1909) was one of the first major events to lead to the new format, and full images of that event helped spread the mania for postcard collecting. Postcard art covers the gamut of human activity, from national celebrations to the routines of daily life. Cards document a wide range of historical sites, local monuments, hotels, mansions, village greens, and scenic views. Far more than the places they depict, cards reflect what people thought was valuable and important. The brief messages on their backs convey happiness and concern, anticipation and anxiety, love and longing. The images in this book are drawn from the archives of Fordham University and the collections of the New York State Museum and the State Library...


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