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The Modern Hudson Valley 91 Chapter 3 The Modern Hudson Valley By the dawn of the twentieth century, the Hudson Valley was not only a vital part of the New York economy but also had insinuated itself into the consciousness of the nation. Historians instructed citizens on the role the river played in securing independence; writers made the contours of the valley and the foibles of its people available to readers; artists and art lovers gloried in the pastoral nature of valley life, the quality of its light, and the grandeur of its mountains. Elite families inhabited the hilltops and inlets along the river, immigrants filled the cities, and tourists found wonder in Hudson travel. Tangible parts of New York’s past were already being protected at Newburgh and Kingston, and documenting the Hudson’s role in America’s early history obsessed many residents. The extraordinary fertility of the river and its lands continued to provide both food and work. The Hudson had become more than just a river; it was a national treasure, a natural habitat , a cultural sanctuary. Appreciating and preserving the valley and the river was to characterize the new century. Saving the Hudson Wilderness In the nineteenth century, Saratoga represented the end of civilized society. The mountains and woods located beyond the spa were foreboding areas to travelers. Despite the importance of the Hudson River in state transportation and industry, millions of acres of Empire State land on the upper Hudson were terra incognita. Some New Yorkers recognized that mill complexes in the Glens Falls area produced wealth for logging interests and provided the paper for their daily news, that iron taken from Lake Henderson mines had driven Troy’s wealth, and that the Champlain Canal cut travel time to Montreal . But of the vast Adirondacks wilderness, an area in which the entire state of Massachusetts could be lost, they knew nothing. Public ignorance of an incomparable wilderness was long shared by the State of New York. Governor William Marcy was the first official to make the geological and mapping survey of the Adirondacks region a state concern. In 1836 he authorized Williams College Professor Ebenezer Emmons to map, survey, and pinpoint the source of the Hudson River. The expedition found the country north of where the Schoon River entered the Hudson to be almost impenetrable, but Emmons decided that Lake Colden must be the source of New York’s primary river. During a second foray in August 1837, Emmons led the first team to reach the highest point in the Adirondacks; the 5,344foot -tall peak was named Mount Marcy in honor of the governor. Further scientific exploration never occurred, and the wilderness remained pristine, except for a famous “Philosopher’s Camp” of Transcendentalists in 1858. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who searched for “the infinitude of the private man,” found the Adirondack environment to be stimulating and humbling; he introduced New York’s mountains to several members of the “Saturday Club.” Benson Lossing, the most important Hudson River historian of the century, did visit its “Big Bend” and praised the “grand sweep” of the high Adirondacks , but he accepted Emmons’s conjecture regarding the source of America ’s River. The New York Times editorialized that the glories of the Adirondacks might become a “Central Park for the world,” a fond hope that seemed unlikely to be fulfilled, since the area remained dangerous and unexplored , more apt to cause disasters such as the April 1869 flood that destroyed the Glens Falls bridge than to attract tourists. In April 1869, the Rev. William Murray published Adventures in the Wilderness, or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks. Murray asserted that the Lower Hudson was becoming crowded and that tourism ought to extend into mountains that were as old as any on earth, and that offered good accommodations . The few tourists who took his advice were soon called “Murray’s 92 River of Dreams Fools.” But the volume did influence Thomas Clark Durant, the driving force behind the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad, who had been unceremoniously dumped from its board. Returning to New York, Durant built the first railroad into the Adirondacks, from Saratoga to North Creek, in 1871. Durant played a vital role in opening the wilderness; he built one of the area’s first “camps” for his family, creating a style of rural vacationing that would draw other rich men, and his railroad fostered the construction of almost two hundred Adirondack hotels by 1880. Responding to growing interest, the...


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Subject Headings

  • Hudson River Valley (N.Y. and N.J.) -- History.
  • Hudson River Valley (N.Y. and N.J.) -- History -- Pictorial works.
  • Postcards -- Hudson River Valley (N.Y. and N.J.).
  • Hudson River Valley (N.Y. and N.J.) -- History, Local.
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