For her audience, it was almost like time-travel when Allynne Lange, curator emerita at Kingston’s Maritime Museum, delivered her presentation on the History of Industry in the Hudson Valley recently in Highland. The program was held at the Vineyard Commons Meeting Room/Theater. Sponsored by the Town of Lloyd Historical Preservation Society (TOLHPS), Lange showed an extensive collection of pictures of industrial sites, workers, and their families, going back as far as pre-revolutionary days and progressing forward into the present.
Lange’s slides ranged from centuries-old lithographs through black and white photographs to modern pictures, popping with color. Along with the visuals she provided insights into the impact of each industry and the work involved on the lives and communities of the workers of each era. Work was hard, but the early Dutch and English settlers made good lives for themselves, which Lange illustrated with a picture of 18th century stone houses, which, she said, “gives a good idea of how successfully English, Dutch, and others had settled in prior to the revolutionary war.
Although she focused most extensively on the better-known industries like cement and brick production, she opened with an unexpected one – beaver skins. With beaver fur felt hats widely popular in Europe as far back as the 1700’s, the early Hudson Valley settlers had a ready market and hunted the animals almost to extinction in the area.
Then Lange looked at transportation up and down the valley as its own industry, with pictures of many boats from sloops to schooners. Lange credited painters of the Hudson River School of Art for preserving the memory of beautiful boats on the Hudson in the mid-19th century. She focused on a picture of Robert Fulton’s first successful steamboat in the United States, which, she emphasized, made a big difference in transportation up and down the valley between the commercially booming City of New York and Albany, the state’s capital.
Expanding the impact of the Hudson River as a transportation venue are the canals that connect to it. Lange noted that the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825, extended the water route from Albany into the mid-West, greatly increasing traffic on the river itself, moving products and people to and from New York City.
The D&H Canal, which opened in 1828, made it enormously easier and cheaper to transport coal to needy New Yorkers. Lange’s lithograph of the canal and its surrounding where it meets the Hudson at the mouth of the Rondout in Kingston shows what a busy port this was. The island in the middle was built to store coal before it was loaded onto big boats and shipped down the Hudson to New York City. Two very different communities developed side by side. On one hand, the older, stable families of Dutch and English settlers who populated the state capital of Kingston. On the other hand, the younger, more dynamic group that moved into the Rondout region to take advantage of the jobs there. Hard jobs they were, but the new younger folk were equipped to do them.
The D&H Canal also spurred on the development of a whole new, enormous industry – Rosendale cement. Mixed from limestone carved out of the hills around Rosendale, the cement turned out to be the best in the country – perhaps in the world – for its strength and its hardiness in water environments. The canal itself, which opened in 1828 needed the cement for its many locks, and once built became a primary route for moving the cement into New York City where it still supports the Brooklyn Bridge and the base of the Statue of Liberty. Lange showed a picture of a vessel on the D&H Canal carrying bags and barrels of cement. “It was a huge industry,” Lange exclaimed. Remains of the industry still abound in the area, Lange said. Sets of kilns on Route 213 and caves meticulously dug through open arches can be seen from various locations in and around Rosendale.
While the hills around Rosendale yielded limestone for cement, the D&H Canal boats and barges also brought bluestone from the near-by Catskill Mountains. Prized for its durability and the fact that it didn’t get slippery when wet, it was popular for sidewalks in New York City and Newburgh. The beauty of the stone also led some builders to incorporate it into buildings. “Great illustrations in the 1875 Ulster County Atlas show a building made of bluestone and stones piled up ready to go,” Lange said. She also found pictures of men finishing the stone.
“It doesn’t look like unpleasant work,” she commented, in contrast to frequent remarks she made in reference to pictures of workers doing much harder tasks that led her to say with a sigh, “I wouldn’t want to have to do that.”
The region provided cement, bluestone, and one other local resource for building materials – bricks. “They found the right kind of clay for bricks,” Lange stated. The brickmakers used giant mixers to mix the clay with water and coal dust (and perhaps other ingredients), poured the mixture into molds for bricks, and placed the molds onto drying fields. When dry, the bricks would be put into kilns to “burn” into bricks ready for building. “It was a huge, huge industry in the areas of Kingston, Haverstraw, and Cornwall,” Lang, and showed a picture of one crew of workers, surrounding the company owner. The owner, she said, was pretty wealthy, but he got right down in there and worked alongside his employees.” All of them were barefoot, “so as not to mar the bricks with shoes.”
“I don’t know how well it paid, Lange said, but a lot of people worked in the brick industry.” One estimate of the extent of production in the Hudson Valley was three billion bricks a year at its peak. Lange also pointed out that almost all the bricks we see in the buildings in the Hudson Valley were made in the Hudson Valley.
Another product offered by nature was ice – cut in the winter from the river and near-by lakes and sold by street vendors to housewives for their iceboxes in summer. The ice cutters would mark out a grid, then cut the ice into slabs and guide them to shore. “Not a job many of us would want,” Lange remarked. But it was a job, and they could be hard to come by in the winter months.
Much more fun was the recreation industry. In the early-to-mid 20th century, cruise lines did big business on the Hudson River, stopping at scenic locations and places like amusement parks. Lange showed a picture of an early such park, with the visitors all dressed up and the children all behaving perfectly. About all those early parks had in common with today’s amusement park were the Ferris wheel and the merry-go round. But they were popular and a destination for visitors.
Lange talked also about boat building, clothing manufacturing, fishing – especially shad festivals) – and more river travel, from oil barges to pleasure craft. It was clear from her presentation that much has changed over the years, but much also remains the same.