Lately I have spent a great deal of time in Hudson, New York—a town whose ongoing revival (as noted countless times here and elsewhere) has been led by the antiques trade. But antiques aren’t the only story here, and in trying to understand the place I was put in mind of an encounter Henry James had with Hudson in the autumn of 1904.
Back in the United States from Europe for the first time in decades, he was visiting Edith Wharton at The Mount, her home in Lenox, Massachusetts. The two decided to a drive west in Wharton’s “motor” to see the mighty Hudson River amid the blaze of fall foliage. But, as James wrote in The American Scene, when they “reached the town that repeats in so minor a key the name of the stream,” they found the river covered in such a thick mist they could barely see the outline of the Catskill Mountains. To make matters worse, James and Wharton were then refused entry to a hotel dining room because they had a pet French poodle in tow. The hungry authors found a “cook-shop”—a restaurant—and the experience struck a chord in James:
The hospitality of the cook-shop was meanwhile touchingly, winningly unconditioned, yet full of character, of local, of national truth, as we liked to think: documentary, in a high degree—we talked it over—for American life.
In a different day, in a different way, Hudson is still documentary of American life—at least in spirit. The town has known and continues to know struggles and disparity. But it is also warm, engaging, and resilient. Above all Hudson insists on being its own place—not just some stopping spot for leaf-peepers and their fancy dogs. Even at the town’s lowest point, residents knew they had something special. They beat back successive attempts by industries—such as a manufacturer of dry-cleaning fluid—to open plants there, even when the overtures of those businesses were supported by the local government. And today, it is remarkable that along Warren Street, Hudson’s central commercial corridor, there are no national chain stores—apart from a pharmacy that has been there so long it doesn’t count—and only a single brand-name luxury shop, whose founder lives nearby. Hudson has made its own identity.
In these pages you’ll find a special section that serves as a basic introduction to Hudson and to interesting and important sites nearby, as well as a guide to Warren Street and beyond. You’ll also find Eve Kahn’s feature story about the history and renovation of the Hudson Opera House—lately rechristened Hudson Hall—a wonderful building that opened in 1855 as city hall and is now a vibrant cultural center. We asked the estimable Pieter Estersohn to photograph the grand second-floor auditorium as the final decorative touches were being applied to its proscenium arch. His striking images capture a living moment in the theater, and offer a reminder that the process—the getting there—is everything. You should get to Hudson.