Rediscovering the Hudson River
It’s hard to imagine that we owe our fair city — and state — to the insubordinate wanderings of a Brit in the pay of Dutch taskmasters, a sailor chasing mariners’ centuries-old dream of a shorter route to the Orient.
Yet 400 years ago, Henry Hudson encountered bad weather off Norway and, despite orders to return to Amsterdam, opted for a 3,000-mile detour to America instead.
Needless to say it was one slow — and lost — boat to China. But he did chance upon “a very good harbor for all windes,” and a river that would eventually bear his name. Hudson’s happy accident gave quick rise to Nieuw Amsterdam and, ultimately, the Big Apple.
Modern New Yorkers can tip their caps to Hudson’s pluck and celebrate the quadricentennial of his epic adventure this spring, summer and fall — while discovering the many beautiful facets of the present-day Hudson Valley.
With New York State holding dozens of events to commemorate its discovery by Europeans (and a handful of hotels and resorts offering discounts as part of the festivities), there are plenty of options for close-to-home upstate getaways almost all year long.
The inaugural Hudson River Day on June 6 will launch what promises to be the most inclusive harbor- and riverwide event to celebrate the Henry Hudson anniversary, highlighted by a relay flotilla.
The ships will start at the Statue of Liberty and trace Hudson’s path to Albany over the course of the week. Flag-ships include the famous Onrust, the Clearwater, the Woody Guthrie, a reconstruction of Hudson’s Half Moon and the Mystic Whaler. Events along the river at boat clubs, cultural institutions and parks will celebrate Hudson’s journey (www.exploreny400.com).
Head to Albany yourself to see the Hudson River Panorama — a year-long exhibition at the Albany Institute of History and Art. Commemorating Hudson’s exploration, hundreds of artworks, artifacts, interactive displays and rare documents from the institute’s renowned collection will be on display (www.albanyinstitute.org). Or let your visit do double duty over Mother’s Day weekend during the annual Tulip Festival in Washington Park, when more than 200,000 bulbs blossom and the Albany Tulip Queen is crowned (www.albanyevents.org).
The Morgan State House Inn in the capital city sits across from Washington Park in a row of 19th-century brick mansions and has some of the most comfortable beds you’ll ever experience. Rates from $176 per night for two include breakfast goodies from the local Scratch Bakery Cafe (www.statehouse.com).
Pinkster was an African-American celebration of spring, held along the Hudson as early as the 17th century and filled with music, dance, food and revelry. Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow re-creates the holiday next Sunday, with a Colonial-style celebration that includes drumming and traditional dance, African folk tales, and demonstrations of traditional African instruments and everyday wares ($12, $6 for children 5-17; www.hudsonvalley.org).
A nearby historic site, Van Cortlandt Manor, takes the reins on July 4 with festivities that begin with a roar. A roar of the cannon, that is, followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a parade of the manor’s costumed staff. Hands-on activities for adults and children re-create military camp life, and the brave can try their hand at a drill and muster. Make a full day of it by bringing a picnic lunch and taking to the grounds. ($12, $6 for children 5-17; www.hudsonvalley.org).
The landmark Thayer Hotel is getting into the spirit of things with a riverside getaway that includes dinner and a West Point tour — it’s $349 per couple on Friday and Saturday nights through Nov. 15. Hudson anchored his ship, Half Moon, nearby at what is now Newburgh; other historic sites in the areas include the Dutch Reformed Church, George Wash-ington’s 1782-83 headquarters and Kykuit, the imposing Rockefeller estate (www.thethayerhotel.com).
More than two dozen historic vessels will be plying the Hudson for the Working on Water tour , bringing to life different eras of commerce and industry along New York’s inland waterways. Throughout August and September, the public can tour and ride the boats for free — including the Dutch barge Golden Re’al, the canal schooner Lois McClure, the 1907 tug Pegasus and the 1914 wooden covered barge Lehigh Valley 79. Look for a complete schedule at www.workingonwater.org.
Another great way to connect with the river is by taking advantage of the valley’s foot trails during the Grand Walk-about , through September. These range from paved, easy-strolling paths to rocky scrambles up mountainsides. Register with Grand Walkabout, track your miles, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. They’ll even send you a free pedometer, while supplies last, to help you keep track (www.grandwalkabout.com).
Or take it a step further and actually walk across the Hudson when the landmark Poughkeepsie-High-land railroad bridge completes its transformation into a 1¼ -mile park for pedestrians, 212 feet above the water (www.walkway.org).
There’s no better spot for watching the ships sail by than the Rhinecliff , perched on the east bank of the Hudson and offering sweeping views across the river. It’s a painstakingly refinished historic railway hotel; rooms are a bargain at $200 per night and include breakfast for two along with amazing coffee (www.therhinecliff.com).
Take a guided walking tour of the largest intact early Dutch settlement in New York State. The original village of Kingston, whose street plan was designed by Peter Stuyvesant, holds some surprises: The state’s government was born here with the drafting of its constitution in 1777, and the grave of its first elected governor, George Clinton, is in the Old Dutch Church graveyard.
The tour takes in the 1812 Federal-style Fred J. Johnston House, which features a collection of 18th- and early-19th-century American furnishings in elegant settings (May through October, $10; www.fohk.org).
And speaking of the Dutch, 10 artists from the Netherlands are, in their own way, repeating Hudson’s journey. Living and working in Ulster County, the artists are incorporating elements of Hudson Valley culture and history into their work while contributing a European perspective to the regional art scene. Each has studio space at one of the county’s arts organizations; you can take a look at their work at a group show at SUNY Ulster from Sept. 3-25 (www.hudsonriver400.org).
If you prefer your art on the whimsical side, you’ll want to check out the Catskill Art Festival , highlighted by 60 painted fiberglass felines scattered along the historic Main St. in Catskill. The summer-long celebration starts May 25 and ends with a live Cat’s Meow Auction and Gala at the Historic Catskill Point park on the Hudson (www.cat-naround.com).
Mohonk Mountain House , scenically situated in nearby New Paltz, has been owned and operated by the Smiley family since its beginnings in 1869. Now celebrating its 140th birthday, the family-friendly resort is offering a special overnight rate of $186.90 per person, based on double occupancy (www.mohonk.com).
IF YOU GO …
For more information on all the festivals, exhibits and other events celebrating the Hudson quadricentennial, visit www.iloveny.com, www.exploreny400.com and www.hudson400.com.
BY Michael Nassar