Looking back at Hudson River history on the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s epic sail
Just as a river is considered the lifeblood of any city, within the murky waters of the Hudson flows the history of New York – the great metropolis that began as a little Dutch trading colony named Nieuw Amsterdam.
As New York State gets ready to throw a big birthday bash this week for the “oldest” river in the U.S., the boatload of events and exhibits around town aren’t just for commemorating Henry Hudson’s discovery 400 years ago – they’re a celebration of the city itself.
It’s that historic mix of military conquests and maritime marvels, of infamous murders and modern-day acts of courage, that give the Hudson – and by extension, New York – its unique identity.
Flowing 315 miles from a mountain lake in the Adirondacks to where it empties into the Atlantic past Staten Island, the river was first sighted by a European in 1524 – Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian explorer sailing for the French.
But it was Hudson, an Englishman working for the Dutch India Company, who in September 1609 sailed into what is now New York Harbor aboard a cramped ship named the Half Moon. He became the first to explore the river at length.
What is now Manhattan was a Dutch settlement until 1674, when England seized the city and changed its name to New York. By the following century, as the Hudson became a major shipping route, the towns along its banks would be the scenes of several key Revolutionary War battles.
The Hudson is also where Robert Fulton demonstrated the first working steamboat – aka “Fulton’s Folly” – by traveling from New York City to Albany in 1807. This nautical legacy continues today with annual Fleet Week, Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations centered around the Intrepid, the World War II carrier turned floating military museum permanently docked on the West Side.
In addition to its history, what other river besides the Hudson can lay claim to being the name for both an artistic movement as well as inspiring a literary genre?
The 19th-century movement known as the Hudson River School was established when upstate artists were stirred by the majestic beauty of the river and surrounding landscapes.
An infamous 1841 murder, when the badly beaten body of a 20-year-old cigar girl was pulled from the river on the Hoboken shoreline, not only caused a competitive war between New York newspapers, it gave birth to the modern detective story. Edgar Allan Poe, a little-known writer with Bronx roots, used the case as the basis for a fictional magazine serial, “The Mystery of Marie Roget.”
History continues to write itself, as the Hudson was the scene of both immense triumph and terrible tragedy this year.
In January, airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger coolly landed a commuter plane in the icy, strong currents of the river near midtown, saving the lives of all 155 aboard.
But there would be a different ending to another life-or-death situation in the sky over the Hudson last month, when a tourist helicopter collided with a private plane, killing all nine people aboard both aircraft.
With the city primed to celebrate its quadricentennial, here’s a look back in pictures at the Hudson River.
BY Robert Dominguez