National Geographic : 1948 Jul
The Mighty Hudson reached the point of utter demoralization. Fares from New York to Albany fell to 10 cents, sometimes to nothing; competitors raced on every occasion; and boiler explosions were common. Safety barges, called "lady boats," which could be cut adrift in case of accident, were towed behind the regular boats and passengers on them charged a higher fare. Passage of the Federal steamboat inspection act in 1852 ended dangerous practices. One of the most famous and long-lived of the boats, the Mary Powell, is said never to have had a serious accident or lost a passenger. The Mary Powell's whistle, as well as the bell of the original Clermont and a letter from Robert Fulton, is on exhibition in the Robert Fulton, one of the fleet of large passenger boats operated by the Hudson River Day Line. This company still engages in passenger transportation on a large scale, although many other lines, including the night lines, have gone. The Hudson River Day Line, like its prede cessor companies, has been under the manage ment of the same family for five generations. Alfred V. S. Olcott, president, said to me, with pardonable pride, as we stood on the company's dock at the foot of West 42d Street, New York City: "On a Sunday morning we have taken 10,000 passengers away from here, in three or four boats, in an hour and a quarter." Although the Hudson Valley is one of the most populous areas in the country, there are long stretches of marshland below Albany so free of mankind that the beautiful American egret feels at home here. In summer it can be seen in large numbers from railroad and boat alike. Hudson, the first sizable community below Albany, was a considerable whaling port prior to the War of 1812, although more than 100 miles from the ocean. In population it was once the third city in the State. At 11:15 a. m. the southbound day boat ties up at the Hudson wharf, and at precisely the same moment the northbound streamlined Empire State Express sweeps gracefully and swiftly around the curve, only a few feet away. A View of the Catskills From Parade Hill in Hudson one gets a magnificent view of the Catskills, which domi nate this portion of the Valley much as Man hattan's skyscrapers dominate the metropolis itself. These mountains stand 2,000 feet or more above the land below, this elevation being largely precipitous and sheer. Long inacces- sible, the mountains remained a land of terror to the Dutch settlers, because of Indians, ghosts, and wild animals, especially cata mounts, the "cat" in Catskill coming from this animal. Some early fortunes, such as that of John Jacob Astor, were built on furs, including the Catskill catamounts.* The Catskills have been forever immortal ized by Washington Irving in his tale of Rip van Winkle. He wrote of them: "Of all the scenery of the Hudson, the Kaatskill Mountains had the most witching effect upon my boyish imagination. Never shall I forget . . . the first view of them predominating over a wide extent of country, part wild, woody, and rugged; part softened away into all the graces of cultivation." The gullies and ravines in the Catskills bear the old Dutch name of "clove," and in the same way the streams are known as "kills." There are some 40 kills in the Catskills. Possibly 2,000 people went to the "moun tains" for summer vacation in 1870; today the figure is nearer 500,000 (page 13). Kingston, metropolis of this region, is an old settlement, being a combination of Wilt wyck, chartered in 1661, and Rondout, at the mouth of Rondout Creek (Plate VII). It played an important part in the early history of the State, and despite the bustle incident to being gateway to a huge vacation land and the fact that New York City's gar ment trades are now invading it in search of space and labor, it retains much of its earlier atmosphere. A 10-acre Mushroom Cave Prior to the coming of artificial ice and electrical refrigeration the west bank of the river, especially between Coxsackie and Sau gerties, was lined with huge icehouses, nearly 5,000,000 tons of ice being gathered in a good year. A few of these buildings are now used to grow mushrooms. 1\Iushrooms also are grown extensively from spawn in great caves in and near Kingston, from which limestone and cement have been removed. I visited one 10-acre cave contain ing 30,000 trays of mushrooms, each tray 2' by 4 feet. Of the three yearly crops, about 75 percent is used for canning and 25 percent for the fresh market. They are picked daily. Production in the Hudson Valley averages 30,000 pounds a day. The workers dress like miners, and the tem perature stays at 55° F. the year round. * See "Romance of American Furs," by Wanda Burnett, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1948.