At the river’s edge just north of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge in Columbia County sits the historic city of Hudson. Founded as a whaling port in 1783 by Nantucketeers displaced by the Revolution, Hudson was constructed on a hill and from its geological apex, the old cemetery, the city spills fo rth like rainwater to the river’s edge. Traveling down through the city streets Hudson gains momentum. A study in Hudson Valley historical architecture, Hudson’s shops and residences are tucked into a hodgepodge of old brick buildings, row houses, grand mansions, housing projects, recommissioned churches, banks, and even barns.
Much of Hudson’s draw to visitors is in this somewhat unpolished aesthetic. Perhaps nowhere is that more visible in the Hudson’s many alleys, which run the length of the city. Vine-covered barns and carriage houses, and private gardens line the uneven and pocked one-lane-wide two-way traffic alleys. The alleys are like the wrinkles in Hudson’s face that show the complexity in its age. The alleys show that the city, so known for the upscale appearance of its main thoroughfare, Warren Street, is also one that is lived in by a wide range of peoples and co mmunities.
“It’s our diversity that people are attracted to,” says seven -term Mayor Richard Scalera, “Its a draw, we attract people of all walks of life.”
Unlike the rest of Columbia County, Hudson is racially diverse, with large African American and Bangladeshi communities. While the busiest upper section of Warren Street has been gentrified, in a city that only covers two square miles one can’t help but know their neighbors.
This summer Hudson also saw its first ever gay pride parade and two gay best friends were prom king and queen of the high school. Both happenings went off with only marginal protest, most of which came from outside the city.
Decades of cultural influence from New York City transplants has brought a stylistic revolution to Hudson. In the ‘90s, antique dealers brought the struggling city back from the brink, as manufacturing jobs left and the strip malls in nearby Greenport put many locally owned shops out of business. Antiques and art filled long-vacant storefronts that line Warren Street, Hudson’s backbone. Now it’s hard to imagine the city without the shops and art galleries that have since made the city a destination.
There were once as many as 70 antique stores in the city. Now Warren Street is changing again. Store are more varied then they have been in a long time. Clothing stores—vintage and modern—are becoming more prevalent. Five and Diamond, Sideshow, and others are offering attentively curated and rather inexpensive racks of rare vintage while Kosa and White Rice are providing new styles.
In recent years the restaurant industry on Warren has boomed as well, creating a reason for visitors to stay in Hudson after they’re done shopping. Up and down the street, restaurants like Mexican Radio, Swoon Kitchen Bar, Da/Ba, Red Dot, and the new American Glory Barbecue are providing a wide spectrum of menus and atmosphere.
The city is also filled with music, with local performers and traveling acts playing nearly every night somewhere, in venues from the small bar and bookstore The Spotty Dog to the palatial Club Helsinki, recently transplanted from Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Hudson even has its own live-in circus. The gritty punk-vaudevillian hallucination that is the physical and exceedingly professional act of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus somehow slides seamlessly into Hudson’s complicated cultural tapestry. Hudson’s quirky circus folk have a social conscience too. Co-founder Stephanie Monseu teaches circus skills at the Hudson Youth Center.
Then there are organizations like the Time and Space Limited Warehouse, an arts facility that attracts visitors and opens its doors to a community in need.
“The chances of survival are against one,” says Linda Mussmann who, along with her partner Claudia Bruce, has operated the hard-to-define TSL on Columbia Street for the past 20 years. “We’re just always keeping one nostril above water in the arts. It’s always exciting. It’s always risky.”
TSL’s largest draw these days are high-definition broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. The arts center is also known for the original theatrical productions of its founders and performances by visiting artists like Bread and Puppet Theater.