The story of Hudson is one of constant renewal. Once one of the largest cities in New York State, Hudson’s first major expansion was tied to the whaling industry that emerged out of necessity during the Revolutionary War. But it wasn’t all baleen and blubber in the City’s past. The sister towns of Hudson and Catskill make up the epicenter of the Hudson River School of painting; the founder of the movement, Thomas Cole, and his prize pupil Frederic Church had houses across the Hudson River from one another. Both have been preserved and can be visited today – thanks to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, that journey is a lot faster than it was in Thomas Cole’s day.
Hudson experienced a long industrial decline that led to the rise of a colorful and notorious underground vice industry that coexisted mostly harmoniously with local upstanding residents. Diamond Street (now Columbia Street) was home to a row of brothels, giving Hudson the widely known unofficial motto ‘the little town with the big red light district.’ Local government was either so corrupt or so inept that it never managed to get the problem (or the gambling and bootlegging problems also in town) under control, so in 1950 the state raided essentially the whole city under Governor Thomas E. Dewey without telling the local police force first.
The most recent renewal in the culture of the city began a few decades ago and has led directly to the current Warren Street tableau of antique shops, art galleries, restaurants and other food businesses, as well as creative start-ups that have found Hudson a welcome base of operations for expansion. It’s that mix of Hudson Valley charm, a connection to the surrounding county’s farming roots, and the influence of the myriad homegrown residents and transplants who call Hudson home that make it a tough place to leave.
It’s hard to imagine a town with as much art per square inch as Hudson has within its borders. Numerous art galleries, pet projects by artists of world-renown, and a vibrant community of makers of all kinds: Hudson has its cultural bona fides in order. The gem of Hudson’s art scene is the Hudson Opera House, a cultural epicenter for literary events, art shows, workshops, and other creative events. Architecture lovers have plenty to feast on, not just in Hudson’s preserved historic district, but also in the surrounding areas. Olana, the magnificent Calvert Vaux-designed home of Frederic Church and a state historic site, sits atop a hill south of town. Across the Hudson River in the town of Catskill is the restored home of Church’s mentor, Thomas Cole. To the north, in the town of Kinderhook, lies the estate farm of the eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren. His home, Lindenwald, is a designated National Historic Site.
From famous names, to warm-weather buskers, the sweet sounds around town are hosted by music venues of all shapes and sizes in Hudson and nearby towns. In Hudson, Club Helsinki welcomes some big names (and slightly smaller names at its popular open mic night) in its intimate confines. Bard College’s Fisher Center in nearby Tivoli hosts many classical events, and in the summer the college erects its Spiegeltent which hosts a nightly cabaret of musicians of every genre. The New York State Performing Arts Center in Albany, known as The Egg, as well as EMPAC in Troy and Bardavon in Poughkeepsie are popular nearby venues for musicians passing through the Hudson Valley.
Called the best town for antiques in the country by the New York Times, the Hudson antique’s market has long been patronized by both the serious and weekend antiquing set. Shops range from those focusing on a single period, to those whose sole defining feature is that they offer a little of everything.
Hudson is renown for the quality of its restaurants. Framed by farms, Hudson is a magnet for food lovers. With two weekly farmers’ markets, a vibrant food truck court, Zagat-rated restaurants, high-visibility chefs and lots of cafes to sip a fine coffee to start the day, the only downer is realizing that there’s only three meals in a day.
The explosion of restoration that helped to define Hudson’s most recent renaissance is something you can be a part of. Many of the fine homes restored to their former glory have been opened to the public as inns and B&Bs and are located in every part of town. Hudson is also home to two hotels, and myriad Airbnb options.
The Great Outdoors
Much of what lures the curious traveler to Hudson is its unique combination of culture in such beautiful country. For those interested in more than just staring at the river and Catskill Mountains from Parade Hill, the nearby Greenport Conservation Area north of town offers spectacular trails to explore, as does Harrier Hill a little further up the road. For maximum wow, make sure to visit one of the area’s waterfalls. East of town, on the border with Massachusetts lies Bash Bish Falls and, closer to home, High Falls in Philmont, both local favorites for cooling off in the summertime. Across the Hudson, Kaaterskill Falls, which abuts North-South Lake State Park and campground, lies at the end of a short hike and is well-worth your time. For a deeper connection to nature, spending time at the Won Dharma Center in Claverack is a good place to practice your walking meditation.
In addition to the two weekly farmers markets in Hudson, you can take your needs straight to the numerous farmstands, both conventional and organic, around the county. Organic farms in the region include the impressive Hawthorne Valley Farm, a biodynamic farm with a stocked farm store featuring many products made on site, including pickles, relishes, and sauerkraut.
Wine & Spirits
The Hudson Valley is quickly becoming known for its wine and spirits. A handful of award-winning wineries dot the area, which are part of the Hudson-Berkshire Wine Trail. Additionally, Columbia County is home to a number of distillers of applejack, vodka, brandy and more.
Brews & Breweries
You don’t have to go far for interesting brews, even if you want to go straight to the source to see where they’re made. From microbreweries attached to restaurants, to centuries-old brew operations, breweries in the Mid-Hudson Valley and Capital Region offer something to whet every whistle.
That just scratches the surface of what the area has to offer. Nearby towns including Chatham, Catskill, Red Hook and Rhinebeck, each have a different flavor and comprise a list of Hudson Valley adventures to enjoy. A quick jaunt from New York City by car or Amtrak, the Mid-Hudson Valley is a reliable starting point for a weekend (or a lifetime) of authentic cultural, dining, and entertainment experiences.
(Photo Credit: Luchy Edwards, Hudson Digital)