hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues June 2024


Hudson fishing shanties face likely demolition



A collection of more than a dozen old fishing shanties along the Hudson River, some of which are seen here in 2018, has been deemed historically significant by state officials. But the city of Hudson says it lacks the resources needed to preserve them as part of a pending waterfront redevelopment project. Susan Sabino file photo


A collection of more than a dozen old fishing shanties along the Hudson River, some of which are seen here in 2018, has been deemed historically significant by state officials. But the city of Hudson says it lacks the resources needed to preserve them as part of a pending waterfront redevelopment project. Susan Sabino file photo


Contributing writer

The fate of a cluster of long-vacant fishing shanties along the Hudson River will likely be settled this year as the city of Hudson works to finalize a plan for redeveloping the area.
Although some in the community had called in recent years for preserving the remains of the former fishing village, which dates from the 19th century, city officials say the funds now available aren’t nearly enough to save the collection of deteriorating structures. Most appear likely to be razed.

In January, the city Department of Public Works demolished four of the 17 shanties that had stood empty on the two-acre site since the summer of 2012, when city police evicted the settlement’s last occupants in a 3 a.m. raid. Although the structures had been privately built and maintained for decades, a court ruled that the land beneath them belonged to the city.
Mayor Kamal Johnson said in an interview last month that the January demolition was undertaken because of safety concerns.

“The ones that were taken down were in the most severe condition,” he said. “They were considered a hazard to a nearby youth center and were also a danger to pedestrians who might be walking there.”

City leaders are working to develop a final plan for the site and have indicated they expect most or all of the fishing shanties will be demolished. But the city has held out the possibility of saving at least one structure to commemorate the village, which had a colorful role in Hudson’s history.
The collection of fishing shanties has been known over the years by several names, including the Furgary Boat Club, Shantytown, and the North Dock Tin Boat Association.

The buildings are clustered along a couple of dirt roads on the North Bay of the Hudson River, just beyond the intersection of North Front and Dock streets. They are across the narrow inlet from the railroad tracks that carry Amtrak’s daily fleet of passenger trains between Albany and New York City.

Although the site is just a few blocks away from the restaurants and boutique stores of Warren Street, Hudson’s bustling main thoroughfare, the vacant fishing village has an isolated and even eerie quality.

The shanties date from an era when people regularly caught shad and sturgeon from the Hudson, both for commercial and recreational purposes. People who lived in the area built the structures individually over time, beginning around the 1880s, as part-time or seasonal camps. Many of the owners had modest means and fashioned the shanties out of salvaged materials.
The settlement’s image and reputation evolved over the years. At its peak it was a lively community. Some men used it as a place to go on evenings or weekends to fish, hunt, drink and relax. Others stayed there with their families for inexpensive vacations. It also functioned as a de facto fish market, where people from the surrounding area would come to buy the daily catch.
Some say the encampment’s reputation took a darker turn after the 1970s. It was perceived as less welcoming and more threatening to outsiders, and it gained a reputation as a site for more dubious pursuits such as hard drug use.

People had bought and sold the buildings over time or passed them down in their families. However, the ownership of the land was ambiguous. It was eventually claimed by the state and later turned over to the city.

In the village’s final years, the buildings’ owners went to court in an effort to gain legal ownership to the land under their structures, but the court ruled against them. The city then served eviction notices to the occupants in 2012. After some of the shacks’ residents refused to leave, the police showed up one night at 3 a.m. to physically remove them.

A push for revitalization
In 2015, Hudson was awarded a $10 million grant from the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative for a number of projects in the city center. About $150,000 of that was allocated for the site of the village to help cover the cost of demolition, cleanup, remediation, design services and preparation for a waterfront park that would also include some features to commemorate the history of the village.

But the plan did not specify whether any of the shacks would be preserved. City officials say many of the shacks now are considered beyond repair, and some contain asbestos, lead paint and other contaminated material. Subsequent studies and proposals outlined options including complete demolition or keeping one or more buildings standing for conversion into a small museum or historic site.

The project has remained in limbo, with differing levels of priority as successive city administrations had varying degrees of interest and enthusiasm for it. There also have been disagreements within the community over what form redevelopment of the area should take.
The 2012 raid evicting the fishing village’s residents was carried out under the administration of former Mayor William H. Hallenbeck Jr., a Republican who had pushed to demolish the shacks. Hallenbeck lost his re-election bid in 2015 to Democrat Tiffany Martin Hamilton.

Hamilton was seen as more sympathetic to the idea of preserving at least some of the shacks — her family had built one of them, and she had spent time there as a child – but she chose not to seek re-election in 2017. Another mayor served two years before Johnson, a Democrat, was elected in 2019. Since then, Johnson has been focused mainly on other projects and priorities, in addition to dealing with the Covid pandemic.

Costs and resources are a factor. Basic demolition and environmental cleanup are projected to require a majority of the original grant allocation, and it is not clear whether or when additional funding would be available.

Johnson said the city is at risk of losing the state revitalization funds allocated to the project if it doesn’t act reasonably soon. The question is how to achieve a balance between the goals of preservation and redevelopment.


Historically significant
In 2015, state historic preservation officials deemed the site eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. As a result, studies of the site’s history and options for preserving its history in some form are required as part of planning for any demolition or redevelopment.
“We’re currently negotiating and working with the New York state Historic Preservation Office to devise a plan,” Johnson said.

The city has retained Hudson Cultural Services, a cultural resource management firm, to guide this process and make recommendations for any planned reuse of the site. After the firm submitted a report on the site earlier this year to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the agency acknowledged that because of the deterioration of the buildings, it may not be feasible to rehabilitate the structures. But agency also said demolishing the structures represents an adverse impact – and that the city must craft a mitigation plan to document or preserve the site’s history to the extent feasible.

Although he could not give an exact timetable, Johnson said the goal is to resolve the situation and carry out a specific plan by the end of the year. He acknowledged that there are still differing opinions about what should be done at the site.

“There’s still some controversies as to what people want to see happen,” Johnson said. “People who lived in Hudson when the village was active and have happy memories about it would prefer to see as much of it preserved as possible. But Hudson has changed, and people who don’t have associations with the shacks are less interested in that.”

Johnson said that ultimately it will boil down to the money and resources available to make the site safe and useful, while incorporating elements that convey its history.

“It would be great if the shacks were in better condition and we had all the money necessary to preserve and re-use them,” he said. “But that’s not the case. Ideally, I hope we can make it into a pleasant park that people can safely enjoy that includes some historical features so that people can see what was there.”