In fall 1909 there was a huge celebration in New York State, from New York City up the Hudson Valley to Troy and Cohoes to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s invention of the steamboat.
The Celebration was authorized by the NYS Legislature and almost a million dollars budgeted. It had several purposes. The first was to show off; to market the coming of age of New York State, and New York City in particular – we wanted the world to take notice of what an economic and cultural powerhouse we had become. The second was a bit more nuanced. During the last part of the previous century New York State , especially New York City and the towns and cities along the Hudson, had been flooded with immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The event was to be a great lesson in the history and development of the Empire State, and would provide instruction for the “foreign-born population who may not be as attuned to our successes as the “native population.” It was showcase for American national identity and pride.
It was designed to be a glorious excess of history, patriotism and pageantry, so over the top that no one could ignore. The Albany event included several parades, religious services, fireworks, ceremonies, concerts, speeches and historical exhibits. Commemorative medals were struck and a special U.S. postage stamp issued. Albany participated with gusto. it was awash in festivities, public and private. Patriotic bunting in red, white and blue festooned every building in Downtown, and when it looked like there was no more room, more bunting was added. Some buildings were outlined with electric incandescent lights. Over 70,000 visitors thronged the City. Business boomed for hotels, restaurants and merchants.
The centerpiece of the celebration was a naval parade, including the Hudson River Navigation Co. and People’s Line Dayliners and Night Boats, private yachts, military torpedo boats, tugs, a U.S. Coast Guard revenue cutter – almost anything that could float its way from the City up the River. There were ships from England, Germany and France.
But the stars of the flotilla were two replica ships. One, a replica of Robert Fulton’s “Clermont”, the first successful steamboat in the world. The naval parade traveled from New York City to Albany and then to Troy, paying homage to the first Clermont trip from New York City to Albany in 1807.
The other was the first replica of the “Half Moon”, the ship in which Hudson traveled up the River to discover Albany in 1609. (Yes, there was another Half Moon replica before that with which we are familiar today.) While the Clermont was a wonderful model, constructed by the Staten Island Shipbuilding Co., the Half Moon was special.
It was a gift from the Netherlands, built in a shipyard in Amsterdam, from ancient plans for a sister ship of the original 1609 Half Moon.
When the naval parade sailed to Albany it landed at Riverside Park. The small park was located just below Madison Ave., overlooking the River near Westerlo St. It was built in 1903 to serve the immigrant (mostly Jewish and Italian) populations crammed in tenement houses overflowing the South End. For the Celebration, a temporary triumphal arch was constructed and the crews of the Half Moon and Clermont were greeted with great pomp and circumstance. From there, the major parade of the event wound its way through the South End, past the Governor’s Mansion, and up and over to Arbor Hill and then down to Clinton Ave., across N. Pearl and up to Washington Ave. by the Capitol. After visiting Albany the naval parade proceeded to Troy, where the festivities continued there and into Cohoes.
The Hudson Fulton celebration was declared a resounding a success. Over 50 years later, my Gram still had vivid memories: a brilliant city wrapped in electric lights; the flotilla sailing up the River; astonishment that such a small boat as the Half Moon could have carried men across the Atlantic; large crowds thronging the streets, magical parade floats and standing on the Capitol steps with thousands of other Albany school children as part of the ceremonies.
But now we come to the sad part. Or what we call “why we can’t have nice things”
The replica of the Clermont was purchased by the Hudson River Navigation Co., owners of the “Day Line”, and initially moored as an attraction in New York harbor. It was then moved by the company to Poughkeepsie to be an upstate floating museum of sorts. Over time the fortunes of the company declined; there was one more move to Kingston Point to the picnic grounds owned by the Day Line and finally the Clermont was sold for scrap in the mid-1930s.
The story of Half Moon is similar. After the Celebration, the Half Moon was towed to Palisades Interstate Park near Bear Mountain, and moored in the Popolopen Creek as a tourist attraction. From there she went to Roundout Point near Kingston. At the behest of the Mayor of Cohoes, she traveled farther upriver. A small area called East Side Park was created just south of the Van Schaick Mansion (about near the area where Hudson finally gave up his search for a Northwest Passage).. Attempts to raise funds for her preservation were unsuccessful, there were few visitors, and she was beset by vandals and fires. The Half Moon became a “lonely hulk” and was finally destroyed by fire in 1932