07 October 2012

My Genealogy Journey to Hudson, NY, Part 1

Hudson-Athens, NY Lighthouse began operating in 1874
Seeing is believing and I’m so glad to have recently seen Hudson, Columbia County, New York. I recall hearing my grandfather, Joe Wilson, talk about growing up in Hudson, NY after his Wilensky family emigrated from the Russian Empire (today Belarus) in 1897. But, as with so many other items of family history interest, I do not recall asking any follow-up questions that would have put flesh on the bones of the story. 

During the last few years I’ve collected much genealogical information about Joe Wilson’s family life in Hudson and read a couple of books about the city.[1] But some things just must be personally experienced. I wanted to visit all the places my family lived in Hudson. The time was right for a genealogy journey.

Hudson is an interesting work in progress: at once a warning against the destruction of the past and an appreciation of efforts to preserve what’s left. There are many old buildings abandoned, many falling into ruin, but also many that are undergoing stabilization and restoration. Many buildings on the main street, Warren, sport small brass plates identifying the architectural style and date of the building. Some go back to the late 1700s and are still (or once again) in use as homes and  businesses. (For a wonderful blog on Hudson and it's historic preservation, see The Gossips of Rivertown.)

Hudson, NY (from Google.com)
The city was also, for me, a reminder of the long and interesting history of communities along the Hudson River. The city has had a roller coaster economic history. It can lay claim as the first planned community. It was chartered in 1785 by “the Proprietors,” Quaker merchants from New England. They visualized a prosperous port and whaling community serving the needs of the interior United States. They laid out streets and parks and planned their full-service community.

Whaling, however, did not last long. After the War of 1812 and the opening of the Erie Canal, Hudson lost its cachet as a port of entry. By the mid Nineteenth Century other types of industry (including knitting mills) sustained the community and a vibrant red-light district fed its (and surrounding communities’) appetites. The city flourished in the 1870s, but by the late 1890s when the Wilson family made its home in Hudson, the community was not at its economic best.

Saul Wilson (nee Selig Wilenski) had arrived in New York Harbor on the Polaria on 23 November 1891.[2] I am still seeking his whereabouts for the five and one half years before his family joined him in 1 June 1897.[3] By 1898, the entire family was living in Hudson.[4] 

I arrived in Hudson with several family history issues I wanted to address, if not answer:   
  1. I'd documented seven places where the family had lived while in Hudson. What did those places look like? Were the buildings still there?
  2. Both my grandfather Joe and his younger brother Ben worked for years in the sweater industry in New York City. Did they get their background in the knitting industry during their stay in Hudson? Could I locate any knitting mill records?
  3. Might I find additional local newspaper records mentioning family members?
  4. Were there any school or synagogue records that might shed light on the family in Hudson?
  5. What would have drawn the Wilsons to Hudson? 
In this and the next several posts I will relate my success or lack thereof in on-site research in Hudson, NY.

First up is the the house at 60 Chapel. My earliest evidence of the Wilsons in Hudson comes from the 1898 Hudson city directory.[5]

Chapel Street was in one of those areas of Hudson that was “renewed” in the 1970s. In fact, the housing development obliterated Chapel and several other streets that once defined the area.
Chapel Street on 1898 map provided in Hudson City Directory [6]
Former location of Chapel Street. Columbia St. was once Diamond St. (Base layer from Google.com)
Today there is no Chapel Street in Hudson. The circle shows where it used to be. There is nothing in the area to help us understand that specific locale in 1898.

Next, on to Diamond Street!
1. Hall, Bruce Edward, Diamond Street, Hudson, New York: The Story of the Little Town with the Big Red Light District, Hensonville, NY: Black Dome Press Corp., 2005; Fone, Byrne, Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, Hensonville, NY: Black Dome Press Corp., 2005.
2. "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 20 October 2008), manifest, Polaria, Stettin, Germany to New York, arriving 23 November 1891, passenger 196, Selig Wilenski, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial M237.
3. "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 7 September 2009), manifest, Pisa, Hamburg to New York, arriving 1 June 1897, list 7, Hode, Nachame, Josef and Benjamin Wilensky, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial M237.
4. J.H. Lant 1898 Hudson City, Claverack and Stottville Directory, (Hudson, NY: JH Lant, 1898), page 154 , FHL microfilm 2,156,840.
5. ibid
6. ibid


  1. My mother owed a house located at 28 Chapel Street. A wonderful house with a huge backyard with great lilac bushes and a huge weeping willow tree. We were one of the families that had to move for the "urban renewal" project that became Bliss Towers. These project ruined what was once a beautiful mixture of black and white families.

    1. I lived at 65 Chapel Street, right next to the arena. Remember that? It was the yellow house with brown trim. My dad ran his typewriter company from the garage. We used to pick plums from a large tree in our neighbor's yard. Remember Hull's Grocery Store on Columbia Street? And the walkway that went from Columbia Street to Chapel Street? And Frankie Robert's dad's garage about halfway down the block?

      Then there was Katharine, the old woman who lived in the spooky old brick house on the left side going down the street.

      Almost across the street from her house was a white house with a side yard with bushes. That was my Uncle's house.

      And we can't forget Finklestein's junkyard! What an interesting place.

      Finally, if people didn't actually live there, they couldn't comprehend how true your last sentence is. It was indeed, a beautiful mixture of black and white families. We looked out for each other and cared about each other.

      It is so sad that it all was destroyed. Chapel Street had character.

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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  3. Thanks for your comment, Pat.

    Warren Street with it's eclectic mix of preserved building is wonderful, but once one travels to other streets in Hudson it is just a little sad. One can hope that more of the older buildings in the city are adaptively reused and renovated - even if they are not on Warren. I did see some of that in Hudson. More would be better.


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