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Hundred Years Ago on The Hudson

by Brian Clay Jennings

This weekend’s Hudson River Day will celebrate our river’s rich heritage with historic ships and riverside activities of interest to all ages. But it’s not the first time Nyack has commemorated the achievements of Hudson and Fulton. Thanks to Brian Jennings and the Historical Society of the Nyacks for sharing this look back at the Hudson Tricentennial.

100 years ago, the citizens of Rockland County gathered together in commemoration of the original 1609 voyage of Henry Hudson up the river  and the steam navigation of the river by Robert Fulton nearly 200 years later in 1807.  The Nyack Evening Journal called it “the greatest demonstration ever witnessed in the county.” We will commemorate those same feats in 2009.   As we move forward with our commemoration, let’s look back at the celebration of 1909 in Nyack, one which almost didn’t happen.

The Hudson-Fulton celebration of 1909 was a statewide event.  It was a tremendous feat which included replicas of ships of Henry Hudson and Robert Fulton, the Half Moon (de Halve Maen) and the Clermont.   The celebration began in New York City.  The ships and parade floats on barges made their way up the Hudson River, stopping at villages and cities along the way, with floats disembarking at various towns along the river for parades.   The main Nyack parade was slated for Wednesday, October 6, 1909.

[singlepic id=21 w=320 h=240 float=right]By Monday night there was already a buzz in town. Nearly every family had company staying with them as guests began to arrive by carriage and train.  Businesses advertised “Hudson Fulton Celebration sales,” the Methodist church sponsored a jubilee with refreshments during the parade and at the Presbyterian Church (now the Nyack Center) a “Union Service” on Sunday night, October 3rd marked the beginning of festivities in Nyack.  Friday, October 8th was declared “Merchant’s Day,” when 100 decorated wagons paraded around the village.   Glassing’s band of Haverstraw played a concert on Friday afternoon and on Saturday night there were fireworks.

On Tuesday night the Nyack Hudson-Fulton committee must have been astonished and angry when told that they were to have no floats and yet their determination made certain that Nyack would have floats. The Nyack Evening Journal, Oct. 7, 1909, covered the story in detail:

But for the hard work and persistence of the local committee Nyack would not have had any floats.  Secretary Leonard, of the Lower Hudson Commission, who a year ago had promised Nyack over twenty floats and who had visited the town several times since to aid in arranging that part of the parade, deliberately told members of the Nyack committee Tuesday, at Tarrytown, that he had promised Nyack nothing, and a warm discussion, in which the Nyack men kept up their end without flinching, ensued.  The Nyack committee told Secretary Leonard that they had been promised the floats and were going to have them, and they then proceeded to plan for carrying out this resolution.  They communicated in the evening with the Cornell Towing Company and engaged a tug.  This tug proceeded to Yonkers during the night, and towed barges from that place to Tarrytown to convey the floats to Nyack.  Members of the committee went to Tarrytown by the first ferry Wednesday morning, and others went by the next boat, to put the floats on the barges.  These men worked hard and unceasingly, until one barge was loaded with the six floats named and these were brought to Nyack and landed in time for the parade.  This committee had worked hard all night, sacrificing rest and sleep in order that the people should not be disappointed, and no praise for their heroic efforts can be too great.  These committeemen are E.F. Perry, Ernest M. Turner, Dr. G.S. Writer, Rev. R.H. Herron, W.P. Bugbee, and George T. Haeselbarth, aided by G. Gates, Charles Partridge, and others…

Even the New York Times picked up on the story of the floats and the Nyack parade and in an article published the day after the Nyack parade written “Special to the New York Times” they ran the headline: “Nyack Committee, Determined Not to be Left Out, Hires Tug and Carries Off Floats.”  Instead of the over twenty floats, there were six historical floats in the Nyack parade that illustrated the history of New York: the Old Fire Engine, The Fate of Henry Hudson, the Clermont, The Colonial House, and two Indian floats: the Season of Fruits and the Season of Hunting. It was noted that there were 73 participants from Native American reservations in the state and in Nyack a participant told a reporter for the Nyack Evening Journal that these Native American Indians received better treatment in Nyack than they had in most parade locations.
It was estimated that around 10,000 people attended the festivities in Nyack.  These citizens lined a parade route which stretched all across the villages of the Nyacks.  Although the parade took place in Nyack, it was clearly a “Rockland County Day” and “every part of the county contributed its full share.” The town of Ramapo even declared a holiday as many of its citizens came to Nyack for the festivities.   A photograph from the Pearl River Library shows the Dexter Folder Co. band before going to the parade in Nyack, so throughout Rockland County people made preparations to go to Nyack both as participants and spectators for the big parade.

[singlepic id=20 w=320 h=240 float=right]The line of march started at the corner of Burd street and Piermont avenue, then down Piermont avenue to Cornelison avenue in South Nyack, up Cornelison to Broadway, up Broadway to Castle Heights avenue in Upper Nyack; up Castle Heights to Midland avenue; down Midland to Main Street; and down Main to Broadway, where the procession finally ended. All told, this was a march of 3.8 miles.

Much like today, local fire departments were among the greatest participants in the parade. The companies which participated back then included: Pearl River Fire Co., Spring Valley Hook and Ladder Co., Empire Hook and Ladder of Upper Nyack, Jackson Hose Co., Tappan Fire dept., Mazeppa Fire Engine Co., Suffern Fire dept., Columbian Engine Co. of Spring Valley, Rockland Hook and Ladder Co., Nanuet Engine Co., Highland Hose Co., and Chelsea Hook and Ladder Co.   After the parade the local fire companies hosted dinners for out of town guests and parade participants.

The next day in Haverstraw there was another parade and celebration which brought the replicas of the Half Moon and the Clermont, the ships of Hudson and Fulton, to the shores of Rockland County.    The historic floats of the Hudson-Fulton celebration were a personification of the History of New York State.   The souvenir program for the Hudson-Fulton celebration stated that they “aimed not only to present a spectacle which will be memorable, but also to give an impetus to historical research and to present historic scenes so that they will impress themselves more clearly on the minds of the spectators than could be done by books and pictures.”    The Nyack Evening Star seemed to think that it worked reporting that “the instructive nature of the parade was one of the chief features” and “the children seemed to be especially interested in these graphical illustrations of what their history lessons had told them about and parents had their hands full explaining things to them in the absence of their regular teachers.”   So let us not forget the determination of the Nyack Hudson-Fulton committee of 1909 and make our celebration this year as educational and entertaining as possible for the people of the Nyacks.

This article was originally published in the Historical Society of the Nyacks Spring 2009 newsletter.

Visit the Nyack Library to see a display with more information on the 1909 Hudson Fulton Celebration throughout June 2009. You can also visit the “Fish and Ships: the Hudson River in the History of the Nyacks” exhibit starting Saturday June 13th at the Pavion Building on Cedar Hill Avenue

See also: “Rough seas for Hudson Flotilla, Time Online,,,

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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