FIRST PUBLIC BUILDINGS
COLUMBIA COUNTY, NEW YORK
By Captain Franklin Ellis108
So great had been the change wrought in the place in the short period of eighteen months from the time when, as Claverack Landing, its population was comprised in less than ten families that its people had now begun to cherish aspirations to city dignity. At that time, with the proprietors of Hudson, to plan was to execute; and at a meeting of their association, held Feb. 17, 1785, it was voted "that a petition be drafted to be laid before the Legislative authority of the State, for the purpose of getting ourselves incorporated, with city privileges." Seth Jenkins, Ezekiel Gilbert, Henry Van Rensselaer, and John Thurston were appointed a committee to present the same before the Assembly, and to use all their influence to secure favorable action.
The act was passed April 22, 1785, incorporating the city, with limits described as "Beginning at the channel of the Hudson's River, in the County of Albany, directly opposite the Mouth of the Creek commonly called Major Abram's Creek; thence to and up the middle of said Creek to the place where the Claverack Creek empties into the said Major Abram's Creek; thence up along the middle of said Claverack Creek until the said Claverack Creek strikes the line of the Manor of Livingston to the East side of Hudson's River; thence into the said River One Hundred and Eighty feet below High-Water Mark, and thence to the place of Beginning; keeping the same distance of One Hundred and Eighty feet all along from High-Water mark aforesaid.† And all the freemen of this State within the limits mentioned were by the act "ordained, constituted, and declared to be, from Time to Time and forever hereafter, one Body corporate and politic, in Fact and in Name, by the Name of the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of Hudson."
Appended to, and contained in, the charter of the city was a grant of land below high-water mark in the Hudson river, in the following words:
"Be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, that Thomas Jenkins, Seth Jenkins, David Lawrence, Hezekiah Dayton, Shubael Worth, Joseph Barnard, Ezra Reed, Charles Jenkins, Benjamin Folger, Reuben Folger, William Wall, Nathaniel Greene, Samuel Mansfield, Cotton Gelston, John Thurston, William Minturn, Peleg Clark, and Titus Morgan, and each and every one of them, shall have, hold, use, occupy, possess, and enjoy all and all manner of right, title, interest, property, claim, and demand whatsoever, of, in, and to all land lying under the water and directly opposite to the tract of land so purchased by them as aforesaid from high-water mark one hundred and eighty feet to the channel of the said River, in a course north fifty-seven degrees west, to the sole use, benefit, and behoof of them, the said Thomas Jenkins [naming them severally as above], and to their heirs and assigns forever in severalty."
A proviso was added, that nothing contained in the act should extend to impede or interrupt the free navigation of the river or any public or private right. The submerged land thus granted was divided into lots called water-lots, and these were amicably allotted among the grantees.
The people of the newly-made city received the announcement of its incorporation with great demonstrations of rejoicing, which were thus mentioned in the Hudson Gazette of May 5: "On Tuesday last (May 3) arrived from New York Ezekiel Gilbert, Esq.,‡ who brought with him an Act for incorporating this part of the District of Claverack, agreeable to a Petition preferred by the Inhabitants, under the Name of the City of Hudson. This pleasing and interesting Intelligence was announced by a Discharge of Thirteen Cannon, and a Display of Colors from the Shipping at the Wharves and on the adjacent Eminences."
On the 5th of May, Seth Jenkins, Esq., issued his proclamation announcing the incorporation of the city and his own appointment as mayor, and calling an election, to be held on Monday, the 9th of May, at the school-house, which stood on the old road near the present corner of Ferry and Partition streets. This was Hudson's first charter election, and resulted in the choice of the following officers: Seth Jenkins, mayor; Nathaniel Green, recorder; John Bay, clerk; Stephen Paddock, Ezra Reed, Benjamin Folger, William Mayhew, aldermen; Dirck Delamater, John Ten Broeck, Marshall Jenkins, Peter Hogeboom, Jr., assistants; Thomas Jenkins, supervisor; Daniel Paddock, William Van Alstyne, Jeremiah Ten Broeck, assessors; John Gifford, Nicholas Harder, John Herrick, Abraham Elting, and John Van Hoesen, constables; Nicholas Harder, collector. On the same day the first meeting of the council was held, at which John Alsop was appointed chamberlain, and the organization of the city government completed.§
A prison being a necessary appendage to a city government, the council (June 7, 1785) appointed Nathaniel Greene, William Wall, and Marshall Jenkins a committee to erect within the city limits "a Gaol thirty feet long, twenty feet wide, and one story high;" and on the 9th of the same month the proprietors granted to the corporation the northernmost square on Fourth street." It was located nearly in the northeasterly angle of Fourth street and Prison alley; but as Fourth street had not then been opened (though laid out by the committee in1784), the jail was reached from Main street by a foot-path across the intervening lots. It was a rude log structure, and, although a show was made of grates and bars at the windows and door, it is said to have been so insecure a place of confinement, that one of its first prisoners, having by some means obtained an auger, found little difficulty in boring his way through its walls to freedom. Of this institution Abimelech Riggs was appointed the first keeper.
The council also resolved (July 5), "that a Stocks and Whipping-Post be made and erected nigh the market in this city, and that William Wall, Esq., cause the same to be completed, and that he lay an account of the expenses thereof before this Board, who engage to provide for the payment of the same." The cost of this apparatus was £3 4s. 11d.=$8.11. It was not then considered a barbarous mode of punishment, and, as a preventive to petty crime, it was without doubt more effectual than imprisonment. After the lapse of eight years the stocks were removed from their first location and erected, by order of the council, "at or near the common Gaol, to be under the care and inspection of the Gaoler."
The erection of a city hall was commenced in 1786, but was not completed during that year, nor indeed until after 1804. Its location was on the southwest corner of Fourth and Main streets, the present site of the Presbyterian church. It was a plain rectangular building of brick, two stories high, of which the lower was used for meetings, and was of sufficient capacity to accommodate a gathering of four hundred people. The upper part was used for offices and also for school purposes, two schools having been taught there at the same time for some years.*
That the city-hall lot was purchased and the building erected by subscription is shown by the following transcript from the record to the proceedings of a meeting of the voters of Hudson, held May 9, 1791, viz.:
"Whereas, The proprietors of the city hall of this city offer as a gratuity the amount of their subscriptions towards the said building and the lot on which it stands to this corporation forever, on condition that the citizens will raise the sum of £400 by tax this present year for the purpose of discharging the arrearages due to individuals for advances heretofore made, and towards completing said building,--
"Voted, by a plurality of votes, that the corporation do accept the said building and land as a gratuity, and that the sum of £400 be assessed on the citizens and inhabitants of this city the present year towards accomplishing the above object."
But if the sum voted was raised by tax, the building was certainly not completed for several years thereafter, and not until it had been decided to convert it into a court-house for the county's use, the particulars of which conversion are given in the general history of the county.
† That territory was diminished by the formation of the town of Stockport, in 1833, and the city was reduced to its present limits by the erection of the town of Greenport, in 1837.
‡ Mr. Gilbert was soon after presented by the proprietors with "one house lot on Main street, as a free donation for his essential services done the proprietors in bringing about the incorporation of the city."
§ The city seal--still in use--was purchased soon after by personal contributions from Nathaniel Greene, Seth Jenkins, Thomas Jenkins, Marshall Jenkins, John Bay, Ezra Reed, Stephen Paddock, Benjamin Folger, Dirck Delamater, John Ten Broeck, and Peter Hogeboom, Jr.--11s. 4d. each Total cost 6£ 4s. 8d.=$15.58.
*It is said that at one time the lower portion was, in its unfinished state, degraded to the condition of a storage warehouse. It is certain the building, or a portion of it, was rented continuously from about 1795 to 1804. In 1803 the council "Resolved, That John Bennett have the use of the city hall one year for four dollars;" but there is nothing in the minutes showing what part of the building was thus rented, or for what purpose.