14075811911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 13 — Hudson RiverRalph Stockman Tarr

HUDSON RIVER, the principal river of New York state, and one of the most important highways of commerce in the United States of America. It is not a river in the truest sense of the word, but a river valley into which the ocean water has been admitted by subsidence of the land, transforming a large part of the valley into an inlet, and thus opening it up to navigation.

The Hudson lies entirely in the state of New York, which it crosses in a nearly north-and-south direction near the eastern boundary of the state. The sources of the river are in the wildest part of the Adirondack Mountains, in Essex county, north-eastern New York. There are a number of small mountain streams which contribute to the headwater supply, any one of which might be considered the main stream; but assuming the highest collected and permanent body of water to be the true head, the source of the Hudson is Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, which lies near Mount Marcy at an elevation of about 4322 ft. This small mountain stream flows irregularly southward with a fall of 64 ft. per mile in the upper 52 miles, then, from the mouth of North Creek to the mouth of the Sacondaga, at the rate of nearly 14 ft. per mile. In this part of its course the Hudson has many falls and rapids, and receives a number of mountain streams as tributaries, the largest being Indian river, Schroon river and Sacondaga river. Below the mouth of the Sacondaga the Hudson turns sharply and flows eastward for about 12 m., passing through the mountains, and leaping over several falls of great height and beauty. At Glens Falls there is a fall of about 50 ft.; and just below this, at Sandy Hill, the river again turns abruptly, and for the rest of its course to New York Bay flows almost due south. There are numerous falls and rapids between Glens Falls and Troy which are used as a source of power and are the seats of busy manufacturing plants. Several large tributaries join this part of the river, including Batten Kill, Fish Creek, Hoosic river and the Mohawk, which is the largest of all the tributaries to the Hudson, and contributes more water than the main river itself.

From Troy to the mouth of the Hudson the river is tidal, and from this point also the river is navigable, not because of the river water itself, but because of the low grade of the river bed by which the tide is able to back up the water sufficiently to float good-sized boats. From Albany, 6 m. below Troy, to the mouth of the Hudson, a distance of 145 m., there is a total fall of only 5 ft. It is this lower, tidal, navigable portion of the Hudson that is of so much importance and general interest. Numerous tributaries enter this part of the Hudson from both the east and the west, the largest and most important being the Wallkill which enters at Kingston. In general there is in this part of the river a broad upper valley with a much narrower gorge cut in its bottom, with its rock floor below sea level and drowned by the entrance of the sea. Although this is true in a general way, the character of the river valley varies greatly in detail from point to point, under the influence of the geological structure of the enclosing rock walls.

Most of these variations may be included in a threefold division of the lower Hudson valley. The uppermost of these extends from the south-eastern base of the Adirondack Mountains to the northern portal of the Highlands in Dutchess and Ulster counties. This is a lowland region of ancient Paleozoic rocks. Into the upper portion of this section of the river the non-tidal Hudson is depositing its load of detritus, building a delta below Troy. This, shifted about by the currents, has interposed an obstacle to navigation which has called for extensive dredging and other work, for the purpose of maintaining a navigable channel. The width of the tidal river varies somewhat, being about 300 yds. at Albany and thence to the Highlands varying from 300 yds. to 900 yds.

The scenery in this part of the river, though not tame, is a little monotonous, the gently sloping hills, with the variegated colours of wood and cultivated land, and the occasional occurrence of a town or village being repeated, without any marked feature to break their regularity. Thirty miles from Troy noble views begin to be obtained of the Catskill Mountains towering up behind the west bank, the nearest eminence at the distance of about 7 m. Along the immediate banks of the river are great beds of clay which is extensively used in the manufacture of brick; and the brick-burning plants and huge ice houses are conspicuous features in the landscape. Although the river freezes in the winter, so that ice-boating is a favourite winter sport, the summer climate is warm enough for the cultivation of grapes and other fruits, which is aided to a considerable extent by the influence of the large body of water enclosed between the valley walls, which tends to retard both early and late frosts, and thus to extend the growing season. In addition to smaller towns and villages, there are a number of larger towns and cities, including Hudson and Catskill, nearly opposite each other, and farther down Kingston and the thriving city of Poughkeepsie. Near the extreme end of this section of the Hudson lies the city of Newburgh, a short distance below which, at Cornwall Landing, the river enters the Highlands, the second division of the tidal part of the Hudson and far the grandest of all.

The river enters the northern portals of the Highlands between a series of hills whose frequently precipitous sides rise often abruptly from the water’s edge. For about 16 m. the river is bordered by steeply rising hills, giving picturesque and striking views of great variety. These are due to the fact that the river here is crossing a belt of ancient crystalline rocks of moderately high relief, comparable in geological structure to the Adirondack region. The views in this part of the river, often compared with those along the Rhine, are of a character in some respects unparalleled, and at several points they have an impressiveness and surprising grandeur rarely equalled. About 10 m. after the Highlands are entered West Point is reached, a favourite landing-place of tourists and the seat of the United States Military Academy, from whose grounds fine views of the river may be had. This point is historically interesting as the seat of Fort Putnam, now in ruins, built during the American War of Independence, at which time a chain was stretched across the river to prevent the passage of British ships.

The third and lowest section of the tidal part of the Hudson extends from the lower end of the Highlands to New York Bay. This is a region of ancient and metamorphic Paleozoic rocks on the eastern side, and mainly Triassic rocks on the west. Because of their less resistance to denudation, these rocks have permitted a broadening of the valley in this part of the course. Just below Peekskill the river broadens out to form Haverstraw Bay, at the extremity of which is the headland of Croton Point. Below this is the wider expanse of Tappan Bay, which has a length of 12 m. and a breadth of from 4 to 5 m., while below this bay the river narrows to a breadth between 1 and 2 m. On Tappan Bay stands Tarrytown, famous both historically and from its connexion with Washington Irving, whose cottage of Sunnyside is in the vicinity. At Piermont, where the bay ends, the range named the Palisades rises picturesquely from the water’s edge to the height of between 300 and 500 ft., extending along the west bank for about 20 m., the opposite shore being level and dotted with hamlets, villages and towns. The Palisades are a lava rock of the variety called trap, which has been intruded as a sheet into the Triassic sandstones, and, on cooling, has developed the prismatic jointing which is so much more perfectly seen at Fingal’s Cave in Scotland and Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. It is this imperfect hexagonal jointing that has given rise to the name “palisade,” applied to the range whose face fronts the lower Hudson. At its mouth the Hudson both broadens and branches, forming a series of islands and an excellent harbour, owing to the fact that the sinking of the land here has permitted the sea to fill the valleys and even to flood low divides. A submerged valley, traceable over the continental shelf, south-east of New York, is commonly believed to represent an earlier course of the Hudson when the land stood 2000 or 3000 ft. higher than at present, and when the inner gorge above New York was being excavated.

Although the Hudson river has a total length of only about 300 m., and a drainage area of but 13,370 sq. m., it has been one of the most significant factors in the development of the United States. With an excellent harbour at its mouth, and navigable waters leading into a fertile interior for a distance of 150 m., it early invited exploration and settlement. Verrazano proceeded a short distance up the Hudson in a boat in 1524; but the first to demonstrate its extent and importance was Henry Hudson, from whom it derives its name. He sailed above the mouth of the Mohawk in September 1609. The Dutch later explored and settled the valley and proceeded westward along the Mohawk. The Dutch place-names of the region clearly show the significance of this early use of the Hudson highway. Later, in wars, and notably in the American War of Independence, and American War of 1812, the valley became a region of great strategic importance. This was increased by the fact that from the Hudson near Sandy Hill there are two low gaps into the northern country, one along the valley occupied by Lake George, the other into the Lake Champlain valley. The divide between this part of the Hudson and Lake Champlain is only 147 ft. above sea level, and a depression of the land of only 200 ft. in the region between Albany and the St Lawrence river would convert the Hudson and Champlain valleys into a navigable strait having a depth sufficient for the largest vessels. Movements of armies across these gaps were noteworthy events in the wars between the United States and the French and British; but modern commerce has made far less significant use of this highway, mainly because the gaps lead to a region of little economic importance, and thence to the boundary line of a foreign country. Far more important has been the highway westward along the Mohawk, which has cut a gap across the mountains that has been the most useful of all the gaps through the Appalachians. It has been useful in exploration, in war and in commerce, the latter especially because it leads to the fertile interior and to the waterway of the Great Lakes. By the Erie canal the river is connected with Lake Erie, with a branch to Lake Ontario, and other branches to smaller lakes. The Champlain canal connects the Hudson with Lake Champlain. Although these canals are far less used than formerly, the Hudson is still a busy highway for navigation. It is of interest to note that it was on the Hudson that Fulton, the inventor of steam navigation, made his first successful experiment; and that it was along this same highway, from Albany, that one of the first successful railways of the country was built. A railway line now runs parallel to each bank of the Hudson, the New York Central & Hudson River on the eastern side and the West Shore on the western side, each with connexions to the north, east and west, and each turning westward along the Mohawk to Buffalo. It is largely because of the importance of this highway of commerce, by water and by rail, from the coast to the interior, that the greatest and densest population in the United States has gathered at the seaward end of the route in New York City, Jersey City, Hoboken and other places on and near New York Bay, making one of the leading industrial and commercial centres of the world.

For references to articles on the physiography of the Hudson river see R. S. Tarr, Physical Geography of New York State (New York, 1902), pp. 184-190. For Pleistocene conditions see J. B. Woodworth, Ancient Water Levels of the Champlain and Hudson Valleys (Albany, 1905), N.Y. State Museum, Bulletin 84. For facts concerning water supply see Surface Water Supply of the Hudson, Passaic, Raritan and Delaware River Drainages (1907), being U.S. Geological Survey, Water Supply Paper, No. 202. For relation between physiography and history see chapters in E. C. Semple’s American History and its Geographic Conditions (Boston, 1903); A. P. Brigham, Geographic Influences in American History (Boston, 1903), and From Trail to Railway through the Appalachians (Boston, 1907). See also E. M. Bacon, The Hudson River (New York, 1902); W. E. Verplanck and M. W. Collyer, Sloops of the Hudson: Sketch of the Packet and Market Sloops of the Last Century (New York, 1908), D. L. Buckman, Old Steamboat Days on the Hudson River (New York, 1907), and Clifton Johnson, The Picturesque Hudson (New York, 1909).  (R. S. T.)