New York State’s Hudson River Valley Celebrates 400 Years of History

2009 marks the year when the Hudson River Valley celebrates the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s historic journey up the Hudson River. This voyage was arguably the most important event for European involvement in North America since Columbus stumbled upon the continent on his way to China.

That’s about as old as white-man history gets in America. Ever since then, the Hudson River and its surrounding valley have quietly shaped the history of America far more than flashier and louder claimants on the Eastern Seaboard. While the Revolutionary War’s first shots were fired near Boston, it was the chain of forts along the Hudson River that hosted the most pivotal battles of America’s claim to independence.

Revisionist history might cast Henry Hudson as the usual European invading colonizer, and simply be snootily certain that he got what he deserved when his crew mutinied and set him adrift in the Canadian Arctic (bet that’s never happened to a Rough Guide writer) to freeze to death. But good or bad, it happened, and the Hudson Valley’s role in America’s history was determined long before the Dutch sold New Amsterdam to the English, who turned a little island called Manhatta into a city-state that continues to shape the prism of American existence.

There have been a number of newspaper and travel articles this year detailing celebrations and events all up and down the Hudson River, from Manhatten all the way up to Albany and beyond. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for good resources of history and events and travel plans, and finally, last week, came across the best, most comprehensive review of the Hudson Valley’s historic roles, its present attractions, and its future direction: WAMC, the public radio station out of Albany.

All last week WAMC took its morning show up and down the Hudson Valley to interview historians, writers, artists, civil rights activists, environmentalists, musicians, politicians, and professors, all with some involvement in an area of this unique valley.

It was a fantastic show because it gave listeners a comprehensive understanding of how important the Hudson has been to all aspects of American life — Revolutionary War history, sure, but it has also been home to some of the country’s greatest entrepreneurs, has engendered some of its most influential art movements, and either birthed, nurtured, or inspired some of its most well-known musicians and writers. It is also where the country’s environmental movement began, back with philanthropic industrialists in the early 1900s.

Luckily for those who don’t live within the listening area of the radio station, you can still listen to all of the fascinating interviews and panel shows by following this link to the show, New York’s Hudson River: An Audio Portrait of 400 Years of History. There, you can access individual interviews with the New York Historical Society, or learn to build a native canoe, or listen to a discussion with Pete Seeger, the monumentally influential 1960s musician who has devoted much of his life to the health and welfare of the Hudson River.

America has more storied rivers than the Hudson — the Mississippi, with its attraction for richly imaginative writers; or the Colorado, with its role in California’s growth and possible crash as the river is overtaxed — but none of them have the actual impact on the shaping of this country’s history as great waterway whose quiet valley is so often in the shadow of New York City.

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