Hudson River

Last updated on 28 May 2017

The Hudson River is a 315-mile (507 km) river that flows from north to south primarily through eastern New York in the United States. The river originates in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, flows through the Hudson Valley, and eventually drains into the Atlantic Ocean, between New York City and Jersey City. The river serves as a political boundary between the states of New Jersey and New York, and further north between New York counties. The lower half of the river is a tidal estuary occupying the Hudson Fjord, which formed during the most recent period of North American glaciation, estimated at 26,000 to 13,300 years ago. Tidal waters influence the Hudson's flow from as far north as Troy.

The river is named after Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing for the Dutch East India Company, who explored it in 1609, and after whom Canada's Hudson Bay is also named. It had previously been observed by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano sailing for King Francis I of France in 1524, as he became the first European known to have entered the Upper New York Bay, but he considered the river to be an estuary. The Dutch called the river the North River – with the Delaware River called the South River – and it formed the spine of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Settlements of the colony clustered around the Hudson, and its strategic importance as the gateway to the American interior led to years of competition between the English and the Dutch over control of the river and colony.

During the eighteenth century, the river valley and its inhabitants were the subject and inspiration of Washington Irving, the first internationally acclaimed American author. In the nineteenth century, the area inspired the Hudson River School of landscape painting, an American pastoral style, as well as the concepts of environmentalism and wilderness. The Hudson was also the eastern outlet for the Erie Canal, which, when completed in 1825, became an important transportation artery for the early-19th-century United States.

Counties
Hamilton
Essex
Warren
Washington
Saratoga
Albany
Rensselaer
Greene
Columbia
Ulster
Dutchess
Putnam
Orange
Rockland
Westchester
Bronx
Bergen (NJ)
Hudson (NJ)
New York
Source:
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Hudson River estuary waterways around New York City: 1. Hudson River, 2. East River, 3. Long Island Sound, 4. Newark Bay, 5. Upper New York Bay, 6. Lower New York Bay, separated from Upper New York Bay by the Narrows strait, 7. Jamaica Bay, and 8. Atlantic Ocean.
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Bear Mtn Bridge.jpg
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Course

Sources

The source of the Hudson River is Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondack Park at an altitude of 4,322 feet (1,317 m). The river is not cartographically called the Hudson River until miles downstream. The river is named Feldspar Brook until its confluence with Calamity Brook, and then is named Calamity Brook until the river reaches Indian Pass Brook, flowing south from the outlet of Henderson Lake. From that point on, the stream is cartographically known as the Hudson River.

Although numerous sources show the river originating directly at Henderson Lake, per the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the river cartographically begins at the confluence of Indian Pass Brook and Calamity Brook near the outlet of Henderson Lake in Newcomb, in the Adirondack Park.

The longest source of the Hudson River as shown on the most detailed USGS maps is the "Opalescent River" on the west slopes of Little Marcy Mountain, originating two miles north of Lake Tear of the Clouds, and a mile longer than "Feldspar Brook", which flows out of that lake in the Adirondack Mountains. Popular culture and convention, however, more often cite the photogenic Lake Tear of the Clouds as the source.

Upper Hudson River

South of the confluence of Indian Pass Brook and Calamity Brook, the Hudson River flows south into Sanford Lake. South of the outlet of the lake, the Opalescent River flows into the Hudson. The Hudson then flows south, taking in Beaver Brook and the outlet of Lake Harris. After its confluence with the Indian River, the Hudson forms the boundary between Essex and Hamilton counties. In the hamlet of North River, the Hudson flows entirely in Warren County and takes in the Schroon River. Further south, the river forms the boundary between Warren and Saratoga Counties. The river then takes in the Sacandaga River from the Great Sacandaga Lake. Shortly thereafter, the river leaves the Adirondack Park, flows under Interstate 87, and through Glens Falls, just south of Lake George although receiving no streamflow from the lake. It next goes through Hudson Falls. At this point the river forms the boundary between Washington and Saratoga Counties. At this point the river has an altitude of 200 feet. Just south in Fort Edward, the river reaches its confluence with the Champlain Canal, which historically provided boat traffic between New York City and Montreal and the rest of Eastern Canada via the Hudson, Lake Champlain and the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Further south the Hudson takes in water from the Batten Kill River and Fish Creek near Schuylerville. The river then forms the boundary between Saratoga and Rensselaer counties. The river then enters the heart of the Capital District. It takes in water from the Hoosic River, which extends into Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter the river has its confluence with the Mohawk River, the largest tributary of the Hudson River, in Waterford. Shortly thereafter, the river reaches the Federal Dam in Troy, marking an impoundment of the river. At an elevation of 2 feet (0.61 m), the bottom of the dam marks the beginning of the tidal influence in the Hudson as well as the beginning of the lower Hudson River.

Lower Hudson River

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The river from the Walkway over the Hudson, looking north.

South of the Federal Dam, the Hudson River begins to widen considerably. The river enters the Hudson Valley, flowing along the west bank of Albany and the east bank of Rensselaer. Interstate 90 crosses the Hudson into Albany at this point in the river. The Hudson then leaves the Capital District, forming the boundary between Greene and Columbia Counties. The river then meets its confluence with Schodack Creek, widening considerably at this point. After flowing by Hudson, the river then forms the boundary between Ulster and Columbia Counties and Ulster and Dutchess Counties, flowing by Germantown and Kingston. The Delaware and Hudson Canal meets the river at this point. The river then flows by Hyde Park, former residence of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The river then flows alongside the city of Poughkeepsie, flowing under the Walkway over the Hudson and the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Afterwards, the Hudson flows by Wappingers Falls and takes in Wappinger Creek. The river then forms the boundary between Orange and Dutchess Counties. The river flows between Newburgh and Beacon and under the Newburgh Beacon Bridge taking in the Fishkill Creek. Shortly thereafter, the river enters the Hudson Highlands between Putnam and Orange Counties, flowing between mountains such as Storm King Mountain, Breakneck Ridge, and Bear Mountain. The river narrows considerably here before flowing under the Bear Mountain Bridge, which connects Westchester and Rockland Counties.

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The river between Midtown Manhattan (foreground) and Weehawken, New Jersey (background)

Afterward leaving the Hudson Highlands, the river enters Haverstraw Bay, the widest point of the river at 3.5 miles (5.6 km) wide. Shortly thereafter, the river forms the Tappan Zee and flows under the Tappan Zee Bridge, which carries the New York State Thruway between Tarrytown and Nyack in Westchester and Rockland Counties respectively. South of the Tappan Zee Bridge, the west bank of the Hudson becomes Bergen and Hudson Counties of New Jersey, and further south the east bank of the river becomes Yonkers and then the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City. The Palisades, large, rocky cliffs along the west bank of the river, begin along the west bank of the river opposite the Bronx. South of the confluence of the Hudson and Spuyten Duyvil Creek, the east bank of the river becomes Manhattan. Known as the North River at this point, the George Washington Bridge crosses the river between Fort Lee and the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. The Lincoln Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel also cross under the river between Manhattan and New Jersey. South of Battery Park, the East River meets the Hudson River and forms Upper New York Bay, also known as New York Harbor. Now in the harbor, sea-going boats can travel through The Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island, under the Verrazano Bridge, and into Lower New York Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Watershed

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The bulk carrier Nord Angel breaking ice on the Hudson

The lower Hudson is actually a tidal estuary, with tidal influence extending as far as the Federal Dam in Troy. Strong tides make parts of New York Harbor difficult and dangerous to navigate. During the winter, ice floes drift south or north, depending upon the tides. The Mahican name of the river represents its partially estuarine nature: muh-he-kun-ne-tuk means "the river that flows both ways." The Hudson is often mistaken for one of the largest rivers in the United States, but it is an estuary throughout most of its length below Troy and thus only a small fraction of fresh water, about 15,000 cubic feet (425 m³) per second, is present. The mean fresh water discharge at the river's mouth in New York is approximately 21,400 cubic feet (606 m³) per second. The Hudson and its tributaries, notably the Mohawk River, drain a large area. Parts of the Hudson River form coves, such as Weehawken Cove in Hoboken and Weehawken in New Jersey.

Geology

The Hudson is sometimes called, in geological terms, a drowned river. The rising sea levels after the retreat of the Wisconsin glaciation, the most recent ice age, have resulted in a marine incursion that drowned the coastal plain and brought salt water well above the mouth of the river. The deeply eroded old riverbed beyond the current shoreline, Hudson Canyon, is a rich fishing area. The former riverbed is clearly delineated beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, extending to the edge of the continental shelf.

The Narrows were most likely formed about 6,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. Previously, Staten Island and Long Island were connected, preventing the Hudson River from terminating via The Narrows. At that time, the Hudson River emptied into the Atlantic Ocean through a more westerly course through parts of present-day northern New Jersey, along the eastern side of the Watchung Mountains to Bound Brook, New Jersey and then on into the Atlantic Ocean via Raritan Bay. A buildup of water in the Upper New York Bay eventually allowed the Hudson River to break through previous land mass that was connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn to form The Narrows as it exists today. This allowed the Hudson River to find a shorter route to the Atlantic Ocean via its present course between New Jersey and New York City.

Names

The river was called Ca-ho-ha-ta-te-a ("the river") by the Iroquois, and it was known as Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk ("river that flows two ways") by the Mohican tribe who formerly inhabited both banks of the lower portion of the river. The Delaware Tribe of Indians (Bartlesville, Oklahoma) considers the closely related Mohicans to be a part of the Lenape people, and so the Lenape also claim the Hudson as part of their ancestral territory, naming the river Muhheakantuck ("river that flows two ways").

The first known European name for the river was the Rio San Antonio as named by the Portuguese explorer in Spain's employ, Esteban Gomez, who explored the Mid-Atlantic coast in 1525. Another early name for the Hudson used by the Dutch was Rio de Montaigne. Later, they generally termed it the Noortrivier, or "North River", the Delaware River being known as the Zuidrivier, or "South River". Other occasional names for the Hudson included: Manhattes rieviere "Manhattan River", Groote Rivier "Great River", and de grootte Mouritse reviere, or "the Great Mouritse River" (Mouritse is a Dutch surname). The translated name North River was used in the New York metropolitan area up until the early 1900s, with limited use continuing into the present-day. The term persists in radio communication among commercial shipping traffic, especially below the Tappan Zee. The term also continues to be used in names of facilities in the river's southern portion, such as the North River piers, North River Tunnels, and the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant. It is believed that the first use of the name Hudson River in a map was in a 1740, in a map created by the cartographer John Carwitham.

In 1939, the magazine Life described the river as "America's Rhine", comparing it to the 40-mile (64 km) stretch of the Rhine in Central and Western Europe.

History

Pre-Columbian era

The area around Hudson River was inhabited by indigenous peoples ages before Europeans arrived. The Algonquins lived along the river, with the three subdivisions of that group being the Lenape (also known as the Delaware Indians), the Wappingers, and the Mahicans. The three subdivisions spoke languages that were members of the Algonquin language family. As such, they were able to communicate with each other. Their relations with each other were mostly peaceful. The lower Hudson River was inhabited by the Lenape Indians. Further north, the Wappingers lived from Manhattan Island up to Poughkeepsie. They lived a similar lifestyle to the Lenape, residing in various villages along the river. They traded with both the Lenape to the south and the Mahicans to the north. The Mahicans lived in the northern valley from present-day Kingston to Lake Champlain, with their capital located near present-day Albany.

The Algonquins in the region lived mainly in small clans and villages throughout the area. One major fortress was called Navish, which was located at Croton Point, overlooking the Hudson River. Other fortresses were located in various locations throughout the Hudson Highlands. Villagers lived in various types of houses, which the Algonquins called Wigwams. The houses could be circular or rectangular. Large families often lived in longhouses that could be a hundred feet long. At the associated villages, they grew corn, beans, and squash. They also scavenged for other types of plant foods, such as various types of nuts and berries. In addition to agriculture, the Algonquins also fished for food in the river, focusing on various species of freshwater fish, as well as various variations of striped bass, sturgeon, herring, and shad. Oyster beds were also common on the river floor, which provided an extra source of nutrition. Land hunting consisted of turkey, deer, rabbits, and other animals.

Exploration and colonization

John Cabot is credited for the Old World's discovery of continental North America, with his journey in 1497 along the continent's coast. In 1524, Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed north along the Atlantic seaboard and into New York Harbor, however he left the harbor shortly thereafter, without navigating into the Hudson River. In 1598, Dutch men employed by the Greenland Company wintered in New York Bay. Eleven years later, the Dutch East India Company financed English navigator Henry Hudson in his search for the Northwest Passage. During the search, Hudson decided to sail his ship up the river that would later be named after him. His travel up the ever-widening river led him to Haverstraw Bay, leading him to believe he had successfully reached the Northwest Passage. He landed on the western shore the bay and claimed the territory for the Netherlands. He then proceeded upstream as far as present-day Troy before concluding that no such strait existed there.

The Dutch subsequently began to colonize the region, establishing the colony of New Netherland, including three major fur-trading outposts: New Amsterdam, Wiltwyck, and Fort Orange. New Amsterdam was founded at the mouth of the Hudson River, and would later become known as New York City. Wiltwyck was founded roughly halfway up the Hudson River, and would later become Kingston. Fort Orange was founded on the river north of Wiltwyck, and later became known as Albany. The Dutch West India Company operated a monopoly on the region for roughly twenty years before other businessmen were allowed to set up their own ventures in the colony. In 1647, Director-General Peter Stuyvesant took over management of the colony, and surrendered it in 1664 to the British, who had invaded the largely-defenseless New Amsterdam. New Amsterdam and the colony of New Netherland were renamed New York, after the Duke of York.

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The famous Join, or Die cartoon, which called for the ratification of the Albany Plan of Union

Under British colonial rule, the Hudson Valley became an agricultural hub. Manors were developed on the east side of the river, and the west side contained many smaller and independent farms. In 1754, the Albany Plan of Union was created at Albany City Hall on the Hudson. The plan allowed the colonies to treaty with the Iroquois and provided a framework for the Continental Congress.

Revolution

During the Revolutionary War, the British realized that the river's proximity to Lake George and Lake Champlain would allowed their navy to control the water route from Montreal to New York City. British general John Burgoyne planned the Saratoga campaign, to control the river and therefore cut off the patriot hub of New England (to the river's east) from the South and Mid-Atlantic regions to the river's west. The action would allow the British to focus on rallying the support of loyalists in the southerly states. As a result, numerous battles were fought along the river and in nearby waterways. These include the Battle of Long Island, in August 1776 and the Battle of Harlem Heights the following month. Later that year, the British and Continental Armies were involved in skirmishes and battles in rivertowns of the Hudson in Westchester County, culminating in the Battle of White Plains.

Also in late 1776, New England militias fortified the river's choke point known as the Hudson Highlands, which included building Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery on either side of the Hudson and a metal chain between the two. In 1777, Washington expected the British would attempt to control the Hudson River, however they instead conquered Philadelphia, and left a smaller force in New York City, with permission to strike the Hudson Valley at any time. The British attacked on October 5, 1777 in the Battle of Forts Clinton and Montgomery by sailing up the Hudson River, looting the village of Peeksill and capturing the two forts. In 1778, the Continentals constructed the Great West Point Chain in order to prevent another British fleet from sailing up the Hudson.

Hudson River School

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Robert Havell, Jr., View of the Hudson River from Tarrytown

Hudson River School paintings reflect three themes of America in the 19th century: discovery, exploration, and settlement. The paintings also depict the American landscape as a pastoral setting, where human beings and nature peacefully coexist. Hudson River School landscapes are characterized by their realistic, detailed, and sometimes idealized portrayal of nature, often juxtaposing peaceful agriculture and the remaining wilderness, which was fast disappearing from the Hudson Valley just as it was coming to be appreciated for its qualities of ruggedness and sublimity. The school characterizes the artistic body, its New York location, its landscape subject matter, and often its subject, the Hudson River.

In general, Hudson River School artists believed that nature in the form of the American landscape was an ineffable manifestation of God, though the artists varied in the depth of their religious conviction. They took as their inspiration such European masters as Claude Lorrain, John Constable and J. M. W. Turner. Their reverence for America's natural beauty was shared with contemporary American writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The artist Thomas Cole is generally acknowledged as the founder of the Hudson River School, with his close friend Asher Durand also being a prominent figure in the school. Painters Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt were the most successful painters of the school.

19th century

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The Erie Canal, 2009

At the beginning of the 19th century, transportation from the US east coast into the mainland was difficult. Ships were the fastest vehicles at the time, as trains and automobiles were still being developed. In order to facilitate shipping throughout the country's interior, numerous canals were constructed between internal bodies of water in the 1800s. One of the most significant canals of this era was the Erie Canal, built to link the Midwest to the Port of New York, a significant seaport during that time. The completion of the canal enhanced the development of the American West, allowing settlers to travel west, send goods to markets in frontier cities, and export goods via the Hudson River and New York City. The completion of the canal made New York City one of the most vital ports in the nation, surpassing the Port of Philadelphia and ports in Massachusetts. After the completion of the Erie Canal, smaller canals were built to connect it with the new system. The Champlain Canal was built to connect the Hudson River near Troy to the southern end of Lake Champlain. This canal allowed boaters to travel from the St. Lawrence Seaway, and then British cities such as Montreal to the Hudson River and New York City. Another major canal was the Oswego Canal, which connected the Erie Canal to Oswego and Lake Ontario, and could be used to bypass Niagara Falls. The Cayuga-Seneca Canal connected the Erie Canal to Cayuga Lake and Seneca Lake. Farther south, the Delaware and Hudson Canal was built between the Delaware River at Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and the Hudson River at Kingston, New York. This canal enabled the transportation of coal, and later other goods as well, between the Delaware and Hudson River watersheds. The combination of these canals made the Hudson River one of the most vital waterways for trade in the nation.

During the Industrial Revolution, the Hudson River became a major location for production, especially around Albany and Troy. The river allowed for fast and easy transport of goods from the interior of the Northeast to the coast. Hundreds of factories were built around the Hudson, in towns including Poughkeepise, Newburgh, Kingston, and Hudson. The North Tarrytown Assembly (later owned by General Motors), on the river in Sleepy Hollow, was a large and notable example. The River links to the Erie Canal and Great Lakes, allowing manufacturing in the Midwest, including automobiles in Detroit, to use the river for transport. With industrialization came new technologies for transport, including steamboats for faster transport. In 1807, the North River Steamboat (later known as Clermont), became the first commercially successful steamboat. It carried passengers between New York City and Albany along the Hudson River.

Landmarks

Numerous landmarks have been constructed along the Hudson. Following the river from its source to mouth, there is the Hudson River Islands State Park in Greene and Columbia counties, and in Dutchess County, there is Bard College, Staatsburgh, the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, Franklin D. Roosevelt's home and presidential library, and the main campus of the Culinary Institute of America, Marist College, the Walkway over the Hudson, Bannerman's Castle, and Hudson Highlands State Park. South of that in Orange County is the United States Military Academy. In Westchester lies Indian Point Energy Center, Croton Point Park, and Sing Sing Correctional Facility. In New Jersey is Stevens Institute of Technology. In Manhattan is Fort Tryon Park with The Cloisters, the World Trade Center, and Liberty State Park. Liberty Island, housing the Statue of Liberty, is just outside the river's mouth.

A 30-mile (48 km) stretch on the east bank of the Hudson has been designated the Hudson River Historic District, a National Historic Landmark. The Palisades Interstate Park Commission protects the Palisades on the west bank of the river. The Hudson River was designated as an American Heritage River in 1997. The Hudson River estuary system is part of The National Estuarine Research Reserve System as the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Transportation and crossings

The Hudson River is navigable for a great distance above mile 0 (at 40°42.1'N., 74°01.5'W.) off Battery Park. The original Erie Canal, opened in 1825 to connect the Hudson with Lake Erie, emptied into the Hudson at the Albany Basin, just 3 miles (4.8 km) south of the Federal Dam in Troy (at mile 134). The canal enabled shipping between cities on the Great Lakes and Europe via the Atlantic Ocean. The New York State Canal System, the successor to the Erie Canal, runs into the Hudson River north of Troy. It also uses the Federal Dam as a lock.

Along the east side of the river runs the Metro-North Railroad's Hudson Line, from Manhattan to Poughkeepsie. The tracks continue north of Poughkeepsie as Amtrak trains run further north to Albany. On the west side of the river, CSX Transportation operates a freight rail line between North Bergen Yard in North Bergen, New Jersey and Selkirk Yard in Selkirk, New York.

The Hudson is crossed at numerous points by bridges, tunnels, and ferries. The width of the Lower Hudson River required major feats of engineering to cross, the results today visible in the George Washington Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge, as well as the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and the PATH and Pennsylvania Railroad tubes. The George Washington Bridge, which carries multiple highways, connects Fort Lee, New Jersey to the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, and is the world's busiest motor vehicle bridge. The Tappan Zee Bridge is the longest bridge in New York, although the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge has a larger main span. The Troy Union Bridge between Waterford and Troy was the first bridge over the Hudson; built in 1804 and destroyed in 1909; its replacement, the Troy–Waterford Bridge, was built in 1909. The Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad was chartered in 1832 and opened in 1835, including the Green Island Bridge, the second bridge over the Hudson south of the Federal Dam.

Pollution

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Debris floating on the river near the World Trade Center, 1973

The most discussed pollution of the Hudson River is General Electric's contamination of the river with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) between 1947 and 1977. This pollution caused a range of harmful effects to wildlife and people who ate fish from the river or drank the water. In response to this contamination, activists protested in various ways. Musician Pete Seeger founded the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and the Clearwater Festival to draw attention to the problem. The activism led to the site being designated as one of the superfund sites. Other kinds of pollution, including mercury contamination and sewage dumping, have caused problems as well.

Other environmental groups targeting the river include Scenic Hudson, Hudson River Foundation, Riverkeeper, Hudson River Environmental Society, Hudson River Watertrail Association, and Groundwork Hudson Valley.

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