HUDSON-On July 7 the Furgary Boat Club invited the public to an open house.
The visit felt like a journey back to an earlier era. A short walk down a dirt lane shaded by willow trees that runs from the intersection of Dock and Front streets at the northwest corner of the city leads one to a cluster of shacks overlooking an inlet on the Hudson River cut off from the main channel by railroad tracks in the mid-19th century.
The shacks are constructed casually of what look like castaway materials but were sturdy enough for visitors to explore safely. Some of them may date back to the 1920s and ’30s, when people came and lived here during the Depression. In more recent times the cabins, which have electricity but no plumbing, have been occupied seasonally by families who use them for hunting, fishing, swimming, and escaping the summer heat.
A June 14 court decision in a suit brought against the city by club members denied the group’s claim to the 14.49 acres through adverse possession and confirmed that the City of Hudson owns the property. Eviction is scheduled for next Monday, July 16, and by now most members have removed all but a few of their possessions.
The city is open to suggestions, said Mayor William Hallenbeck Jr. in a phone call this week. He said that the land won’t be sold and can’t be leased.
“The LWRP calls for that land to be open to the public,” he said, referring to the city’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, a recently adopted document meant to guide the nature and extent of development all along the city’s waterfront.
But though he is checking with the state Department of State on the question of leasing property where the shacks stand, he is open to “any suggestion that’s legal and affordable,” though he worries about increasing insurance costs and liability of city taxpayers. After the formal eviction Monday the city plans to erect a locked fence around the site until officials figure out what to do next.
A petition to save the Boat Club is being circulated by Tiffany Martin Hamilton, a member of the Hudson School Board, who spent childhood summers at the Furgery Boat Club. It has over 200 signatures, but Mayor Hallenbeck said that “as many or more Hudson residents would say they want that land to be open to the public if there was an opposing petition.”
Members of the Boat Club who came by last week’s open house to learn the club’s history, explore the area and offer support. Visitors found a relaxed environment reminiscent of a time before computers and air conditioning, when neighbors had time to talk and hang out together. They found a tight knit community of people who know each other’s histories and share happy memories of deer roasts, of swimming off Midland Flats Island, which is just across the bay, and massive cleanups after annual floods.
“I’ve always loved the river. This is the best kept secret in New York State,” said Harold Smith, Jr., who raved about the terrific fishing for three-foot stripers and shad with herring bait that was readily available.
“We used to catch shad but it’s protected now. We’d sell the roe to Kozels,” he said.
His father, Harold Smith, Sr., 70, remembers coming here as a child, playing hooky to fish.
Tom Martin, music director for Christ Church Episcopal, who has lived in Hudson his entire life, came back to visit the place where his family had a cabin. Though he has not spent much time here in recent years, this was where his grandfather, who raised and trained hunting dogs in the camp, died of a stroke while on a visit in 1918. The cabin still contains paintings of his father duck hunting, several fine carved and painted wood duck sculptures, and other art that has accumulated over the years.
Mr. Martin’s daughter, Tiffany Martin Hamilton, remembers running around with other kids in a pack with the family dog and all of them being taken by boat to Midland Flats Island to swim.” We’d stay for weeks at a time,” she said.
“I’m amazed by the number of visitors,” said Mr. Martin. “They’re all new people. The local people have not come.”
Dennis Malloy of Copake, who has the cabin next door to the Martins’ said, “The worst thing is it’s taken this long for people to come down here. People don’t realize what they have in their own back yard. I’ve made it a point to come down here two to three times a week. It’s a place to relax and talk with friends. I don’t even drink or smoke. They painted us with a broad brush. People who visit say this is great. This was a meeting place for everybody. If someone shot a deer we’d have a barbecue.”
An aura of sadness hovered over the group as they visited with friends and family.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Sandy Skabowski. “I’m almost in mourning.”
Three generations of Skabowskis have come here to fish with their Grandpa, she said. Ms. Skabowski, 58, remembers coming her since her preschool years with her five sisters for summers with family and friends. “My dad built this gazebo 25 years ago. I had put the deck on. It was two cabins. I joined it together to make it one. We have such a huge family. I have five sisters. All our nephews, they all come down here and fish on Saturdays.”
There’s no plumbing. Members bring in potable water and have a portable toilet. Some use their boats to re-provision their shacks that back up to the river and floating docks. The place has been flooded too many times to count, but members just clean the dirt out and move back in.
“It’s the last piece of freedom in America, the last piece like this that is east of the Mississippi,” said one club member. He had a point. It seemed like a place Huck Finn might have felt at home.