The first thing that one noticed when entering the grounds of Hudson’s Tin Boat Association enclave, located between the railway tracks and sewer plant along a muddy backwater stretch of the Hudson River shoreline, were the many No Trespassing signs. But last Saturday, July 7, those signs were down – as they’ll be between now and Monday, July 16, when City of Hudson officials are saying that they are coming in to demolish the collection of fishing shacks referred to as the Furgary Boat Club. For the first time in their history, club members – known for hanging out on ramshackle porches drinking beer, watching the tides come in and out and the long shadows of the Catskills reach out over the river’s ripples – have put together a press release on their own behalf and taken to WAMC out of Albany, trying to save what they’re now noting as an American legacy.
“For a century and a half, we have been stewards of this part of the Hudson River,” said Tin Boat Association president Joe Gallo in the press release, within which he referred to the Furgary members as “the original swamp people.” “We have not only worked the river for shad and other fish, we’ve also managed the habitats and public hunting grounds of the foreshore, North Bay and Middle Ground Flats. We’ve safeguarded this area for the many children and pets who are drawn to it. And we’ve done it for free.”
During the recent years’ legal battles over the Furgary’s right to stay on in the cabins and shacks – some with decks and docks, others with impromptu boat slips – references were made to a legal middle ground written into 18th-century laws that allowed unauthorized settlement in swamp areas between municipal lands and the river. Squatters’ rights were also cited, as well as the fact that previous attempts by the City of Hudson to get the Furgary out of its roosts so that the city sewer plant could expand – or now, so an estuary park could be built – were always abandoned.
“The way we see it, this is their problem for having let us stay so long,” says a Club member wishing only to be known as Tom. “We’re now a legacy, a bit of living history. Ain’t nothing like this anywhere else along this river now – or in this entire country, if you ask me.”
Sitting on a bench, his back against a jerry-built wall of one of the dozen or so shacks scattered around the rutted dirt-road center of the Boat Club, Tom talked about how there were once similar spots around the New York City shoreline. He mentioned Broad Channel, and how its shacks have long since given way to mini-mansions. “This is a crying shame,” he said, taking a swig of his Sunday-morning soda pop. “But I don’t know what we can do now. We did the legal things we were supposed to, and all the city does is wave their legal papers at us. They’ll miss us when we’re gone.”
“The place holds a special place in my heart,” added Tiffany Martin Hamilton in the press release accompanying a petition that was fast adding names at the Open House, as well as new Facebook pages and media pleas on behalf of the Furgary’s “Swamp People.” “We’d bounce down the pitted dirt road that led to the boat shack when I was a girl, to our tin-covered cabin filled with so many intriguing things. There was a bedroom with a slatted wall, a boat room lined with canoes and hand-carved decoys of various sizes and a back porch that sat just a few feet above the water’s edge. We’d lug our summer necessities down the well-beaten path alongside the shack and make our way out to the boats. Caesar, my grandparents’ giant black-and-white dog, was always along for the ride, perched at the very front of the boat with his nose pointed out as if sniffing each and every smell the river offers.”
She, Gallo and my new buddy Tom, at the actual site, could cite no specific history to the site, excepting that its roots as a fishing enclave went back over a century, and that the folks who held on to places there were all of a continuum – but one now breaking, unless some last reprieve with the city’s Common Council and mayor takes shape this week. If not, be sure to get up to see the Furgary before it goes. It’s one-of-a-kind Hudson River lore, still alive for the moment.
To get to the Tin Boat Association’s Furgary Boat Club in Hudson, which should be where it has been for the past century until this Monday, July 16, head down the length of Hudson’s Warren Street to Water Street, then take a right and travel to the road’s end. The Furgary is located between the municipal sewer plant and the Hudson River. To check out the online petition drive on the Furgary’s behalf, visit www.facebook.com/groups/330721730349168/.