Turning their gaze to the Hudson, a collection of researchers and historians have planned a series of events in the coming months to celebrate not only the river itself, but also the people who helped save it.
Lighthouses of the Hudson Valley
Sarah Wassberg Johnson, education director of the Hudson River Maritime Museum, is the editor of the Museum’s soon-to-be published book, Lighthouses of the Hudson Valley. Although only seven lighthouses remain on the Hudson today, dozens of light posts once lined the shores of the river between Troy and New York City. Lighthouses of the Hudson Valley shares the history of these often-unknown lights, their keepers and what ultimately happened to the structures themselves.
Hailing from Fargo, North Dakota, Johnson attended graduate school at SUNY-Albany, where she obtained a Master’s degree in Public History, and soon parlayed that training in historical research into her position at the Hudson River Maritime Museum. “The late 19th/early 20th century is my specialty, but the great thing about history is that every era can be fascinating,” said Johnson.
The project originally started when Arcadia Publishing, widely known for its “Images of America” books, approached the Hudson River Maritime Museum about contributing a collection of the river’s lighthouses to its series. Working closely with the Hudson River Lighthouse Coalition, as the research into the book continued, more and more information on lighthouses came to light, so to speak.
“As we kept doing research on the known lighthouses, I kept finding other ones; we kept finding references,” Johnson said. “There are lighthouses, and then there are lights. All navigation back then, the lights in use before electricity, all had to be maintained by either a keeper or, for some of the lights, something called a ‘lampist.’ Almost all of the ones that we didn’t know about were mostly stake lights or post lights. Some of them were just little pyramidal towers with tall posts to hold a lamp.”
Johnson is pleased by the high level of interest in this topic. “I think this material is extra-exciting to people because it’s not really a topic that’s been widely covered before,” she said.
“Rescuing the River” preview on April 19
In addition to publishing its new book, the Maritime Museum will be commemorating some of the Hudson River’s most important milestones this year. Marking the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Hudson River sloop Clearwater and the passing of the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as what would have been the 100th birthday of singer/activist Pete Seeger, the Museum will be hosting a special exhibition, “Rescuing the River: 50 Years of Environmental Activism on the Hudson,” which will have a special preview on Friday, April 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. The new exhibition seeks to situate the work of the Clearwater, Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson in their proper historical and national context. For the first time, the Maritime Museum will include interactive kiosks with additional exhibit materials including short films, thanks to the help of Bank of America. Tickets for the preview are free for museum members, $15 for general admission. The festivities include wine and light refreshments. Before the preview, there will be free deck tours of the Clearwater from 4:15 p.m. until 5:45 p.m. Register for these events by visiting https://bit.ly/2OYVBfV.
In addition, beginning in May and running through the middle of October, the museum will be hosting special walking tours of the Rondout waterfront, on the first and third Saturdays of those months. Attending patrons will be privy to a guided historical exploration of the waterfront, its industrial, social and maritime importance, as well as general admission to the museum at the tour’s conclusion. If the water is more to your liking than the waterfront, join the Museum’s two-hour cruise on June 6 for a guided journey on the water, complete with illustrated lectures, hors d’oeuvres and Johnson’s own talk on the river’s lost lighthouses.
For more information on these events, including ticketing and reservations, visit www.hrmm.org or call (845) 338-0071. Lighthouses of the Hudson Valley is to be published June 17 through Arcadia Publishing. All proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Hudson River Maritime Museum. The museum is located at 50 Rondout Landing in Kingston.