Monday, June 22, 2009

Our Village in 1909

by Julia House

Editor’s Note: As much fun as it is to look at hundred-year-old photographs of Hastings, it’s even more exciting to have someone tell us what Hastings was really like in 1909. This reminiscence is an edited version of “A Long Look Backward,” an article written by Julia House around 1955, which we recently uncovered in a box of papers from the Literature Club. Julia moved to Hastings as a newlywed in 1903, and here’s what she has to say about her early years in Hastings.

Warburton Avenue in 1909

Hastings was a sleepy village in those days. None of the streets were paved, and the occasional motor-car was something to stare at. In summer the watering-cart jogged up the main streets, wetting down the dust. The Brandt mansion, now occupied by the Veterans, was almost concealed by masses of shrubbery.…

I had never known a place like Hastings, and it took me some time to feel a part of it. It was so different from my New England, and so I called it very Dutch….

Mr. Joe Murphy, proprietor of the “Bridge Grocery” sent us a polite letter, asking us to deal with him. This was flattering, and we at once became customers. Each morning Mr. Murphy or his assistant would call at the back door to take orders, and deliver in the afternoon. It was not long, however, before we were notified that since so many people now had telephones, the orders would in future be given by that means. We had not contemplated anything so startling, but now it seemed we really needed a ‘phone, so it was duly installed in our little hall. It was not handsome, but it did look important, sitting up there on the wall, with its crank at the side which, briskly turned, would summon the operator.…

Fred Breyer in his market ca. 1909

My marketing, for meat, was mostly at Breyer’s, on Spring Street near Maple Avenue. In winter, the market was as cold inside as out-doors, and Mr. and Mrs. Breyer, both large, were swathed in so many garments they were positively gigantic. In summer, they must have had ice for the meat, and returned to normal size.…

There was little social life, as far as I could see. The men got to know each other, going to the city on the train, and sometimes would bring their wives together, but card-playing seemed to be the only amusement….

The Tower Ridge Yacht Club in 1905

Our great boon was the Yacht Club, so near us, and easily reached (I thought then) by a long flight of wooden steps going down into the ravine and a bridge over the railroad tracks. My husband enjoyed the sailing races on Saturday afternoons and could always have a job as able-bodied seaman on somebody’s boat, until he had one of his own, shared with a friend. But the sailing was not very good. Thunder-storms were always coming up, or else the boats would be becalmed, and sometimes they wouldn’t get in until midnight.

The Club was a paradise for the boys of the neighborhood, as it was later for our own sons. There they learned to swim – the river was cleaner then – and played among the boats under the watchful eye of wiry little Ed Cook, “Cap” to them, as to their fathers. Cap had strong language at his command, but usually the boys obeyed him without his resorting to it….

You would hardly believe what a nice little beach there was, down by the riverside, before the tracks were moved out to their present location. I used to take my young son down there to play contentedly with shovel and pail, and watch the boats on one side and the “choo-choos” on the other. We early acquired a small rowboat, and used to venture across the river on calm days, but it was a venture, since we never could be sure it would stay clam. It usually didn’t, and the return trip was sometimes too exciting to be pleasant. But we enjoyed exploring the other side, which seemed a different world, quaint and quiet, with its old stone cottages and winding, uphill roads. Hastings seemed almost urban when we got back to it.

Gus Wagner in his sleigh in 1905

Our first two winters were extremely cold, with snow on the ground all winter. People drove across the river in sleighs, and we used to drag our baby across, tucked up in a box on a sled. Those two winters were something to remember, with the wind roaring down from the North Pole, and blowing right into our defenseless little house. It was a wonder we and it were not blown away entirely. It was impossible to keep warm, with the old hot-air furnace, a fireplace in the dining-room, in which we burned cannel coal, and the kitchen stove, which perhaps did the best job. Our relatives in the city did have something on us, then. But in spite of the rough winter, we still loved our home by the river….

Julia House’ reminiscences continue next week with the early history of the Literature Club. Julia was the first president of this club, which was founded in 1909.
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1 comment:

  1. I remember Mrs. House and her home overlooking the river. It is still located on the northeast corner or Riverview place, abutting the River Glen Apartments complex. I was in the house once on a Saturday, some time during the 1950's. Mrs. House's daughter Marilyn married Bob Courtney another Hastings resident, and they had three daughters, Carolyn, Julia and Wendy. Carrie was the oldest. They lived four doors away from our home at 33 Whitman.

    That afternoon, Carrie and I explored the porch and as I recall there was a winding staircase with a round window all paneled in wainscot bead board. The House house gave the feeling of being on a riverboat.

    The beach referred to by Mrs. House was diminished by the time that I was a teenager in the Sixties. We all referred to it as "Bare A__" Beach as we would go skinny-dipping, being screened by many bushes separating the view from the train tracks. It was a nice sandy beach, and you could wade out into the river quite a way before it began to gradually get deep.

    The winters were much colder then. On at least one occasion my father skated across the Hudson, and my grandfather was in the Home Guard during WW1 which practiced formations on the ice. Even as a kid in the Fifties I remember hearing the ice breakers going travelling up the river to West Point, and hearing sound of the cracking of the ice even through our storm windows. My mother recalled the when she was a young girl, the streets of the village were plowed with iron-clad wooden plows. Her parents would sled down the whole length of Washington Avenue together, across Warburton, and down the lower part of Washington, over the snow covered tracks and out onto the river. That must have been some ride.

    "Cap" Cook(e) was my grand uncle, and from my mother and father's accounts did run a "tight ship" at the old Tower Ridge Yacht Club, in addition to Commodore Ross for whom he had fond respect. The Society has a newspaper article on file about him and the lives that he saved on the Hudson during those treacherous storms referred to in Mrs. House's article. I can't wait to read the next installment. Bob Russell