The Hudson River is one of the most important river systems in the eastern United States. The river begins at Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondack Mountains, running 315 miles to end in New York Harbor. The watershed for the river totals 13344 square miles, or 28% of New York State. The river lies almost entirely inside of New York State, except near New York City, where the river delineates the border between New York and New Jersey.
The river was created at the end of the last ice age. A large glacier carved a deep channel into the rolling hills, causing the water in the area to collect and flow towards the Atlantic Ocean. The middle channel of the river was carved so deeply into the landscape that the tide of the Atlantic affects the flow of the river. During high tide, salt water will force its way up the river, causing the river to stagnate, or in some cases, actually reverse flow temporarily. Because of this tidal flow, the Mohican tribe called the river "Muhheakunnuk" or "river that flows two ways."
Europeans first explored the river valley in the late 1500's, with the French set up posts to trade with the native Mohican and Iroquois tribes. Henry Hudson explored the river in the Dutch East India Company ship Halve Maen in 1609, calling the river "Manhatees." It was then called "River of the Prince Mauritius" when the first patroons began to colonize the area. In an effort to legitimize their claims over the river valley, the British were the first to call it "Hudson's River" as Hudson was actually a British citizen, not a Dutch one. After the British takeover of the Dutch colony, Hudson's name stayed with the river.
Settlers came to the shores of the Hudson because of its productive farmland, and the variety of life found in the water. Over 200 different species of fish are known to have lived in the river, along with several types of crabs and shellfish. Also, the river was the only easy way to reach the interior of the Northeast during colonial times. Logging camps in the Adirondacks used the river to float logs to processing plants down river in Glens Falls or Saratoga Springs. Tourists from New York City would use ferryboats to reach their camps in the Catskill Mountains. The river was so important to the area that the British focused many of their campaigns on the valley during the American Revolution.
Robert Fulton piloted his prototype steamboat on the Hudson River in 1807, and changed the shipping industry in the region. Soon, New York State completed the Erie Canal, which connected the Hudson at Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo, New York, allowing an easy way for goods from the Midwest to reach the Atlantic Coast and points beyond. Soon New York City became a major seaport, and the Hudson River became the main conduit to the rest of the nation. Only an increase in the number of railroads in the late 1800's would take the freight ships out of the Hudson.
The early 1900's saw New York lose its formerly intimate relationship with the river. Industry, which used to use the river as a power source, now saw it as a cheap and easy way to get rid of industrial waste. While this brought an economic boom to the area, the river soon became very polluted.
Many organizations now exist along the river that are dedicated to restoring the Hudson River. Among these is the Sloop Clearwater, which is an organization that investigates and educates the public about pollution in the river and how to prevent it. The organization also works with the state government on new legislation, and the enforcement of environmental laws that are already in existence. The organization helped to pass the Clean Water Act in 1972, and fought to have General Electric clean up their mess in the river.
The Hudson River has the largest contamination of polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, of anywhere in the United States. During the 1970's, General Electric owned several plants along the banks of the northern Hudson (mostly located in Washington and Saratoga Counties) that used PCB in the manufacturing process. Before the practice of dumping these chemicals into the river was banned in 1977, an estimated 500000 to 1.3 million pounds of PCB entered the Hudson River system. Despite their claims that PCB is harmless now that it has settled into the river bottom, GE will pay for the dredging of the riverbed, which begins in the spring of 2006.
Recently, the strict restrictions on fishing in the river have been eased somewhat, as pollution in the river continues to decline. This has brought back the fishing industry, which was missing during the polluted days of the 1900's. This is yet another sign of home on a river that is slowly coming back into it's glory.