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Five of the Hudson Valley’s History-Making Firsts

These regional superlatives offer local points of pride as oldest, biggest, or best in their class.

by Reed Sparling
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In 2021, Time magazine named the Hudson Valley one of the world’s greatest places. But some places in the region lay claim to superlatives — oldest, first, largest — that leave no doubt they stand in a class all their own, unique either statewide or nationally. Check out these five all-time history-makers. 

1. America’s first art movement setting

Following the example of Thomas Cole, landscape painters in the mid-19th century started leaving their Manhattan studios to seek inspiration in the Hudson Valley. Their depictions of its unspoiled natural beauty were recognized as the country’s first homegrown mode of artistic expression, known as the Hudson River School. Works by Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, and others attracted international acclaim.

2. New York’s largest white oak tree

The stunning, roughly 500-year-old Bedford Oak. (Photo: Marty Aligata / Wikimedia Commons)

When the Bedford oak in Westchester County sprouted from an acorn, the paint was barely dry on the Mona Lisa, and Henry VIII was running through his wives. Over the subsequent 500 or so years, it has kept growing and today boasts a circumference of about 30 feet. Fortunately, two acres around the tree have been protected, and the Bedford Historical Society lovingly looks after what it calls a “living monument.”

3. Nation’s largest weathervane atop a building

The Albany skyline and Half Moon weathervane atop the former Delaware & Hudson Building, now SUNY Plaza. (Will Waldron/Times Union)

A landmark in downtown Albany since 1915, the copper behemoth “sailing” above the ornate former headquarters of the Delaware & Hudson Railroad (now housing SUNY Albany) is a replica of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon, which anchored in the river nearby. It weighs 800 pounds and stands nine feet tall. There is a larger weathervane in Michigan, but it sits on the ground. 

4. America’s first publicly-owned historic site

Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh. (Photo: Seth Martel / Scenic Hudson)

During the American Revolution, Continental Army Commander George Washington spent the most time at Newburgh’s Hasbrouck House. While there from April 1782 until peace was declared in August 1783, he took several important steps to ensure the new nation’s democratic future. That’s why New York acquired the house in 1850 and created Washington Headquarters State Historic Site.  

5. First incorporated city in the “United States”

The modern streetscape of Hudson, the first incorporated city of the new United States. (Photo: Michael Anderson)

For a tiny city, Hudson has a big distinction: in 1785, it became the first city to receive its articles of incorporation after the Continental Congress had voted to change the country’s name from the “United Colonies” to the “United States.” However, it wasn’t the first incorporated city in New York: In 1686, the then-colony granted charters to New York City and Albany.

Reed Sparling is a staff writer and historian at Scenic Hudson. He is the former editor of Hudson Valley Magazine, and currently co-edits the Hudson River Valley Review, a scholarly journal published by the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College.

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

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