Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hudson River 400th Anniversary

400 years ago this month, Henry Hudson, an English explorer working for the Dutch East India Company made his third trip in his ship Halve Maen (means Half Moon in English) across Atlantic to New York Bay. Hudson and his men found and managed to sail up a broad tidal river all the way to nowadays Albany. In honoring the discovery, the river was later named after him by the settling Dutch immigrants and is now known as the Hudson River whose last 21 miles forms the border of New York City (on its east) and New Jersey. For those of you who have never seen or heard of this river, you surely would recall the news of “Miracle on the Hudson” earlier this year (to be exact, Thurs, Jan 15th) when captain "Sully" Sullenberger crash-landed his Airbus 320 plane of U.S. Airways flight 1549 on the freezing Hudson River and brought all 155 passengers and crew to safety.

The exploration was obviously economically motivated. After the Portuguese explorer Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan in English) and his crew, sponsored by the Spanish crown, proved once-and-for-all in their 1519-1522 epic journey by sailing westward that the earth is round, many including Henry Hudson tried to find shorter and safer routes to Asia, thus a more competitive way to reach the Spice Islands of Indonesia. His employer, Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602 by the Parliament of the Netherland as a monopoly for all its colonial activities (including diplomatic and military!) in Asia. Within six months, Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the world’s first modern day stock exchange was formed and Dutch East India Company became the first multinational corporation and the first to issued stocks in the world. In an equivalent of today’s IPO (Initial Public Offering), it raised over 6 million guilders of capital, or equivalently about today’s 100 million dollars. The investor was not disappointed; Dutch East India Company was extremely profitable and had been paying an incredible dividend of 18% every year for the subsequent 200 years!

In 1609, Henry Hudson did not bring back to Europe any spices, silk, nor porcelains. Instead he carried back beaver furs from American Indians and the promise of vast land and resources. Subsequently Dutch people began to settle in Hudson Valley and its neighboring regions and called it the New Netherlands which was eventually ceded to England in 1664. Indeed, it was the Dutch who reported to have purchased Manhattan island from the Algonquian-speaking Lenape Indians in 1626 with sixty guilders worth of beads and trinkets. In today’s dollar, it is worth about $1000. However the claim is just Dutch’s version and it is not at all clear what the deal and understanding was by Native Americans given their different or lack of land ownership concept at the time. In any case, the development of the subsequent century for the native residents followed the familiar patterns of American Indian struggles and decimation.

Hudson River is 300+ miles long, flowing north to south through eastern New York State. It starts in Adirondack Mountains, about 100 miles northwest of Albany and ends at the Upper New York Bay. Its widest point is about 3 miles wide at Haverstraw Bay, a little north of Tappan Zee (Tappan is an American Indian tribe name and Zee is Dutch word for “Sea”) Bridge between Rockland and Westchester Counties of New York State. The deepest point of the river is 216 feet, more than twice the depth of deepest part of San Francisco Bay, at the World' End, located near West Point where the world famous U.S. Military Academy is located.

A little north of West Point, right off the main throughway Route 9W, there is an under-developed Storm King State Park next to the river that offers several easy and moderate hiking trails with fabulous views of Hudson River and Valley. One of the parking lots off Route 9W provides convenient access to the trailhead of the Organge-blazed Howell Trail. With less than 1 mile of steep ascend and occasional climb over large granites, one reaches the Butter Hill Summit at 1380 feet, the highest peak of Storm King Mountains. Walking further north and north east, one finds the yellow-blazed Stillman Trail that takes you to the Storm King Summit at 1,340 ft and near Hudson River with several overlooks on the way. The photos to the right was taken from one of the overlooks. As one looks north, Beacon Bridge (Interstate Hwy 84) and Bannerman Castle of the Pollepel Island on Hudson River are clearly visible in a clear day. The trip offers an excellent half-day hikes and scenery. The coming fall colors will no doubtedly light up the whole valley shortly.

Driving south from the Storm King State Park along Hudson River and takes the 40 miles long scenic Palisades Interstate Parkway, one reaches Fort Lee next to the George Washington Bridge, the first motion picture capital of America 100 years ago, now known to some as a Korean town with its high Korean-American population (almost 20% of Fort Lee residents are Koreans) and a perfect place for an authentic Korean dinner. Following the River Road and then Kennedy Blvd through towns of Edgewater, Guttenberg, West New York, Weehawken, one gets incredible views of the beautiful Manhattan skyline across the Hudson River, something that New Yorker themselves don’t see often. Here is a photo of Manhattan taken in the evening from the Hamilton Park in Weehawken, a little north of the Lincoln Tunnel.

Henry Hudson wasn’t the first European explorer to reach New York. It was the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano who, in the service of French Crown, first entered New York Harbor and saw Hudson River in 1524. However he thought it was a lake and did not explore it – a missed opportunity. It wasn’t a total loss. In 1964, the longest suspension bridge of U.S. connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn over the Narrows was completed and was named after him as Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Incidentally, when we took a tour several years ago to Chianti, south of Florence, Italy, we took a break at a small village. Stood at the village plaza, there was a statue. As we read the writings on the plaque, we realized that we were at Greve, the birth place of the local hero Giovanni Verrazano. Come to think of it, I can’t recall seeing statues of explorers in China or Taiwan. The last known explorer by imperial order was Zheng He 鄭和 in early 15th century during Ming Dynasty who went to Southeast Asia, Arabic Peninsula and East Africa. Unfortunately, it was the last major exploration and international trade of China that had a huge negative implication on the lack of advancement of China in modern history. I will save this big topic for some other time.

Talk to you soon!

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