History of the Hudson Powerboat Association

Hudson Power Boat Association 1951-2021

The Hudson Power Boat Association has been a part of the Hudson NY community and riverfront for over 70 years. Its 110 plus members are rightly proud of all that has been accomplished while building fellowship and providing stewardship of the this stretch of the mighty Hudson River.

The club was the idea of 15 boatmen who met in April of 1950 at the Polish Sportsmans Club in Greenport with the intention of promoting motor boat racing on the river. These post-war years were the times of small wooden outboards made from plywood kits and increasing leisure time for growing families.

The group included those that would become the HPBA’s first officers: Ted Chidester, Harold Niver, Cy Schmid and Cliff Bame. An article in the Hudson Register newspaper of May 16, 1950 announced that the property of the Hudson River Day Line company would be sold to the Hudson Power Boat Association including the waiting room, ticket office, and parking lot. The group would be affiliated with the American Power Boat Association and hoped to be involved with the Albany to New York power boat races.

The club soon grew to 31 members. By January 15th, 1951 commodore Ted Chidester reported that 110 people had attended the first annual meeting at the Paramount Grill in Hudson. A special meeting was held on January 22 of that year to draw up the incorporation papers and on February 7th, 1951 the club was officially incorporated under NYS law as the Hudson Power Boat Association, Inc.

Until the building on the riverfront could be renovated, meetings were held at the Paramount Grill in Hudson. The original articles of incorporation contained some of the goals of the club, not much different than our current mission statement: to serve the interests of boating enthusiasts, defend boaters against discriminatory legislation, prevent pollution, and promote general interest in boating among area citizens. The price of buying the property ? $ 150.00 !

By July 29, 1951 the club was holding its first races at the Ferry St. site. Class A,B, and C Hydros and Class C Service runabouts were raced with prizes from $5. To $20. For 1st place winners. The snack bar was open and the club was in its first season ! Our present day ‘trophy case’ located in the club room contains trophies and items from that era.

This year, a video from that time, 1954, was posted on our website. It is from the Glenn Wheeler family and is a color film showing activities at the club and on the river. Plenty of wooden boats and members from that year, a truly different time on the river.

During those early years, most of the riverfront, as was the case throughout the Hudson Valley, was industrial. The boat club was surrounded by large oil tanks and dilapidated brick warehouse buildings. The waterfront was sadly neglected as communities turned away from the river and looked towards the suburbs. The river had always been a working river and few working class people had boats or the time to enjoy them. As America’s middle class grew so did the availability of plywood and fiberglass production boats that were affordable and trailerable. Growing families had the time and resources to explore the river and get into boating as a family activity.

The Blessing of the Fleet

 The HPBA has always been a working boat club, with members working a set number of hours each year to maintain the club and build and repair docks and the facility. During these early years, members with various skills were able to expand the dock capacity and improve the clubhouse and grounds. This tradition is generally carried on today with members maintaining the facility themselves.

This was the same situation as at other ‘boat clubs’ up and down the river. The 1950’s and 1960’s were years of steady improvement at the club. For many years it was the only non-industrial use of the riverfront and provided area residents with a look at what could be possible ‘down by the river’. It has been the center of river based activities in Hudson.

Not a great deal is known about the club during the 1950’s and 1960’s, but small racing boats and organized racing subsided and larger cruising craft became more popular. Photos from that time show a few dock fingers perpendicular to the shore, and some dockage right around the club building itself. Cruisers and smaller boats were still wood construction for the most part. The club burgee still has the same design as present day. The ‘blessing of the fleet’ seemed to be a popular event with attendees dressed up and families in attendance.

The area just north of the club was vacant post-industrial land with fishing shacks and fishing boats tied up and lots of old dock pilings sticking up out of the river. Some of this can be seen in the old movie ‘Odds Against Tomorrow’ starring Harry Belafonte and released in 1959. A lot of scenes from the movie were shot on the waterfront, and from Promenade Hill. Oil tanks and old warehouse buildings are prominent. The movie ends with giant petroleum tanks exploding on the riverfront. Luckily, the power boat association survived !

A big change came to the Hudson riverfront in 1968 when the state built a boat launch and large parking lot just north of and adjacent to the clubhouse and ferry slip on vacant blighted land. Prior to this, club members launched their boats via a hoist erected over the old ferry boat slip or, for larger boats, from improvised ramps around the area. The only dockage was situated just around the perimeter of the clubhouse. The boat launch ramps and parking facility, along with the steel bulkhead and a small park connected to the Ferry St. bridge, greatly improved river access to people with trailered boats and improved the overall appearance of the waterfront. The first improvement since the boat club was born. This area saw many community events hosted by the city and local organizations, usually augmented by our club.

The ‘rediscovery’ of the river was bigger than Henry Hudson’s initial sighting. Concerts, fairs, boat tours and civic events of all kinds took place at the ‘boat launch’. It was a public space and more and more folks could easily drive down to the river and take in breath taking sunsets and foggy sunrises.

Over the years the combination of the HPBA’s docks and generous parking area of the boat launch site has contributed to many water based parties and excursions. Among them were fundraisers for the library, the Hudson Athens Lighthouse, the sloop Clearwater and Woody Guthrie, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, craft fairs, the Hudson City Bicentennial, Flag Day, Dive and Rescue, Operation Unite Boat Tours , The I Love NY Summer Festival, Dutch Sloops flotilla, and bass fishing tournaments.

This land is still maintained and operated by the Taconic State Park Commission. It provides access for the club to our north docks and a small but useful parcel of land for parking and dock storage. The club purchased this piece of land from the railroad in 1985 and shortly thereafter began to put docks in along the north shoreline.

Many area residents remember the huge ‘Cable Crossing’ sign that towered over the boat launch. Its purpose was to notify passing commercial traffic that phone and utility cables crossed the river bottom there and ships and barges needed to be cautious about where they dropped anchor. In February 1983, a barge and tug were dragging anchor when passing through the Hudson channel and pulled out the cables. Phone service was out from Hudson to Kingston and all over the valley. The ‘Cable Queen’, a cable laying ship was dispatched to town to lay new cable and set up shop at the boat club for the duration. Assisted by club personnel, the ‘Cable Queen’ laid new lines across the
river. Just one of many times the club was pressed into service to serve the river and the community.

The club had always been hidden behind old city buildings, next to the old Pulver Gas and Oil tanks and alongside the abandoned Hudson-Athens Ferry slip. The Cohan Coal Co. building had been slowly falling down on the east side of the club property and in 1985 the club demolished the building, basically a pile of bricks. A cement retaining wall was built against Water St. and the club grounds were enlarged as a result.

This made for a large area where tents could be erected for barbecues and lobster bakes and crowds of party goers could be accommodated. In 1998, under the direction of John Ronsani, our members built a large pavilion on the footprint of the old garage with an outside kitchen and bays for boat storage as well as outside events.

The club membership continued to grow during these years, which, to some, can be recalled as the golden years of the boat club. The community was still a place where parents and children lived and worked locally and spent time together. Spending most of a weekend at the club, on their boat and on the river was a common Summer activity. After having a few ‘barroom cruises’, many couples slept over on their boats- a growing fleet of large cruisers with all the comforts of home.

The next big change for the club, and for the City of Hudson, came when a long talked about waterfront park was built along the river directly south of, and adjoining, the HPBA property. In May of 1997 the last of the large oil tanks came down. One remnant can still be seen at the edge of the club land where boats are now stored in the winter: a section of fence and barbed wire atop a cement containment wall.

The waterfront park was the result of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and associated funding for remediation and development of the project. In June of 2001 the job bid was awarded to Colarusso Construction of Greenport and the work began to transform the riverfront landscape once again. Communities up and down the valley were returning to the river for recreation and tourism. They were rediscovering what the HPBA knew all along !

The need for more dockage led to a major improvement in 2005. Jim Novak, who would later become Commodore, took on a big job to secure the north dock area above the docks then in place. Jim was a railroader and knew that the railroad was always looking to minimize erosion and stabilize the land next to the tracks. Jim and the CSX Railroad arranged for 18 dump cars to load rip rap rock along the land bordering the river and tracks… large boulders to which docks and pipes to hold them could be attached to swing with the tide and add many more boats to the north end. This greatly improved dock capacity and stability.

One night, the river dark except for red and green navigational lights, a tug pushing a barge was slowly making its way up river, a flooding tide pushing them along. A fire in the engine room developed just at the south end of the Hudson channel. The captain deployed the anchors at the front of the barge. The whole rig stopped dead across from the boat ramps, no power or steerageway. The tide then swung the barge and tug around to the north, striking several boats on the north docks. The members asleep on their boats quickly ran up to deck and down the docks or jumped up on the railroad right of way. It was a narrow escape. One boating couple left boating entirely soon after that incident ! Luckily no one was seriously hurt.

In later years, a tug and barge lost steering and also hit the docks, but that happened too early in the season for any boats to be docked there and only some docks were damaged. Look out for commercial traffic ! It’s not always under control !

Members are always on the lookout for flooding, since the club is right on the river, at water level. Over the years, flood water has reached the club many times and the clubhouse and grounds had to be cleaned up and cleaned out. Local newspaper accounts show that spring 1983 and 1984 in particular caused problems at the club with large debris fields taking out the docks and flooding on the property. Superstorms Irene in August of 2011 and Sandy in October of 2012 spared the club any serious damage, but it was close in both instances.

January 1996 was the most damaging episode by far and the membership came very close to losing the clubhouse. A huge ice jam on the Mohawk River broke up and caused a five foot surge of flood water. Added to a very high tide, it caused a monumental ice flood down the river and right into the north side of the club. Ice floes broke through the wall and were stacked up inside floor to ceiling. Appliances and furniture were washed out of the club into the river and the fuel tank floated away as well, later to be rescued and returned by the coast guard.

Members responded and using equipment and blood, sweat, and tears saved the day. A huge oak main beam was milled on the spot at member Nick Tipple’s saw mill and put in place to support the roof and structure of the building. Members had to finance the rebuilding of the club and it was a major project featured in the local newspapers of the time. It is still remembered and talked about on the river and in the community. The club was led that fateful year by Dara Laraway, the organizations first woman commodore.
Recent years have seen efforts by club members to improve the club. Our members are welders, electricians, carpenters, painters, roofers, and more. One such talented man is Mike Coon. After several years of planning and deliberation about what to do with the failing riverside bulkhead, Mike and his company took up the challenge. They tore out the old deck and dug up the deteriorated pad. A new cement patio and walkway was poured, all without disturbance of the bulkhead itself which received new anchoring, land side. This project is sure to secure our property into the future.

2020 was looking like a normal year, with a dock improvement project planned and the usual dock parties and club events. Then, as everywhere, Covid 19 hit. The state closed down all activities and dock installation was delayed for weeks. All club social events and meetings were cancelled. The docks were finally installed about a month later and the boating season was salvaged. Once warm weather arrived, meetings and some social gatherings were conducted outside on the rear deck. Another Covid surge closed much of normal club activities into 2021. Though the 2021 dock installation continued on regular schedule and the club anticipated a somewhat regular schedule for the season.
HPBA docks receive continual upgrades with electric service upgraded and new style dock floats when it can be accommodated. A marine pump was installed through the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for use by any boaters on the river. The clubhouse is continuing to be upgraded and maintained. This tradition of hands-on members involvement must continue for the club to survive, as it has all these years.
Club members are often first to respond to or first to notify rescue services in the event of an emergency on the river. The club provides dockage for the county Sheriffs boat, Hudson Fire Department and Greenport Rescue Squad boats.

The ‘boat club’ is proud to be an integral part of the operations of the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, a landmark on the river and an iconic symbol of our part of the Hudson Valley. Our members are often also Lighthouse members. The club provides dockage for the ‘Lighthouse Lady’ and installs and removes the dock every year, among other associated services for tours and maintenance. Of course, the lighthouse is a little older than the club. It was built in 1874 !

Temporary dockage is offered to striper fisherman in season as well as transient dockage based on availability for cruisers and overnight visitors to the area. For many years the United States Coast Guard tied up icebreakers and tugs to the club in the winter ice season. The club still has a few pictures and life preservers presented by the crews in appreciation for hospitality and cocktails.

The club continues to attract new members as the natural ebb and flow of membership goes on. Longtime members age out of boating or move down south after a ‘snowbird’ period. Newer folks come aboard to enjoy boating or just admire the beautiful vista from the club’s deck, which takes in the Catskill Mountains, the river and lighthouse, and spectacular sunsets. Here’s to the next 70 years ! Cheers !

P. Tenerowicz May 2021

Photo Jonathan Simons - Middle Ground Flats with Hudson Power Boat Club NY on the Left and Athens NY on the right

Photo Lynn Fischer

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