2009 is a year for much celebration. It marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s travel up the river bearing his name and Samuel de Champlain’s discovery of the lake he named after himself, as well as the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the maiden voyage of Robert Fulton’s steamboat. Because of the importance of the celebration and its historical significance, the 334th section of the federal Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 officially formed the Champlain and Hudson-Fulton commissions, and sanctioned them with the authority to create and execute an extensive educational and celebratory nationwide event.
The Hudson-Fulton Commission is comprised of fifteen members, and the Champlain Commission ten. In order to create knowledgeable and hardworking groups, the majority of commission members come from state-sanctioned Quadracentennial commissions or the National Park Service. Each commission was awarded $500,000 a year from 2008 through 2011 to fulfill its fiscal needs. Their purposes are defined to include the preparation and implementation of a national observance by working alongside the state commissions from New York, New Jersey, and Vermont. Encouraging civic, patriotic, historical, educational, artistic, religious, and economic organizations to participate in the Quadricentennial commemoration is another duty of both commissions. Furthermore, each commission was charged to aptly recognize the diversity and development of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain valleys and the growth that has occurred in these regions throughout the past 400 years.1
Creating and coordinating the commemoration celebration is the primary duty of both commissions, but the legislation also requires specific work to be The Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission 87 done for the environment in the Champlain and Hudson River valleys. The Champlain Commission works with the Lake Champlain Basin Program, funding initiatives that benefit the water quality, fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources of the Lake Champlain watershed area.2 The Hudson-Fulton Commission must coordinate with the American Heritage Rivers Initiative Interagency Committee. The initiative’s objectives include historic and cultural preservation, economic revitalization, and natural-resource and environmental protection.3
By 1608, the Dutch East India Company, which had a monopoly on trade with the Orient, was anxious to find a northerly water route to Asia.4 They hired Henry Hudson to lead the expedition and he set sail on the Half Moon in April 1609. Hudson first encountered the shores of Novoya Zambla before heading south along the coast of North America.5 He sailed into Delaware Bay, hoping it would provide a passage to Asia, but was unsuccessful in navigating through the shallow current. Continuing north along the coast, he entered the river near present-day Manhattan on September 2. Instead of finding a shortcut to the Orient, he discovered a valley filled with natural resources, a river teeming with fish, and Native Americans who were both friendly and hostile.6 Just north of present-day Albany, the water become too shallow to proceed, and Hudson turned around. Both he and the Dutch East India Company were disappointed in the failure of finding a quicker route to Asian markets; however the company saw the potential commercial benefits of the area Hudson had explored, and the Dutch soon established profitable trading centers there.
While Hudson was exploring the Hudson River Valley, French explorer Samuel De Champlain was already making his way through the interior of North America as requested by France’s King Henry the IV. Founding a settlement at Québec City in 1608, Champlain used his expertise in cartography to draw up detailed maps of the area and his diplomatic skills to maintain good relations with local Native Americans. Desiring a commercial treaty with the northern Indians—the Montagnais, Algonquins, Hurons, Nipissings, and Ojibways7—he agreed to fight alongside the tribes at the battle on the shores of what he called Lake Champlain in July 1609. The battle was one of many that occurred over the next 150 years, and eventually led the French to leave the area.8 Nonetheless, Champlain’s discoveries, maps, and alliances led him to be exalted for his finding of the beautiful and resource-full Champlain Valley, and known as the Father of New France.
Almost two hundred years later, Robert Fulton approached the Hudson River in a new way. A Pennsylvania native, Fulton studied engineering, mathematics, and chemistry in England and France.9 He partnered with Robert R. Livingston to create a practical steamboat for commercial use. Livingston provided monetary and political assistance while Fulton used his engineering expertise to design and construct the boat. Fulton saw the importance of rivers in the opening up of the Midwest, while Livingston saw the opportunity to gain control of commercial navigation along the Hudson. The New York State Legislature had granted Livingston exclusive privileges of steam navigation on the Hudson if the boat was able to operate at a speed of at least four miles per hour. Fulton’s craft, originally named the North River (and much later changed to the Clermont, after Livingston’s Columbia County estate), fulfilled this obligation, giving himand Livingston control of travel and trade on the Hudson for two decades.10 On August 17, 1807, the North River left New York and arrived at Albany within twenty-four hours. Fulton’s steamboat revolutionized commercial trading and leisure travel along rivers throughout America.
In 1909, New York State hosted an extensive celebration of both Hudson and Fulton. The 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration Commission spent several years planning and coordinating the event; first and foremost, their purpose was to make the commemoration an educational exercise without commercializing it.11 All events were free of charge and commercial advertising was not permitted. The commission also strived to make New York’s great history known to all by fostering a deeper knowledge of the state’s historical significance among America’s people and by binding New Yorkers together on the basis of state pride and loyalty. Because the responsibility for much of the discovery and development of the United States rested upon pioneers from other nations, the commission also set out to promote international friendship. Every nation with which the United States had diplomatic relations was invited to attend the commemoration via ship or navy vessel.12 Senator Elihu Root explained the importance of an international presence:
We are not celebrating ourselves. We are not celebrating the greatness and wealth of our city… We celebrate in Hudson the great race of men who made the age of discovery… We celebrate in Fulton the great race of men whose inventive genius has laid the foundation for a broader, nobler and more permanent civilization the world over… Standing at the gateway of the New World, we celebrate the immense significance of America to all mankind… You who have come to us from abroad, from what-soever country you come, find here the children of your own fatherland. In all that you find here that is worthy of admiration and commendation, you find in part the work of your own brothers . . . This is your celebration as well as ours.13
Between September 25 and October 11, 1909, the celebration traveled 200 miles along the Hudson River from Staten Island to Troy and Cohoes.14 Replicas of Hudson’s Half Moon and Fulton’s steamboat were built and sailed up the river, just as the originals had centuries before. Stops were made at several cities along the route, where the communities gathered to host parades, speeches, and parties. The commemoration was a success: commerce increased significantly throughout the Hudson Valley, international relations flourished, and the people cherished the celebration of their history and culture.
To make this year’s celebration as legendary as 1909’s, New York Governor George Pataki created a Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission (HFCQ) in 2002. The commission’s mission is not only to commemorate Hudson, Fulton, and Champlain, but to engage civic, cultural, educational, environmental, and heritage organizations to participate in the Quadricentennial. This participation will lead to creation of a solid infrastructure that future generations can utilize. Lastly, the commission was charged to focus attention on New York’s history, culture, and natural resources at the local, state, national, and international levels.
Tara Sullivan was named executive director of the HFCQ in February 2008. Formerly Governor Eliot Spitzer’s regional representative for the Hudson River Valley and director of Community Relations and Internal Affairs at Bard College, she has a strong past in community involvement and event organization, as well as extensive knowledge of the region. The commission’s chairwoman, Joan K. Davidson, has served as chair of the New York State Council on the Arts and commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The remaining eighteen commission members represent state agencies and counties within the Hudson Valley and Lake Champlain region.
Thrust into her position with little time to spare, Sullivan re-evaluated the commemoration to include more of New York’s history since 1609 and focus the event on the environment, economy, education, and energy.15 Instead of simply celebrating the accomplishments of three men, Sullivan employs the theme “Explore New York’s 400 years of progress,” which highlights the achievements of Hudson, Fulton, and Champlain as a catalyst for New York’s subsequent advancement. This allows the entire state to participate in the celebration.
Sustaining New York’s historic, cultural, and geographical attributes is another theme of the Quadricentennial. Vincent Tamagna is a leader in maintaining the quality of the Hudson River and the historic towns and parks alongside it. Tamagna was named the Hudson River Navigator in September 2003, after and serving as a Putnam County legislator. He works to preserve the economic and environmental benefits of the Hudson River and its surrounding valley. His Quadricentennial contributions include advocating for Putnam County’s Preserve America grant (which was received in time to coincide with the 400th celebration); working on the Hudson River Valley Lighthouse Trail; and striving to protect, preserve, and revitalize riverside communities.16
The HFCQ Commission and its partners have created numerous events and programs to accomplish their mission and vision. The commission believes in the importance of curriculum that incorporates more New York State history in schools throughout the state. Comprehensive lesson plans and activities that focus on the Quadricentennial have been prepared and distributed statewide. Several schools throughout the Hudson and Champlain valleys have been authorized as Quadricentennial Schools and have agreed to integrate Quadricentennial materials into their classroom activities.17 The 2009 statewide summer reading list will expand to incorporate Quadricentennial themes.
The commission also envisioned celebrating the multiculturalism of New York. An emphasis on Dutch and French culture will celebrate Hudson’s benefactors and Champlain’s native country. The commission is also encouraging recognition of local Native American history. The commemoration embodies the idea that New York has progressed as a result of the entrepreneurial minds of the Native Americans who already lived here and the foreigners who eventually made their homes here. Events include an exhibition of Dutch culture in Westchester, a Dutch walking tour of New York City, concerts of French music in Saranac, a conference and exhibit on the Native Americans of Esopus, and a visit from Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.18
Creating more opportunities for tourism is another vision for the Quadricentennial.19 By renovating historic sites and towns, and working on the preservation of the river and waterfront parks, Lake Champlain, and New York Harbor, the commission (with the help of Tamagna) hopes to attract local, national, and international tourists long after the Quadricentennial celebrations are over. The Crown Point Lighthouse on the shore of Lake Champlain is being completely restored, while Manhattan’s Battery, on New York Harbor, will be renovated into a park with a new pavilion donated by the Dutch.20 There are events throughout the year that promote outdoor recreation and appreciation of the natural environment. A kayaking trip from Lake Champlain to New York Harbor, hikes through various parks along the river, and walking tours of the region’s historic communities are scheduled.21
The Quadricentennial commemoration is a year-long celebration with events that will suit people of all ages and interests. But behind all the festivities, the reason for celebrating should not be forgotten. Between Henry Hudson, Robert Fulton, and Samuel de Champlain, New York was navigated, explored, mapped out, and revolutionized to become a center of commerce. New York State is much obliged to these great men. Participation in the Quadricentennial celebration will bring about a wealth of state pride, loyalty towards its people, and knowledge of its history—all of which can only result in greater entrepreneurship and future accomplishment. As the HFCQ Commission explains, the Quadricentennial commemoration is not only about honoring the past, but celebrating the present and paving the way for a successful future.
For more information on the Quadricentennial visit the following Web sites:
1. Congress, Senate, Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, 110th Cong., S. 2739, GovTrack. US (1 Mar 2008).
2. “About the LCBP”. Lake Champlain Basin Program. http://www.lcbp.org/lcbpsumr.htm
3. Exec. Order No. 13061, 3 C.F.R. (1997).
4. Kenneth S. Panza, Henry Hudson, Half Moon, and the Exploration of the Hudson River, Sept 2007,http://www.hrmm.org/halfmoon/halfmoon.htm.
5. Henry Chisholm, “Polar Regions”, The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1915, p. 942.
6. Ian Chadwick, Henry Hudson’s Third Voyage, 1609, The New World, Jan 2007, http://www.ianchadwick.com/hudson/hudson_03.htm.
7. Samuel de Champlain, a Life: Discovering Lake Champlain, Champlain College, 2009, http://www.champlainquadricentennial.com/champlain/history/discovering-lake-champlain
9. Kenneth S. Panza, Robert Fulton, Hudson River Steamboats, and the Clermont Steamboat, Mar 2004, http://www.hrmm.org/steamboats/fulton.html.
11. Edward Hagaman Hall, The Hudson-Fulton Celebration 1909: Thr Fourth Annual Report of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration Commission to the Legislature of the State of New York, (Albany: J.B.Lyon Company, State Printers, 1910), 5.
12. Hall, 9.
14. Hall, 11.
15. Fred Le Brun, Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Celebration Finally on Track, TimesUnion.com, 3 Feb 2008, http://www.hrmm.org/quad/press/quad10-feb2008-fast_track.htm.
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16. Hudson River Navigator, The Hudson River Valley Institute, http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/navigator/index.php.
17. About Us: The Commission, ExploreNY 400.com, 2008, http://www.exploreny400.com/aboutus/commission.aspx.
20. Mitchell Hall, 400th Anniversary of New York, Manhattan Real Estate Blog, 29 Jan 2009, http://propertyqube.com/blogs/nyc%20Broker/.
21. On the Horizon: Works in Progress, ExploreNY 400.com, 2009, http://www.exploreny400.com/ThingsToDo/on_the_horizon.aspx.