By WILLIAM SHANNON
What is the Furgary?
The Furgary or Fugary Boat Club is also sometimes called the North Dock Tin Boat Association, Shantytown or just The Shacks. It’s a collection of seventeen small shacks—some of which likely date back to the late 1800s—right at the mouth of Hudson’s North Bay, where it meets the Hudson River. They are a long stone’s throw from the northern end of the Terrace Apartments, next to the new community garden, at the corner of Dock and Front streets. The shacks were primarily used as fishing and hunting getaways until the city of Hudson, through its police force, evicted the members in the summer of 2012. The city has not maintained the shacks in the three years since the eviction and the Hudson Common Council has been taking serious steps toward having the shacks demolished.
Why did the state decide to protect them?
Linda Mackey and Daria Merwin of the State Historic Preservation Office released a report Friday announcing that the entire group of shacks have been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
“Known also as simply ‘the camps’ or ‘shanties,’ the property is a rare surviving collection of vernacular buildings, which represent a time when sturgeon and shad were abundant in the Hudson River, and people made their livelihoods fishing the river and selling their catch on the shore," the report states. "These people, commonly called ‘Furgarians’ today, formed a community where the buildings were handed down generation-to-generation.”
There's the possibility that the city, as owner of the property, will object to the findings and put up a fight through the process from official eligibility to being officially listed on the National Register. But it seems unlikely at this point that city officials would fight to continue the plan of demolishing all or all but one or two of the shacks.
Why did the city kick the Furgarians out?
The shacks were built on state land, which was transferred to the City of Hudson in recent years. The Furgarians filed a lawsuit and a subsequent appeal to explore whether they could retain the land under Squatter’s Rights. Since municipalities are exempt from such claims and since the Furgarians could not prove their claim that the city and the state had not legally owned the land, the suit was dismissed in 2011 and the Furgarians' appeal was denied in 2012 due to a filing error. There've been some personal conflicts and some politics involved and the city has maintained that there'd be no legal way to lease the area due to concerns regarding liability.
What was the city’s plan for that area after the shacks were to be demolished?
There’s a concept master plan for the North Bay area developed by the Columbia Land Conservancy. At some point down the road, there will almost certainly be an open-to-the-public park and conservation area that will likely include the area where the shacks currently are. City officials never spoke publicly about any serious effort to explore whether a large group of the shacks could be reused and the Conservancy in its plan didn't take a stance on the shacks. Apparently the city's plan, in the past few years, was for the area to simply be cleared for open space. But now, the city will have to get more creative. The Conservancy's North Bay plan can be read here: http://bit.ly/1KQytaW
What do the shacks represent?
The Furgary Boat club is one of the last standing remnants of the tradition of simple hunting and fishing cabins built along the Hudson River. Everett Nack discussed the tradition that he’d seen during his long life paying attention to goings-on on the river in a Times Union story about twenty years ago. The longterm existence of such cabins, especially groups of them, has always been perilous since they were usually built on land not owned by the builders.
Overall, the shacks were a working class respite from normal life, a place from which people could provide sustenance by partaking in fishing and hunting on and around the Hudson River, a place where booze-infused stories were told and tales from old times were boasted about. If you've never been able to see the insides of the shacks, they are about as gritty and rustic as you might imagine. Most have wood stoves, exposed wood beams, unpolished wide board or plywood floors and large windows framing views of the North Bay and the Hudson. One had a soda machine-turned-beer-machine and at least a couple of the cabins’ walls were adorned with centerfolds from dirty magazines.
Who deserves the most credit for possibly saving the shacks?
Close to a year after Linda Mackey visited the site, she finalized the report deeming the entire group of shacks eligible due to their cultural and historic significance. It certainly wasn’t a given that she’d see it that way, as just about all Hudson officials, publically at least, didn’t think they were worth saving.
Hudson resident Timothy O’Connor deserves much of the credit for the probable saving of the Furgary—he provided old Sanborn maps proving the existence of shacks on the site dating back to the 1880s; he conducted oral history research and gathered photos to share with Mackey and also shared his thinking of why the shacks are a meaningful piece of Hudson River history. He did so over the course of a half dozen or so emails with Mackey.
Carole Osterink, editor of Gossips of Rivertown, also stepped in when it became clear that a third party had to officially request the findings of the state. When it was found out in May that no one had done so, she filed the request.
There are still signs here and there around the city that read “Save the Shacks,” “Keep the Cabins,” and “Save the Furgary,” but there’s currently been no vocal proponent of saving more than possibly one or two of the shacks on the Hudson Common Council.
Earlier this week, when I was working on a story that was going to be titled “Five Things to Know about the Furgary Shacks Before the City Tears them Down,” I emailed all members of the common council, Mayor William Hallenbeck and the campaign people for Tiffany Martin Hamilton. Alderman Henry Haddad responded and said he didn’t have much to say about the shacks since he had never been inside. His father, Alderman Nick Haddad, who has been a proponent of saving one or two of the shacks, said over the phone, before the state’s report:
“I would love to keep one …The whole thing could’ve been handled with more sympathy but there’s plenty of blame to go around here.
“It does represent an interesting time in our history… At some point someone’s going to ask what was down here. And saving one would be a good way to show people what that life was like.”
But, he said, “Saving seventeen of them was never part of the conversation.”
When I asked if six or seven of the shacks could be saved and used as part of the eventual North Bay conservancy park as camping cabins, he said that, due to the proximity to the wastewater treatment plant, “I don’t think, realistically, people would camp there.”
Other officials did not comment.
Other prominent voices on the shacks include Leo Bower, who, during his May oral history interview on this site, detailed his childhood memories at the Furgary and described how he was bracing for the pain of seeing the shacks demolished.
“Well, people say it’s only buildings and that,” he said then. “But it’s like having part of your heart ripped out. … Them places’ve been there since forever. Forever. And to have them all tore down and that whole part of history gone. Like they did to Power Avenue down there, when they ripped all them places down. That was a whole section of Hudson at one time. They did that and now they regret it. So, I think they’ll regret this too one day down the road.” (full interview: http://bit.ly/1h7XeFI)
Leo Bower on Friday, after he called to inform me of the state’s decision to protect the shacks, said: “The good prevailed over the bad people. They wanted us gone. They never looked at anything as being good in Shantytown. All they wanted to do was tear them down. The good prevailed over the bad.”
Tom Ponkos, 93, of Claverack, had a shack at the Furgary from 1938 to 1940, before he shipped off to fight in World War II. Over the phone Friday, he said, “It is history. People don’t know what life was like down there. It was a different life. A whole different ballgame.”
To view a slideshow of pictures taken by Tim Heffernan before the 2012 eviction of the Furgary, visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/timheffernan/sets/72157621608663269/show/?rb=1