This overlook, located adjacent to the river’s navigation channel and named after the ship captained by Henry Hudson in 1609, speaks to the region’s nautical history. Stand in the “prow” of this overlook to see the river flowing directly below you. The timber bench features a nautical curve while inscriptions in the canopy celebrate Henry Hudson’s historic voyage more than 400 years ago.
ELEVATION OVER WATER AT THIS POINT
APPROXIMATE MILE MARKER
Henry Hudson, an Englishman, first appears in the historical record in 1607 as the captain of a ship called the Hopewell. Sailing for an English merchant’s organization called the Muscovy Company, his mission was “to discover a passage by the North Pole to Japan and China.” He was sailing in the wake of Willem Barentsz, a Dutch mariner, who had a decade earlier attempted to find a northeastern route to the Far East. In 1596, his ship the Witte Swaen (White Swan) was frozen in the ice north of Siberia at the Russian island called Novaya Zemlya. Barentsz and his crew managed to survive the winter by building a house from materials stripped from his ship. Even though Hudson also failed in his attempt, he noted the presence of large numbers of whales, which led to a thriving English whaling industry. In 1608, he set sail again under the patronage of the Muscovy Company for a passage to the East over the top of the world. Ice pushed him back, and his crew resisted his proposal to sail west instead, forcing him to return to England.
man of mystery
Surprisingly little is known about the man called Henry Hudson, including what he looked like. He’s thought to have been born between 1565 and 1570. He probably spent most of his early life learning to be a mariner since when his name first appears in history, it’s as a captain. He married a woman named Katherine and she bore him three sons, John, Richard, and Oliver. Though his name graces a river, a bay, a bridge, a highway, a strait, a street, a tulip, a small city, and a car. Henry Hudson, the man whose voyages changed the world, disappeared from it without leaving much of a trace.
of A Ship
There’s no way to know exactly what the Half Moon (Halve Maen) looked like but a best-guess replica built in 1989 has it at 84.5 feet long and 17.3 feet wide with a depth in the water of about eight feet. What is known is that the Half Moon was a three-masted vessel called a jaght, which means “hunter” and is the origin of the word yacht.
In 1609, Hudson signed a contract with the Dutch East India Company, which was also eager to find a shorter and safer route to China. The Company had been chartered in 1602 to establish a commercial route to the spice islands of the Far East. However, the southern route around Africa and across the Indian Ocean was dominated by their enemies: the Spanish and Portuguese of the Habsburg Empire.
The plan was to find a less hostile route to the riches of the Far East. Hudson’s orders were clear: sail north over the top of Norway, then east in search of a direct sea route to Asia and come straight back to report. At the time, the Dutch were convinced that beyond the Arctic ice, the weak but constant summer sunlight of the North Pole would create a temperate sea, on the other side of which lay all the riches of the East. Having looked for this ice-free zone twice before, Hudson had almost certainly concluded that it was more fantasy than fact. But his backers in Amsterdam insisted he take another look.
The Journey Begins
“The third voyage of Master Henrie Hudson toward Noua Zembla, and at his returne, his passing from Farre Ilands, to New-found Land, and along to fortie foure degrees and ten minutes, and thence to Cape Cod, and so to thirtie three degrees, and along the Coast to the Northward, to fortie two degrees and an halfe, and up the River neere to fortie three degrees.”
So begins the 1609 journal of one of the most important voyages in history. The author, Robert Juet, was a crew member of the Half Moon, the ship that carried Henry Hudson and 15 sailors from Amsterdam across the Atlantic and up the river that now bears his name. Nothing in Juet’s introduction hints that the eight-month expedition was an impetuous journey that bore little resemblance to what his backers at the Dutch East India Company had in mind. However, it was clearly stated in his contract that he was to return to Amsterdam, if an attempt to find a northeastern passage to the Far East failed.
After sailing north and running into ice and fog, as he had on his two previous voyages, Hudson changed course, sailing to the Faeroe (“Farre”) Islands where he restocked his food supplies and took on fresh water. From there, he set a westward course across the Atlantic.
Searching For A Shortcut
Hudson made his way using the navigational techniques of his day. He set a course along an east-west parallel of latitude and then stayed on course by sighting the sun and other celestial objects, including Polaris and Antares. Hudson didn’t have a precise destination in mind. But he knew what he wanted to find: a large river that he and other explorers believed would cut across North America (which they pictured as a narrow-waisted land mass) and provide a direct link to an ocean on the other side.
“A Great Streame Out of the Bay”
On September 2, by which time his patrons in Amsterdam expected him to be either in China or on his way back, the Half Moon was instead dropping its anchor off Sandy Hook at the bottom of present-day Lower New York Bay. Juet noted in his journal, “a greate stream out of the Bay,” indicating a strong river current. Over the next month, Hudson and his crew worked their way carefully upstream until they reached present-day Albany. At that point, it was clear from the water and the impassable rifts to the north that the river was a major watershed and not a passageway to China. Hudson had no choice but to retrace his steps.
Try, Try Again
Henry Hudson would soon return to England, avoiding his Dutch backers. He would find new sponsors, who sent him back to North America in 1610 in a ship called the Discovery. This was to be Hudson’s last voyage.
In the years following his seafaring, Hudson was at the center of a major diplomatic dispute. Because he was an English subject, his country of birth claimed territorial rights over his discoveries in the name of King James I. But the Dutch also advanced a claim on his discoveries and went so far as to change both Hudson’s nationality and his name, shifting Henry to “Hendrick.” The Dutch turned Hudson’s discoveries over to the English in 1664, but confusion about Hudson’s nationality persisted into the early 20th century.
To this day, questions about Hudson’s fate persist
Divided over whether to return home or continue the expedition, the crew mutinied and set Hudson, his son, and seven others adrift on a small boat in the waters now known as Hudson Bay in northern Canada. A number of explorers found the remains of camps on the shore of the bay, which they claimed could have been Hudson’s. Another story is that Hudson and his crew were rescued — or killed — by a band of indigenous Inuit people. In a more fanciful vein, Washington Irving, the celebrated author and resident of Tarrytown, included Hudson and his cast-away crew in his classic fable “Rip Van Winkle.”
In Hudson’s Wake
Although European nations remained preoccupied with the search for a shortcut to the East, others more interested in riches closer at hand found their way to the Hudson River within just a few years of its discovery. Explorers came as early as 1610 to barter with local Native American tribes for furs, establishing makeshift camps on Manhattan Island and in Albany. In 1624, 30 pioneer families arrived from Holland to lay the groundwork for the settlement called New Netherland. Within a generation, settlers had begun to move north along both banks of the Hudson and, as they did, river traffic increased. Since travel by road remained a bone-rattling experience until the advent of train travel in the 19th century, rivers like the Hudson served as principal thoroughfares in times of both war and peace.
Combat and Commerce
During the 18th century, both France and Great Britain, the superpowers of the time, saw control of the Hudson River as indispensable to their military ambitions in the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763) and the War of Independence (1775-1783). In 1778, in a stupendous feat of engineering, the Americans closed off the river to the British by stretching a “Great Chain” of massive 114-pound iron links across the river from West Point to Constitution Island — a distance of 500 yards. The British never tested it. The Hudson’s military service continued long after the Revolutionary War.
In Piermont, just south of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, a pier built almost a mile into the Hudson in 1838 served as the point of embarkation for 1.3 million troops who fought in World War II, including soldiers who took part in the D-Day Invasion on June 6, 1944. When the war was over, Congress established the Hudson River Reserve Fleet, also known locally as “The Ghost Fleet,” and anchored it initially off Tarrytown, later moving it farther upstream
Created to provide support for military efforts, at its peak the Hudson River Reserve Fleet comprised 189 merchant ships anchored in rows that stretched for several miles. Vessels from the Fleet saw action during the Korean War (1950-53), the Suez Crisis in 1956 and the Vietnam War. Starting in 1953 and continuing for the next 10 years, ships also provided storage space for nearly 54 million bushels of government-owned wheat. A crew of 86 men provided year-round maintenance. The last two ships from the Fleet left the river in 1971, having been sold to Spain for scrap.
A Busy Shipping Lane
While the Hudson River never proved to be the long sought-after gateway to Asia four centuries ago, the waters flowing beneath this bridge today carry more trade than many might suspect. Millions of tons of cargo including gypsum, oil, machinery and other materials make their way upstream to the Port of Albany — one of the oldest in the nation.
Rowboats, kayaks and cabin cruisers are among the many types of recreational boats that dot the Hudson on any given day. The river is famous for its regattas, while some mariners find adventure or leisure on vessels ranging from personal water craft to sailboats to million dollar yachts.
Did you know?
The depth of the Hudson River in this area ranges from ten feet near the shoreline to 45 feet at the main navigation channel, which is located between the bridge’s iconic towers. Larger vessels, like cargo ships, use this 600-foot wide main channel to navigate under the bridge, which has an overhead clearance of 139 feet.