If you think winters were colder way back when, you’re right. Look no further than this image of people walking across the frozen Hudson River from Beacon to Newburgh, circa 1910.
A frozen and ice-covered Hudson River was, in fact, a source of more than transportation. In the years before refrigeration, ice was harvested from the river and sent to New York City, Brooklyn, and Jersey City. According to an 1887 article in the Medical Record: A Weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery, the Hudson — especially between Poughkeepsie and Troy — was “the great and most important source of our ice-supply.”
When not being chopped up into blocks, the ice was raced upon by “ice yachts.” The Hudson River Ice Yacht Club and other clubs formed in Newburgh, New Hamburg, Poughkeepsie, and Hyde Park in the mid-19th century. The members raced one another — and also raced the trains that had just started running along the river. An article in the New York Times in 1896 giddily reported, “It is an inspiring sight to see a fleet of twenty or more ice yachts, with their white sails sparkling in the frosty air, circling around each other with the speed of the wind. No railroad train can keep up with an ice yacht when the conditions are favorable.”
Climate change has made river ice a rarer spectacle in the Hudson Valley now. But if mid-winter should deliver us a frozen Hudson, take a moment and enjoy it. As the Department of Environmental Conservation says on its web site, “The ice itself can be interesting to watch and hear, constantly groaning, creaking, twisting, cracking, and even shrieking against the endless push of the water.”