Important and Influential Events That Shaped the Hudson Valley (1972-2012)

Learn about the events that helped shaped the Hudson Valley for the past 40 years Featuring: IBM layoffs, Palisades Center opening, GE dredging, Walkway Over the Hudson, Hurricane Irene

The CIA moves to Hyde Park (1972)

The Culinary Institute of America was founded in 1946 as the New Haven Restaurant Institute in New Haven, CT. More than 25 years — and several name changes — later, the up-and-coming school moved to the Hudson Valley. In 1972, the CIA welcomed students to its new riverside campus on the site of the former St. Andrew-on-Hudson Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park. The following year, the school opened its first on-campus public restaurant (which later became the Escoffier Restaurant), and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the CIA is widely recognized as the world’s premier culinary college; its presence has propelled the Valley into the spotlight, both as a leader in the farm-to-table movement and as an international foodie destination.

» Read more about the Culinary Institute of America’s history in “Secrets of the CIA”

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Ban on HUDSON Fishing 1976

To protect citizens from eating fish tainted by PCBs — harsh chemicals linked to cancer — the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation banned all fishing in the upper Hudson River in 1976. A year later, the government officially prohibited the manufacture and use of PCBs throughout the nation. While the fishing ban might have made the dinner tables of Valley residents safer, it affected a thriving commercial fishing industry, putting fishermen out of work or forcing them to relocate. It also set the stage for future cleanup endeavors, such as the GE dredging, which was initially proposed decades prior to its startup in 2009. While there has been improvement, the EPA still advises that people eat certain river wildlife only at their own risk; blue-shelled crab, for example, can be caught in the Hudson, but should not be consumed by pregnant women or those with certain medical conditions.

IBM Layoffs 1990s

For decades, IBM’s plants in Dutchess and Ulster counties shaped the local economy, employing thousands of workers and bestowing financial security on them and their families. By 1985, the company provided 60 percent of Dutchess’s manufacturing jobs and 20 percent of the county’s overall employment. But the good fortune did not last, as the firm suffered a five-billion-dollar loss in 1992, resulting in thousands of layoffs. Where the Poughkeepsie, East Fishkill, and Kingston locations had employed 31,042 people in 1985, a scant 10 years later, that number sank to 10,100. The cuts pulled Dutchess unemployment up to a whopping 11.2 percent in 1993. Floundering without their income and their corporate identity, former employees had to redefine themselves — and the area’s economic system.

The Preservation of Sterling Forest 1997

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The 25-year fight to save Sterling Forest — twenty thousand pristine acres on the New York-New Jersey border — from development was certainly one for the history books. The previously unprecedented coalition of environmentalists, private donors, and government entities (including Congress) ultimately resulted in the 1997 protection of 15,280 acres. The creation of Sterling Forest State Park was, at the time, the largest addition to the New York State Park system in fifty years. This victory is often used as a model for other efforts nationwide to prevent development and preserve open spaces.

Campaign against St. Lawrence Cement plant 1998

In 1998, St. Lawrence Cement — a Canadian subsidiary of the world’s largest cement manufacturer at the time — announced plans to construct a massive coal-fired plant in Greenport, just south of Hudson. Fears of air and water pollution — along with threats to the unique scenic impact of places like the nearby Olana State Historic Site — caused local residents and environmental groups to join ranks in opposition to the proposal, whose outstanding features included a 1,200-acre open pit mine and a 70-story smoke stack (which, by means of comparison, would be just seven stories shorter than Manhattan’s Chrysler Building). Formed in 1999 by a group of concerned citizens, the Friends of Hudson spearheaded the fight against the plant by organizing community meetings, sponsoring billboards, and filing lawsuits — all of which helped turn public opinion against the initiative. St. Lawrence Cement abandoned plans to build the plant in 2005. The grassroots struggle against the project ended 40 years after the landmark “Scenic Hudson decision,” which paved the way for everyday citizens to have a legal say in how their environment can be altered.

OPENING OF Dia:Beacon 2003

The 2003 ribbon-cutting at Dia:Beacon — the circa 1929 box factory that was transformed into a world-class modern art museum — did more than provide a permanent home for the Dia Art Foundation’s collection of large-scale works by Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Donald Judd, and other marquee artists. It gave modern art lovers, from Manhattan and beyond, a compelling reason to visit the Valley — and they’ve been doing it in droves. The enormous facility on the Beacon waterfront boasts more than 20 galleries dedicated to individual artists; the 16-foot ceilings, giant sawtooth skylights, and large, western-facing windows all help bathe the art in abundant natural light. The museum’s presence has also sparked an arts revival throughout the region. Art Along the Hudson, the monthly art and cultural event showcase that began nine years ago, is now on the calendar in 10 riverside towns stretching from Peekskill to Saugerties. Last summer, Poughkeepsie’s Mill Street Loft Arts took up residence in the River Center at Beacon’s Long Dock Park, where it mounts exhibits in its “green” gallery.

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GE Dredging BEGINS 2009

With local environmental awareness committees working fiercely to ban the process of hydraulic fracturing in New York State, it seems the attention to General Electric’s dredging of the Hudson River has almost taken a back seat. But just a few years ago, the debate about whether to go forward with what has been deemed one of the largest cleanup efforts in U.S. history was hard to escape. Between the 1940s and 1970s, GE had government permission to release PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls, suspected carcinogens used as coolants for electrical units — into the Hudson River. The dredging process, which began in 2009 and resumed for its third year in May, was selected by the EPA as the best way to rid the river of chemicals. Dredging lifts sediment, squeezes the water out, and removes the PCBs; that sediment is then disposed of in federally approved locations. Some scientists feared the process would redistribute PCBs that were already in the process of breaking down — which actually did happen after Phase One; reportedly, steps were taken to control this. But the river’s overall health has improved slightly, although the time it will take to fully recover has yet to be determined.

opening of THE Palisades Center 1998

Each year, nearly 20 million people flock to West Nyack’s Palisades Center, one of the 10 largest malls in America (by measured area), to shop its 200-plus stores. Built in March 1998, the initial proposal for this behemoth indoor plaza faced criticism. For one, it was to be constructed by the Pyramid Management Group on landfills next to a cemetery for African American veterans, and there was concern about dishonoring the sacred land. Small villages and towns feared it would dry up their economies. While these concerns were validated (the towns did suffer slightly, and the view of the cemetery is obstructed), the project was given the green light. But despite the gray, warehouse-like interior and needle-in-a-haystack parking availability, the Palisades did keep Valley residents from crossing state lines to do their shopping, thus keeping tax dollars in-state. Today, high-end stores such as Lord & Taylor and Macy’s coexist with Target and BJ’s Wholesale Club; dining options include the Cheesecake Factory, T.G.I. Friday’s, and IHOP, to name a few; plus, there’s a full AMC movie theater, an IMAX theater, a Ferris wheel, bowling alley, and an ice skating rink. One-stop shopping, indeed.

Hurricane Irene 2011
Like something out of a Hollywood natural disaster movie, the devastation left by last August’s Hurricane Irene — followed by salt-in-the-wound Tropical Storm Lee — included the loss of farms, homes, property, and lives. Roadways became rivers, trees were knocked over like children’s blocks, and people were imprisoned in powerless homes. But the way the regional community pulled together was remarkable. Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in Highmount became an emergency housing and medical center for about 160 displaced people; benefit dinners, relief concerts, and food and clothing drives started taking place before the waters even receded; and local cleanup crews organized volunteers who were ready and waiting with shovels or brooms in hand. Of course, government programs and the Red Cross provided some much-needed assistance, but the way citizens, strangers, and neighbors banded together to help one another shone a gleaming light on one of the Valley’s darker times.


» Return to Hudson Valley Magazine’s 40th anniversary feature


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