Henry Hudson Parkway

Henry Hudson Parkway

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

On September 2, 1609, Henry Hudson (d. 1611), an Englishman, directed the crew of his Dutch ship, Halve Maen (Half Moon), to drop anchor in the lower bay of what is now the New York Harbor. The Dutch East India Company had hired him to find a sea route through North America to the riches of the Far East, a hypothetical route known as the Northwest Passage.  The ship sailed up the river that now bears his name, docking off Spuyten Duyvil. They attempted to travel even further upstream before abandoning the quest, realizing that the river was narrowing.  Hudson’s last voyage was in 1611 when after discovering Hudson’s Bay and claiming it for England, his crew mutinied and cast him and his son John (1591-1611) adrift, leaving them to die. Almost two centuries after Hudson’s historic voyage, inventor Robert Fulton (1765-1815) introduced the world to steam navigation as he piloted the North River Steamboat (later known as the Clermont) up the Hudson River. 

Transportation has come a long way since the days of Hudson and Fulton. The Hudson River Railroad, chartered in 1846, built a line along the Hudson River and the Erie Canal that replaced ships as the fastest way to transport people and goods along the river. This helped to fuel the city’s economic growth, but the noise and pollution from the trains, as well as dockside industries that sprang up, intruded on the serenity and beauty of the area.  Plans were introduced as early as 1891 to cover the tracks, but nothing was done until 1934, when Robert Moses instituted his West Side Improvement plan. The plan included covering the railroad tracks, extending Riverside Park using landfill, and building the Henry Hudson Parkway. The plan turned the previously dirty, blighted area into one of New York’s green jewels.

The historical roots of the Henry Hudson Parkway lie in Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s Eastern Parkway. Located in Brooklyn and completed in 1866, Eastern Parkway was the first parkway ever built. The first modern parkway was the Bronx River Parkway, built from 1913-25. A modern parkway is a high-speed, limited-access road that is open only to cars and bordered by parkland on either side. It has no traffic lights, as it passes under or over any local roads that cross its path. Olmsted and Vaux intended for Eastern Parkway to be a part of an extensive network of parks and parkways, but only the Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway were built. Seventy years later, Robert Moses, Parks Commissioner from 1934-60, conceived of an even grander, more extensive system of parks and parkways, and he built much of his vision. The Henry Hudson Parkway is part of that system.

Moses laid out the Henry Hudson Parkway as an extension of the West Side Highway.  The Parkway starts at 72nd Street and extends along the west side of Manhattan, crosses the Henry Hudson Bridge, then continues through the Bronx until the border of Westchester County, where it connects to the Saw Mill Parkway. The Henry Hudson Parkway is famous for its architectural beauty. At 79th Street, Moses and his chief architect, Clifton Lloyd, converted a traffic circle into a lavish fountain, decorated with granite and carved marble, which led out to a boat basin. At each bridge, the designers carefully selected the stone facing to fit in with nearby rock formations.  When the parkway opened in 1936, it immediately became one of the most popular sites in the city, as thousands of drivers took in the magnificent views of the Hudson River, as well as the magnificent new West Side.

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