Saugerties author Vernon Benjamin continues chronicles of Hudson River Valley in follow-up book
KINGSTON >> From the earliest days of man, the Hudson River Valley has played an important role in the progress of humanity and our nation.
In his first book, “The History of the Hudson River Valley: From Wilderness to the Civil War, Saugerties resident Vernon Benjamin traced the history of the earliest days of the valley, which is roughly comprised of the area bordered by the Berkshires on the east, the Catskills on the west, the Adirondack foothills that begin at Glens Falls on the north and New York City to the south.
In June, Benjamin released a sequel to that book, “The History of the Hudson River Valley: From the Civil War to Modern Times.
The new book, Benjamin said, picks up from where his first book left off — with President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train passing through the valley and ends just before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, because Benjamin said, at the time of the writing, there was still a great deal unfolding, and he felt it would have been inappropriate for him to fix at that time, the moment in history.
Along the way, Benjamin explores the impact of the Industrial Revolution, the resulting rise in the mansions that would dot the riverfront, the emergence of the Hudson River School of Art, the new prominence of the railroad, the construction of the New York City aqueducts, prohibition, the end of World War II, Woodstock, and the birth of the environmental movement.
He also delves into some of the political and governmental actions and efforts during that time and how those activities not only helped to shape the future of the Hudson River Valley, but also of the nation.
In a recent interview, Benjamin talked about the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and how the changing modes of transportation reshaped the region and opened up areas that there-to-fore inaccessible portions of the state.
“Following the Civil War, the Hudson River Valley moved essentially from a rural mom-andpop small business society,” into one, he said, that was “driven by big money and big profits.”
Railroad tycoons and financiers found their way into the Hudson River Valley, using the river for business and pleasure and its shores for their vacation homes.
“There was a lot of wheeling and dealing of big power brokers and monied people on the river who treated it as their recreation area,” said Benjamin adding that the wide open lands along the river’s banks also made ideal locations for the mansions of those in high society.
As quickly as the steamboat replaced the sloop, and the railroad replaced the steamboat, though, the automobile in the early 20th century began to become the preferred method of transportation and with that the demand for roads to drive on. With the construction of highways, and eventually, the New York State Thruway, the region was opened to an industry remains one of the top industries today: tourism.
“Tourists came first for their health and to get out of the miasma of the city. They also came for the relaxation and the relief from the heat,” said Benjamin. “Then, they realized this is the landscape that defined America and they came for the culture.”
Taken together, the two books represent more than 1,200 pages of text and 23 years of Benjamin’s life. Since the release of his second volume, Benjamin has been on the author’s circuit, appearing at book stores, libraries and historical societies to talk about his works and the history he’s uncovered.
“An odd thing happened to me when I finished the book,” he said with a laugh. “I crawled out of my cave, by doctor put me on high doses of vitamin D for a month and I started writing fiction.
“I’ve never done that before, but it’s something I’m going to fool around with,” he said.
Saugerties resident and author Vernon Benjamin stands along the shore of the Hudson River on a trail out to the Saugerties Lighthouse.
Online: Watch a video with this story at dailyfreeman.com
Saugerties author Vernon Benjamin.