The town of Williamstown, Massachusetts is currently restoring some artifacts from a pretty much forgotten celebration of two important events in New York State history.
In the fall of 1909, various activities took place from New York City up to Albany to commemorate Hendrick Hudson’s 1609 trip up the river that would come to bear his name, and also the 1809 steamboat trip on the river by Robert Fulton’s Clermont.
In connection with the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, several sculptures were positioned at the top of State Street hill in Albany, on the eastern side of the Capitol building. A statue of Hendrick Hudson stood at a vantage point above the river, with a lion on either side of him. Made of plaster of paris, they were presumably the molds for bronze statues whose whereabouts have been lost to history.
After the celebrations were over, the Albany statues were moved inside the Capitol, where they were on display with the battle flags and other artifacts from the Civil War. There, they greeted visitors for some 40 years. Then, in 1954, Hudson and his lions, along with statues of Christopher Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh were unceremoniously removed. Some renovations were being undertaken in the Capitol, and the State Budget Division found it a convenient excuse to dispose of the five statues.
A contract was given to Daniel A. Lanzetta, who owned a marble works in Albany, for some of the renovation work and it included the removal of five statutes. The pieces were hauled to Lanzetta’s business, located on South Pearl Street, where they were to be destroyed. “We aren’t to bring them back,” said Lanzetta, quoted in the Knickerbocker News on March 31, 1954. “They’re to be destroyed. The state doesn’t want them any more.” Lanzetta did offer to give any of the items away, so long as the takers would bear the cost of their transportation.
During the move from the Capitol, Hudson’s head had become separated from his body, adding to the indignity of the occasion. Newspapers reported, however, that re-attaching the head (which was reported to be sitting in a bird bath at Lanzetta’s) could be easily accomplished. A sixth sculpture, of an Albany soldier who had been killed in World War I, was treated with more honor, and was moved to a different spot in the Capitol.
Some complaints were raised, especially by David Lithgow, who had sculpted the statue of the soldier, who claimed that one of the pieces of artwork had been created by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French. (If any of the pieces were the handiwork of French, it must have been either Columbus or Raleigh, since Albany resident, Miriam Clausen, came forward to say that her uncle, Charles Lewis Hinton, had created the Hudson piece — and, one might suspect — also the lions.) Lithgow faulted “ignorant politicians” for the travesty. He asked the Knickerbocker News: “Don’t they know it’s important to keep a link with the past?” The Budget Division said that the State Historian and the State Librarian had indicated they had little knowledge of the statues’ provenances, and had doubted their historical significance. The State Museum claimed they’d not been consulted about the removal of the artwork, but also said they had no use for them.
Though the mayor of the city of Hudson made inquiries about obtaining the decapitated Hudson figure, it is uncertain what became of it, and what happened to the Columbus and Raleigh pieces. As for the lions, despite a plea made by the Albany Lions Club to Governor Thomas E. Dewey, they stayed at Lanzetta’s. There — though spared from immediate destruction — they stood for a decade beneath a canopy, where they were only minimally protected from the ravages of Albany’s winter weather.
Somehow, a man named Albert Bachand became aware of their existence. The lions, he thought, would make impressive decorations for a mobile home park he had built in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Bachand’s park, called The Spruces, was not quite your average trailer park: its features included, for example, an ornamental pool with spouting fountains that made singing noises.
About 1965, Bachand purchased the lions from Lanzetta and had them transported to his park, where, standing atop platforms supported by pillars, they graced the entrance. One lion suffered damage during the move, and Bachand had to use a quarter-ton of cement to effect repairs.
In 2011, Hurricane Irene sent the Hoosic River over its banks, and the flooding wreaked terrific damage to most of the mobile homes, forcing the relocation of many residents. Eventually, the town purchased the property via disaster funding. Though the park belongs to history now, the lions — which through the years have become local landmarks — will remain on guard at their stations, restored to their original leonine stateliness.
Author note: it is an unusual coincidence, but Hendrick Hudson’s lions were not the only pair that were relocated from Albany to Williamstown. A pair of stone lions that had graced the Ezra Parmalee Prentice mansion at the south end of Albany also made the trip. They were taken from Prentice’s Mount Hope estate to his Mount Hope Farm, located on Green River Road in Williamstown, probably sometime in the late 1920s or 1930s. In 1962, the Prentice lions, reportedly made of stone rather than plaster, were boxed up and trucked to another Prentice family farm, operated by American Breeders Service near Madison, Wisconsin.
Photo: Lions at the Spruces, Williamtown, Massachusetts, in 2012, courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Beyond My Ken.