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Art was born March 10, 1931 at Hudson City Hospital, now Columbia Memorial Hospital. His mother was Fabiola Gerard and his father James G. Smith. Fabiola’s family of 12 or 13 children emigrated from Canada to Laconia, New Hampshire. The family then moved to Hudson. Art’s father worked in the North Woods of New Hampshire in winter logging and at The Brickyards in Hudson during the summer. Fabiola quit high school at 14 or 16. She then worked at a sewing machine in Thermo Mills that made woolen clothing and underwear.
Art’s father and his father’s father were born in Hudson, but his great great grandfather was from Ireland. His name was William Smith and his wife was Margaret Hallora, one was Catholic and the other Protestant! His grandfather worked as a bartender at many of the many hotels in Hudson. Art’s father worked for Gifford-Wood Company as chief electrician and maintenance foreman for 45 years. Previously, he worked at Atlas Cement Company on the electrical gang. The foreman of the electrical gang took several boys under his wing, including Art’s father, to teach them the electrical trade. Later on he was hired at Gifford-Wood as an electrician to convert all their machinery to electric motor driven. Gifford-Wood was a big machine shop with metal working machinery, lathes, large cutters, a forge, ice-making machinery, and assembly.
All machines ran off a Jack Staff, which is a shaft that runs along the whole length of the machine shop with pulleys. Each pulley was a different length and ran a different machine at different speeds. This was all run by a steam engine, which is what Gifford-Wood wanted to convert to electricity.
Art had two brothers; Jim, born 1925 and his younger brother Tom born in 1928. Then his sisters Joan, Maude, Nancy and Maryanne were born. Lorraine, Art’s wife, with her brother, parents and grandparents, all lived in the same house. Her grandfather first lived in an orphanage, but ran away at 7 or 8. He worked on the Erie Canal leading the mules, and had other odd jobs. In the 1920’s he heard about a well drilling machine and went to the owner who offered to sell it. He made a deal with the seller to teach him how to use it, and then he would buy it. Lorraine’s brother took over the well drilling business at 17. Art’s son Jeff decided also to be a well driller.
Art’s grandmother and grandfather lived at 43 Allen St. with two great-aunts who lived in an apartment above. Art’s father lived at 39 or 41 Allen Street until Arthur was about four or five years old, then they moved to 53 Allen Street. The mortgage for the house was $1,200.00, with monthly payment to The Savings and Loan of $8.00 per month. There were a varied group of residents on this street. They were mostly Catholic, but some were Episcopalian, Polish and Ukrainian, and at the end of the street was an apartment house where a “colored” family lived. The father was a minister at the Baptist Church. Each group whether Polish, Irish, Italian, Ukrainians, or Black lived around their church, splitting off into their own section of neighborhood. There was a peddler that came to the neighborhood, Old Charlie, a farmer who came to Hudson from Athens on the ferry.
As a kid when Art finished his chores he was allowed to go down to the Hudson River. He wanted to be there by 11:00 AM when the Excursion Day Boat from Albany docked. The current boat club was the dock then for the Hudson River Day Line boats. The passengers would throw coins to the boys wading there in the water. The Day Line traveled to New York City and then it sailed back from NYC to Hudson, arriving at 4:00, and continuing north to Albany. The boys would also go down the street to a big ice house where there was often a dice game or, they would go to Ferry Street to the cement loading docks to pitch pennies. There was a playground on 3rd St. but mostly they played down along the river. The boys played inside a warehouse on a freight elevator that was open and ran on a rope between the first floor and third floor. They would take it to the third floor, get out and send the elevator back down. It was a large open area down to the first floor. They would stand back, run at it and slide down the rope! Money was tight so kids made scooters from roller skates, 2x4s, and an orange crate with a broomstick cut in half and nailed to top. The Hudson Boys’ Club on 3rd and Union Streets showed a movie and a cartoon with a 35mm projector on Friday nights for 5 cents. They wandered all over Hudson, especially the alleys, until noon lunch (dinner) then again until 5:00 for supper time, when all their mothers would call out for them to come home. His mother would have him pick up things from Chipp’s Market on Front Street owned by Joseph Cipkowski.
On Warren Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets, was the segregated Playhouse Theater for vaudeville. In the early 1940s it burned down and collapsed. The Star Theater on Warren Street cost a dime for a Saturday matinee to see world news, coming attractions, a cartoon, one chapter of a serial adventure story, a feature, and they would get a comic book!
Many bars were in Hudson, possibly two or more on every block. In the early 40s gambling was a big operation. A sports arena on 2nd and Columbia Streets had professional boxing and wrestling matches for high stakes gambling. Claims of a cat walk high above that was patrolled by men with guns. There was prostitution, Numbers book, Black Taxi on Front Street. In 1945 Governor Dewey of New York ordered a raid in Hudson. Half the police force was arrested. The houses of prostitution and gambling and horse rooms were closed.
Art’s mother would at times work as a pieceworker in an assembly line, sewing. She worked between babies, and their grandmother, who lived down the street, helped to look after the kids. No one locked their doors in those days. Everybody knew everyone in Hudson, so kids couldn’t get away with much. On 2nd street where they lived, most everyone was of the same economic group, having enough food and a warm house. His father was one of few with a telephone, since he was on call. People would call their house to speak to a neighbor, then one of the kids would go to fetch that person. Most people also had cars.
Art’s brother Tom and many other Hudson kids worked on fruit farms, picking. Tom had a paper route for The Knickerbocker News, an evening paper from Albany. For two years in High School Art worked at Taylor and Dinehart, a shoe store that sold Florsheim shoes. His brother Tom had a job at Western Union, which Art took over after him. He would deliver “juicy” telegrams to the bordellos on Columbia Street. There was a tie line from Gifford to Western Union so messages from Albany went directly to Gifford by teletype. Art also worked nights at the Community Theater till 11:00PM. Art started working at nine years old and is still working now at 84 because he loves working.
In 1949 he joined the Navy. After completion of extensive training, he went to Rhode Island to the Repair Squadron. Art, as the plane captain, was responsible for all systems to be working properly on F6 Fighter and Beechcraft planes.
When Art met his future wife Lorraine he decided not to re-enlist. After their marriage (married for 61 years in 2015), he worked in Hudson driving a small cement truck. A dam was being built in Gilboa, so three or four times a day he would drive to Catskill to pick up a load of dry cement, transporting it to Gilboa through the Catskills, to dump it into a hopper. Art worked at the power company for 37 years. He retired at 59 years old on Dec 30, 1990 because Niagara Mohawk was being sold. Art and Lorraine have lived in Kinderhook in the same house for 49 years.
When Art came back from the Navy he observed changes in Hudson. It was very very different raising his own kids than when he was a kid. He had a lot more freedom then.The biggest difference he thinks is the car. Now every family has a car and often two because you need them but back then they had cars but used them less.
Art is a member of Freemasons, just as his father was. Art recalled some of the history of the Masons and about Joseph Brandt and William McKinstry. He agreed that sometimes the Masons are secretive, even when donating to charities. Masons believe they are all brothers, all on the same level. They are forbidden from discussing politics or religion, and will accept people from any religion but you must believe in God.