Leo Bower

August 22, 2015

Hudson Area Library, Hudson, NY


Jenny Goldberg

Jenny Goldberg
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Leo Bower has lived his life of 61 years in Hudson. His family first lived on Warren Street between 1st and 2nd Streets, then they moved to Front Street; living there from the time he was five to sixteen years old. Leo was raised by a single mother with two brothers and a sister. When Leo was four or five his father left the family. Growing up was hard, there was not always a good meal, or anything new; they always wore hand me downs and generally went without a lot. 

At about 15 years old Leo went to Shantytown (The Furgary) to get to know his father. Together they would go out with big nets to fish for shad and herring, which they then smoked. Leo worked nights at WB McGuire’s but in the daytime helped his father do plumbing and electrical work. He enjoyed working with his father and learning more about him. His father originally lived on Blue Hill Road in Livingston. His mother, Thelma Snyder, was from Hudson and had 13 siblings. The Snyders eventually moved from Hudson to have a better life. Thelma worked at Cavell House, cancer treatment for Columbia Memorial Hospital, and then she worked at the cafeteria.  

Leo first worked at Kaz Vaporizer Plant for $2.00 an hour. He described it as a sweatshop. It was located off Ten Broeck Lane and Cross Street, by the railroad. He then worked at WB McGuire’s, a well-paid job, for 25 years. They manufactured levelers and seals for trucks. When he got an indefinite lay-off he started working at Taconic Farms, the rat and mouse farm. Leo also became a part-time caretaker of Mrs. Benson’s house, the shoebox lady who sold shoes. Her family was the McIntyres. She helped write the book about Hudson, Diamond Street, with Bruce Hall. She knew the history of the brothels.

Leo said, “Money makes life easier, but it doesn’t make you a happier person.” Having a family and a good relationship is important. Leo first met his wife in school and then moved next door to her. Their first house together was 46 North 6th Street. They had two sons, Israel and Chris. Later they moved to Columbia Street. His wife worked at Columbia Memorial Hospital for 32 years. His marriage has lasted 44 years because he said, “Make time for each other and talk to each other, not at each other.” 

When Leo was growing up many different nationalities lived on Front Street: Jewish, German, Irish, Polish, Blacks. Everyone got along. This street was the neighborhood. Leo objects to discrimination, in the past and in the present, saying that especially the Irish were treated badly in the past by some of locals. Back then there were no restrictions and people had pigs, lots of families had chickens, even a cow. Leo lived on Front Street for about 11 years before they were forced to move to make way for the new construction of Terrace Apartments.

Leo remembers their neighbors like friends Harry Stickles and the Meyers girls, especially Donna. They built clubhouses from old wood found at Fosters Refrigerator Company. Going to the junkyard the kids could make a little money. When they had some money, they went to the Community Theater. Although his mom said they couldn’t go to the Hudson River, they went anyway when she was working. Two of his friends drowned in the Hudson because the undertow was so strong. Only half a block from Leo’s house was Berniece’s House, a brothel. When this area was raided, Hudson cops were caught in brothels! In the past, people said if you lived below 4th Street by the River you were considered low class, and some people wouldn’t let their kids play with them. 

Leo has some pictures of Shantytown that show Promenade Hill in the background, old buildings down by the waterfront, all the docks in front of the river, shanties, and old wooden boats, but no dates on the photos. As kids, their neighbors had boats in Shantytown and went to the island and built shanties there too. 

Leo remembers many of the residents from those days. Many residents were old iron workers and as Leo said, “They could chew nails and spit them out.” There were a lot of nice parties there with drinking and thousands of fish caught, scaled, smoked, and eaten. On Sundays they would listen to all the old stories and play horseshoes. Now it’s gone, and the shanties on the island have eviction notices so they cannot be used.

According to Leo, he could have stopped Hudson City from doing what they did. Trading with the State for the land Shantytown was on, Hudson City needed to break ground by a certain date for the sewage plant, or they would not get the grant money. As soon as the city got the land, they kicked everyone out of Shantytown. New York State did declare Shantytown historical, but the city still wants to tear it down. 

Hudson has changed a lot; it’s not as friendly now. Leo belongs to Kingdom Hall, Jehovah’s Witnesses, which gives him a sense of community. He sees heroin as a real problem in Hudson, especially for young people. But how unique it is to grow up in an area and still be friends as adults and love the place. 

Interviewer Bio:

Jenny Goldberg

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