America’s River: Images of the Hudson from The William and Ruth Diebold Collection

Scenery on the Hudson
Scenery on the Hudson, N.Y. John La Trobe, engraved by John Hill. Ink and watercolor on paper. c. 1830. Historic Hudson Valley, Gift of the Heirs of William and Ruth Diebold.

The Collection

In 2003, the family of William and Ruth Diebold donated a significant collection of books, prints, maps, and other ephemera to Historic Hudson Valley. This important collection (view online) spans two hundred years and documents nearly every aspect of Hudson River Valley art, history and culture. This online exhibition, entitled America’s River: Images of the Hudson from The William and Ruth Diebold Collection marks the first time that a selection of these objects will be available for study, thanks to generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mr. William Diebold (1918-2002) built a career as a noted economist who served on the Council of Foreign Relations following World War II. While his professional interests ranged from scholarship into the workings of Western European economic systems to authoring several books on economic policy, Mr. Diebold took a similar serious interest in the Hudson Valley region in his time away from work. Ruth Diebold (1919-1996), a librarian and archivist who served as the director of the Nyack Library, shared her husband’s dedication to regional history along with her own interest in American culinary history. Together, over a period of decades, the two amassed a large private library and archive dedicated to the Hudson River, a collection they maintained in the family home in Nyack, New York.

Bill and Ruth Diebold
Bill and Ruth Diebold, 1983.
Private collection.

The scope and breadth of the Diebold collection shows the couple’s interest was not just a hobby, but a passion. In addition to Mr. Diebold’s personal research into the history of the river and the region, he generously shared information with fellow scholars, antiquarians and print dealers. He also used his collection to educate the general public through lectures he gave at local libraries and historical societies.  The Diebold family chose to continue the legacy by giving the large collection to Historic Hudson Valley, where it enriches the institution’s existing art and library holdings

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a portion of this large collection is now available publicly for the first time since its arrival at Historic Hudson Valley as part of the Montgomery Place: An American Arcadia project. Drawn exclusively from the Diebold collection of rare prints, photographs and ephemera, the new online exhibition, entitled America’s River: Images of the Hudson from The William and Ruth Diebold Collection, includes more than sixty images.

The Exhibition

Hudson
"Hudson" label, possibly for whisk brooms. Unknown artist. Ink on paper, c. 1910. Historic Hudson Valley, Gift of the Heirs of William and Ruth Diebold.

Americans have had a changing relationship with the nature over time, a theme that the American Arcadia project explores. Thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the theme now resonates through an online exhibition of prints, photographs and ephemera from The William and Ruth Diebold Collection, a rich trove of historic images.

Just as Americans’ attitudes toward nature and landscape have changed over time, so has our relationship to the Hudson River. The exhibition provides examples of five ways in which the river has been valued and put to use over time:

  • The river has been celebrated for its natural beauty by artists and others who sought to capture the distinctive appearance of the region’s landscape.
  • The river has been a major travel route for goods and a destination for tourists who sought to enjoy and experience the river.
  • The natural geography of the river means its banks are rich with historical landmarks, as events significant to colonial and American history have played out along its shores.
  • Agriculture and fishing along the river have fed residents throughout the region and beyond.
  • The river has been a place where new technology has been tested and put to use.

Through the centuries, the Hudson River has flowed on, a major asset for the region’s—and America’s—growth, particularly during the 19th century. Regional businesses relied on the river and grew because of it. Tourism and agriculture depended upon it. Visitors flocked to it. All of these uses are represented in the exhibition.   

The 19th century was a golden age for printmaking, as well as for American commerce along the Hudson. Americans saw and learned about the world through printed images. Engravings, both steel and woodcut, enlivened publications of all types, from simple pamphlets, to popular weekly journals, to expensive sets sold by subscription. This range of material is shown in America’s River. The century also saw the birth and rise of photography, a process of capturing images that eventually replaced engravings as means of illustration. This new form of capturing images is also included in the exhibition.

There are many ways to tell the history of the Hudson River and how Americans have used and admired it. Now thanks to William Diebold and to the National Endowment for the Humanities, Historic Hudson Valley can illustrate the history of the river through a rich trove of visual resources.

Acknowledgements

This exhibition was curated by Jessa J. Krick, assisted by Anne Ocone. Special thanks to Jenny Reisner for her contributions. Karen Walton Morse, Jim Russell, Catalina Hannan, and Ross W. Higgins provided invaluable assistance and support.

National Endowment for the HumanitiesAmerica’s River: Images of the Hudson from The William and Ruth Diebold Collection has been made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibit do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

For further reading

Adams, Arthur, ed. The Hudson River in Literature. New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1988.

Brown, Joshua. Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded Age America.University of California Press, 2006.

Calandro, Daniel. “Hudson River Valley Icehouses and Ice Industry.” New York: Hudson Valley Institute, 2005 [PDF downloaded February 5, 2013]

Diamant, Lincoln.Chaining the Hudson: the Fight for the River in the American Revolution. New York: Carol Pulishing Group, 1994.

Dunwell, Frances F. The Hudson, America’s River. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2008.

Hendrick, Ulysses Prentiss. A History of the Agriculture of New York State. New York, NY: Hill & Wang, 1933.

Huth, Hans. Nature & the American: Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957.

Johnson, Kathleen Eagen. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: New York’s River Festival of 1909 and the Making of a Metropolis. New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2009.

Lewis, Tom. The Hudson, a History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

Myers, Kenneth. The Catskills: Painters, Writers, and Tourists in the Mountains, 1820-1895. Yonkers, NY: Hudson River Museum and University Press of New England, 1988.

Ross, Alexander M. William Bartlett: Artist, Author, Traveler. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Ruge, Valice F. Life Along the Hudson: Wood Engravings of Hudson River Subjects from Harper’s Weekly, 1859-1903. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 1994.

Sears, John F. Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the 19th Century. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.

Stradling, David. The Nature of New York: An Environmental History of the Empire State. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,2010.

___. Making Mountains: New York & The Catskills. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007.

Wolf, Donald. Crossing the Hudson: Historic Bridges & Tunnels of the River. Rutgers University Press, 2010.

Online Resources

Hudson River Valley

Colonial and Early American New York (NPS)

Palisades Parks Conservancy

The Croton Water Systeml

Thomas Cole NHS