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River Town’s Big, Bawdy Past Has Residents Talking

October 23, 1994 GMT

HUDSON, N.Y. (AP) _ This river town’s big, bawdy past has lots of people talking about The Block these days.

For 200 years, prostitutes brought to Hudson by Quakers to service sailors worked in a strip of rowhouses along Diamond Street. By the ’30s, there were 15 brothels and 50 to 75 prostitutes crammed into one block.

Police looked the other way. Gambling flourished, and the town’s population swelled to 11,000. It was Hudson’s heyday, but the cathouse trade came crashing down in 1950, when Gov. Thomas E. Dewey sent in state troopers to raid The Block.

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The brothels were shut down June 23, 1950, and stayed shut down. Hudson is a haven for artists and urbanites now on its bluff overlooking the Hudson River, 30 miles south of Albany.

Until Bruce Edward Hall wrote a book about the little town with the big red-light district, few younger people cared about Diamond Street, renamed Columbia Street.

Older residents remember The Block fondly. About 2,500 people showed up for a book-signing Saturday to meet Hall.

″Almost everyone who lived in Hudson before 1950 has a story to tell, whether it concerns the activities of a prostitute on the job or the impressions of a young boy delivering ice cream to a naked lady,″ Hall wrote in the preface to ″Diamond Street: The Story of The Little Town With The Big Red Light District.″

Seymour Silverman, 68, waited on prostitutes at his family’s dairy.

″The worst thing they (the authorities) did was when they closed down the place. It brought the town down,″ he said.

Estocia Berry, who wouldn’t give her age, moved to The Block in 1946 as a girl. Her family didn’t know about the prostitutes but wondered about the cars with the out-of-town license plates lining the block.

She remembers the night of the raids.

″All I know is that there was a tremendous noise. It sounded like an explosion and we ran to look to the window and all you could see was state troopers everywhere. And my father made us get back from the window.″

The noise was the synchronized banging down of doors - front and back.

Some residents reason that The Block was good for the economy and even good for morality because the prostitutes kept sex-seeking men away from Hudson’s ″good girls.″ Hall doesn’t buy that explanation.

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″There were 63 bars in this little town. And when you get drunken men out looking for sex, those aren’t the kind of people you want hanging out on your main street,″ he said.

Hall, who has a house in Hudson, studied court records, scanned old police blotters discovered in a dump and did 65 interviews for the book. He had some trouble persuading people to talk on the record at first. Now that the book is out, no one can stop talking.

″What really made me think this was a good story is the older people would inevitably say the prostitutes were good for Hudson. That intrigued me,″ said the 40-year-old Hall.

By 1950, Hudson was a fragmented community and still is today.

Manufacturing jobs have gone and poverty is on the rise, though Hudson is a popular retreat for New York City residents who have restored old homes and fostered a growing number of antique shops and cafes.

Drug-dealing has largely replaced prostitution, said Paul Czajka, the Columbia County district attorney. Many of the brothels, hotels and saloons along The Block are now private homes.

″Everybody is talking about it,″ Mary Ann Loewenstein, who has lived in Hudson since 1971, said of The Block. ″But I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about that era.″