THE FIREHOUSE, THE HOOK & LADDER, C.H. EVANS, & THE SPOTTY DOG
The C.H. Evans firehouse is located at 440 Warren Street in Hudson New York. Currently, it houses Spotty Dog Books & Ale, which has operated at this location since 2005 by a bonafide descendant of the Evans’ clan. The firehouse epitomizes the old and new in Hudson – a modern, diversified business which caters to the local community, housed in a building entrenched in local history.
Erected in 1889, the firehouse became the first official residence of the long-standing Engine Company No. 3, known as the Rip Van Winkle Hook and Ladder Co. until changing its name in 1868 to the C.H. Evans Hook & Ladder Company in honor of Cornelius H. Evans. Evans was widely renowned as both a politician and brewer, responsible for the renown of the Evans brewery, known globally for their eponymous Cream Ale. Evans’ long pedigree includes a stint as secretary and treasurer of the Hudson Aqueduct Co., president of the National Hudson River Bank, trusteeship in the Hudson City Savings Institution, and mayor of the city between 1868 and 1872. His 1902 obituary describes him as “prominent in Masonic circles… a lover of the secret symbols and the mighty order,” and was fondly remembered as “one of the most approachable men living in his time… as kindly and considerate in his greeting for a poor applicant for aid as he was of one of his richest associates.” The Hook and Ladder Company bearing his name did so proudly until the consolidation of all the local companies in 2002, provoked in part by the Evans’ Hook & Ladder Co.’s acquisition of a truck too large to fit in the firehouse.
The Evans Hook & Ladder Co. first emerged in 1799, when the Common Council mandated that the Fire Department be supplied with various hooks, chains, poles and ropes. Three companies formed, with the then-Rip Van Winkle Co. outlasting the other two. In 1887, a building at 240 Warren St became the temporary headquarters for the Evans Hook & Ladder, and that this building would grant the firemen “the pleasure seeing the electric light in their rooms”, making them “the only Company having the light as yet although others will soon follow suit”. Despite the electric, however, the space was eventually declared “damp, inadequate, and far inferior to any other company”, and after a brief search for a more adequate location, it was decided that new building should be erected.
In October of 1889, the City of Hudson acquired an $8000 loan for the construction of the new Hooks House, enlisting the architect Michael O’Connor to plan the structure. On December 3, 1889, the laying of the cornerstone was met with celebration and lavish gifts from members of the community, including a mahogany mantle, a bronze chandelier, a bronze clock, a brass sliding pole, and a marble gavel block. (For the interested, the ornate mantle and chandelier can be seen to this day, residing comfortably in the building’s lofty upstairs.) Chief builders included James and Thomas Brennan, masons, and Peter Weaver, a carpenter. (One can observe Weaver’s inspired work in the intact ceiling of the truck floor, an intricate labyrinth of wainscoting.) The firehouse would be constructed with red brick, laid in mortar with brown terracotta trim, built with a frontage of 20 feet with a depth of 65 feet. Construction was complete by May 13, 1890.
The construction of the C.H. Evans Firehouse came not a moment too soon; the 1890s were among one of the busier decades of the ever-vacillating city of Hudson, and the emerging electrical technology gave way to many an exploding lamp in the city. The majestic upstairs space in the building made it suitable for use as a social space, and the downstairs truck floor would be emptied for formal dances, occasionally accommodating a live orchestra. Recollections of “Christmas parties with the twelve gallon punchbowls”, and “one of our more dignified members left one night, walked out, bumped into a light pole, stepped back, tipped his derby and said ‘Pardon me.'” Until 2005, when the Spotty Dog began operations, a pool table resided in the upper floor, and the billiards and card-themed wallpaper adorning the fireman’s game room still remains.
In 2004, the Evans Firehouse underwent renovations to transform it from firehouse to retail space. In renovating the building, the utmost care was taken to not undermine the well-preserved architectural elements. Period-appropriate doors replaced the garage door on the truck floor, with chandeliers and a bar (with a surface made from reclaimed bowling alley) acquired from architectural salvage. The upstairs of the building remains almost entirely intact, including the mahogany mantle. The renovation was completed early June 2005. In 2006, Historic Hudson awarded the building with a Preservation Award, commemorating the “distinctive contribution to preservation of the historic property.”
The repurposing of the Evans Firehouse reflects a simultaneous break and continuation from the traditions of old Hudson. One can still drink a pint of Evans’ Ale in the Evans’ firehouse, though the beer is now brewed in Albany under direction of Cornelius H. Evans IV. As Hudson’s small business reconfigure to address the boutique needs of weekending residents of NYC, so does the transformation of the firehouse to boutique establishment, which also serves the community. Members of the Evans Hook & Ladder Co. can sometimes be found at the bar, offering fond reminiscences of the building’s previous life as firehouse and community center. As Hudson reorients itself from industrial whaling port to arts enclave, the development of the C.H. Evans Firehouse embodies this shift.