The picturesque Hudson River inspired a 19th-century artistic movement with it’s captivating landscapes. But the once beautiful Hudson River became a toxic dump site for factories during the industrial revolution.
The upper Hudson River became lined with factories that discharged industrial waste from the production of transformers, capacitors and electric motors into the River. These factories used PCBs as dielectric and coolant fluid, which was also discharged into the river poisoning fish, wildlife and contaminating the drinking water.
Photo by Robert Perron, date unknown.
In 1966, in despair over the pollution of his beloved Hudson River, Seeger announced plans to “build a boat to save the river.” .
Pete overlooks a heavily polluted Hudson River.
Photo: Dan Budnik
The sloop Clearwater was launched in 1969 with the belief that a majestic replica of the sloops that sailed the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries would bring people to the river where they could experience its beauty and be moved to preserve it.
back when Clearwater was “Hudson River Sloop Restoration, Inc.”, the Clearwater was sailing on a sea of oil. Back then, oil spills were the symbol of the environmental movement, due in large part to the disastrous 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which was the real trigger for the Clean Water Act and Sen. Gaylord Nelson’s inspiration for Earth Day — not the 20 minute 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River, which has been exaggerated out of proportion to its significance.
A man fishes a shopping cart out of a creek
In 1970, founder Pete Seeger, his friends, and the sloop’s captain and crew sailed Clearwater to Washington DC to deliver the “State of the Hudson” address to congressional workers in support of the creation and passing of the Clean Water Act.
In this New York Times article from April 13, 1970, Pete Seeger said “We’ve sailed for a year now up and down the river showing people what the river used to be; how it’s polluted now and what it can be. But now we’re going to Washington because the problems of the American rivers can’t be solved by people like me who live on them. Only the Federal Government has the power to enact and enforce the laws that are needed.”
This post card by cartoon artist Paule Loring was available for purchase to Clearwater members who wanted to show support for Clearwater’s message.
“Slide after slide and song after song brought vividly to life the contrast between the Hudson River of 1850 and the Hudson of today”
Clearwater showed congress the sharp contrast between the clean Hudson River of 1850 and the heavily polluted on of the 1970’s. Now we must show congress that the Hudson has experienced a renaissance and we are not willing to go back on all of that hard work.
Don and Pete at the Cannon House office building, 1970.
Sketch by Thomas Allen.
The passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 made cleanup a national priority and the Hudson River benefitted greatly.
John Cronin who worked for Clearwater in the 1970’s ran a very successful grass roots program called the People’s Pipewatch. Water samples that John and other Clearwater volunteers collected resulted in the prosecution of polluters under the Clean Water Act. Clearwater helped bring the first successful suit against a polluter (Tuck Tape of Beacon) under the CWA in NY State.
Thanks to the Hudson River Fisherman’s Assn. (now Riverkeeper), the US Justice Cept. prosecuted Anaconda in 1971 under the provisions of the Refuse Act of 1899.
The Clean Water Act made federal funds available for the construction of sewage treatment plants. Today, the plant is able to process 125 million gallons of raw sewage each day. Photo by Charles Porter
Thanks to Pete Seeger, Clearwater and the Clean Water Act, the Hudson Valley is a healthier and more vibrant place.
The Valley is once again home to dozens of family farms, dairies, vineyards and cider mills that are practicing sustainable, organic agriculture..
Residents no long have to “swim at their own risk” but can enjoy swimming events like the 8 Bridges Swim.
Students onboard Clearwater are encouraged to be responsible environmental stewards and to protect the health of the Hudson River. Let’s do everything we can to preserve it for them and for our future,