Our Lady of Cold Spring
David Arthur Walters
Our Lady of Cold Spring chapel was built in 1834 to serve the West Point Foundry workers. Bishop Dubois consecrated the chapel as St. Mary’s, whereupon it became the first Catholic church in the Hudson area as well as the first one beyond Manhattan in New York. It overlooks the Hudson River at the South End of Market Street, Cold Spring, New York. The chapel, available to all faiths for recitals, weddings and special events, is presently operating as “The Chapel Restoration.” (845-265-5537).
Cold Spring is a quaint and lovely village where beleaguered New Yorkers and other in-the-know visitors find respite on weekends, enjoying the many bed-and-breakfasts and historic towns in the area during their sojourns. Others maintain second homes there; a number of local residents commute by automobile and by rail to jobs in New York City.
Since I did not have a car in Manhattan and had let my driver’s license expire, I always sought out pleasant getaways close to train stations for my excursions. I eventually discovered the secret of Cold Spring, that it was a perfect destination for a day trip. I would read magazines on the train and enjoy the views; sit beside the river after arriving; walk around the village; have a pint of ale and a sandwich at a pub; tour the old buildings; take photographs; have another pint of ale or maybe two; wonder what it would be like to live there; and so on; then I would head back to the train station for the return trip.
The chapel of Our Lady of Cold Spring is just across from the train station. I sauntered around the grounds during my last jaunt – the next Manhattan-bound train was not due for another hour. I had not the faintest idea of the nature or history of the place, but I was certainly enjoying it.
A woman wearing a straw hat came along the path carrying a large basket of flowers; she was a florist on her way to the chapel – a wedding ceremony was to be held there some time later. She was not alarmed to encounter a city boy decked out in a black leather jacket and cap wandering around alone on the deserted grounds. We struck up a conversation; I accompanied her to the chapel, wherein she left her flowers. We sat down on a step and gazed out over the dreamy Hudson, chatting aimlessly. Then I remembered my train – it was to arrive soon – so I excused myself and hurried to the train station, where I kicked myself for being such a fool to walk away from such a charming woman, obviously the woman of my dreams!
Opportunities are rare and I rarely seize them because I do not recognize them until it is too late. Now perhaps the gentle lady with the flowers was not the opportunity she seems to me in retrospect – but I imagine she was. And so was Cold Spring: I gave up my Manhattan position and took up residence half-way around the world in what I thought would be paradise, then realized I had left paradise behind. Paradise had been right in front of me – to wit: keep the job and the tiny rent-controlled studio in frantic Manhattan; buy a humble writer’s abode in Cold Spring; in short, have the best of both worlds. But for some strange reason, I could not be like other New Yorkers – I could not be like me! So here I am, lost in someone else’s paradise. Oh, woe is me… Hail Mary. full of Grace… but I am not a Catholic, therefore…
Our Lady of Cold Spring (1840) William H. Bartlett
…I have made this little page for myself to look at. I doubt whether anyone else will be very interested in my bitter-sweet secret or in the secret of Our Lady. In case someone does show up to enjoy this page, they might like the following account written by William H. Bartlett, an artist who painted the scene over a hundred and fifty years ago:
“The Hudson bends out from Crow-Nest into a small bay; and, in the lap of the crescent thus formed, lies snug and sheltered, the little village of Cold Spring. It is not much of a place for its buildings, history, or business; but it has its squire and post-master, its politics and scandal, and a long disappointed ambition to become a regular landing-place for the steamers. Then there are cabals between the rival ferrymen, on which the inhabitants divide; the vote for the president, on which they agree (for Van Buren); and the usual religious sects, with the usual schisms. The Presbyterians and Methodists, as usual, worship in very ugly churches; and the Catholics, as usual, in a very picturesque and beautiful one.
“It is a pity (picturesquely speaking) that the boatmen on the river are not Catholics; it would be so pretty to see them shorten sail off Our Lady of Cold Spring, and uncover for an Ave-Maria. This little chapel, so exquisitely situated on the bluff overlooking the river, reminds me of a hermit’s oratory and cross which is perched similarly in the shelter of a cliff on the desolate coast of Sparta. I was on board a frigate, gliding slowly up the Ægean, and clinging to the shore for a land-wind, when I descried the white cross at a distance of about half a mile, strongly relieved against the dark rock in its rear. As we approached, the small crypt and altar became visible; and, at the moment the ship passed, a tall monk, with a snow-white beard, stepped forth like an apparition upon the cliffs, and spread out his arms to bless us. In the midst of the intense solitude of the Ægean, with not a human dwelling to be seen on the whole coast from Moron to Napoli, the effect of this silent benediction was almost supernatural. He remained for five minutes in this attitude, his long cowl motionless in the still air, and his head slowly turning to the ship as she drew fast round the little promontory on her course.
“I would suggest to Our Lady of Cold Spring, that a niche under the portico of her pretty chapel, with a cross to be seen from the river by day, and a lamp by night, would make at least a catholic impression on the passer by, though we are not all children of St. Peter…” – William H. Bartlett