“The effort to preserve the past while forging ahead into the future,” Jill Grunenwald writes in the introduction in her latest book, “is the legacy on which Hudson is built.” Something she says town natives, like herself, are well aware of.
Her first published book, “Hudson” (Arcadia Publishing, 2015) is a photo-essay tour of the town’s lengthy history, from its roots as a lively hub for Northern abolitionists to its present-day incarnation as a commercial mecca. Part of Arcadia’s “Images of America” series—now made up of over 9,000 titles—“Hudson” reads as a historical catalogue, detailing picturesque homes and family-run businesses of note. They include 79 Hudson St., which once housed professor Rufus Nutting, the Learned Owl independent bookstore and the iconic Saywell’s Drug Store that greeted almost a century of business before shutting its doors in 2005. There’s also the Spring Hill Farm, where John Brown, who led the 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, once lived with his father Owen. “We don’t have a lot of names to claim,” Grunenwald says, “but he’s definitely one of them.”
In many ways, Grunenwald is a cataloguer of local history. She begins her book with the infamous Great Fire of 1892 that paved the way to a new Hudsonian image—one tied together, come 1912, with the medieval-style clock tower that marks the main grassy plaza, known for decades as the Green. Another set of photos shows a group of residents at the formerly-named Euclid Plant (a part of General Motors), which, despite fear that it would industrialize the small town, was a beacon for families to settle in its vicinity, adding numbers to the population. Another shot shows the back view of white-shirted workers at the Terex Plant, which subsumed the Euclid name after a 1968 lawsuit. Today, Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores Headquarters, surrounded by plazas of chain restaurants and banks, sits where the Plant used to be.
The book also displays Hudson’s academic side, represented by shots of the prestigious Western Reserve Academy and the Montessori School, “the 13th oldest of its kind in the nation,” Grunenwald writes. But Greek-columned architecture isn’t the sole mark of Hudson’s academia. There’s also a photo of British fantasy author Brian Jacques signing a cartoon mural in the middle school; another is a poster image of a recent Hudson Explorers graduation ceremony, “93 percent who were college-bound.” And then there’s the iconic chapel of the Academy, its caption detailing how, in the 1970s, the private school became coed, breaking a 50-year tradition of gender segregation.
Grunenwald herself is a good fit as author. Other than attending a full schooling career in Hudson (known to locals as being in the “Thirteen Year Club”), she worked at the Hudson Library and Historical Society during the summers while in college. This turned out to be a huge source of guidance for her book—along with the source for many of its images. Grunenwald also turned to her co-workers and peers for details, including historical anecdotes and nearly-forgotten stories. “This was a group effort in a lot of ways,” Grunenwald says.
The project even brought back memories from Grunewald’s own past. A 1987 shot from the “Author’s Collection” shows a smiling child in a mauve-colored toy car à la Safety Town. “Yep, that’s me,” she says.
In the 21st century, Hudson has endured a major facelift and witnessed the closing of many shops and locales begotten a century before. One of the major acts of transporting the town to the next era was the relocation of the Hudson Library and Historical Society. A golden-tinted 1960s image of the library reads “CLOSED FOR REMODELING.” It’s now one of the 27 “Star” libraries in the State of Ohio. Another page shows an in-construction First and Main and the flashy, modern-style commercial addition, to match the vintage shops on the “old” Main. “[The renovations] always feel like they have been there,” Grunenwald says. “They fit in so well with the community.”
The whole idea of keeping Hudson uniform in design goes back to when town native James Ellsworth returned to his city in 1909. Seeing the destructive effects of the 1892 fire, he invested part of his fortune to turn Hudson into “a new model town,” even encouraging homeowners to re-roof their houses with the same color of shingles. Since then, the city appears to have promised itself uniformity.
“ That’s incredible to me,” Grunenwald says, “just this pride that people like Ellsworth and others had. And that’s why the city continues to this day. I mean, even the McDonald’s looks like it fits in with the town’s aesthetics.”
Now working in Cleveland at a career college, and traveling from time to time back to her hometown, Grunenwald says documenting Hudson has given her a sense of gratitude for a town once overlooked in her high-school days. As a matter of fact, she balks at any slight change of Hudson’s image. “Now as an adult, and especially researching the book, I totally understand why Hudson has gone to those efforts to maintain historical consistency,” she says. “I have much appreciation for the fact that so little has changed.”