ATHENS lies directly across the river from the city of Hudson. Some oldtimers still pronounce its name "Ai-thens," rhyming with "Nathans." It is the southernmost of four sleepy old landing towns (the others being Coxsackie, New Baltimore and Coeymans) that line the river's west shore between Catskill and Albany. Each of these towns prospered for its situation on the river in the nineteenth century, and each fell into state of picturesque somnolence once river traffic fell off in the twentieth. Time here seems to have stood still since then, and the historic character of these riverfront villages remains remarkably intact today.

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DESPITE having been bypassed by river, rail and highway traffic, the handsome old buildings of Athens remain in generally good repair - with a few exceptions. Looking down toward the village from a high bluff to the west stand the ruins of an old brick mansion that locals have described to me as the King house. Its advanced state of decay leaves one to imagine how it might have looked in its prime, surely one of the finest houses in town. I personally like to picture an imposing Second Empire mansion, with a mansard roof and perhaps even a tower facing out over the river.

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DOWN IN THE VILLAGE, the old District No. 1 school building stood in ruins for decades. Built around 1875, its front door lies scarcely a hundred yards from the riverbank: passing Dayliners must have been a distraction for generations of students here. The building stood empty after Athens centralized its schools in the mid-1950s. By 2004 village officials discussed having it condemned for building code violations. Finally a local family purchased the building and began converting it into their new home.

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JUST DOWN THE HILL from the school house, a forlorn fleet of old barges and scows lies abandoned near the shore. Among them is a fine example of a covered railroad barge, still bearing the markings of the New York Central Railroad. (A similar example lay abandoned for many years at Peekskill.) Though it is among the most intact vessels of its kind still in existence, the village government has proposed having this and the other hulks cleared away as part of a waterfront cleanup. For now the boats continue to return to nature, a melencholy reminder of the waterborne traffic upon which this village once thrived.

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© T.E. Rinaldi, 2006