Beulah Whitbeck

September 1, 1988

Spring Street, Hudson, NY


Marcella Beigel

Marcella Beigel


Beulah was 83 years old at the time of the interview. She was born in Hudson and lived between 2nd and 3rd Streets, near the mushroom factory on the corner of 2nd Street.  She had two brothers, Harold and Wilson, both deceased. Her brothers were older and went to the same schools as Beulah. One brother went into the military during WWII, stayed in the states as a mechanic for airplanes. Beulah’s father was Arthur Reed, born in Claverack. He was a chauffeur for Dr. Wilson.  Her mother, Josephine Cooley, was from Stockport. Beulah’s mother never voted, but her father, brothers, and Beulah did.

She belonged to AME Zion Church. As a child she went to Sunday school, and sang in the choir. As an adult she was secretary of the Sunday school.  Only Beulah and her brothers regularly went to the Church on 2nd and State Streets; her parents did not.

The first school Beulah attended was the Allen Street School, then Fourth Street School, and then Hudson High School, as did her brothers. Beulah had little girl dolls as a child, but mostly she read mysteries. She learned to knit and crochet a little in school. She would sew her own clothes. When Beulah came home from school, she had to put on her apron and clean all the lamp chimneys. She also shopped for her mother. Her mother took in washing for extra income. Her brothers had to deliver the washing and ironing their mother did, but they got paid. 

Beulah’s father initially drove a horse and carriage. He had worked for Dr. Wilson in Claverack since he was a child. Beulah has a photo of the horse and wagon, possibly being driven by her father, coming down the dirt road that was the Toll Road to 23B. In the photo the stone toll house and the small house and toll keeper are all clearly pictured.  

Her parents were very strict with the children and sometimes swatted the kids. She had to be inside all the time, unless accompanied by a brother.  She was allowed to go to the movies for a date. She went to many dances at the music hall, which later became The Opera House. Dances had live musicians, but Beulah had to be home by 11:30 and her brother had to see that she got home. No alcohol was allowed at home.

Their house had a coal stove that heated the house, and was used for cooking and for making hot water. First, you make a small wood fire, then when it’s burning you put the coal on top. The Hallenbeck Brothers had a coalyard and delivered the coal. For a bath several big pots of water were heated, then poured into a round tin tub kept near the stove. Water was heated in a kettle to shave and shampoo. To gauge heat to cook on the coal stove was something that came naturally to Beulah’s mother. Her mother used cast iron cookware. Beulah’s mother or father started the stove first thing in the morning to boil water for coffee. It was made in a big pot from already ground beans, and then they made breakfast. Growing up they had no indoor plumbing. They had city water.

They used bar soap and Fels Naptha for laundry. For income, Beulah’s mother took in laundry. First she put a big tub of water to heat on the stove and another to use for the scrub board. Clothes were hung out on the line, winter or summer. The heavy wet clothes were carried outside in a clothes basket. The linens were laid out in the sun to bleach. The irons came in different weights, were heated on the stove, and required a pot holder to handle. 

In the summer, with her Sunday school and more than 30 people, the family went for a picnic at Electric Park on Kinderhook Lake in Kinderhook. They took the Albany Southern Trolley from Hudson to Kinderhook. There was swimming, amusement rides, pony rides, a merry-go-round, and a picnic area. They brought salads and fried chicken.

In the winter, the Hudson River froze. People would skate on it and they worked to fill the ice house with cut blocks of ice to store through the summer. Iceman delivered ice blocks to your house, placing it in the top part of the ice box. 

Beulah’s mother made apple pies. As a family they made ice cream, usually vanilla, which her brothers churned and they salted the ice. Beulah learned to make lemonade, bake cakes and biscuits. They also made fudge and taffy. First you butter your hands to pull the taffy so it doesn’t stick. It was boiled first, and then poured onto a big plate to then break up. 

Her mother’s homemade remedy for a sore throat was fat back or salt pork with lots of pepper that was tied in a rag then tied around your throat. Another was onions long cooked for a cold. Beulah was often sick as a child with measles, diphtheria, and mumps. Her mother took care of her, but her father worked for a doctor who, when needed, would make house calls.

Most of her friend’s fathers worked at Lone Star Cement. She has no memory of black doctors. As a child, her father would take them to see minstrel shows and jugglers and magicians at the Old Playhouse, which later burned down. Beulah saw WC Fields when he came through Hudson in a vaudeville show. She also remembers that the library was once an orphanage. The family would go on the Day Line Boat that sailed to Kingston Point for an afternoon picnic. Families may have done more together then. Her family played cards, dominoes, and Old Maid.  Hudson had peddlers selling fish, vegetables, repairing umbrellas, and an organ grinder and a monkey on the street. There was a penny candy store on 3rd & Columbia Streets. 

There were trolley cars, grocery stores, drug stores, ice cream parlors, remnant and fabric stores, McDonalds Funeral Home, a department store that sold yard goods, Gray’s Furniture store, and Berman’s Furniture store (owned by her grandfather), saloons frequented mainly by men, meat markets, Woolworth’s, SS Kresge’s, and candy stores. Mr. Warsher, above 4th Street on Warren Street, had a hat store and there was another on 5th Street. Beulah would get a new hat for church at Easter.

Beulah remembers there were lots of deep snowstorms, but no snow days off in school. Men would shovel snow into horse pulled wagons and then haul it away to clear the streets.

Her mother didn’t get electricity until after Beulah was married and moved out.  Parents got a Victrola which was a big thing.

Beulah’s husband originally came from Stuyvesant before the family moved to Hudson. He was a friend of one of her brothers. They dated for five years before they married. Beulah wore a blue and white dress for her wedding with a large blue hat and a bouquet of roses. They lived in Hudson after they married. He worked at the Atlas Cement plant. They were the first black couple to marry in their church. Initially, after their marriage they lived in an apartment then moved to a small house on Railroad Avenue, which later burned down. Later they moved to a little stone house on Mt. Merino, and then to the Spring Street house, where she currently lives. 

Her husband worked at the cement plant six days a week, and was a member of the union.  He always had a Lexington with a trunk and a stick shift. He knew how to shoot since childhood. He loved the outdoors, went to the Catskills, and the Adirondacks for hunting. He liked fishing and hunting deer, woodchuck, rabbits, and pheasants. 

Beulah did not have central heating until she lived in the Spring Street house. There was a coal stove in the living room, but the rest of the house did not have heat. They slept with many blankets. They had a hot breakfast year round, mostly oatmeal. She cooked lots of soup, letting the bones cook all day on the back of the stove, which kept things warm enough to simmer. Then she put cut up vegetables into a big kettle which stretched the food to make more than one meal. The butcher cut up the meat. The milkman delivered butter in a tub and the milk and cream in glass bottles by horse and wagon. On Spring Street, they bought their first 10-inch TV and watched variety shows.

She had two daughters but the first one died. The surviving daughter lives with Beulah. She works at the dress factory on 2nd and Allen Streets. As a young mother Beulah did housekeeping work daily, walking to work. Her daughter went to her grandmother’s after school when Beulah worked. 

Beulah never experienced any discrimination in her life. Growing up, Italian, Jewish, Black and Irish all lived together. People maintained their homes.  There was little vandalism, little truancy, and no drugs or alcohol that she knew of. 

Beulah believes the most important thing to say to future generations is to get an education.

Interviewer Bio:

Marcella Beigel

Marcella Mary Kane Schneider Beigel (Marcella Beigel) was the RSVP Director and originator of the BLACC Oral History Project. She moved to the Columbia County area at the age of 60 and was involved in many civic projects in Columbia County. She believed in the importance of the area’s black history and enlisted seniors to cull old newspapers as well as interview local residents in order to gather information on this history. She also was instrumental in creating a curriculum guide for local schools of the history that gathered in this collection.

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