Albany’s Wadsworth Lab

The Wadsworth Laboratory is one of the pre-eminent public health laboratories in the nation, and has been for almost 120 years.

The first lab was established in 1901 on Yates St., between South Lake Ave. and Quail St. Originally it was the Anti-Toxin Laboratory, and while it conducted research on a variety of pathogens, a main focus was development and production of large quantities of diphtheria and tetanus anti-toxin. The anti-toxin was derived from inoculated horses that were stabled and co-located with the lab. (Procedures requiring sterile processes were generally conducted at the Bender Laboratory, around the corner on South Lake Ave. next to the Dudley Observatory. )

Over time the neighbors complaints about the horses (and other animals) grew louder. Finally, a farm was obtained on Route 155 (State Farm Rd.) in Guilderland. Today it’s the site of the Griffin Lab. In 1914 the head of the lab, Herman Biggs, M.D. was tapped to become Commissioner of the NYS Dept. of Health. Biggs appointed Augustus Wadsworth, M.D. as head of the Lab. Wadsworth would remain in that position for 30 years until 1945.

Under the leadership of Wadsworth the Lab moved to New Scotland Ave. after the first World War, greatly expanded its staffing, and its areas of research and applied laboratory sciences. For decades it’s been on the forefront of medical, scientific and epidemiological discoveries.

Perhaps most well known is the breakthough discovery of Nystatin, the first drug in the world to effectively and safely treat fungal infections, identified by 2 women, Dr. Rachel Brown and Dr. Elizabeth Hazen (who were in their 60s at the time – never underestimate the power of older women) working for the Lab.

Which brings us to a little known aspect of the Lab. Dr. Biggs and Dr. Wadsworth were both in the forefront of hiring women when others labs would not. If you look at the pictures of the earliest days of the Lab there are many women on staff. In later years staff rosters show a preponderance of female staff, including many in supervisory and management positions.

Dr. Wadsworth is revered for his pioneering work in creating rigorous laboratory standards used across the country, his focus on improving health care for NYS residents and for fostering the highest level of scientific research and inquiry; the reasons the Labs are named after him today.

The Lab is now the Wadsworth Center, with 3 locations: the Empire State Plaza, New Scotland Ave., and Guilderland, and carries on the tradition. It remains one of the most well-respected labortaories in the nation/ We’re lucky in New York State to have this resource.

(Most photos courtesy of the New York State Dept. of Health.)

Julie O’Connor

North Albany during World War II

During World War II cities, towns and villages put up “honor rolls ” for those who were serving.

But sometimes it fell to just regular people. In Charlie and Joe’s Barbershop on Broadway in North Albany there was a home grown “wall of honor”.

North Albany was known as Little Limerick. It was a close knit, tight community of mostly working-class Irish families who settled in the area in the mid to late 1800s to work in the breweries, lumber yards and factories in the area. It was a world unto itself- part of Albany, but it had its own identity

By World War II many families were 6th generation proud Americans, who had succeeded and thrived, and overcome the discrimination, prejudice and abject poverty they first experienced in America.

We don’t know who put up the first photo, but it took off. Everyone came into the barbershop, and brought a photo of their son, daughter, brother, sister, father, uncle, niece or nephew in service to display.

Best “honor roll” ever.

We’ve also included a photo of members of the American Legion Post in North Albany in the 1970s. It includes men whose photos were on the bulletin board.

Thanks to Thomas Duclos, retired Assistant Curator of the New York Military Museum and David Barrows, both from North Albany

One Hour in Albany for the Tourist in 1900 – Take the Pine Hills Trolley

Whether the tourist comes to Albany by boat or by rail, but a few steps are required to reach historic ground. If by rail on the Central (New York Central Railroad), a turn to the left on passing out of the new depot (Union Station) brings the visitor quckly to Steuben St. where stood the old North Gate of the city at which Simon Schermerhorn shouted the first news of the Schenectady Massacre (1690).

If by boat directly in front and to the left on stepping on the wharf is the site of old Fort Orange where treaties where established and the first courts held in early days, and north of which the first church (the Dutch Church) was erected.But whether coming by boat or by rail the visitor’s way lies directly into the broad business street called Broadway, formerly known successively as Traders, Court and Market Streets. Leaving the boat in early morning, say 7 o’clock and bound of course for Saratoga or the North, the popular D & H trains [the Delaware and Husdon Railroad) does not start until 8:30 and there is easily an hour to spare for sight-seeing.

The path lies to the right up Broadway. The few blocks to State St. are alive with business and have been for hours. At the third right hand corner a prosaic red building occupies the site of the Second City Hall where the “The Declaration of Independence” was first publicly read in Albany (that building was demolished to construct the D & H Building in 1914). On the opposite side of the street, a block beyond, is the home of the famous old Argus which has been a giant in the newspaper world since its founding 1813.

The next short block ends at State St., a broad thoroughfare leading straight up the hill at the top of which is the Capitol shining in the sun.

The gray granite structure at the corner of State and Broadway is the Goverment Building containing the post office and federal offices. Where now is the broad intersection of the two streets was the second Dutch Church.

A passing electric car (trolley) marked “Pine Hills” offers a ready means for a quick view of the city. From the start of the foot of State St. the tourist passes between blocks of handsome and substantial businesses that are the seat of the city’s business and financial life.

On the left towers the Commerical Bank building. At the next corner on the right (James St.) the Mechanics and Farmers bank occupies the site of the home of Anneke Janse, once owner of the Trinity Church property in New York City. Below the Bank is the Evening Journal Building where is pubished the well know Republican newspaper of which Thurlow Weed was edior.

Just above this corner is the fine old building occupied by the State Bank.

The car stops for a moment at the next cross street (Pearl) and a glimpse may be had of another business center.

The County bank building at the left occupies the site of the birthplace of Philip Schuyler. At the right is the site of the first brick builiding erected in North America. Opposite is the brown stone of the Tweddle Building which marks the place where Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaraton of Independence, was born and where Webster’s famous almanac and spelling book were printed and the first Albany newspaper (“The Albany Gazette”) was published.

To the North of this building on Pearl St. is the beautiful home of the Albany Savings Bank, fashioned like an old Greek Temple, occupying the site where once stood the Vanderheyden Palace made famous by Washington Irvng in “Bracebridge Hall”.

The car passes on the right the Hotel Ten Eyck, occupying the site of the old Corning Mansion. About opposite this corner (Chapel St.) in the middle of the State St. stood the first English church on ground granted by patent from King George.

The Albany Club and the Press Club occupy commodious buildings on the left side of the street. St. Peter’s historic church at once attracts attention at the next crossing (Lodge St.) It marks the site of the North East bastion of the old Fort Frederick. Beyond it to the right can be seen the Masonic Temple and still further on the opposite side of the street is St. Mary’s Chruch.

Opposite St Peter’s Church on State St. is the State Museum, popularly known as the “Geological Hall” and down the cross street on the opposite side is the OddFellows Temple at (Lodge and Beaver).

The short remaining block is notable chiefly for the fact that the first railroad depot [the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad] stood a few doors on the next corner (Eagle St.) on the right hand side. As the car sweeps around the curve into Washington Ave. (once King St. and Lion St.) a passing glimpse may be had of the Cty Hall, the State House, and Albany High School at the right hand and, across the handsome park, of the famous old Boy’s Academy.

This park also is historic ground, and it was in the Academy that Prof. Joseph Henry conducted electrical experiments which went far toward making telegraphy (and the telephone) a possibiity.

A good view of the Capitol and its approaches can be had as the car is passing, and there is nothing else to distract from this noble edifice.

On the way up the avenue, at the second crossing (Swan St.) at the right may be seen one block over All Saints Episcopal Cathedral.

Just above this corner on the left, standing well back from the street, is the Fort Orange Club, occupying a fine old mansion in which Aaron Burr once lived. All along the avenue are substantial residences and it is shaded by handsome elms.

The next corner is Dove St., and almost at the end of the block is Harmanus Bleecker Hall and adjoining on the corner of Lark St.is the state armory (Washington Ave. Armory). As the car turns sharply to the left a view may be had of the broad open space with its triangular Park where Central and Washington Avenues meet Townsend Park.

Up Central Ave the car line continues fully two miles westward.The ride over Lark St. is also through a residential section. Soon a turn to the right brings the car into Madison Ave. Far off to the left may be had a view of the Helderberg and Catskill Mountains. At the right on the corner of Willett St, Washington Park begins. Some distance beyond this corner at the right may be seen the State Normal College and the street contains many handsome residences.

As the car speeds along the tourist will find every foot of the way interesting, Across the park at its third entrance may be seen the King Fountain – the colossal figure of Moses “smiting the rock”.

As the second carriage entrance is passed, off at the left appears the massive grouped buildings of the Albany Hospital (on the New Scotland Road])

Thereafter both sides of the wide avenue are filled with handsome residences which continued in the section around the place where the railroad end (Quail St.)

The time from the foot of State St. to end of the trip has been but 20 minutes and since leaving the boat, but 35 minutes have been used

From the “The Albany Tourist Guide”, James Whish, Fort Orange Press. 1900

Julie O’Connor

They Get No Respect; The Walloons of Fort Orange

The first settlers of Albany weren’t Dutch. (I know – makes your head spin, right?)The first settlers in 1624 were French Protestants. The Walloons (a/k/a Huguenots) were driven out of France in 1572 following a wholesale slaughter of Protestants in Paris and other French cities. They migrated to Belgium then to Holland*. In Holland many lived in Leiden and attended the same church, the Vrouwekerk (Lady Church) as the Pilgrims. (The communities were so intertwined that Francis Cooke, one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact, married a Walloon, Hester Mahieu**.)

In 1622 a leader of the Walloon community, Jesse DeForest, secured permission from the Dutch West Indies Co. (DWIC) to send a contingent of families to New Netherland, so that they, like the Puritans, could practice their religion in peace. In exchange they were establish a trading colony, shipping goods to the DWIC in Holland.

In late spring, 1624 about 3 dozen mostly Walloon families arrived in what today is New York City aboard the “Nieu Nederlandt”. Some of the families remained in what is now NYC, other went New Jersey and Connecticut, but the bulk of the group sailed up the Hudson to Albany. There they established Fort Orange, a rude stockade, threw up some huts, and began the work of establishing a settlement. Within 6 months they’d collected thousands of beaver and otter furs to send back to Holland. In June 1625 Sarah Rapalie was born in Fort Orange, daughter of Joris Jansen and Catalina Trico Rapalje, French speaking Walloons – she was the first girl and the second child born in New Netherland.

It’s not clear how long families remained at the Fort, but we do know that after a brutal and fatal skirmish with a local Native American tribe in 1626 (in what we know as Lincoln Park) all women and children were sent down to New Amsterdam. By then, the colony was governed by Peter Minuit (the guy who bought Manhattan, and who was, yes … a Walloon! )

In the years immediately following 1624 additional Walloons migrated to New Netherland, but by about 1630 the Dutch migration began in earnest.

Today there’s almost no vestige of the Walloon presence in Albany, except Peyster and Bancker Streets, named after the Walloon-descended Johannes de Peyster and his wife Anne Bancker .

There’s Defreestville, named after the Walloon De Forests, children of Jesse. In NYC in Battery Park there’s a Walloon Settler’s Monument, dedicated in 1924, the 300th anniversary of the Walloon settlers’ arrival in New York. The most visible commemoration of the Walloon preserved in New York can be found in New Paltz at Historic Huguenot Street, generally considered the oldest continuously inhabited street in America. It includes 7 historic stone houses, a reconstructed 1717 Huguenot church, and a burial ground that dates to the very first settlers.And if you are a stamp collector there were 3 stamps issued in 1924 on the 300th anniversary of the Walloons arriving in America. One shows them landing in Fort Orange.

*National boundaries were very fluid.

**Her Walloon nephew, Philiipe de la Noye (Delano), would emigrate to Plymouth 2 years later in 1622 and become the first ancestor of FDR in America.

Julie O’Connor

The Madison Movie Theater

The Madison Theater in Pine Hills has been a fixture in the neighborhood for 90 years, since its opening in May, 1929. That opening was a gala event.

The theater debuted with “Desert Song”, a block buster from the Warner Co. , which built the new theater and would own it until 1975 (as well as the Strand on North Pearl and what is now the Landmark Theater on Delaware Ave.) “Desert Song” was the first “talkie” musical (music by Irving Berlin), was filmed in two-part Technicolor, and co-starred an impossibly young Myrna Loy.

This Madison wasn’t the first Madison movie theater in Pine Hills. The first opened c. 1914 on West Lawrence (about where the Price Chopper is today). By 1917 it became the Pine Hills Theatre, and closed by 1930.

Movie goers wanted luxury and comfortable seats and glitz- more than hard wood seats to watch silent films. They flocked to new movie palaces for more of a real “theater” experience. The new Madison quickly became a favorite. It was a “second run” theater. If you didn’t get a chance to see a movie at the flagship Strand downtown you could catch it at the Madison. It was and is more than a neighborhood theater. During the Depression, like most movie theaters, it provided an escape, and served the same in World War II.

The Saturday morning cartoon shows in the 1950s and 1960s are the stuff of legend, attracting hundreds of kids from all over the city. The Back to School programs (free pencil box.. Yay!) drew screaming hordes of children. The building was re-modeled a couple of times in the 1950s and 1960s.

By the 1970s it was one of only 3 movie theaters (the others were the Delaware and the Hellman on Washington Ave.) in Albany. There was increased competition from theaters in the suburbs, many near the shopping malls, in Colonie. And then came the era of multiplex cinemas, and the Madison struggled to re-invent itself, now faced with competition from the VCR and movie rentals. And yet it has held on, experimenting with live entertainment, and new owners have re-invented the movie experience.

Julie O’Connor

Albany Ingenuity: Churn No More

Let’s face it, butter churning is a drag. That and laundry day are the worst part of women’s drudgery (beating carpets might be a runner up). Fret no more. Woman’s best friend, Fido, your family pooch, can solve the problem.

We present the dog powered butter churn. It was manufactured by The New York Agricultural Works owned by Wheeler & Melick. The company was founded circa 1830, just as the Erie Canal was beginning to send thousands of settlers west to homestead. They would reach Albany, their last stop before heading out, and buy what they needed.. plows, etc, here, to be loaded into the canal boats that would take them on the first part of their journey.

The factory took up about a block on the corner of Hamilton and Liberty Streets, conveniently close to Steamboat Square. Wheeler & Melick was soon the largest agricultural implement manufacturer in Albany County, and had a large market share nationally. In 1870 when this butter churner was manufactured, it had over 100 employees, and in the early 1880s it was valued at close to 1/2 million dollars. As far as we can tell, it closed by the turn of the century.

We doubt whether this churner became a thing. It was sort of an exercise treadmill for Fido, who probably got bored in a nano, and scampered away. But it seems like such an oddball genius, yet totally impractical, idea we had to share. It’s stenciled “Albany Dog Power” on one side.

Julie O’Connor

The Perfect Storm of 1969

People talk about the Blizzard of March 1888 as the worst winter storm that ever hit Albany. But they tend to ignore the storms of Christmas week 1969.

The first storm started on 12/23 and dropped between 15” to 2 feet of snow in Albany and surrounding area; it came down in a white out. But by Christmas Eve day, the 24th, the skies were clear. And then late in the day on Christmas it started snowing again. It snowed and snowed, and then when you thought it had stopped, it snowed some more over the next 3 days.

It was the coldest Christmas to date; minus 22 degrees. (So much for the old adage, “it’s too cold to snow”). The wind whipped at a steady 20 mph with gusts around 40 mph.

When the snow finally stopped on 12/28 there was between 4 to 4 1/2 ft.on the ground. Albany and the surrounding area ground to a halt. Buses stopped running, most stores were closed for days, and many of the grocery stores that did open ran out of food. (Why you see Albanians rushing to markets when a snow storm is predicted – it’s “collective memory”.)

Even cars with studded snow tires (now prohibited) and chains on tires couldn’t make it through. People whose front door was close to ground were trapped; they couldn’t get out of their houses. There were cars abandoned in the middle of streets where they had become stuck.

he city was paralyzed; snowmobiles and skis were about the only way to move around. The silence was eerie until the snow stopped. And then the snow filled streets came alive with blocks of neighbors coming together to shovel out sidewalks AND streets. If you owned one of the new “snow blowers” you were a god. Strong young boys made fortunes moving from house to house shoveling.

Housewives with kids compared inventories, and shared what they had for a couple of days. (“I have extra peanut butter, do you have bread or crackers?”) Powdered milk was worth its weight in gold.

Everyone who lived through the storm has a story. But the most poignant is that of a 19 year old boy who was visiting his parents in Albany on leave from bootcamp. He couldn’t make it back to his base in time, and rather than being deployed to Germany as was the plan, he was shipped to Vietnam. He was killed in action on April 13, 1970, less than 4 months later.

The problem was that Albany didn’t have snow removal and towing equipment. It relied mostly on private contractors. And that didn’t work. On New Year’s Eve major streets were still one lane. More than a week later after the storm began, on January 2, 1970, only half of the United Traction Co. buses were running because the streets were not passable, and it took double and triple time to complete a route. 15 foot snowbanks were the norm, and people put little colored styrofoam balls on their extended car aerials, to avert accidents, so others could see the car around a corner snowbank.

And it got worse. It snowed some more. By January 10 there was over 5 feet of snow on the ground. Finally the city hired enough equipment. This was a major concession by Mayor Erastus Corning whose approach to snow removal is variously quoted as “We have the best snow removal equipment in the world-the sun.” Or “God put it there, God will take it away.”

But there was no place to put the snow. The city was filled with mini parades of equipment residents had never seen – huge machines that sliced through snowbanks, followed by trucks that would take the snow and dump it into the Hudson River. By the third week in January most city streets were passable, although some off the beaten path were never cleared, except by residents.

When all was said and done the City had to borrow over $2 million for clean up.

Julie O’Connot

Albany in the Early 1900s; How it Changed

Cities are always re-inventing themselves. Where possible development spreads out, or if not, existing buildings are demolished, new ones rise in their place, or old ones can be re-cycled. Sometimes it happens slowly over time, and sometimes it seems to occur all at once.

With a few exceptions I always thought it mostly happened slowly in Albany. But then I found a partial diary/memoir of my Gram Kate, born in 1901 in Arbor Hill. And as I read it became apparent to me just how much downtown Albany changed in a brief decade – from 1910 to 1920. There was a building explosion – Albany was permanently altered in what must have been a blink of an eye.

In 1909 she stood on the Capitol steps with about 2,500 Albany school children as participant in Hudson Fulton Celebration (celebrating 300 years of New York history). The view in 1909 from the steps when she was 8 changed dramatically by the time she was 19 in 1920. There were other downtown changes, as well.

And curiously a number of those were driven by advances in technology (which we rarely think about).

  • The Albany High School on the corner of Columbia and Eagle was demolished and a new County Courthouse completed by 1915
  • On State St., just opposite the Capitol, the New York Telephone Building towered over all by 1915.
  • There was no statue of General Sheridan in front of the Capitol until it was dedicated in 1916.
  • As she walked down State St. if she looked to her right, she would have seen the new YWCA building on Steuben and Chapel.
  • On the left, on the corner of State and South Pearl, the old Globe Hotel was replaced by the the new Arkay building.By 1916 there were already traffic jams and double parking on State St. The city fathers were wondering if the new “traffic signals” would be cheaper than patrol men directing traffic.
  • If you walked over North Pearl the changes would have been the number of movie theatres. The stores on the corner of Monroe (it was parallel to Orange St.)were demolished for the new Strand movie theatre.
  • The Presbyterian Church opposite Clinton Square (next to what is now McGeary’s) became the Clinton Square theater.
  • Hang a right down Clinton Ave, walking toward Broadway, and she would have found the new Grand movie theater ( where Federal Bldg. is today).
  • When she reached Broadway and took a right walking towards State St., the biggest changes could be seen. Off the the left there was the new Yacht Club and the municipal recreation pier, just behind Union Station.
  • And then there was the Mac Daddy of all development – the D & H Building. In a matter of 4 years about 5 blocks stretching east, down to the River were demolished, and the D& H rose in 2 parts. When completed in 1918 it would dominate the Riverfront, and present a magnificent view from the Capitol steps.
  • Moving south on Broadway there would be the new Hudson Navigation docks and sheds at Steamboat Square, completed in 1918.
  • On her way home, walking up Washington Ave, before crossing the Hawk St. viaduct, Kate could see the re-construction of the Capitol, where it had been damaged in the 1911 fire.
  • Just beyond the Capitol, north to Swan St., everything had been demolished to Swan St, and a new West Capitol Park constructed.
  • Across the way, gleaming granite in the sun, stood the Education Building, dedicated in 1912.

And when she crossed the Viaduct, and made her way over North Swan, she would see the new Arbor Hill Movie theater , where she would get a really good part-time job playing the organ for the silent flicks on weeknights when she was 16. (Although she would be riddled with guilt because it was mainly because the boys were off to War, and wonder how much the fact her father’s barbershop was next door to theater had to do with it.

Julie O’Connor

An Ordinary Woman Doing Extraordinary Things: C. Mary Douge Williams

Mary Williams was born Catherine Mary Douge in Albany in the 1830s to Susan and Michael Douge. Michael was born in Albany around 1800. More research is needed, but we think his father may have been part of the slave revolt in Haiti in the 1790s.

By the 1830s Michael and Susan were leaders of the African community in Albany. Michael was a barber, and through newspaper accounts of the time we can see that he was in the middle of everything that affected the community socially and politically; advocating tirelessly for the rights of his people. Meanwhile Susan was organizing the Female Lundy Society, the first African-American women’s charitable organization in the city. They were both deeply involved in support of the African M.E. Church.

In the early 1840s we find the family living on Plain St. in Albany in a building owned by Benjamin Lattimore. Lattimore was one of the first Albany men to attend the earliest Colored Conventions (the first national expressions of abolition and political equality free Blacks in the U.S.). Lattimore was a friend of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and anyone of consequence in those movements.) So it’s safe to assume that Douge family had similar linkages to the world outside Albany.

In 1847 Mary became an assistant teacher in the segregated Wilberforce School for African children in Albany. It was here she would meet her first husband, Henry Hicks, who was at one point principal of the school. Although Henry died in 1853 Mary would teach at Wilberforce for another 6 years or so.

We lose track of Mary until after the Civil War. Despite the fact that appears to have been suffering from TB she ventured south to Virginia and South Carolina to teach children and adults recently freed from enslavement. She would have taught under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Bureau. (One of the assistant commissioners of the Bureau, J. Sella Martin, was the husband of her childhood friend Sarah Lattimore. )

While in South Carolina Mary met her second husband, Andrew Williams, and the couple returned to Albany.

In 1880 we find the couple and their daughter Susie living with Mary’s parents at 25 Lark St.*In that year the New York State Legislature enacted a law permitting women in New York to vote in school elections. This is known as the “School Suffrage” law. Lillian Devereux Blake, the president of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association had lobbied tirelessly for the law. She and others used it as a catalyst to establish women’s suffrage societies around the state. The first meeting of the Albany group was held in March, 1880.

The immediate goal of the women was to get the word out about the School Suffrage and get women registered to vote in the school commissioner election on April 15 . Mary was in the thick of it. We can only depend on spotty newspaper accounts of the time, but at least 6 African-American women from Arbor Hill voted. (We suspect there were more.) They included Mary, her mother and Julia Myers, daughter in law of Stephen Myers, superintendent of Albany’s Underground Railroad.

Mary was committed to women’s political equality. She would become the Vice President of the Society, and remain in that position for at least 2 years (she and her mother voted in 1882).

The importance of Mary’s participation in the Society as an officer can’t be underestimated. It tells us that Albany’s women suffrage activities at that time included women of color, unlike other areas of the country. It’s quite possible that she may have been influenced through her family’s personal connections to Douglass, who was one of the only 2 Black men to sign the “Declaration of Sentiments” at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 advocating political equality for women. Or even Susan B.Anthony herself who had close personal connections with members of the African American anti-slavery and temperance community in Albany for decades.

It speaks to Mary’s significance in Albany, both in the White and African American communities, and the esteem in which she was held. Mary died in 1884. In her death notice it refers prominently to her membership in the Suffrage Society. That mention makes us think that she was proud of her role in the political equality movement for women, and she understood its importance. Her father was afforded full voting rights in 1870 with the passage of the 15th amendment. Yet she and her mother and other women who had worked tirelessly to improve their world would be denied that right for another 50 years until the passage of the 19th amendment. We suspect that reactions ranged from grave disappointment to outright fury.

Julie O’Connor