Albany’s D&H Building and How it Grew

3By the early 1900s the foot of State St., where it met the Hudson River, was “a tangle of mean streets and wretched buildings”. (Or, to use one of my favorite quotes from Tom Waits, “the corner of bedlam and squalor”.) And it wasn’t the only area of the city that could use some TLC. The gleaming Capitol and the new Education Building just made the shabby parts of the city look shabbier.

So then Mayor James McEwan and the Chamber of Commerce asked Arnold Brunner, a leading architect of the period, to come up with ideas for civic improvement. The results were collected in the 1914 book, “Studies for Albany”.

Although Brunner knew there was a continuing desire to secure a view of the Hudson River, he acknowledged that clearing the area would only provide a view of the railroad yard, commercial docks and wharves. He recommended obliterating this view with a plaza that would screen the industrial scenario.

5.1Marcus Reynolds, Albany’s pre-eminent architect, became involved. According to Wiki, Reynolds proposed a triangular park at the end of State Street with an a large L-shaped pier that would go north for three city blocks that would also support another park with a bandshell and docks for yachts and boats.* That design would have cost $1 million and was opposed by neighborhood groups as too expensive; concerns were also expressed about the problems of railroad traffic.

5Then the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Railroad proposed to construct new offices in the location at the base of State St. (The D&H offices on the corner of North Pearl St. and Steuben, constructed in the early 1890s, were already getting crowded – the building is still on that corner.) The city had amassed land and it would be made available to the D&H, with a park accessible to the public in the front.

6.1Ultimately Reynolds designed a building inspired by the medieval Cloth Hall (a market and warehouse for the Cloth Guild) in Ypres Belgium.


But by the time it was completed it was already too small hold all the D&H staff. There it sat in 1915; about half of what we know today, but long enough to take photos and turn them into lovely tinted postcards (which is how today we know what it looked like then).


Another wing was connected for the D&H and finally a second tower was added to house the offices of the “Albany Evening Journal” newspaper owned by Bill Barnes, who was also the city’s Republican Machine Boss. The building was completed in 1918.



Over the years there were a number of other tenants including the “Albany Times Union”, and federal and state government offices. By 1970 the building was in significant decline. Then Chancellor of the State University, Ernest Boyer, announced in 1972 the University would purchase the building from the D&H and make it, and the old Federal Building on the corner of Broadway, the HQ of the State University. It was dedicated in 1978.




* The Albany Yacht Club had already constructed a new building at the base of Maiden Lane, so the city added a Municipal/Recreation Pier. Both survived into the mid-1950s.

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Julie O’Connor


Albany and the High Priestess of Fashion


Albany is full of fascinating stories. This is a little known story about a woman who came to Albany as a newlywed in 1924, and then went on to have a major impact on the world around us. It’s taken me about 40 years to connect the dots; it started with a pair of cuff links.

I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother was mostly a lovely woman, born in Albany at the turn of the 20th century, and she told me the Albany stories. And never stopped. Ever. (Gram could talk the ears off a wooden Indian.)

Fast forward decades – I’m digging through bits and pieces of inherited family “stuff”, and find my grandfather’s tuxedo cuff links and studs. Nice items – gold filled by a company called Krementz. And wham.. I can hear my grandmother’s voice from long ago – “Your grandfather bought those because he liked Reed Vreeland’s, but I think Reed’s were from Cartier.”

Yikes!!! The light bulb finally went on! Reed Vreeland was the husband in the newlywed couple; his wife was Diana – who would become “The Empress of Fashion”, known not just in America but all over the world. Diana Vreeland lived in ALBANY? How could we fashionistas not know that? And how did my grandmother know Reed Vreeland? More importantly, did she know his wife Diana?

It turns out Reed and my grandfather were in the Mendelssohn club, a men’s chorale society that still exists today in Albany. But more about that later.

The Vreelands

T. Reed Vreeland was the son of Herbert Vreeland (from a Dutch Settler family that hailed, in part, from Albany in the 1600s), born in the Town of Glen in Montgomery County. Herbert became a self-made millionaire, owning most of the street car lines in New York City.

Reed came to Albany to work for the National Commercial Bank in 1922. In summer 1923 he met Diana Dalziel at a debutante event in Saratoga Springs. (Diana was born in Paris – her mother was French; her father British. They emigrated to the U.S. shortly before World War I.)

Apparently it was love at first sight and they married in March 1924. The happy couple lived initially in a small house on Spring Albany. Diana said, “I loved our life there. I was totally happy.” They lived in a “cozy cottage” and young Diana was enjoying domesticity – being a housewife and then a mother.



Back to the Mendelssohn Club

The Club was founded in 1909. In the 1920s the conductor was Dr. Frank Sill Rogers, organist and choirmaster for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. With the men from his choir as a nucleus, he used his connections with other choirmasters to enlist male singers. Soon, there was hardly a male choir singer in the city who wasn’t a member. My grandfather was a church organist and a protégé of Rogers, so of course he sang with the Club. Reed loved to sing and had a great voice, so he joined the Club. The Club performed their concerts in white tie and tails (which explains the cuff links and studs).


Life in Albany

The Vreelands moved to the highest echelons of Albany society. Diana was a member of the Junior League. While in Albany Diana became a U.S. citizen. Their family grew (they had 2 sons) and they moved to a larger house at 409 Western Ave. (now Medaille Hall at the College of St. Rose.)

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The Next Chapters

In 1927 Reed was offered a job in London, and that’s where Diana’s story really begins. They moved in glittering circles of British Royalty (she was presented at Court in 1933) and wealthy American ex-pats. Diana opened a small shop and sold exquisite and alluring handmade lingerie from France. One of her customers was another American – Wallis Simpson. (Was Diana’s sexy lingerie responsible for the Abdication? She later boasted, “My little lingerie shop had brought down the throne.”)

In the mid-1930s the Vreelands returned to America. Diana spent the next 40 years as an editor at “Harper’s Bazaar” and then as editor in chief at “Vogue”. She was Jackie Kennedy’s fashion advisor while Jackie was in the White House. Her time at “Vogue” changed the world of fashion and changed how women viewed themselves in the world. She liberated women – allowed them to be free from the constraints of stiff petticoats and white gloves, and advocated for woman’s right to wear pants. She declared denim divine.

And for a last act she served as a special consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum. She, more than anyone else, helped the world see that costume and fashion are an expression of self; great couture is the work of great artisans in ateliers, artists and designers – that clothing can be a political statement. She was the first editor to mix main street with couture fashion and include politicians, movie stars and rocks stars and sports figures in that world. She put fashion photography on the map – made it legit.

Back to Albany

It’s hard to imagine Diana Vreeland, the queen of the outrageous who lived out loud and had an opinion on everything, in Albany. She’d already been on the best dressed list twice by the time she came here, wore blood red nail polish and lipstick, and was said to have painted her Spring St. living room canary yellow and put down a zebra skin rug. How did the people of Albany – not known for their avant garde sensibilities – react to her?

Apparently we were kind and gracious. Later in life she said it was the happiest time of her life . It was a world of “good food, good housekeeping, polished floors, and polished brass.” (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie?)

Her biographer Amanda Mackenzie Stuart said she liked Albany’s domestic Dutch style. In the one photo I’ve seen that would have been taken while she was living here, Diana looks just like any other doting mother.

“It’s not about the dress you wear, but it’s about the life you lead in the dress.” .. DV


Julie O’Connor

Seeing the Elephant – Old Bet in Early 1800s Albany

It’s Albany in 1814 and an elephant comes to town!

You’ve never seen a picture of an elephant.. you may only have read a description of an elephant, but probably not. You may never even have heard of an elephant!.

But there’s a picture of an elephant in the “Albany Argus”! WOW!

She looks nothing like anything you’ve ever seen before. .And if you can spare the money (25 cents and ½ price for kids), you can see her.

The elephant was called “Old Bet”. Bet is said to have been the 2nd African elephant brought to America*. Legend has it that a Mr. Bailey paid $1,000 for her in New York City around 1808. Bailey was a farmer from Westchester County and there is speculation whether he bought Bet for use on the farm. But soon he realized the money he could make by touring the Northeast with Bet.

We know from newspaper accounts that Bet generally spent at least part of the winter in Albany from 1813 to 1815. During her Albany stays Bet and Bailey (or his partners.. because by now he was a mogul, and had sold shares in Bet) lived at Wetmore’s Inn at the corner of Beaver and Green Streets.**

Imagine the how the neighborhood children felt about Bet. Cats, dogs, chickens are ok pets, but an elephant almost in your backyard? Totally cool. We can imagine the kids wanting to brush Bet and feed her hay and straw.. and potatoes (supposedly Bet had a thing for potatoes). And begging to climb up on her. We’re guessing Bet and Bailey made lots of friends during their winters in Albany. And a lot of money, since by now Albany was a growing.. a northeast hub .. only New York and Boston were larger. Who wouldn’t pass through Albany without looking at the elephant?

2And then spring would come and Bailey would set out on tour with Bet. (Legend has it they traveled at night, so no one would get a free peek.) But in 1816 Bet met a sad end. While she was traveling in Maine, Bet was shot and killed by a farmer (said to have been outraged that Bailey was charging money to see the Bet.) There’s a marker in Alfred, ME where Bet was killed.***



Bailey carried on with other business ventures, but he must have missed Old Bet a lot. In 1825 he opened The Elephant Hotel, with a huge statue of Old Bet. Today she’s still there and the hotel is now the town hall of Somers, NY (east of Peekskill).

*The first elephant in America was brought from India by a Salem Mass sea captain named Crowninshield in the mid-1790s. He sold it, and then for a while the trail of the elephant grows cold, until it appears in NYC in 1796. After that it appears to have traveled throughout the Northeast (perhaps Albany, we don’t know). We do know that President George Washington saw the Crowninshield elephant in Philadelphia the same year.

** At about the same time Old Bet was in Albany you could also see the “Royal Tiger of Asia” and an African ape at the corner of State and Pearl. If you waited until 8pm you could see the tiger fed 10 lbs. of meat. (Bailey is said to have been ½ owner of the tiger.)


*** There are several legends about the location where Bet met her demise.. but since the town in Maine went to the trouble of placing a marker in honor of Bet, we’re going with that one.


Julie O’Connor

Before There Was “American Idol” there was Albany’s “Teenage Barn”

1.1Tommy Sternfeld was an Albany native who danced in vaudeville and Broadway shows. A local dance instructor in 1946, Sternfeld auditioned 3,000 boys and girls for a show called ‘Here’s To Youth.” It was staged at the Strand theatre to raise money to send underprivileged children to camp. The show had a cast of over 300.

A year later, Mr. Sternfeld created a radio show using some of this same talent. It was called “Backyard Follies,” held every Saturday morning at the Strand and broadcast over WABY. It was joined briefly by a subsequent half-hour quiz show called “Whata-Ya-Know,” also starring children and held at the Strand movie theatre on North Pearl.


“Backyard Follies” ended up winning a Billboard Award for children’s programming. The next year the show moved to Schenectady and WGY. “Backyard Follies” ran for a total of two years.


As more affordable models of sets became available to the public, television exploded into the American consciousness in 1949. Sternfeld seized the opportunity, and sold WRGB two different local TV talent shows based on his “Backyard Follies” finds. Recycling the name of a 1939-1940 radio show, Sternfeld herded the younger performers into a half-hour Saturday afternoon “Juvenile Jamboree.” At the same time, the older teens were to be featured in an evening broadcast, called ‘Teen Age Barn.”

“Teen Age Barn” debuted on April 4, 1949, when there were only 17,000 television sets in the area. While “Juvenile Jamboree” vanished quietly in 1953, “Teen Age Barn” became a big success, moving into a prime time Friday night time slot (1954 also saw a short-lived “Tommy Sternfeld Show”). By 1959, “Teen Age Barn” was the oldest locally-produced variety show in the nation.


The show even took to the road via Channel 6’s mobile truck; one Friday in 1960, the “Teenage Barn “show was broadcast live from inside the new Albany Savings Bank at Western and West Lawrence (now a Citizen’s Bank).

2.2Troupes of “Teen Age Barn” alumni were formed to perform live shows at local auditoriums as far flung as Kingston, Plattsburgh and Pittsfield, and fairs, in support of community service organizations like the Kiwanis. In 1962 the program was expanded from 30 minutes to a full hour. The show was renamed “The Barn” in 1963.




Kids with talent from all over the Capital District and beyond clamored to perform on the show. In 1961, there was a contest called “Search for the Stars” and over 200 kids entered. A friend of ours was selected; she was 11 and played “Lady of Spain” on the organ. Our organ player continued on the show until it was cancelled about 5 years later.


As far as we can tell the most famous alumnae from “Teenage Barn” are Steve Katz, who became a guitarist with the “Blood, Sweat and Tears” rock band, and Arlene Fontana, a singer from Amsterdam, who appeared on national variety shows, some Broadway musical road shows, cut a couple of singles, and performed in a Las Vegas club act. And there was Ronnie Tober.

9Ronnie was originally from Holland; his family moved to Albany shortly after the end of World War II. After multiple appearances on “Teenage Barn” he was a fan favorite. Tober, still in his teens, played local clubs, won a national contest and toured with a national band (he even appeared in an episode of “Route 66”). Ultimately Tober returned to Holland where, in his early twenties, he became a super star.*

Come 1966, in a major programming realignment, WRGB announced plans to drop “Teen Age Barn.” Sternfeld held out hopes WRGB would change its mind about the cancellation, adding, “I’d like to see the show continue. Our only chance is if we can get our audience to react.” No reaction was forthcoming, and after 17 years the Barn doors closed for good on January 29, 1966.

There were so many episodes of “Teen Age Barn” that almost every local with a teaspoon of talent appeared on the show, and most everyone who didn’t was either related to or knew someone who did. It was “must see TV” for a while. Sometimes it was performed before a live audience (taped and played later) – Girl Scout and Boy Scout Troops, a Sunday School group. It was a “wholesome” show.

Some kids went on to careers in entertainment or teaching. “Teen Age Barn” performers opened a number of dance studios that lasted decades and taught generations of students. Some packed up their tap shoes and batons. Others continued with a career in entertainment. Our “Lady of Spain” organ player friend started playing professionally when she was 14, and continues to this day as a member of several local bands, and as an officer in the Albany local of the Musician’s Union.

For many “Teen Age Barn” was the highlight of their life. Obituaries of locals are peppered with mentions of “Teen Age Barn” appearances.

7Tommy Sternfeld used the cachet of his TV experience to reinvigorate his dance instruction studio. He augmented his income by selling houses for Picotte Realty. He died in 1974 at the age of 65. The Sternfeld Dance Studio, passed on to his students, still exists in Hudson, NY.


Tom Sternfeld is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery  in Section 123, Lot 366.



• On 27 December 2003, during his 40th year in show business, Tober was made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Tober’s name is also inscribed on the Wall of Fame at the Zuiderkerk (“southern church”) in Amsterdam. Ronnie is in his 70’s today and is still much beloved in his native Holland.

From Al Quaglieri’s blog “Doc Circe Died for Sins’ . Take a look at his blog if you want to learn more about Tommy Sternfeld (he and Bob Fosse teamed up and put on troop shows in the South Pacific in World War II) or Ronnie Tober.

General Henry Knox, the Noble Artillery Train and a Cannon Named “The Albany”

The Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area recently placed a new monument at Jennings Landing on the Hudson River marking an Albany stop on the Knox Cannon Trail.

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The story of the Noble Artillery Train is one of ingenuity and pure grit. It was critical to America winning the Revolution.

knox trail 2Colonel Henry Knox started out as a bookseller from Boston who became a colonel (and ultimately a general) in the Continental Army. In fall 1775 someone (Knox or General Washington? – no one knows for sure) came up with a genius idea.

Retrieve the cannon at Fort Ticonderoga (captured by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys earlier in the year) and at Crown Point, and get them to Boston to assist in the siege of the British Army. George Washington commissioned  the   task to the 25 year old Knox , said it should be done at all costs and allocated 1,000 pounds to cover expenses.

Easier said than done

The Train

It would require a journey of almost 300 miles in the middle of Northeastern winter. The trip took 40 days, crossed a lake, streams and rivers. Much of it was made through knee and waist deep snow.

knox trail 4

The expedition began in late November 1775. 59 cannon and other armaments from the Fort and Crown Point were selected and disassembled. The total weight was about 60,000 tons. The first part of the journey was over Lake George; the cannon were placed on 3 boats (one sank near Sabbath Day Point, but the cannon were retrieved). Knox had his men construct 42 sledges/sleighs to drag the cannon and hired 80 teams of oxen.* It would take weeks to make it to the Albany. It was slow going when there was no snow, but not much easier when it did (on one day there was a 2 ft. snow fall).

knox trail 4 (2)Albany and Thin Ice

Knox was in the advance guard and reached Albany on Christmas. He and his men “were almost perished with cold”. He met with General Philip Schuyler (who was sitting this one out for health reasons). There he negotiated for more oxen, but ended up with horses, and found more men to go north to help bring the cannons south. The first cannons reached Albany on January 4th, 1776.

But the weather had warmed and there was no way to get the cannon and sledges across the Hudson’s thin ice until the weather changed. Knox and some men  spent  New Year’s Day making holes in the Hudson River ice and letting it re-freeze in the hope it would become thick enough to the hold the cannon.

Meanwhile the people of Albany were thrilled to be part of this event, though they had no idea how important in history it would become.

In early January the Train set out again, crossing the Hudson, but not without mishap. One cannon sank, and the people of Albany came to Knox’s rescue.

From Knox’s diary:
(Jan) “8th. Went on the Ice About 8 oClock in the morning & proceeded so cautiously that before night we got over three sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave, In return for which we christen’d her – The Albany.”

Who knew? A cannon at the siege of Boston that was named after the “good people of the City of Albany”!

knox trail 5The rest of the journey, through the Berkshires and on to Boston was more slogging through snow. Knox reached Dorchester Heights, a promontory outside of that city, in late January 1776. It took a while but the guns were finally strategically placed, and shelling from the cannon began to rain down on the British ships in the harbor in early March 1776. The British left Boston several weeks later. The end of the siege was tremendous morale booster for the Americans after a 10 month stalemate. But they would suffer through another year and half of mostly defeats before the Battle of Saratoga in October, 1777.


Who were the men of the Train?

It’s curious there’s almost nothing known about the specific men who performed a nigh on to impossible achievement for Knox. They weren’t members of the Continental Army regiments (who at that time were engaged in the Battle of Quebec – an American defeat). Knox appears to have brought some engineers with him from Massachusetts, and acquired other men while he made a stop in New York City before proceeding north to Ticonderoga. But we feel sure there must have been some local men, including men from what is now Vermont. Men who knew the terrain, who understood the topography of the land between Lake George, through Saratoga and south.

We know that once Knox reached Albany he recruited additional men to go north to help speed the expedition and found additional men for the next leg of the journey – east to Boston. They were probably men from the Albany County Militia. Sadly, their names are lost to time. They must have been farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, sail makers (like one of my multi-great grandfathers). Who knows who else? Just part of the great citizen army that supported the ideals of freedom in the face of Tyranny. They were hardly the “summer time soldiers” Thomas Paine railed against.

The Train Historical Markers

In 1926, the 150th anniversary of Knox’s march, New York and Massachusetts erected 59 historical markers in the two states that traced the route over which the expedition passed.

knox trail 8 new louson road and arrowhaed laneThere were 3 markers in Albany County. One marker was placed at 99 Purtell Rd. in Colonie. It’s since been moved and is now located on Rte. 9 in front of Troy Landscape Supply, just below the Mohawk River.






knox trail 18There were 2 markers in the city of Albany. The northern most marker was located at 339 Northern Blvd., which we believe is near the boundary of the old Philip Livingston Jr High School in Dudley Heights. It’s been moved to the edge of a strip mall opposite Memorial Hospital.


The second marker was placed in what was Riverside Park (191 Broadway), a one acre area created as an inner city playground and park next to Steamboat Square in the early 1900s. What was left of the Park almost vanished in 1932/1933 with the construction of the ramps for the first Dunn Memorial Bridge.  What remained was buried under Route 787 construction in the late 1960s and early 1970sred.

Knox train 10

*At Fort George Knox wrote Washington about the “noble train of artillery”.

Julie O’Connor

Hurst’s Free Museum – Albany NY


We thought we’d tell you about our favorite, but little known, Albany museum of the past.

The Hurst Free Museum was open on lower Elm St. for several years in the early 1870s. James Hurst was born in England in 1810; the family subsequently immigrated to Canada. By 1849 he had moved to Utica and opened a taxidermy shop.

1.2In 1850 or so he was induced to come to Albany to become the NYS Taxidermist at the State Hall (the earliest NYS museum) on State and Lodge St., which had strong emphasis of natural history Hurst had incredible skill – not just in taxidermy, but in creating dioramas and exhibits that portrayed wildlife in their native habitat.

As more people flocked to urban areas knowledge of how wild creatures lived in their natural settings was being lost. So Hurst’s exhibits were a teaching tool. Hurst’s dioramas were exhibited at the World’s Fair in New York City between 1853 and 1854 which drew over 1 million visitors. (The Fair was America’s answer to London’s Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851.)



Taxidermy was Hurst’s love and he had hundreds of personal specimens. The museum was free, but he sold his hand tinted stereoscopic view cards to visitors, as well as to schools around the country. Hurst had a whimsical and satiric side too, and we’ve included photos of some of those cards.







Hurst’s work was so important it’s part of the collection of the Library of Congress.

(9-11 Elm St. still stand, just above Grand St.)


Who’s that Guy? (The Statue in front of the School District Building) – Albany’s Joseph Henry

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Joseph Henry. He changed our world; he was one of the country’s first great scientists. Henry was the first American to discover the practical application of the principles of electromagnetic induction (key to most electronics), the electric motor and electric current. Without Henry there might not be any telephone, TV, refrigeration, central heating or automobiles. His work lead to the invention of all the things we depend on in 21st century everyday life.


Henry, in the statue, is holding an intensive electromagnet – the basis of most of his important scientific discoveries.

b(The statue stands in front of the Joseph Henry Memorial Building that currently houses the office of the Albany City School District. In 1817 it opened as the location of the Albany Academy (for Boys). In 1971 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The statue honoring Henry was installed in the late 1920s. )



Henry was born in 1797 on Division St. in Albany. His family was Scots Presbyterian that immigrated to America on the eve of the Revolutionary War in 1775. The family was poor and Henry’s father an alcoholic. Prior to his father’s death in 1811 Henry and his siblings were sent to live with his mother’s parents in Galway in Saratoga County. In his later teens Henry returned to the Albany and was apprenticed to a silversmith, while he dabbled with theater and considered an acting career.

Albany Academy
The story has been told that Henry stumbled across a cache of books including “Popular Lectures on Experimental Philosophy, Astronomy, and Chemistry”. Heavy reading for a half-educated teen, but it included a great description of scientific experiments. They fired his imagination and scientific curiosity. Apparently Henry was hooked and he enrolled in the Albany Academy, paying his way through a variety of jobs (he tutored Stephen Van Renssleaer IV, who would be the “last patroon”) and Henry James Sr. -father of novelist Henry James). One of his jobs, as an assistant NYS road surveyor, moved him in the direction of engineering.

Ultimately he became a professor at the Academy in 1826. Teaching at the Academy didn’t thrill him. A few years later he described his situation in a letter: “. . . My duties at the Academy are not well suited to my taste. I am engaged on an average seven hours in a day, one half of the time in teaching the higher classes in Mathematics, and the other half in the drudgery of instructing a class of sixty boys in the elements of Arithmetic.” (One of his students was Albany’s Herman Melville, the author of “Moby Dick”, who did quite well in Henry’s class, winning a prize.)

Nevertheless Henry found a little time, a little space, and a little money to do research.

Like most scientists of his day Henry was not a specialist, and explored all aspects of the physical sciences, but an initial focus was electromagnetism. He began to build electromagnets which, for the first time, were wound with many strands and layers of insulated wire. (According to legend, at one point he used silk strips torn from his wife’s petticoats for insulation.)



In one famous experiment Henry strung wire from his laboratory at the Albany Academy to the roof of the Van Vechten building on State St., just below Eagle St.). His goal was to send an electromagnetic pulse across a distance. “The cheers of the school boys on the roof of the Van Vechten building gave Henry the first intimation that his experiment had been a success.” Henry also invented the precursor of the first electric motor and identified the principles that made the telegraph possible.


In 1830 Henry married a cousin, Harriet Alexander. While he was teaching the couple lived on Columbia St. They had 4 children. Henry served on the board of trustees that over saw the first public school, the Lancaster School, in Albany (supported in part by money allocated by the Common Council) as well as the  publi financed City’s African School.



In 1832 Henry accepted a position as professor at what is now Princeton University in New Jersey. He taught natural philosophy, geology, and architecture. At Princeton he had the opportunity continue his scientific research and published on a variety of subjects, but it was his work on basic and applied electromagnetism for which he became known. Henry thrived at Princeton. He was paid the princely sum of $1,000 annually and soon his brother-in-law, Stephen Alexander from Albany, arrived to teach astronomy.

By 1846 Henry was widely known and respected among the scientific community worldwide. (During his first European tour in 1837, he met the greatest scientific minds, including Michael Faraday, on the other side of the Atlantic.)

The Smithsonian

Consequently he was offered and accepted the position as the first secretary/director of the new Smithsonian Institution*. He continued in that position until his death. It was under his tenure that the National Museum of Natural History was established in the first Smithsonian building – known as “The Castle ”** today. (The Henry family had quarters in the east wing – every night was a “Night at the Museum”for the Henry kids. )


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As awesome as the museum is, Henry wanted to be more than a museum curator. He led the Smithsonian in the support of original research and dissemination of scientific knowledge worldwide.

In 1849, Henry assumed the presidency of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (founded in Albany in 1839 by Henry’s colleagues). Henry served on the board of managers that oversaw the American exhibit at Prince Albert‘s Crystal Palace in 1851 in London. In 1867  He beacme president of the recently established National Academy of Science to further ensure that America would support science and scientific research of all kinds.


For years Henry didn’t get the recognition he deserved, but over time more has emerged about his life. Today, it’s fairly widely accepted that if Henry had patented his work he, rather than Samuel Morse, would be credited with invention of the telegraph. (Henry thought that patents inhibited the sharing of scientific information.) More light has been shed on Henry’s somewhat tense relationship with President Lincoln and his much closer relationship with Senator Jefferson Davis, who would become President of the Confederacy.***

(Henry was circumspect about his political sentiments and rarely spoke about them in public.  He abhorred slavery, but favored colonization rather than abolition and thought that a peaceful secession was better than a Civil War. In 1862 an association asked for and was granted permission to give a series of lectures in the Smithsonian auditorium, with the proviso that it be made clear that use of the Smithsonian in no way constituted an endorsement. At the end of the series all hell broke loose in the District when Henry denied Frederick Douglass the right to speak.)

Alexander Graham Bell and Henry

However, our favorite story is the relationship between Alexander Graham Bell and Henry. After Henry’s death his widow was left in reduced circumstances. As a result the Bell Telephone Co. was prepared to remove her telephone because she hadn’t paid her bill. Bell himself stepped in and gave Mrs. Henry free phone service for the rest of her life. Bell readily acknowledged that without the help of Henry he would never have succeeded with his invention. When Bell visited Henry at the Smithsonian with his preliminary work, Henry was encouraging. But when Bell told Henry that he didn’t have enough knowledge of electromagnetism to make his theory a reality Henry is said to have simply replied, “Get it”.

Joseph Henry died May 13, 1878 (his funeral was arranged by General William Sherman). He, and his wife and children, are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in the District of Columbia. Henry’s parents were buried in the First Presbyterian Church lot in what is now Washington Park. Those remains were transferred to Albany Rural Cemetery. Henry’s siblings remained in Albany and are buried in Section 55 of Albany Rural.

*The Smithsonian Institution was founded with a bequest of James Smithson, a wealthy Englishman and amateur scientist. The Smithson funding was intended for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge”.

**The Castle was designed by James Renwick. Renwick became the pre-eminent architect of the period. He designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC and Trinity Episcopal Church, on Trinity Place, in Albany. Trinity Church was allowed to degenerate into a state of neglect and was demolished in 2011.

*** The Henry/Davis friendship has become the basis of myth and novels that link the Smithsonian to the Confederacy, especially lost Confederate treasury gold.

Julie O’Connor

A Brief History of Albany’s Early Jewish Congregations

Jews were among the earliest settlers in Albany. They were Dutch citizens, arriving from the far flung territories in the Western Hemisphere established by the Dutch West Indies Company. By the early 19th century the Jewish community was well established in Albany, and the city became a center for Jewish immigration into America.

The post below is by Christopher White, excerpted from his blog, “Finding Your Past: Genealogical Gleanings with the Albany Grave Digger”

Western European Sephardic Jews were attracted to Albany from its earliest days because in the seventeenth century Albany was the leading exporter of skins and furs to Europe. The first Jews appeared in Fort Orange and Beverwyck in 1654. They came to travel and trade in the colony. At first they were denied permission by the Director General of the colony, Pieter Stuyvesant. Only citizens of the village were allowed to trade, and only members of the Dutch Reformed could become citizens. The following year Jews were allowed to trade outside of the borders of New Amsterdam. Among the first Jews to arrive in Fort Orange was Asser Levy. By 1660 he had purchased several homes and became a trader on a substantial scale.[1] At this time there were 23 Jews residing in Fort Orange. The Jews were now allowed to practice their religion within their own homes, but they were not allowed to build houses of worship. The same provisions also applied to the Lutherans. However, it was not until the 1820s that the Jewish population was large enough to build a synagogue.[2]

The Jewish population in Albany came predominantly from the Germanic state of Bayern (Bavaria), where anti-Jewish restrictions were rigidly enforced. These Jewish immigrants began to heavily settle in the city in the 1830s and 1840s. The German Jews adhered to their native tongue and even attempted to perpetuate it among their children. They kept synagogue records in German, communicated in German, and engaged Rabbis who delivered addresses in German. The use of German was respectable because it was the language of the majority in the German enclave.[3] As of 1886 there were approximately three thousand Jews in the city, most of them German.[4] But as Russian Jews, numbering over two thousand, migrated to the city between 1880 and 1900, anti-Semitism took hold of Albany’s elite. Discrimination was directed both to the newcomers and to the older, more established upper-class German Jews.[5] This occurred even though the German Jews were fully absorbed in the German community. Many Western European Jews were charter members of various German societies of the city, such as Doctor Joseph Lewi, who helped establish the Deutsche Literatur Gesellschaft, or German Literary Society. Jewish merchant Julius Laventall hosted numerous Jewish organizations in the upstairs rooms at his clothing shop, also known as Laventall’s Building. Another prominent Albany Jew was Myer Nussbaum, a lawyer who later became a New York State Senator.

Albany’s first Jewish congregation was the moderate orthodox sect, Beth El, meaning “The House of God.” The flock was organized in 1822 and later incorporated on March 25, 1838. Beth El was the city’s first German language congregation. On December 16, 1839, the congregation’s first meeting place, 66 Bassett Street, was purchased from Abel Fretch for $1,500. After the idea of building a new house of worship was not fulfilled, 76 Herkimer Street was purchased for $2150 from the Hibernian Society on September 2, 1842. In 1846 the congregation opened a school, the Jewish Academy of Albany, at 77 Ferry Street, and by 1849 the school had one hundred students. School tuition cost $9.00 per year. The school’s pupils were instructed in German, Hebrew, and English.[6]

On July 14, 1865, a larger edifice situated on the corner of South Ferry and Franklin Streets was purchased for $4,000 from the South Ferry Street Methodist Episcopal Church and used as a synagogue. It was dedicated on January 20, 1865, with great pomp. There was a parade through the streets of Albany with members of the congregation carrying the Scrolls of the Law.[7] To bury the congregations’ dead, two acres of land were purchased in Bethlehem near the Abbey Hotel for use as a cemetery. On April 13, 1839, the land was bought for $15.[8] Organizations associated with Beth El were the Bethel Society, formed in 1838 as a mutual aid society, the Hebrew Benevolent Society, established on September 20, 1855, providing assistance for families in need and distress; and the Chevra, organized in 1843, was another benevolent group that provided sick and death benefits for its members.

The second Jewish congregation in Albany was Beth El Jacob. It came into existence after eight families broke away from Beth El due to internal conflicts regarding orthodoxy. It was the city’s only orthodox sect and was incorporated on February 22, 1841. The first meeting place was located at 8 Rose Street and was dedicated on May 25, 1841. On December 1, 1847, the corner stone for a new synagogue was laid. The new house of worship was located at 28 Fulton Street, between Lydius, now Madison Avenue and Van Zandt Streets and consecrated on April 28, 1848.[9] In 1860 it was proposed by the congregation that prayers be offered in German, instead of Hebrew.[10] By 1900 the congregation was composed mainly of newly arrived Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants. The influx of these Eastern European nationalities helped the congregation’s lagging German membership. On August 5, 1974, Beth El Jacob merged with another orthodox congregation, B’nai Abraham, or the Sons of Abraham, which was founded in June 1882 at 69 South Pearl Street.

Anshe Emeth, signifying “People of Truth,” became Albany’s third Jewish congregation when forty-six members from Beth El left to form a new moderate reformed congregation on October 5, 1850. The society was formally incorporated as a house of worship six days later. At the time, Anshe Emeth was the fourth reformed Jewish congregation in the United States. The flock first worshipped in the German language in an abandoned razor strap factory, on the corner of Lydius and South Pearl Streets. Afterwards, the congregation worshiped in a building on Green Street until the former Baptist church at 155-159 South Pearl Street was purchased and was transformed into a synagogue. It was officially dedicated on October 3, 1851, with an elaborate ceremony.[11] Worship services consisted of prayers in Hebrew, the reading of the law, also in Hebrew; while music, and sermons were conducted in either English or German.[12]

On August 27, 1851, land was purchased in Watervliet from George E. Hartman for use as a cemetery, and on April 3, 1862, the cemetery opened.[13] Two more acres were later bought in 1878 to increase the size of the burial grounds. Anshe Emeth opened a school in 1852. Its curriculum provided both religious and secular instruction, including the study of German until the school closed in 1905.[14] During the mid 1880s the congregation included about 150 families.[15]

In December 1885, after years of discussion, 1200 worshippers from the congregations of Anshe Emeth and Beth El merged to form a new Reformed congregation, Beth Emeth. The board decided that English should be used during board meetings and in the keeping of records. By 1889 services in German and English alternated each week, to the dismay of most of the congregation, who wanted to continue services strictly in German. Land for a synagogue was purchased on the corner of Lancaster and Swan Streets for $19,000 in 1887. The synagogue was erected at a cost of $145,000. On May 24, 1889, the new house of worship was consecrated.

As of 1897 the congregation numbered approximately 1,200 members. In 1894 a school was created where bilingual instruction in Hebrew and German was taught, along with Bible study, catechism, and Jewish history. By 1905 the school existed only as a Sunday school. Regrettably as time passed, Jewish children who understood German refused to use it in public or among their friends; second and third generation German Jews also abandoned the language of their ancestors.[16] Societies within the Beth Emeth congregation included the Hebrew Benevolent Society, the Ladies Sewing Society, and the Jewish Home Society. All three societies aided the poor and the old of the Jewish community. Another group, the Young People’s Society promoted literature.[17] Today, the synagogue is an African-American church, the Wilborn Temple on Jay St.

German Jews were similar to German Gentiles. They also created non-religious organizations. Fourteen German Jews established the Deutsche Literatur Gesellschaft, or German Literary Society, in 1849. The society stressed intellectual development, community activity, and the maintenance of the German language, as well as extending assistance to newly arriving German immigrants.[18] In 1876 the society met at Laventall’s Building, located at the corner of South Pearl Street and Hudson Avenue. The group included a theater and music committee that held debates, gave recitations and lectures, intellectual presentations, and dramatic productions, including Schiller’s “Räuber.” Schiller Halle, established by Wilhelm Schindler and located on the corner of Herkimer and Franklin Streets, was the host for these events. The literary society became the best outlet for social and cultural needs of Albany’s German Jews.[19]

Another Jewish literary group was the Concordia Literary Association. The association was in existence only a short time, approximately from 1877 to 1880. Yet another Jewish literary group, the Adelphi Literary Association, was founded on January 26, 1873, and incorporated on February 11, 1881, as the Adelphi Club. The original purpose of the association was for mutual enlightenment and instruction in science and literature, by the aid of social intercourse, debates, readings, orations, and the maintenance of a library.[20] The first meeting place was located on South Pearl Street, between Division Street and Hudson Avenue. In 1876 the club moved to 83 Green Street, formerly Turn Halle. The new site soon became known as Adelphia Hall. In 1893 Adelphia Hall moved and was located at 82 South Pearl Street. By 1914 Adelphi Club ceased its intellectual pursuits and purchased land in suburban Voorheesville, New York and transformed itself into the Colonie Country Club.

Other Jewish organizations included the Society for Brotherly Love, which was established on March 19, 1843. The society provided assistance and burial facilities for deceased members. Meanwhile, Jews were not admitted into Freemasonry. They, therefore, founded the International Order of B’nai B’rith, meaning “Brotherhood of the Covenant,” hereafter IOBB. Jews from New York City formed the IOBB in 1843 as a fraternal, charitable, and benevolent Jewish association. In Albany the Shiloh Lodge, Number 17, IOBB was organized on December 11, 1853, and met in Laventall’s Building, located on the corner of South Pearl Street and Hudson Avenue. The Shiloh Lodge was involved in the social, cultural, and philanthropic activities of the Jewish community. As Jewish scholar Hyman B. Grinstein put it, “Affiliation with a B’nai Brith lodge was a great social distinction among the German Jews in the 1840s and 1850s.”[21] Therefore, IOBB lodges were mainly composed of older German-speaking Jews. The Shiloh lodge, with sixty-seven members, was an insurance society that issued payouts of $500, $750, and $1,000 to its members depending on the amount of contributions made to the lodge by its members and also depending upon the age of the member at entrance into the lodge.[22] The lodge ceased to exist after 1900 because of the numerical decline of German speakers in the Jewish community. But two organizations that catered to the younger Jewish population who identified with both American ideals and Jewish affairs included the Young Men’s Association, henceforth YMA and the Progress Club. Both groups came into existence during the 1860s and were concerned with cultural and social activities, such as debates, readings, recitations, and concerts. The YMA was located in the Martin Opera House on South Pearl Street in 1876, and its library consisted of over seven thousand volumes. Meanwhile, the city of Buffalo, New York, also had a strictly German YMA, which was incorporated, earlier than Albany’s, on May 12, 1846. Its library compiled 1,800 volumes as of 1855.[23]

Another Jewish society was the Brith Academy. It opened in November 1866 at 67 Division Street, but closed on May 1, 1869, due to a lack of financial support. The academy had 150 students and four teachers who taught English, German, Hebrew and secular studies.[24] An additional Jewish organization was the Gideon Lodge, No. 140 of the IOBB. This organization was founded on March 19, 1870, for the purpose of furthering Jewish social and cultural activities. They also met at Laventall’s Building. An unofficial female auxiliary group of B’nai Brith was the Unabhängiger Orden Treur Schwestern, or the Independent Order of True Sisters.[26] The Abigail Lodge formed under the Order of True Sisters on August 4, 1857. Later, the Arnon Lodge, Number 64, of the men’s Independent Order of the Free Sons of Israel was founded on April 5, 1874.


[1] Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 216. Morris O. A. Gerber, Pictorial History of Albany’s Jewish Community (Albany: n. p., 1986), pp. 13-14.
[2] Rabbi Donald P. Cashman, “Albany’s Synagogues: Split-Off and Merger,” in Historic Albany: Its Churches and Synagogues, Anne Roberts and Marcia Cockrell, eds., (Albany: Library Communications Services, 1986), p. 118.
[3] Hyman B. Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1945), pp. 207-210.
[4] Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., p. 763.
[5] Timothy J. Malloy, “Elite Gentlemen’s Clubs in Albany, New York, 1866-1920” (Masters thesis, University of New York at Albany, 1996), pp. 54-58.
[6] Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 83-89. Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 227.
[7] Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 236.
[8] Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 53-57.
[9] Ibid., pp. 57-60. Reynolds, Albany Chronicles, pp. 577, 593. Cashman, “Albany’s Synagogues: Split-Off and Merger,” in Historic Albany: Its Churches and Synagogues, Anne Roberts and Marcia Cockrell, eds., p. 119. Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 237-240.
[10] Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 268-269.
[11] Ibid., pp. 156-168. Reynolds, Albany Chronicles: A History of the City Arranged Chronologically, p. 613. Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 235.
[12] Phelps, comp., The Albany Hand-Book: A Strangers’ Guide and Residents’ Manual, pp. 97-98. Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., From 1609-1886, p. 763.
[13] Reynolds, Albany Chronicles: A History of the City Arranged Chronologically, p. 644. Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., From 1609-1886, p. 676.
[14] Rubinger, Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century: Historic Roots and Communal Evolution, p. 214.
[15] Howell and Tenney, eds., History of the County of Albany, N. Y., From 1609-1886, p. 763.
[16] Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860, p. 210.
[17] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p.57.
[18] Conners, “Their Own Kind,” p. 103. Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” pp. 152-153. Reimer, “Ethnicity in Albany, N. Y., 1888-1908,” p. 47. Silver, “The Jews in Albany, N. Y. (1655-1914),” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 9: 230.
[19] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, pp. 71-75.
[20] Rubinger, “Albany Jewry of the Nineteenth Century,” p. 287. Reynolds, Albany Chronicles, p. 651. Phelps, comp., The Albany Hand-Book, pp. 4-5.
[21] Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860, p. 204.
[22] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p. 217.
[23] French, comp., Gazetteer of the State of New York, p. 147.
[24] n. a., Geschichte der Deutschen in Albany und Troy, p. 131.
[25] Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860, p. 154.

The Church of the Holy Innocents


Holy Innocents Church (Episcopal), on the corner of North Pearl and Colonie St., was built in 1849 by the prolific English architect Frank Wills. It was built in a style called Gothic Revival”. (By way of comparison, Notre Dame was built in the original Gothic style.)

Wills (who wrote the definitive text “Ancient Ecclesiastical Architecture” in 1850) built a number of churches and chapels across the United States. They all draw on the elements of the great English Gothic cathedrals – Lincoln, Salisbury and Canterbury. Holy Innocents is unique because it included a seperate “Lady Chapel” (dedicated to the Virgin Mary) adjacent to the main church building. Because it was surrounded by the a small garden, it had and has the feel of an English country parish church.

Holy Innocents was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 (We believe it’s the second oldest extant church building in Albany – the oldest would be St Mary’s on Pine St.)

But it’s fallen on hard times over the past 20 years while vacant. In 2015, while it was owned by Hope House, a residential recovery program founded by Fr. Howard Hubbard (before he became the Albany Catholic Diocese Bishop) part of the church collapsed. In late 2016 the church was acquired by a local developer. Based on recent asessments and photos it appear to continue to deteriorate since that acquisition. As a result it was placed on the 2019 Historic Albany Foundation “Dirty Dozen” list of Albany’s most endangered historic structures. There are fears it will simply end up as one more Albany demolition.

Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin
Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin
Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin
Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin
Holy Innocents Church 3/19 – credit Ian Benjamin

(My grandmother’s family were Holy Innocents parishioners from 1870 to the early 1940s, so the old pics you see are from my personal collection. We love those altar boys. Grandma is the tall girl in front of church entrance and the somewhat goofy, albeit almost always cheerful, young man in the surplice is Grandpa, who was the organist at Holy Innocents from the early 1920s to early 1940s. That’s where they met – at Holy Innocents – and there’s a whole wacky courtship story I will save for another time.)

Easter Sunday Holy Innocents


Mae Kiernan & Catherine Vail – Holy Innocents c. 1918

The White Towers of Albany


White Tower was an iconic restaurant chain started in the late 1920s in the Mid-West. (And yes, a total rip off of White Castle, but very successful.)

This was back in the day when there were almost no chain restaurants (Ho-Jos didn’t begin until the 1930s.) There were the Harvey Houses in the West and Mid-west and Schrafft’s – mostly in NYC, and the southern chain, the Toddle House. (A Toddle House moved into Albany in 1938 to Washington Ave., just above Lark St.)

Timing is everything. In the midst of Great Depression, the White Tower diners (because that is what they were) thrived. A hamburger and a cup of Joe would set you back a dime. They were clean, white and well–lit with an amazing iconic Art Deco look. The White Towers were the antithesis of the greasy (some sometimes filthy) spoon. They were modern – all gleaming Formica and chrome. You watched your food being made.. (no secrets there). Waitresses and counter girls wore all white uniforms (very nurse like – totally hygienic).

People who had never set foot in a diner in their life flocked to the White Tower. You could take your kids.

The era of the Hamburger had arrived.

Washington Ave.
2The first White Tower in Albany was located on north side of Washington Ave., between South Swan and Dove. Land was originally leased from the Catholic Diocese. The Dominican Monastery on the site was demolished. (The building was originally the historic home of the Gansevoorts and the Lansings, dating back to the late 1700s, and oft visited by Herman Melville while he was in Albany. )
The White Tower bought the site in 1952.


4Clinton Square
Albany’s second White Tower moved into Clinton Square, across from the Palace Theater in 1935.





6 (2)


5The third and last White Tower near Albany area was built on Broadway between 1935 and 1937 opposite the behemoth Montgomery Ward superstore (now Riverview Center).



New York State Digital Library

Hamburger prices stayed at 5 cents until 1941, and coffee cost a nickel until 1950.

For decades most White Towers offered free meals on Christmas Day.

At its peak in the 1950s the White Tower chain has 230 locations, mostly in the northeast. But suburbia quickly killed the White Tower (along with management that couldn’t change fast enough).

Fate of the Albany White Towers

The White Tower in Clinton Square was demolished in 1969 for the 787 ramps.

If memory serves, by 1971 the location opposite Wards was no more

14But the Washington Ave. White Tower survives. And that’s a fascinating story. In early 1962 it was first moved about 40 feet to make way for a new Mechanics Exchange Bank. Yup.. the whole shebang, including foundation.. was moved less than 15 yards.

But 9 months later the entire building was on the move again.. up the street to a new location at 12 Central Ave. And there it remained as a functioning restaurant until the early 1970s. The move put the White Tower directly across the street from its competition, a Toddle House diner on Washington Ave.just above Lark St.


457de96b909cb2102fddb0082ddbe5a0--iroquois-ware(The Toddle House moved to 816 Central in 1969 and became a “Steak ‘n Egg”, owned by the same corporation by 1974; it remained in business until the early 1980s.)



The White Tower building was vacant until 1986 when Charlene and Dave Shortsleeve purchased the building in turned it into the QE2 club and performance venue. Charlene sold out in the late 1990s.




Enter the Fuze Box, still going strong.