Albany’s Native American Child – Sophie High Dog

The child who was known as Sophie High Dog or Wacheka Albanya was Sioux born in South Dakota around 1890. Little information is known about her early childhood or family, but she was brought to Albany at the age of five as an orphan. It was later claimed that she had been abandoned by her parents and that an uncle took no interest in raising her.

Wacheka was initially sent to the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Carlisle school’s purpose was to assimilate Native American children in white society and its history is one of abuse and tragedy. Wacheka, however, came to the attention of the Albany Indian Association and was termed “too delicate” for a boarding school where hundreds of children died of disease and harsh treatment. The Association, which was founded in 1883 to aid in solving the so-called “Indian problem” through education, had the child brought to Albany and placed her in St. Christina’s Home. St. Christina’s, which operated under the auspices of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, was located in Saratoga Springs and served as a summer home for the Child’s Hospital.

Described as a “bright and earnest” child, she soon became a favorite of caretakers who referred to her in the sentimental language of the era, as a “sweet flower out of rough forest soil.” The letters she wrote to her guardians in Albany were regularly featured in the local newspapers and, every Christmas, collections were solicited to fill a box of gifts for “the little Indian orphan.” It was reported that she hoped to become a teacher and, eventually, returned to the South Dakota as an educator.

Meanwhile, the delicate health that had first won the sympathy of her guardians worsened. Her body was weakened by measles and tuberculosis and she passed away on February 13, 1900. Four days later, William C. Doane, the popular Episcopal Bishop of Albany, presided over her funeral at the Cathedral of All Saints. Her little coffin was placed in the receiving vault of the Rural Cemetery until burial arrangements could be made that summer. She was buried in a little plot paid for by the Association and a marble headstone was paid for by donations, many which came from children.

A bell, cast by the famed Meneely foundry, was sent to the All Saints Episcopal Church on the Rosebud Reservation as a memorial to the little girl.

Her headstone, which has toppled in recent years, is located in Lot 156, Section 26.

By Paula Lemire, Historian at the Albany Rural Cemetery from the Cemetery’s FB page:

From Pleasure Island to Mid-City: Albany’s Lost Amusement Parks

It all started in 1882 when the Albany-Troy (Al-Tro) Steamboat Company purchased part of an island in the Hudson River, north of Albany, to open a picnic grove. The populations in both cities were growing, densely packed around a central core. Factories belched black smoke and ash. In the summer it was hot and steamy. People left their tenement houses to sleep on the roof. They needed an escape.

Pleasure Island
Pleasure Island provided that escape. The area became an Island when it was separated from the shore by the Erie Canal, just above the Albany city line in North Albany. The “Troy Daily Times” called Pleasure Island a “beautiful and romantic spot”. It was lined with trees and a breeze drifted from the River. Steamers with orchestras left the docks in both cities for the short trip to the Island. It soon became the go-to spot of baseball games, sports field days and small boat races around the Island. There were improvements over the years – a refreshment stand, a small theater, a dance hall, and frequent fireworks displays. There were special concerts and balloon ascensions.

But by the late 1890s there was competition – from other parks created by transportation companies – the Day Line ran boats down to Kingston Point, site of a vast park with swimming and dancing, The Albany and Hudson Electric Railroad created Electric Park in Kinderhook and there was the Adirondack Amusement Park on Sacandaga Lake.

Lagoon Island/Dreamland
And so the owner of the Al-Tro Co. (and Pleasure Island) created the Lagoon Island park in 1897 in the same location. Larger structures were built, rides added, there were bike races, more concerts, more dancing, FREE vaudeville, and sliding chutes into the River

The park changed hands for one year in 1905 under the name Dreamland about a year. And then the park went through yet another makeover.

Al-Tro (“Fairyland on the Hudson”)
The cities had begun to expand into what had been country. People were buying “villas” in Pine Hills. In Albany Beaver Park had been created and was on its way to becoming Lincoln Park. Competition became fiercer. People were traveling more. With electric trolleys people could get everywhere faster and automobiles allowed people to get to lakes and other areas around the city they couldn’t reach before.

Enter entrepreneur Max Rosen with a dream and wads of cash. He purchased Lagoon Island and re-made it. Al-Tro Park opened in 1906. It had an almost 1,000 ft. boardwalk (take that Atlantic City), rides, a large theater, a miniature railroad, a pony track – all tricked out with thousands of electric lights. It was designed to rival Luna Park, the heart of Coney Island, which opened in 1903 and had already become the stuff of legend.

Unlike many other amusement parks and groves Al-Tro sold liquor and despite its own police force there were reports of pickpockets and “Thugs”. It sort of had a wee bit of a bad rep.

Maple Beach Park/Midway Beach
After the 1908 season Max sold Al-tro Park (he owned several other amusement parks across the country) and the site became Maple Beach Park by 1910. The new owners doubled the size, banned booze, and attractions were added; the Park was bigger and better -still packing in large crowds. Tragedy struck in 1913. Fire broke out and when it was over there was nothing left.

It was re-built by new owners under the name Midway Beach Park, albeit on a smaller scale, but with the “largest dance hall in New York State”, in time to open for part the 1914 season. It continued to thrive, even during World War I when the Park broke attendance records in 1918.

Mid -City Park
But there was competition across the way, on the Albany-Troy Rd. (Broadway) when the Mid-City Amusement Park was established in 1920. Mid-City had a huge roller coaster, carnival like games, pony rides, vaudeville acts, acrobats, a merry go round and other rides, roller skating. It wasn’t subject to the vagaries of the weather. There was even an ice skating rink. By 1922 Mid-Way Beach was gone, the land sold – it simply couldn’t compete. In 1926 Mid-City installed a huge swimming pool, the likes of which no one had seen around here. (The Lincoln Park Pool wouldn’t be built until 1930.)

World War II pretty much did in the Mid-city amusement park, but the pool stayed open until 1959 when the land was sold for a shopping center. (There were proceedings lodged against the owner by New York State for refusing admittance to African-Americans.)

(Thanks to Kevin Franklin, Colonie Town Historian, for helping me sort out who owned what when, and thanks to Jamie McDonald for many of the Mid-City Photos.)

Julie O’Connor

When Albany Was Crazy for Horse Racing: The Speedway – Hurstville – Island Park – Woodlawn Park

Albany was horse racing mad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Around the time of the Civil War racing became hugely popular (it was at the same time the Saratoga Racetrack was established) in the north and continued for decades.

The Speedway

There had always been racing at county and town fairs. But by the 1870s racing came into the city. Both Western and Washington Avenues, beginning about Quail St. and west were referred to as “The Speedway” for horse drawn sleigh racing on the weekends in the winter. (There was a Speedway Hotel on the corner of Manning Blvd., the Klondike Hotel on the corner of North Allen and the Western Turnpike, and Carrick’s Hotel was on the corner of Madison Ave and West Lawrence.) In the summer there were trotter and pacers.

The Hurstville Track

But there was competition. The Hurstville race track (about where Mater Christi Church and school are today) was established in the mid-1860s. It was mostly a trotting track. Around it a picnic grove called “Pleasure Park” developed (the county fair was held at the location – then town of Bethlehem – in the 1870s.) The track was leased to the Island Park Association (a racing corporation) in the 1870s and early 1880s which improved the track and provided amenities; it ran mostly matinee races and weekend races in the summer. Racing continued until about 1900.

There was also a hotel close to the Park, on the corner of Krumkill Rd. and New Scotland Ave. It dated back to at least the 1840s, known then as the Log Tavern, then Tanner’s Hotel and later Hurst’s Hotel. It became a notorious “love nest” for politician’s trysts over the city line in the 1920s.

Island Park

But Island Park was the Big Daddy of all local race tracks. Island Park was established in the late 1860s in Menands (now part of Colonie – then the town of Watervliet) on Breaker Island (which puts it wee bit south Port Schuyler). The track was on the east side of the Champlain Canal and sandwiched between the Canal and the River. It had larger purses, better horses and could be reached by horsecars from Albany, but the meets were shorter – usually no more than 3-5 days in – perhaps 3-4 meets a year. Still it drew great horses – like “American Girl”, the most well-known trotter of the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Slowly the track improved. In the late 1870s a railroad bridge was installed – now horses could be shipped in from all over – they came from as far west as St. Louis and as far south as Kentucky.

In 1884 the Association came under the control of Erastus Corning, multi-millionaire local mogul and other very rich heavy hitters * who had a thing for racing – yes, but saw the corporation as a way to make money too. Or in track parlance.. an exacta.

Although pacers were raced it was primarily a trotting park. Island Park became part of the National Trotting Association and its meets became well- known as part of the national Grand Circuit for trotters. There were meets in the summer and fall with annual purses worth about $40,000. Two large hotels were built, Union Hotel and McDonald’s Hotel – the latter owned by the famed driver Alta McDonald. The stables could house as many as 300-400 horses. Island Park thrived. The Association made sure the new electric trolley ran to the track from all parts of the Capital District. Some of the best horses in the nation raced there, including “Major Delmar” said to be the fastest gelding alive in 1905. And then it all came to an end. We’re told that the racing stopped pretty much by 1909. The land was purchased by the D&H Railroad.

Woodlawn Park

But never fear – Albany men DO love their horse racing. So a group of local men formed the Albany Driving Association in the early 1900s, bought a tract of land about where Albany Academy is today from a man named Wood and called the race track Woodlawn. There was racing for about 10 years, until about 1914. But the Association discovered it could make big bucks selling the land off to people who wanted to buy lots and build houses in the area that now includes Academy Rd. (then Highland Ave.) and west to about Forest Ave. (Fun Albany fact – we were told the bleachers for the original Albany Academy football field were part of the Woodlawn Park grandstand.)

By 1916 World War I was looming and thanks to Henry Ford almost anyone could own an automobile and make it up to Saratoga for the races.

*One of the shareholders in the Island Park Association was John Holland. He owned a legendary den of iniquity (bookmaking, billiards and booze) – the White House Café on the corner of James Steuben. We were told that Holland owned lots near Manning Blvd. where he stabled and exercised his jumping horses.

Julie O’Connor

There are more than 110 Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Albany Rural Cemetery

When the Battles of Lexington and Concord ended on April 19, 1775 word spread like wildfire through the Colonies. Everyone had been waiting for this, knowing it would come, and not knowing what would happen next. Except that it would be dangerous – 8 colonists died and 9 were wounded on that day.

Yet thousands of men rushed to serve. (Over 350,000 men served in the War over its 7 years.)

There are more than 110 Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Albany Rural Cemetery (and more waiting to be identified).

Some served in the Continental Army, others in state and county militias. Some fought in the local battles we’re all familiar with, like the Oriskany and Saratoga, while others served at Yorktown and Brandywine. Some lived in Albany when they joined the fight, others came to live here after the War. Some were lifelong soldiers, while others were members of minute man companies or the militia, ready to be called up at a moment’s notice.

We’ve put together several brief biographies of those interred at Albany Rural Cemetery that we hope provide you with a better sense of those who fought to forge a new nation.

Daniel Shields
Shields was born in Scotland, but lived in New York City. He enlisted in the Continental Army at the age of 14 (it appears he lied about his age). He served in a NYS regiment under Lafayette at the Battle of Yorktown. (He was discharged with the rank of captain.) Shields received a badge of merit signed by General Washington.

After the War Shields moved between Albany and Schenectady, trying his hand at different jobs. In 1824 Shields and Lafayette had a brief, but fond re-union when Lafayette visited Albany as part of his American tour. Shields’ granddaughter married Leland Stanford (also from Albany), the railroad mogul, politician and founder of Stanford University.

Shields died in 1835, and is interred in Lot 21, Section 11 of the Cemetery.

Goose (Gosen) Van Schaick
Van Schaick was the son of a merchant, who was once mayor of Albany. He’d fought in many battles in the French and Indian War. In 1770 he married a local girl, Maria Ten Broeck; the couple lived on Market St. (now Broadway).

Van Schaick represented his ward on the Albany Committee of Correspondence and would actively serve in the War. He was wounded at the Battle of Ticonderoga in 1777 (in the cheek-the site of a previous wound) and served at the Battle of Monmouth. He was also part of what has come to be known as one of the darker parts of our history, the Sullivan Raids in 1779, in which most of the Indian Nation in the western part of the State was brutally savaged by American troops.

At the end of the War Brevet Brigadier General Goose Van Schaick returned to Albany, still troubled by his cheek wound (which had been determined to be cancerous).

He died on July 4, 1789, age 53. Goose and Maria are buried side by side in Lot 5, Section 3.

Cornelius Van Vechten
Van Vechten was born in 1735, son of a Schagticoke landowner who also served as a firemaster in Albany for a time.

Van Vechten was one of the signers of the constitution of the Albany “Sons of Liberty” in 1766, and 1775 was commissioned Lt. Colonel of the 11th (a/k/a Saratoga) regiment of the Albany County militia. At the time of the Saratoga campaign, the family home at Coveville (Saratoga County) was burned by the advancing British under General Burgoyne. Van Vechten served in the militia until the War ended.

Following the Revolution, Van Vechten served in the State Assembly and, later, as the town clerk in Schaghticoke. He died at age 78 in 1815.

The Van Vechtens were originally buried in the Dutch Reformed section of the State Street Burying Grounds. They were moved to Lot 7, Section 38 at the Cemetery in 1859.

Walter Whitney
Whitney was born in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1760. He served in a unit of the Connecticut artillery as a teenager, from 1777-1779. He subsequently became a school teacher in Connecticut, but moved to outside Albany in the late 1780s (in the towns of Berne and New Scotland) where he also farmed, until his family came into the city in the late 1820s.

He died in 1846 while living at 26 DeWitt Street (now a very small cul-de-sac between Broadway and Erie Blvd).

Whitney’s white marble headstone on the North Ridge is decorated with patriotic emblems – an eagle with a banner bearing the words E PLURIBUS UNUM and a shield rises above a cannon. Look closely alongside the cannon to see crossed swords. Above the eagle are thirteen stars (some are worn and hard to see) for the original thirteen colonies and 76 is carved between the eagle and the cannon.

The Whitney grave can be found in Lot 159, Section 92.

Abraham Eights
Abraham Eights was a second generation American (his grandfather was born in the Netherlands), son of a sea captain, born circa 1745. He settled in Albany in the 1760s, became a sailmaker and lived on Water St. on the Hudson River.

He was one of Albany’s original “Sons of Liberty” in 1766. At the start of War in 1775 he was commissioned a Lt. in the Albany County Militia, but later resigned. He’s found in subsequent records (1777-1779) serving as a private in the Albany County militia on an as needed basis. It appears that he helped the cause with cash and in-kind contributions (ensuring sails were in working order for the sloops that plied the River, and for his next door neighbor Capt. Stewart Dean, who was a commissioned privateer during the War, and with whom he served in the Militia).

Eights became a wealthy man and in later years was the Dockmaster of Albany. His grandson was James Eights who painted the wonderful watercolors of Albany that show us how the city looked in the early 1800s.

Abraham died in 1820, and is buried in Section 52, Lot 13.*

Josiah Burton
Burton was born Connecticut in 1741. The family then moved just across the border to Amenia in Dutchess County. Historical data suggest that Burton was a silversmith. In May 1775 he was commissioned as a captain in the Dutchess County Militia. It appears he resigned that commission because in 1777 he’s a first lieutenant in an Albany county militia regiment, mustered out of Kinderhook. He moved to Albany in the 1790s and is listed in the Albany County census in the first ward in 1800.

Burton died in 1803 at the age of 61. He’s buried in Section 49, lot 5. *

Benjamin Lattimore – African-American Revolutionary War Soldier
Benjamin Lattimore was born a free man in 1761 in Connecticut. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War he was living in Ulster County, near New Marlborough, several miles south of Poughkeepsie. Lattimore enlisted (while still a teenager) with the 5th NY Regiment, Continental Army i(n 1776 once Black men were allowed to serve).

A few days later his company was sent to NYC where they took part in the Battle of Manhattan. Later that year he was on duty at Fort Montgomery (on the Hudson, just north of Bear Mountain) when he was captured along with hundreds of other Continentals by the British. Lattimore was re-captured by the Americans in Westchester, and re-joined the Continental Army.

Lattimore’s regiment was also part of the Sullivan Expedition in the western part of NY”, designed to punish the Iroquois for raiding frontier settlements.

By the late 1790s Lattimore and his family moved to Albany. He was licensed by the city as a “cartman” (authorized to haul cargo through the city streets). By about 1810 Lattimore also owned a grocery store, ad began to accumulate real estate.

Throughout the rest of his life Lattimore was active in advancing the conditions of African- Americans in Albany. He was part of a group that established the first “Albany School for Educating People of Color” in the ealry 1800s, was founding member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and was chairman of the Albany committee to celebrate the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827.

He died in 1838 at the age of 78 and was buried in the AME cemetery. Records indicate that his remains were moved to Albany Rural Cemetery, but his headstone has gone missing.

*Abraham Eights’ daughter Catherine married John Burton, son of Josiah Burton in the 1790s (my 3rd great grandparents).

Thanks to Paula Lemire, Historian at the. Historic Albany Rural Cemetery for much of this information and to Stefan Bielinski, for the information he has discovered about Benjamin Lattimore in his Colonial Albany Project

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Mount Hope and Ezra Prentice

Nestled in a southern corner of the city of Albany is a small neighborhood called Mount Hope that encompasses the Mount Hope housing complex on a hill and at the base of the Hill, parallel to the River on South Pearl, are the Ezra Prentice Homes, another housing development.

Ezra Prentice – Mogul

Ezra Prentice was born in 1797 in New Hampshire. In the early 1830s Prentice and his brothers came to Albany. Like many Yankees they were drawn to Albany for its business opportunities generated by the new Erie Canal and the burgeoning railroad system. Albany was fast becoming a national hub of commerce and trade.

They made a fast fortune selling wholesale furs. Then the fur trade was sold and Ezra moved on to railroads and banking. He was one of the organizers of the Albany &Susquehanna Railroad, and later served as president of the National Commercial Bank.

Mount Hope

However, one of Prentice’s great interest was agriculture (especially the breeding and improvement of cattle stocks); he was a founding member of the New York State Agricultural Society. In 1834 he bought 103 acres from Solomon Van Rensselaer of Cherry Hill, from his Mount Hope Farm, part of the Cherry Hill estate. The Prentice Mount Hope estate was built on a steep hill, in a heavily wooded area, where it could catch cool breezes and overlook the Hudson.

(At this point Albany’s city limits ended just south of Catherine St.; Mount Hope was Albany’s first “suburb”.)

The area of Mount Hope was a “resort” destination of sorts in the late 1820s and the 1830s. It was in the country, away from city core where there was a population explosion. Summers were hot and filled with smoke and heat from industrial furnaces. (Later the real estate became too valuable and by the 1840s it was a brickyard.)

Initially Prentice built a farmhouse and then his great Mount Hope estate. He lived there with his wife Philena and their eight children. Ezra died in 1876 and Philena passed away 2 years later.

Later generations made their home in New York City, but continued to use Mount Hope as a summer residence. By the middle of the 20th century, however, the mansion had fallen into disrepair and a few rosebushes struggled to survive in its once famous, but now abandoned gardens. Stripped of everything except its fine marble mantles, the mansion was eventually demolished and the land redeveloped for housing.

But what about the creepy rumors?

The Vault?

“The old Prentice Mansion on Mount Hope Drive, in Kenwood, was long the subject of ghostly tales. Most of these concerned the Prentice burial vault, which was somewhere on the estate — no one knew where. The most popular tale was that there were particular times during the month, when the moon could only be discerned faintly behind thick shrouds of cloud, passersby might see in the vicinity of the vault, used as a temporary resting place for some members of the Prentice family, the specters of those people, clad in their cerements, discussing matters of days long past.”

In the forties, the vault was rediscovered by some Albany boys. When the earth was cleared away and the rusting padlock removed, the massive hinged slab covering the entrance was lifted, and the chamber was entered. It was found to be empty. Whether or not this dispelled the ghost stories in not known.” From “Traveler’s Tales – Rumors and Legends of the Albany-Saratoga Region”, Mark MacGregor Steese and Sam McPheeters, 1981

The old vault was left empty on the grounds and, eventually, hidden by weeds and overgrown bushes, until March, 1947 when a group of boys exploring the area stumbled across the crypt.

The lid was raised and they were able to enter the old burial chamber along with a reporter from the Knickerbocker News who took a photo of the boys inside.

(At some point, the remains originally interred in this vault were removed to the Albany Rural Cemetery and reburied in a family plot on the South Ridge. The massive boulder that stands in the center of the plot was hauled to the Cemetery from Mount Hope. )

The Lions?

An interesting story persists about the two stone lions that used to be at the gate. The sculptor who carved them forgot to give them tongues. When the error was called to his attention, his chagrin was so keen he committed suicide. That’s the tale that has survived all these years. Later, it is reported the lions were removed to Williamstown, Mass., to adorn the grounds of Elm Tree, part of the Mount Hope estate of Mr. Prentice’s grandson, Ezra P. Prentice, who married Alta Rockefeller, daughter of John D. Rockefeller. (The house is now part of Williams College)

By Paula Lemire, from her blog, “Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond the Graves”

The Albany Hot Weather Kitchen in 1919

Every night before I went to sleep as a kid Grandma would tell me “When Grandma was a Girl” stories. I was especially fascinated by her tales of cooking in the summer.

Over the winter huge blocks of ice were cut out of the Hudson and packed tightly in straw or sawdust in the brick ice houses that dotted the shore and islands in the River. Come summer the blocks would be cut into smaller sections with ice saws to fit home ice boxes. Early in the morning before it got very hot the ice man would drive his wagon through the streets delivering the ice; he would bring it into the house using huge ice tongs and put it into the ice box or refrgerator. There was an ice delivery at least every two days. You had to be careful remember to empty the “drip” pan under the refrigerator at least 2x a day or you would have a flood of water on the floor. (Bessie, the Airedale Terrier, was usually the beneficiary of the drip pan contents.)

They lived in Arbor Hill near North Swan, not far from the River. In later years I wondered about people who lived in Pine Hills which was farther away, and just started to be developed in the early 1900s. Based on some sleuthing by our merry band of Friends of Albany History we discovered there was a pond north of Melrose and west of Holmesdale from which ice was harvested, and there was an ice house to serve that area.

If you wanted to get some chipped ice for a cold drink or to put in the hand cranked ice cream freezer you used the really scary ice chipper. (Deathly sharp with several tines – there was an old one in our basement Gram used to weed the garden when I was a kid.)

She used to say that cooking was awful in the summer. Although by 1900 there were gas and even electric stoves, they were few and far between. Most everyone had a huge cast iron stove that burned wood or coal. To use them you had to get a good fire going that heated the whole stove and the whole kitchen. Great in the winter.. not so much in the summer. (A local company, Rathbone and Sard, made the Acorn stove – it became a famous national brand; she told me that the same way we use the word “Kleenex” for tissue, they called the stove the “Acorn.)

But women still had to feed their families. By the time she was in her teens there were gas hot plates that worked like a Coleman camping stove and even electric hotplates. I was most intrigued by what she called the ” fireless cooker”. (There was one of those in the basement too, I later discovered. )

It was an insulated container that came in large and small sizes. You heated up a couple of “stones”, special disks I think made of a ceramic like material. They were heated on the top of the stove (which seemed to defeat the purpose – but you didn’t have to keep the oven running for hours I guess) and put in the “box” and you could bake in the fireless cooker (even make bread). There were special baking/cooking dishes that were sold as accessories, but she said they were a waste of money and cast iron worked just fine.

We used a small fireless stove for camping when I was a kid.. the “stones” were heated in the campfire.

She told me before the fireless cooker Mama used bricks the same way in some kind of jury-rigged insulated box Papa made. Papa also built her an outdoor brick oven.. they were lucky enough to have a large deep backyard, but Mama rarely used it because she had build a fire to heat it up, and she lacked the knack. So unless one of her older kids was on hand it was mostly a decorative garden feature.

Hooray for electric refrigherators, the microwave, air con and Grub Hub.

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Emily West De Zavala – Wife of an Hispanic, the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas

Recently we happened upon one of Albany’s most interesting stories. Emily West, from Albany, who was the wife of the first vice-president of Texas in 1836.

The history of Texas is the story of many cultures (like America). It includes Native Americans, indigenous peoples of what is now Mexico, Spanish conquistadors, “Americans”, and the French who all lived there. (If you want to learn more, one of the best easy reads is James Michener’s historical novel “Texas”. A 400 year sweeping saga published in 1985.)

But we’re going to fast forward to 1824, when the Mexican people gained their independence from Spain. (Not unlike Americans in the Revolutionary War.)

Enter a brilliant multi-lingual physician from Mexico’s Yucatan Region, Lorenzo de Zavala. He helped write the first Mexican Constitution, and was the country’s foreign minister to France. He came to disagree with the dictatorial methods of Santa Anna, Mexico’s leader and was banned from the country. He embarked on travels across the U.S.

In 1831 in Albany, he met a young woman about 21, Amanda West working in the prominent Crosby’s Hotel on South Pearl and Beaver Streets. Her family was originally from the town of Westerlo (probably Rensselaerville). She was said to have been beautiful, intelligent, vivacious, and a darling of Mrs. Crosby, the owner’s wife.

Amanda and Lorenzo were smitten. He had been a widower for some time. They were married in NYC in a small Catholic Church on the lower east side in 1831, and traveled to Mexican Territory in what is now Texas.

De Zavala was an advocate for Texas Independence. After the Battle of the Alamo, de Zavala drafted the first Constitution of the Texas Republic, and designed its first flag. De Zavala, what we might call an “Hispanic”today, became the first vice-president of the Republic, and is venerated as a founding father of the State of Texas.

Alas, Lorenzo, a good deal older than Amanda (who by now was using the first name Emily), died in 1836. Emily and her 3 children traveled back to Albany and she married a man from named Henry Fock (or Folk), we think from Westerlo. They lived in Buffalo Bayou, northwest of Galveston and had several children. In her later years she again became a widow and married a sawmill owner.

Emily remained in Texas and died in the early 1880s.

Her granddaughter, Adina Emilia De Zavala, became an American history teacher. She’s credited with the campaign to preserve and save the Alamo for future generations.

Julie O’Connor

(I discovered this story when Sam Haynes, Ph.d, head of the Center of Southwestern Studies, reached out to me wanting to know more about Crosby’s Hotel, for his biography of Emily.)

The Story of the NYS Education Building – Church vs State


In 1904, Dr. Andrew Draper became the first NYS Commissioner of Education As his education empire grew, he dearly wanted a separate and special building to house his department, and had his eye on a piece of property on the corner of So. Swan and Washington Ave, close to the Capitol. However, the Episcopal Bishop, William Croswell Doane, was building the Cathedral of All Saints on S. Swan St., on the very block that Dr. Draper coveted, and successfully fought Dr. Draper’s plan with all the righteous indignation available to a man of the cloth.

However, in 1906 when the good Bishop was on a trip to Europe, Draper seized the moment and used his political influence to snatch up the property surrounding the Cathedral, relegating it to a small corner on Swan and Elk St., and forever dashing the Bishop’s hopes for expansion of the Cathedral. The Bishop was successful in limiting the height of the new building, but Draper got what is said to be the longest colonnade in the world. 

Proposals for the new building were solicited in 1907 and construction began in 1909. The new building was dedicated in November, 1912. 



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Julie O’Connor

The Ten Broeck Street Ghost


The phantom of 49 Ten Broeck might be Albany’s oldest ghost. In fact, he’s probably two centuries older than the house he haunts!

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The tall brownstone house was built by George Dawson in 1859. Born in Falkirk, Scotland, Dawson came to Albany with Thurlow Weed in 1830 and eventually rose to the position of senior editor of the influential Albany Evening Journal.  Dawson died in 1883 and is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery, as is his son who was killed in the Civil War.

Though shabby with age now, the white Ionic columns that flank the front door of 49 Ten Broeck provide an elegant contrast to the brown stone of the facade (a building material that novelist Edith Wharton likened to “cold chocolate sauce”). The facade has quite a bit of wear and there are signs of on-and-off renovations inside.


The house faces a small, triangular park which was once a burial ground provided by the Van Rensselaer family for use by residents of their Rensselaerwyck Manor. Known variously as the Colonie, Arbor Hill, or Van Rensselaer Burying Grounds, it’s not to be confused with the Van Rensselaer family’s private burial vault. This burial ground was an impediment to progress and, in 1845, converted to a park. With the removal of the old graveyard, elegant residents filled in what’s now the Ten Broeck Triangle neighborhood. Many of the homeowners were associated with the city’s booming lumber trade thanks to the close proximity to the lumber district and the Erie Canal.

Just to the north of No. 49 and the park is the neighborhood’s oldest building, the Ten Broeck Mansion. This mansion and the area were originally known as Arbor Hill, a designation which now applies to the larger neighborhood. Built in 1797, it was the home of Revolutionary War general Abraham Ten Broeck and, later, prominent banker Thomas W. Olcott.  The historic Ten Broeck Mansion is also known to be quite haunted.

The ghost at No. 49, however, seems to predate both the old graveyard and the brick mansion atop Arbor Hill.

After George Dawson’s death, his brownstone changed hands several times and eventually became a rooming house. It was during this time that the ghost was first reported. Of course, previous occupants might have seen or experienced the supernatural, but if they did, those stories remain unknown.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, two children came to live with their mother who owned the rooming house at the time. The children would roam the halls of the house and it was on the third floor that they encountered a man who was quite obviously not a boarder.

The man was somber-faced and silent. He was dressed in clothing from another era, complete with a metal helmet. In short, he was dressed quite like a 17th-century Dutch soldier. The helmet was, in fact, quite similar to the 1610 Dutch pikeman’s helmet currently on display at the New York State Museum.

At the time, though, the children were not familiar with the attire of a Dutch colonial soldier and, based on books and movies, called him “The Conquistador.” They found this apparition quite frightening and would try to avoid the third floor.

The ghost’s clothing and helmet places him in an era some two hundred years before George Dawson built the brownstone. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, there was very little on Arbor Hill. It was well outside the north wall of the stockade and about a mile from Fort Orange and its predecessor, Fort Nassau. The area was not even formally surveyed until Stephen Van Rensselaer II began that work after the French and Indian War.

Did this ghost meet his death on the future site of the Dawson house? Was he killed in some minor, unrecorded skirmish on this hill? An accidental death? Was he buried near where he died?

Or did he die elsewhere in the colony and, for some reason, his spirit attached itself to this spot? There were a few notable deaths here during his era, including Captain Daniel Van Krieckenbeeck who was killed in a brutal ambush near modern Lincoln Park.

Or, on a slightly sillier note, could it be the ghost of George Dawson or some other early resident of the house with a taste for historic costumes?

Who can say? He wasn’t the sort of ghost to reveal clues about his life, his demise, or choice of haunting place.

It’s not known if later residents of this old house have seen this phantom.

Paula Lemire