Bouck White – Helderberg Hermit and his Castle

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In the 1930s, an unconventional man named Bouck White built a “castle” in the Helderberg Mountains overlooking the village of New Salem, New York.  Hoping to create his own Utopia, he spent a decade there, selling pottery and dispensing shards of philosophy to visitors.

Charles Browning “Bouck” White was born in Middleburgh, Schoharie County in 1874.  His father ran a dry goods store and young White grew up in comfort in the family’s Grove Street home.  He attended local schools and continued his education at Syracuse University where his conduct was described as “honorable.”  In the college yearbook, he maturely observed, “The line between folly and wisdom is often as imaginary one, and men are often seen traveling along with one foot on either side of it.”

White transferred to Harvard and graduated in 1896.  He went to work as a reporter for the Springfield Republican, but a year later he began studies at the Boston Theological Institute. He was ordained a Congregational minister in 1904 and spent the next several years in Clayton, a town on the St. Lawrence River.  He organized a Boys Club, opened a small library, and converted a stable into a gymnasium for the town’s youth.  The townspeople were initially dubious of White’s innovations, but were won over and provided funding.

2.2Around 1908 White moved to Brooklyn to work at a settlement house run by Trinity Church.  There he saw the hardships of the poor and working classes.  White joined the Socialist Party, hoping that a blend of religion and socialism would cure the world’s spiritual and social woes. The Church vestrymen grew wary and asked for his resignation.  He submitted it, found the Church of Social Revolution and wrote the first of his books, “The Call of the Carpenter” in 1912, which portrayed as a workingman, agitator, and social revolutionist.  Known as New York’s “most eccentric radical,” he wore a coarse smock in protest of World War I.  He was later expelled from the Socialist party for opposing violence.

 

3In 1914 White was arrested at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church after disrupting a service by challenging the Reverend Cornelieus Woelfkin to debate the civic value of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whom White held answerable for the massacre of striking miners in Ludlow, Colorado.  White was sentenced to six months in jail. During that time he wrote “Letters from Prison” which defined his credo of   Christian socialism.

 

 

White led a “service” to protest World War I in 1916.  He set fire to flags representing the world’s leading nations and covered the ashes with a crimson flag.  Claiming that the fire had only united the banners into one of “internationalism,” White was jailed for desecrating the flag.  At his trial the prosecutor described White as an “egotistical humbug….If an American in his indignation had shot White dead on the night of the flag burning, I doubt if you could find a juryman who would vote to convict him.” White got a $100 fine and thirty days in the “workhouse” for the flag burning.

After his release, he moved to France to study ceramics and developed a chemical process that enabled him to harden pottery without a kiln. At a Mardi Gras bazaar in Paris on February 1, 1921, White met Emilee Simone.  He asked permission to call on her and, three days later, proposed marriage.  Emilee’s parents were charmed by White who spoke French fluently and appeared prosperous.  The couple married that April; he was 47 and she was 21.

The Whites returned immediately to America and moved to a farmhouse on a mountain outside Marlboro in Ulster County.  But Mrs. White fled from her husband’s “summer estate” after three days and went to the Marlboro Mountain House. She told of abuse. She said White wanted her to be a “radical prophetess”.  Some nights later, a dozen men from Marlboro abducted White.  He was tarred, feathered, whipped, dunked in Orange Lake, and threatened with hanging.  (After his captors released him, people noticed blisters on White’s neck.  It was rumored that acid was mixed with the tar.  White said they were caused by sunburn, but tried to hide the blisters with flour.)

Emilee filed for an annulment.  She had little money, but did not wish to return to France until she was free of White.  She described White’s farmhouse as slovenly, White himself autocratic and eccentric.  He was not interested in children, but told her that they would write books together and the books would be their children. .  He denied considering himself the “Second Messiah,” but admitted that “intellectual persons” should have books instead of children. An annulment was granted that summer on the grounds that White had hidden his arrest record from the Simones.

10White returned to France, but by 1932, he was back in New York and running a pottery studio in an Albany carriage house.  In 1934, White bought six acres in the Helderberg Mountains.  He was attracted to the lonely cliff by a belief that it was where Hiawatha supposedly experienced visions that lead to the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy.  White had long claimed Mohawk ancestry, saying, “I don’t know how much of the blood of Hiawatha is in my veins, but my heart is Indian.”

5White constructed a “castle” using the plentiful limestone.  He worked as independently of technology (which he distrusted as much as wealth) a possible.  He described his building style: “The stones are not hacked or broken to form a window opening of some perceived pattern; they are allowed….to build a window of any form whatsover…A new resource for the architect is here emerging, provided their clients be animated by a spirit of natural beauty.”

White built an impressive tower at the cliff’s edge.  The view from the top rivaled the vista offered at nearby John Boyd Thatcher State Park. White kept carrier pigeons at the tower and, during World War II, his birds led people to speculate that White was a spy using pigeons to send messages to the enemy.

13White lived simply at his mountain retreat and his sole income came from selling his pottery “Bouckware”, primarily through gift shops across the country. (In 1937 he organized a small corporation for this purpose with 2 men from Albany.)  He lived on pancakes, soups, and cornmeal.  He wore old baggy trousers and tattered sneakers.  Old or new acquaintances were treated hospitably. White realized that he was not capable of changing the world.  He dismissed his radical activities as part of a “collective insanity” that afflicted the country during World War I and admitted his own mortality.  He desired only to end his days peacefully on his mountain, but a stroke forced him to move to the Home for Aged Men in Menands.

In 1944 the property was purchased by Gabriel Cordevez, a Bouck White disciple, He intended  to establish an artist colony, but a fire damaged much of the main building later that year. In 1946, after the end of War II, Mr Cordevez established the Shrine of the Ave Marias, dedicated to all Gold Star mothers of any nation, in a small chapel that had been built by Bouck White. In the early 1950s the property was purchased by a family named Regan; 4 generations of the family owned the property for at least 30 years..

But what of Bouck White?  He died  in January 7, 1951, and his ashes were buried in a fissure near his Helderberg castle.

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From Paula Lemire’s blog Garden Alley

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Albany’s Pemberton Corner

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We’re guessing only a few know where it is – N. Pearl St. and Columbia St.  in the heart of downtown. There’s a commemorative plaque that some of you may have noticed, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The huge Victorian pile you see today was constructed in the late 1800s, on the site of an ancient building that survived for almost 170 years.

2In the earliest days of Albany that corner of North Pearl was outside the north gate in the stockade that surrounded the city. Around 1710 Jacob Lansing, a baker and a silversmith, constructed a small building in that location.

It was said to have once been a trading post. Legend has it that it may have been occupied by the Sarah Visscher  (“the Widow Visscher”) who married into an Indian trading family,  and who may have run it as a trading post in the mid to late 1700s “it was especially distinguished as the lodging place for the Indians when they came to Albany for the purpose of trading their furs, too often for rum and worthless ornaments. There many stirring scenes transpired, when the Indians held their powwows, and became uproarious under the influence of strong drink. The house has survived the general sweep of so called improvement. It is now [1867] owned by John Pemberton, and is occupied as a grocery and provision store.”.. Joel Munsell

Unlike many of the old buildings that have been demolished we have an excellent description:

“Yellow brick; one and a half stories. The upper section was left unfinished for several years and was used during that time for the storage of skins and furs. No two rooms were on the same level. The ceilings were not plastered, but the beams and sleepers were polished and the jambs of the fireplace faced with porcelain, ornamented with Scripture scenes.”

“The parapet gable facade on Columbia Street had fleur-de-lis iron beam anchors that held the brick wall to a timber frame. The brick, laid in Dutch cross bond, formed a zigzag pattern called vlechtwerk (wicker work) along the upper edges of the gable.”  ..  Diana Waite “Albany Architecture”

5The Pemberton brothers – Ebenezer, Henry and John – purchased the building from Jacob Lansing’s great grandson in 1818 and started a grocery business at that corner.  Henry and Ebenezer died in the late 1850s, and John carried on the business, which came to be a well-known landmark in the city – Pemberton’s Groceries.

 

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When John died in 1885 his estate owned a large portion of that block on N. Pearl between Columbia and Steuben, which included several buildings to the north of Pemberton’s grocery store. The property was sold and 2/3 of the building you see on that block corner was constructed. The new Pemberton Building included stores and offices, but its primary tenant was Albany Business College.*

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8Pemberton’s store, operated by John’s son, Howard, survived on the corner until 1893 when it was demolished for an addition to the Pemberton Building to allow the Business College * to expand.  Despite efforts to save the building because of its historical significance, the amount offered by those who were interested (including John G. Myers, owner of a large department store on N. Pearl St., and the Albany Press Club)  could not match what  the  College was offering for construction of  the addition. (Such an Albany story.) Look at the building carefully; you can see the demarcation between the part of the building constructed in 1885 and the addition 8 years later.

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So.. we call it the Pemberton Building, right?  Well, that depends.  It was known as the Pemberton Building initially, but then someone named Brewster purchased, and it was known in the newspapers as the Brewster Building for a number of decades in the 1900s. But in general conversation and in my family it was called it the Pemberton Building (where several “greats” attended the Business College in the 1890s and early 1900s), we can’t find anything about Brewster (other than he was a real estate investor) and we need to honor our history. We’re sticking with the Pemberton Building.

*The Business College moved to Washington Ave. between Dove and Swan in the 1930s.

 

Thanks to Carl Johnson and his Hoxsie blog for some of the material in this post.

The Stanwix Hotel – the Oldest Hotel in Albany

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1.1Stanwix Hall stood on the east corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane. .It was built by the sons (Peter and Herman) of Peter Gansevoort. Gansevoort* was the “Hero of Fort Stanwix”; he lead the patriot resistance at the British siege of the Fort in 1777**.  Colonel Gansevoort was instrumental in guarding against British encroachment on Albany from the west through the Mohawk Valley, and setting the stage for the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga a year later.

1The Hall was built on the land on which Gansevoort’s Dutch great grandfather settled in the 1600s and on which he established a brewery. In 1832 the brewery was destroyed by a fire and the next year Peter’s sons, Herman and Peter, built the Stanwix in the same location on Broadway (then North Market St.). It was marvel- 5 stories and constructed from marble.  It housed offices, stores and meeting rooms. It was crowned by a huge awesome dome (48’ in diameter), which covered what was said to have been the largest ballroom (60’ wide) in the world at the time.

2.2.The year it opened it became the home of Mr. Whale’s Dance Academy for the sons and daughters of Albany’s elites. Classes were $12 for the season- lessons were provided Wednesdays and Saturdays and evenings.  Over the next 30 years the Stanwix was the site of glittering balls, assemblies, receptions and concerts with elegant catered suppers.   We have visions of women in huge crinolines stepping out of a row of carriages in the gaslight and whirling the night away in the ballroom with the men of the Albany Burgesses Corps in full dress military uniform.

 

 

2By the mid-1840s the Hall was transformed into the most elegant hotel in Albany.  It was, by all accounts, the classiest of joints.  It was located close to the train station and was the preferred destination of hundreds of travelers, including the rich and famous (and infamous).  When Abraham Lincoln came through Albany in 1861 on his trip to Washington D.C. for his inauguration, John Wilkes Booth was performing in the city and his rooms at the Stanwix would have overlooked the Lincoln parade down Broadway.

The Stanwix also was the site of an infamous murder that created a tabloid frenzy.  On the evening of June 4, 1868, in the main reception room, George Cole took out his pistol and shot L. Harris Hiscock dead. Cole was a Syracuse physician who served with gallantry and bravery in the Civil War. He’d been wounded and promoted to Major General. L. Harris Hiscock was a leading Syracuse attorney, a founder of the law firm now known as Hiscock and Barclay and Speaker of the NYS Assembly. Cole and Hiscock were close friends. During the War, Hiscock, a widower, and Mrs. Cole had an affair. Cole was tried twice. The defense was insanity; there was a hung jury and the case was discharged. In the second trial, in NYS Supreme Court the jury found reasonable doubt and acquitted Cole by virtue of momentary insanity.

The Infamy of the case seemed to enhance the Stanwix reputation.

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In the 1870s the Hotel was acquired by the Lansing family and continued to be the most splendiferous of its kind. In 1878 it was completely remodeled; the dome removed and 2 stories added. It was retrofitted with modern’ conveniences; steam heating and up-to-date plumbing. Even with the opening of Adam Blake’s Kenmore Hotel on North Pearl St. in the early 1880s the Stanwix maintained its social cachet and was the most expensive hotel in Albany. It continued to provide superior service, excellent cuisine and a superior wine list. Even into the late 1890s it was the still tip top – offering both an American (with meals) and European (without meals included) plans and still very expensive ($3 per night was very steep.)

11But in the early 1900s it met stiff competition by the new Ten Eyck Hotel on the corner of State and N. Pearl streets, and then the Wellington and Hampton Hotels on State St. were built.  By 1920, it was more of a banquet and convention venue and had become somewhat down at the heels. In the 1920s itwas the bus terminal in the city.

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16In 1933, a hundred years after it was built,  the hotel was razed to make way for a new federal building and post office. (It’s now the Foley Courthouse.) In the basement of the present building, at the end of the corridor, is a small piece of stone and a plaque inscribed, “This stone was salvaged from the debris of Stanwix Hall and placed here, the exact location where it originally rested in its former home.”

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* Peter Gansevoort also had a daughter Maria who was the mother of Herman Melville. While a teen in the late 1830s Melville was president of an Albany debate club that held its meetings in the Stanwix.

** The first time the Stars and Stripes ever flew in battle was over Fort Stanwix.  It was made from red flannel petticoats from officer’s wives and the blue coat of a soldier from Dutchess County

Albany Public Market and Westgate Plaza: An Immigrant Success Story

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Giuseppi Nigro -age 24 – and wife immigrated to America in 1904. They hit the ground running. In 1905, the Nigro family opened a little grocery store at 114 Green Street. Six years later, it moved “uptown,” to a space on the city’s outskirts, at 652 Central Avenue. J. Nigro & Son watched their quiet neighborhood grow into a busy hive of commerce, and grew with it.

2In 1929, Nigro’s became Albany’s first WGY Food Market, also incidentally purchasing the first cash register from Henry Kass.

In 1933, Nigro bought the next door property (formerly home to a diner) and incorporated as the Albany Public Market (650-652 Central Avenue). (That building still stands, now Aaron’s Rentals.)

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6Nigro had grander visions for his successful little supermarket, and in 1947 he broke ground for an ambitious new Albany Public Market at 711 Central Avenue.

The gigantic new airplane-hangar-sized store opened (October 26, 1948) with a barrage of local excitement. The superlatives weren’t mere hyperbole – it really was the “largest food department store in the world.” Boasting an unheard-of 22,000 square feet of floor space, a warehouse that could hold 70 freight carloads of food, its own bakery, and a three-acre parking lot capable of holding 1,000 cars, the complex was an immediate sensation. (Then-VP Frank Nigro expanded on the hangar idea, claiming the building – twice the size of Albany Airport’s largest hangar – would house two B-29 bombers with jet fighter escort.)

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9130947012_aa38bf8af5_bA decade later, Albany Public Market would become the cornerstone business at the new (Nigro-owned) Westgate Shopping Center, with a store twice the size of the previous location.

Nigro coined the word “Westgate,”after reading a newspaper article about how Central Avenue (the Albany Schenectady Turnpike) was gateway to the West. Westgate Plaza was on the leading edge of mall shopping; despite it being entirely within city limits, it was, as a 1957 article said, “on the outer fringes of Albany.” Once again, it properly claimed the title of largest food store in the United States. The 711 Central Avenue hangar became King’s Department Store (and later on, OTB Teletheater/Nick’s Sneaky Pete’s, before it was razed to make way for Shop Rite).

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Albany Public Market expanded over the next two decades, becoming the first largesupermarket chain in all of upstate New York. Constant advertising, smart publicity and clever promotions kept both Albany Public Market and Westgate Plaza highly visible to the shopping public. Every Albanian of a certain age remembers one stunt or another, be it Santa landing in a helicopter or a DJ broadcasting from atop the Westgate sign.

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Albany Public Market was purchased by Weis Markets of Sunbury, PA in 1967, retaining the Nigros as directors and managers.

Eventually, the Nigros began concentrating their energies into lucrative real estate and banking operations. Best I can tell, Albany Public Markets ceased to be sometime around 1984-5.

From Al. Quaglieri’s Albany blog, Doc Circe Died for OUr Sins

When Albany Had a Yacht Club

 

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1The Albany Yacht Club was founded in 1873. Its first locations were in Albany near the base of State St. By 1880, it moved to the Rensselaer side of the river, opposite the steamboat landing, but that building was destroyed by fire in 1905.The Club made due in an old building on the Albany side of the River until 1909 when it decided to build a modern and relatively palatial 2 story Clubhouse. The new building, finished in 1910, was located on one end of a pier, leased from the City, across from Maiden Lane. Shortly thereafter the City constructed a municipal “Recreation Pier” on the other end, with a bridge running from Maiden Lane to the pier.

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3The Yacht Club membership grew with advent of the motor launch. The annual Albany – NYC race and regattas drew thousands of spectators. The events became an integral part of City life.

 

 

 

 

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In 1942 the Yacht Club Building took on a new life and the upper floors were leased to the USO for its Albany headquarters during World War II. The building’s proximity to Union Station, packed with trains full of servicemen day and night, was the main reason for selection of the site. When the War ended, the Club returned despite the wear and tear during the War years. But there was still one more life for the building. In 1949, the building was acquired by the federal government, commissioned as the local Naval Reserve Center, and a 3 inch gun was mounted on the pier outside the Clubhouse.

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The Clubhouse had survived 40 years, but the inability of the City to allocate the necessary resources to maintain the concrete piers during the Depression and War years, coupled with decades of winter ice and the river’s spring risings, took their toll. A large portion of the pier crumbled into the river in 1946; another hunk broke off in 1952. Although there were discussions about repairs, there were also discussions about a highway to run parallel to the river.

 

The Yacht Club met in temporary quarters until 1954 when a new Clubhouse was constructed in Rensselaer. Construction was begun on a new Naval Reserve Center on the corner of N. Main and Washington Ave in 1955. The City took possession of the Yacht Club building. Subsequently, the Clubhouse, the bridge from Maiden Lane to the pier and the pier, along with the old Day Line steamship sheds north of the pier, were demolished and the Yacht Club basin filled in to widen Quay St., and create a municipal parking lot.

Getting from Here to There in Old Albany

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If you lived in Albany in 1840 and you wanted travel in the city you either walked or if you were well to do, rode your horse or carriage or rented from one of the scores of livery stables that dotted the city. So mostly you walked. While the City’s population grew rapidly after the building of the Erie Canal, the actual area occupied by Albany’s population pretty much stayed the same. Think of 2/3’s of the population of today crammed into a quarter of the area covered by today’s Albany. Everything was in walking distance.

2.2But the city WAS growing slowly. By the mid-1840s there came to be destinations just at the fringes of the Albany – not easily reached. The answer was the “omnibus” for locations that were only several miles away from State St. – the city’s hub. The omnibus was a horse drawn vehicle that could accommodate multiple passengers and traveled on a regular schedule (an innovation, believe it or not!). The omnibus was simply a streamlined version of the “stage coach” used for long distances. It was pulled by a single horse or team over dirt roads or cobblestone streets. There were less than a handful of regular omnibus destinations: the Albany Rural Cemetery and in the South End near the growing village of Groesbeckville in the town of Bethlehem (the Second Ave. area today) and beyond to the Mount Hope hamlet where homes clustered near the large Rathbone and Prentice estates on South Pearl, and then farther south to Kenwood knitting mills in Bethlehem.

By the late 1850s, however, the city was bursting at the seams and Albany finally started to expand to accommodate its ever growing population. (In 1855 the population was 57,000, almost 5 times greater than before the Erie Canal, but people and businesses were basically crammed into the same area.) A construction boom began as the city pushed westward, moving towards the wilderness near what would become Washington Park; the Bowery – an area of farms on what is now Central Ave., and to the north beyond the Lumber District to North Albany. By 1860 the population had grown by another 5,000.

It became clear the city needed a system of regular transportation to get from here to there. In the early 1860s, two groups of investors came forward to establish “horse car” trolley companies. (Horse cars has been running throughout New York City since the late 1840s.) The horse car was very different from the omnibus. To make it efficient and faster, the cars which (resembled the omnibus) ran on metal wheels on a system of grooved iron or steel rails. This allowed the horses to haul larger loads in all weather conditions and provide a smoother ride. (Think “horse railroad”.)

The Western Turnpike Railroad Co. incorporated in 1862. (Its parent company ran the toll road that we know as Route 20.) Its first horse car started regularly scheduled trips from South Ferry St. up Broadway to North Ferry St. (in the Lumber District) in June 1863. The Albany Horse Railroad Co. was also formed and its horse cars started running in February 1864. The cars were 12’ long, accommodated 10-12 passengers and trundled along at breathtaking 3 mph. Its first run started up State St. from Broadway, over Eagle to Washington and Central and Northern Blvd. (then Knox St.). Soon the Albany Company became dominant and added other lines; to the West Albany Railroad shops, up Clinton Ave., down South Pearl to Kenwood and into North Albany. Routes expanded rapidly; horse cars were running to and into Troy and Cohoes and Watervliet.

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4 (2)In the 1870s the original Pine Hills line began; it started at North Pearl St. and Maiden Lane, down to South Pearl St. up Beaver St. to Grand St., west to Hamilton St. north to Lark St. , south to Madison Ave. and then past Washington Park over Madison to Quail St. and then expanded to Partridge St. By the late 1880s horse cars ran over the old Greenbush Bridge to Rensselaer and over the bridge into Troy.

Initially there were 2 horse car barns: on South Pearl near Second Ave. and on the corner of Broadway and Erie St. in North Albany ( we believe one of the original horse barns on Broadway remains; the other Broadway barns were demolished for I-90). In 1886, a third barn was added on Quail St., below Central.. By the mid-1880s Albany had 30 miles of track, 71 horse cars and 400 horses owne by the two Albany horse car companies.

Depending on the route grade, there would be a 1 horse or 2 horse team. State St. cars required 2 horses and on Market Days (Wednesday and Saturday) when farm wagons clogged State between Eagle and North Pearl, a “midget” horse car (called a bobtail) was needed to avoid the wagons. In heavy snow horse cars could be fitted with runners to function as sleighs. (During the Blizzard of 1888 a team of 8 horses tried to pull a car up the hill; it didn’t work and the car was abandoned in the street.)

Generally there was a driver and a conductor to collect fares and keep order. In the winter there were small stoves in the center of the car and hay lined the floor; there were open air cars in the summer. The cleanliness of the horse car generally depended on the conductor. By the 1880s cars were larger and some could handle 20 passengers (and often more – having to stand on a horse car was not uncommon). Some lines ran cars every 20 minutes during high use periods. There were regular stops but you could hail a horse car and you could ask to be let off in front of your house. Our favorite story from a newspaper of the time: a woman and her son got on a Pine Hills line; after a couple of minutes the female passenger told the conductor to halt the car, so her son could run back to their house and get an umbrella. It did and he did, as the rest of the passengers waited.

Horse cars obviously depended on the horses; they represented a significant investment. The animals were generally well tended, but there is no getting around the fact that it was grueling work. Depending on the route and whether the horse was part of a double team, the horses were expected to travel 14-20 miles/day. The average life span of a horse was 3-5 years. Overcrowding posed problems. While teams were switched on routes as passengers waited, there are stories of some animals simply dropping dead in the street. At one point many of the animals of one company died from drinking contaminated well water in the barns. There were accidents – with pedestrians and wagons and carriages.

Nevertheless – horse cars were wildly popular and successful. They allowed the city to finally expand and they shortened the time of the commute as people increasingly chose to live farther from their place of business. The fare within the city was a nickel. While they made money for investors they were still expensive to operate. Horse car companies all across the country were looking for alternatives. Car systems involving electric cables and steam were tried, to eliminate the need for horses, but none were really successful.

4But a number of inventors were working on a more practical electric system. Frank Sprague is generally credited with the invention of the first viable electric trolley system (in Richmond in 1888), but it is Leo Daft* with Albany connections after whom the “trolley” is named. Leo devised a mechanism to collect electric current using a wheeled device on the car; the device was called a “troller,” after the way it was towed behind the car. Daft’s system proved less than practical and electric poles as a means of providing electric current, but the name “trolley” stuck.

 

4.4The first test of an electric trolley in Albany was on a Sunday in 1889 on State St. (much to the surprise of St. Peter’s Church parishioners who has not been told this would happen). Soon trolley poles dotted the city, as electric trolleys were phased in. The power plant was located on South Pearl and Gansevoort, near the location of an old Mohawk and Hudson railroad round house). The transition to all electric cars in Albany was completed in 1894. 5**

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In the next 2 decades, car routes were extended and new routes established with electric cars. The Pine Hills line was extended to S. Allen St., then to Manning Blvd and ultimately to the Albany Country Club (where the University at Albany is today) over Western Ave. This was the farthest point of the trolleys in the city; the trip from downtown to the Country Club took about 30 minutes (about what it would take today). As development started on Delaware Ave. above Lincoln Park (then Beaver Park) a line was added from Lark St. down to Second Ave. A route was added over Clinton Ave. (although a route through Arbor Hill, eagerly awaited by residents, never materialized), a new route in the South End over Broad St. and Trinity Pl. was established.

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7.6The Albany Railway Co. started buying competitors in Albany, Troy, Watervliet and Cohoes. The name was changed to the United Traction Company (UTC) in 1899. It commissioned anew office on the corner of Broadway and Columbia St. designed by the preeminent architect Marcus Reynolds (who also designed the D & H Building and the Delaware Ave. fire house). The building, although it needs some TLC, remains on that corner.

 

 

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The trolleys continued to be popular and lucrative; ridership grew as the population increased (by 1900 Albany’s population was 100,000) and new routes were added.

But the 20th century would take its toll on the trolley. If we recall correctly the first automobile in Albany made its appearance in 1901 (it was owned by a physician). By 1912 there are reports of parking problems in downtown. In 1913 Henry Ford’s assembly line was churning out Model-T’s at the rate of 1 every 15 minutes, and they were affordable for the working class. Larger vehicles (a/k/a buses or coaches) that could accommodate multiple passengers were not far behind. They could go anywhere and were not restricted to rails and overhead electric current.

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8There was also trouble in worker’s paradise as company profits rose. In May 1901 there was a strike by UTC workers who wanted a pay raise and union recognition. It turned violent and 2 people were killed by the 23rd National Guard, deployed by the Governor at the request of the county sheriff, to guard the trolleys driven by strikebreakers. (The 1901 strike is the pivotal event in William Kennedy’s “Ironweed”.) The end of the strike was negotiated with a modest raise for strikers and the UTC’s agreement to meet with labor representatives. Labor issues continued to plague the UTC for decades, from small walk outs to protracted negotiation and arbitration.


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In 1921 a major wage dispute (the UTC proposed to cut wages on Troy lines) erupted into a strike of over 1,000 UTC workers. It started with violence in the late January; the newly formed New York State Police were deployed to protect strikebreakers running the trolleys in Albany, Troy, Watervliet and Cohoes. After initial clashes, the strike moved into a battle of attrition. For the most part trolley riders supported the workers. Private “jitneys” (think “gypsy cabs”) proliferated. The strike lasted throughout the summer; when it ended neither side has gained anything substantive.

(The strike helped end the longtime Republican machine rule over Albany; it was viewed as supporting the UTC over workers. In November 1921 Democrat William Hackett was elected mayor, with the help of Dan O’Connell – one door closes; another opens.)

13.2Buses began to run in areas of the city and adjacent suburbs in which residential development was growing exponentially, including New Scotland Ave. and Whitehall Rd. where there were no trolleys. By 1922 there were already bus companies serving these areas. It simply wasn’t financially feasible for the UTC to invest in trolley infrastructure. The UTC started acquiring bus lines and substituting bus service for trolleys. An owner of the Consolidated Care Heating Co. on North Pearl St. (it’s still there as CMP industries) which a had long history making parts for UTC cars) was experimenting with alternative vehicles- trackless trolleys.*** The new Versare Corp started to manufacture the vehicles; the UTC purchased at least one for its Western Ave. line. But the trolleybus, as it came to be known, didn’t catch on; it still required infrastructure to carry electric current, and once in place, it was difficult to re-route.

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In 1930 at the beginning of the Depression Albany’s population was now about 127,000 and had dispersed farther westward; real estate development had extended to Washington Heights (upper Washington Ave.), So, Manning Blvd, Buckingham Gardens (the area just west of So, Manning along New Scotland) and to Whitehall Rd. near Cardinal Ave. (the city line at the time). All these new homes were built with garages for the owner’s car. In 1927 a City Planning Commission was created to establish standards for this new development, including roads and traffic signals. (This was also the first attempt at citywide zoning in Albany.)

Throughout the Depression and into World War II trolleys continued to roll through the streets of Albany, but they became a much less important part of the UTC’s business model, which was now focused on buses.

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By the end of World War II the era of the trolley was over; the last UTC trolley ran on August  31, 1946, with Mayor Erastus Corning taking a turn on the throttle.  The #834 car did a full circuit of  the Belt line  route on a hot night and then returned to the Quail St. barn as a small crowd,  in the hot still night,  sang “Auld  Lang Syne”.

Private automobile ownership in the post War era was on the rise. The population pushed out into the suburbs and businesses followed. (The first shopping center in the area, Delaware Plaza, was established in Elsmere in 1955.) UTC profitability declined and it continued to be plagued by labor disputes. A 25 day strike in September/October 1967 was a crippling blow to a company already in financial toruble.

Similar financial problems were playing out among all the bus companies in the region at the same time. In 1970 the NYS Legislature created a public corporation, the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) to provide regional transportation services as the UTC and other companies went out of business. It took over the operations of the UTC and the Schenectady Transit Company.

There are 2 vestiges of the glory days of the trolley in Albany besides odd fragments of track buried under layers of street paving materials that come to light now and then. Two trolley poles remain – there is one on Hamilton St., just below Lark and another, recently restored through donations of concerned Albany citizens, on Quail St., between Madison Ave and Western Ave.

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*Leo Daft was an English inventor and electrical engineer who married Catherine Flansburgh, with Dutch roots going back to the mid-1600s in Albany. Their daughter Matilda married another Brit, Alfred Williams and the family (including Grandpa Leo) lived in Pine Hills for least 3 decades. (Grandpa Leo’s son was my great uncle.)
** The last horse car, in the Lumber District, ran into the early 1900s. As we understand it, it was never discontinued when the others were because of an odd clause in an abstruse UTC contract. We’ve heard that the horse car ended up in the Ford Museum in Dearborn.
*** The Versare Co. was sold to the Cincinnati Car Corp. in the late 1920s; that company closed in the 1930s in the midst of the Depression.

ALBANY’S WILLY WONKA

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We have fond memories of the Paul Anast Confectionery on Broadway. The minute you stepped inside the nondescript-looking industrial building you were transported by the smell of warm chocolate. You could watch the candy being made in all shapes and sizes in front of your eyes. Their peanut butter ribbon candy was utterly amazing, but the peanut brittle was awesome too.

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Paul Anast was born in Turkey in the mid-1890s and emigrated to America as a child. His family originally settled in Ohio, but after serving in World War I, he made his way to Albany. He worked initially with Alex Anast (who appears to have been a cousin who’d arrived in the Albany area from Turkey a couple of years earlier). Paul Anast opened his first confectionery shop in 1919, at 40 Lark Street, on the corner of Third Street, in a former grocery store. During the early 1920s Anast is also listed in city directories as working in several other candy stores (the Boston Candy Kitchen and the Crystal Candy Kitchen) on South Pearl. (A busy man!)

Despite many other confectioners in Albany in the 1920s (during Prohibition, people traded one vice for another and people were wild for candy) Anast’s business thrived. In 1933 he relocated to 1080 Broadway (near Niagara Mohawk) in North Albany. This is the location many of us remember. The company was primarily wholesale. It supplied much of the chocolate Easter and other holiday candy sold in the area Woolworth stores, as well as corner candy store/ice cream parlors, variety stores and pharmacies.

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The retail business was relatively small, but at Easter and Christmas in the 1960s you could get amazing hand molded chocolate bunnies and Santas that were unlike anything you could find in any other store. Anast used perfectly tempered Hershey’s chocolate and vintage Weygandt/Reiche molds that were decades old.*

The company also made a uniquely Albany candy called “contrabands” – little nuggets of golden light molasses, peppermint and butter that resembled “yellow jackets”. Why were they called contrabands? Here’s the legend: the girls who attended St. Agnes School on Elk St. circa 1900 would buy them from Mr. Mason’s candy store on Washington and S. Swan, and smuggle them into class. Episcopal Bishop Doane, founder of the exclusive school, was outraged and declared the candies “contraband”.

The Anast candy factory closed in 1970 and Mr. Anast passed away in 1979, but he left generations of Albanians with wonderful memories.

*The original Lark St. store was about 2 blocks from where my grandmother grew up on Livingston Ave. and a couple of times she asked him to make a chocolate bunny she remembered from her teenage years; he went in to the backroom, rummaged around and produced the mold – so my brother and I could have the same Easter bunny. It was ALMOST too good to eat.

Thanks to Al Quaglieri for much of what is written here.

 

 

Albany’s Potato Chip Empire

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We were looking at pictures of Albany’s waterfront in the 1930s and saw a giant neon 20’ sign, “Blue Ribbon Potato Chips.” Whoa! We never heard of it and had to know more. What we found was a potato chip empire that provided jobs to thousands in the area for almost 50 years, and when that ended the company re-invented itself and was the fish and chip king of Albany for 20 years.

By the late 1890s potato chips (then known as “Saratoga Chips” where they were invented- Saratoga Springs) were all the rage; they were served in restaurants throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. By 1890 recipes appeared in cookbooks and women’s magazines. They were introduced to America at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. But, as some of you may know, making potato chips is labor intensive and time consuming, what with the peeling and delicate slicing and precise frying. (In the current vernacular, a total PITA for busy housewives.)

Hmmmm….. But what if you could buy these yummy treats, pre-made in markets and grocery stores?

Enter the Walter brothers, Alexander and Alfred. One summer in Fairhaven, VT., they played mad scientists, trying to produce the perfect potato chip. They were so successful they started selling the chips in a shed in back of the Fairhaven train station. Within a year or so they decided to expand, looked over the border into New York State and saw Albany.

In 1902 the brothers opened the Blue Ribbon* Potato Chip factory at 4 Liberty St; one the first in the country. It was a success. The factory had an endless source of potatoes from surrounding farms and a large supply of labor (mostly women) who lived in the South End in the early 1900s. Because Albany was a railroad hub they could ship all over the Northeast. Within several years, the company re-located to a larger home at 51 -53 Liberty St.

But the potato chip market was limited. Chips were still a relatively expensive food; their production was labor intensive, despite some technology improvements. “Store bought” potato chips were a luxury because of their price, reserved by working people for special occasions. Why pay 50 cents for a pound of potato chips when you could buy 3 lbs. of lamb tongue for 25 cents?

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3So, In 1925 the company (now only Alexander, since older brother Alfred passed away in 1922) made a bold move. It re-located to 13 South Lansing St., opening the first factory in the world devoted exclusively to potato chip manufacture. It had all the new equipment that speeded up the processes of potato chip production, from peeling to slicing to frying and packaging. The Blue Ribbon Chip brand thrived, in part because production costs were lower and more people could afford the product. Potato chips; no longer just for the rich!

 

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attachmentBut by the mid-1930s times were tough. The initial years of the Depression saw an increase in sales. In 1946, Richard, son of Alexander said the company pioneered triple sealed, waxed wrapped packaging. “People thought we were crazy, but it was on this packaging that our volumes of sales was built.” Still new snack foods like Twinkies were created; there was growing competition in the potato chip market as new companies emerged. You can find AA Walter Co. ads in from the local Times Union newspaper in which they are offering for sale thousands (yes, as much as 6,000) of pounds of potatoes they weren’t converting to chips. The company tried diversification; around 1935 it introduced “Krinx” a candied popcorn, but it was hard to compete with Cracker Jack…WITH peanuts AND a prize.

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Still in the late 1930s the country started to emerge from the Depression and sales rebounded. Then came World War II. The Walter Co. secured government contracts to produce potato chips for the troops and to stock cafeterias and canteens in manufacturing plants across the country. The factory ran two and sometimes three shifts a day. At one point, it produced 7 million pounds of Blue Ribbon Potato Chips in 9 months. It made dehydrated potatoes for K-Rations.

In 1948 the company moved out of the city and into a new and completely modern plant in Colonie on Railroad Ave., but it was sold the following year.

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12In 1950, Richard and his mother incorporated another business called Walter Foods. It was primarily known for its fried fish (which, BTW, was awesome); there was also a catering business. The first location on Central Ave. grew to 3, with another on the corner of Hudson and Lark and a third on Madison Ave. between West Lawrence and S. Allen. Throughout the 1950s it dominated the market in Albany. In 1954 it started to produce potato chips, using the original Walter brothers’ recipe and made the old-fashioned way, by hand (awesome!). But slowly the business contracted (we think given the competition of McDonald’s and Burger King) and the last location on Central Ave., closed in the early 1970s.

The end of an era.

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*Alexander was the breeder of award-winning pedigreed dogs; hence the name “Blue Ribbon” – the very best.

If you are interested in the history of the potato chip industry, please see either TogaChipGuy.com or https://www.facebook.com/TogaChipGuy

The Women of Colonial Albany

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These short biographies come from calendar prepared by Stefan Bielinski of the Colonial Albany Project for Albany’s 1986 Tricentennial.  ( You should take a look at his Colonial Albany Social History Project )

Most of the women discussed here were the matriarchs of our city:

Alida Schuyler Van Rensselaer Livingston
Anna De Ridder Yates
Anna Von Rotmers Bradt
Anna Cuyler Van Schaick
Cathaline Schuyler Cuyler
Elizabeth Staats Wendell Schuyler
Elsie Wendell Schuyler
Engeltie Wendell Lansing
Magdelena Douw Lansing
Maria – a slave
Sara Gansevoort
Rachel Lambert Van Valkenburgh Radcliff

I have to admit I’m partial to Rachel Van Valkenburgh Radcliff, one of my 9th great grandmothers; a tough old bird and a workhorse.

Talk about Albany History – Rachel was the grandmother of Johannes Radcliff in – who was the second owner of the historic Van Ostrand- Radcliff House at 48 Hudson Ave. , the oldest structure Albany. And a little known fact, she was also a great grandmother (through her daughter Elizabeth) of James Eights who painted all those wonderful watercolors of Albany in the early 1800s. alioda.jpg

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Lydia Mott is probably the most important woman who ever lived in Albany and you probably never heard of her

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Lydia was born into a a large Quaker family  in 1807,  The family alternated between Long Island and Albany. In the 1820s, some of the family settled permanently in Albany, where the brothers and several of the sisters taught school (first on Broadway and then at the corner of State and Lodge). In the 1830s Lydia went to teach at a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia where she met Susan B. Anthony. They would remain best friends for 40 years.*

Upon her return to Albany Lydia became a shop keeper, selling men’s furnishings (shirts, gloves, scarves, etc.) Her first store was on Broadway, while the family lived on Chapel St. Her brothers died relatively young, and Lydia would maintain the business with the help of her sisters, Abigail (who passed away in 1851) and Jane (who outlived Lydia). The business moved to several locations including Maiden Lane, over a period of 15 years, until she started acquire property in Albany and operated a boarding house at 716 Broadway in the late 1850s until about 1870. This alone would have been amazing accomplishment for a single woman in the mid-19th century, but it was her extracurricular activities that are truly remarkable.

By the late 1830s, when she about 30, Lydia began to translate her interest in women’s rights and abolition into action. Several years before Susan B. Anthony became associated with women’s suffrage, Lydia was working in the trenches with feminist movement pioneers like Ernestine Rose, the Grimke Sisters, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott (whose husband was Lydia’s cousin and part of the vast Quaker reform activist movement.) Most of these women were also knee deep in anti-slavery activities. (Lucretia Mott and Stanton first met at an ant-slavery convention in London in 1840 to which they were not admitted because they were women.) Lydia Mott hosted lobbying activities and monitored legislative action from her home near the Capitol that were critical to the passage of The NYS Married Women’s Property Law in April, 1848 (which a gave women right to own property independent of their husbands).

The Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments” 3 months later in July, 1848 focused attention on the women’s rights movement, and over the next 30 years Lydia was at the center of the activities in the critical state of New York. It was here in Albany in 1852, when Susan B. Anthony, spurred on by Lydia, decided to focus her enormous energy on this issue of women’s rights. (They both had been denied admittance to a Temperance convention because they were women.). Lydia organized the conventions (ever the businesswoman, she was adamant that an admission fee be charged and speakers paid), coordinated lobbying, and corresponded with other states and key leaders. Her home was the gathering place when anyone came to Albany to discuss women’s rights. In 1873 when Susan B. Anthony was indicted by a federal grand jury in Albany’s old City Hall on Eagle St., she stayed with Lydia at her home, now on Columbia St.

But that wasn’t enough for Lydia. At the same time she had her awakening about women’s rights she became passionately involved in anti-slavery activities. Initially her involvement was local. She was the only White female member of the Albany Vigilance committee. She served as a conductor on the city’s Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves. In the 1840s Rosetta, eldest daughter of Frederick Douglass, was placed in the care of the Mott sisters for 5 years (Abigail taught Frederick Douglass how to read and write.) She coordinated the conventions, organized the correspondence and lobbying and scheduled speakers. Again the Mott home became the home away from home for William Lloyd Garrison, Gerrit Smith, Wendell Philips and other leading lights of the anti-slavery movement when they were in Albany.

As the movement picked up intensity in the 1850s, Lydia made her way to the national stage. By 1858 she was a vice president of the American Anti-slavery Society.

Lydia Mott was at the intersection of and played a key role in two of the most important social and political reforms of this country. There are few if any histories of the anti-slavery or women’s rights movements that don’t mention her or don’t include her correspondence with national leaders of the movements. During her life time she was nationally known; she was often referred to in the newspapers the same way as they referred to Susan B, Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Yet in this country and in even in her own city she is mostly forgotten. How does that happen? How does a woman so critical to our history simply disappear?

*Lydia was so important to Susan B. Anthony, that as Lydia was nearing the end of her life in 1875 , Susan cast aside her fast paced and often frenetic women’s rights travels and speaking engagements to spend the last month of Lydia’s life with her on Columbia St.