For over 300 years, the northwest corner of State and N. Pearl has been a very special part of Albany. In the late 1600s it was originally the site of the home of Nicholas Van Rensselaer and Alida Schuyler. After Nicholas died, Alida married Robert Livingston in 1679 (her husband’s former bookkeeper) and the Livingstons remained in the house on the corner. In 1735, Philip Livingston, future signer of the Declaration of Independence, planted what was to become the famous “Old Elm Tree” in front of that house.
Prior to the Revolution, the corner housed the “Blue Bell Tavern “and a number of stores. By 1794, it was known as Webster’s Corner. The Webster Brothers bookstore and printing house published the “Albany Gazette” and “The Albany Journal” and cartloads of Noah Webster’s spelling books and dictionary were dispersed throughout the Northeast. In the mid 1830s, the Boardman & Gray Piano Showroom and factory set up on the corner. And the Elm Tree remained.
In 1860 the grand Tweddle Hall opened, with shops and offices on the bottom floor and a large theater/hall above. However, by 1877, Mr. Tweddle (president of the Merchants Bank) finally gave into progress, and when N. Pearl St. was to be widened, he allowed the ancient “Old Elm Tree” to be cut down.
Maybe karma… maybe not… but in 1883, Tweddle Hall was destroyed by a disastrous fire. Tweddle re-built on the site, the Tweddle Building, without the hall, but again home to numerous stores and offices.
In 1915, Tweddle Hall was demolished for expansion of the Ten Eyck Hotel. just above it, facing State St. The hotel stood on that corner for another almost another 60 years.
Throughout most of the 20th century, it was the most famous trolley/bus stop in Albany and a meeting place for anyone Downtown.
During the 1950s and 1960s almost every bus in the City stopped at the corner. The sidewalk was wide and at 5pm there could be as many as 200 people crammed on the corner at any given time, waiting for “their bus,” one of a long line that often stretched several blocks. There was a Walgreen’s drugstore in the bottom of the Ten Eyck, the perfect place, if you were a kid, to dash in to buy a nickel Hershey bar… or if an adult, a copy of the Knickerbocker News, Albany’s evening newspaper for the bus ride home.
The Ten Eyck Hotel closed in around 1969 and the building was demolished, along with the Albany Savings Bank next door, for a new bank building of astoundingly modern architecture built in the early 1970s.
There was a plaque paying tribute to the Old Elm.Tree. but that has vanished over time; today’s plaque commemorates Philip Livingston, but not the tree he planted that stood for 130 some odd years.