Since the 1833 there’s always been a “round” building at the corner of State and Broadway (once known as Robinson’s Corner”). In 1831 the Albany Museum Building was constructed. Because of its design it quickly became known at the “Marble Pillar” building as well (the term was used interchangeably with the “Museum Building”). It was the grandest of its kind in Albany; not a residence like the Schuyler Mansion and not a public building. It was indicative of the new wealth coming to Albany as a result of the Erie Canal. By 1830 Albany was on the way to what we now think of as a modern city (not just a sleepy little Dutch burg) and men of vision were willing to invest capital in the city’s future.
The building housed a quasi–museum (not exactly the way we know of museums today) including a theatre and exhibition hall. It did double and triple duty. There were apartments and a restaurant, alleged to have been the finest in Albany of the time, called the “Marble Pillar”. It was often referred to as a “resort” and advertisements of the time attempt to lure visitors from all around the area. Between the “Museum” and the restaurant, it was probably the first tourist destination in the area.
Once the Canal opened in 1825, Niagara Falls (the first real tourism destination in America) became a sight-seeing mecca; you had to go to Albany to get on the Canal. It was the stage coach depot to all points. What better place for visitors to stop than the Marble Pillar resort? *
In 1848 the building was enlarged and its multi-purpose use continued, including a restaurant. When P.T. Barnum introduced Tom Thumb to Albany it was in the Marble Pillar building.
A fire in 1861 required major restoration of the building, and it became a home for a dizzying array of businesses over the next 40 years, including insurance companies, brokerage firms, banks, grocers, and carpet sellers. Even Western Union found a home. When Western Union moved in the late 1890s, the site became ripe for re-development.
In 1902 the Albany Trust Co. bank purchased the site and constructed the building you see today. It was designed by Marcus Reynolds. Albany’s pre-eminent and prolific architect of the early 20th century. He designed the D & H Building (now houses State University Administrative offices), the Delaware Ave. fire house, the Superintendent’s Lodge at the Rural Cemetery, Hackett Middle School, and Albany Academy among others.
The Trust Company building is on the National Historic Register.
*By 1830 visiting Niagara Falls had become a thing. A wonderful book, called “The Frugal Housewife”, by Lydia Maria Child (who was living in Boston when she wrote it) counsels women against engaging in such extravagance. (The book was so popular it was re-published 33 times in 25 years.)
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor