Albany Medical Center Hospital Hospital: a Brief History

Albany Med has played a key role in the City for about 170 years. Today, its mission is more critical than ever.

The Hospital was established in 1849. One of the founding physicians was Alden March, a farm boy from Worcester, Mass, who came to Albany after getting his MD from Brown University in 1820.

In 1834 he’s said to have established a first for New York State a practical school of anatomy and surgery, in this city. Several years later the Medical College (the fifth in the U.S.) was founded; it located on Eagle St.
Over time the need for a public hospital became apparent to Dr.March and several other local physicians.
Some histories say the first hospital was established in 1849 on Madison Ave. (then Lydius St.) on the corner of Dove St. (The building is still there.)
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First Hospital Building on Madison
By 1851 a new site was located on the corner of Eagle and Howard Streets, in the abandoned county jail. (The previous building became the site of the cholera hospital, a deadly infectious disease.)  The Albany Convention Center is on the Howard St. site today.
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Hospital on Eagle and Howard
In the late 1880s and early 1890s it became clear larger facilities were needed. By 1898 Albany Hospital moved to New Scotland Ave., where it has remained for over 120 years.
(That building on Howard St. subsequently housed the American Humane Association, the precursor to the American Humane Society. It originated the “Be kind to animals” slogan.)  The building was finally demolished around 1940.)
The new Hospital was a sprawling complex when it was built, with a nursing school and nurses dormitories. As we know, it dominates the landscape today, and is perhaps the largest employer in the City.
Hospital on New Scotland Rd. – circa 1900
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Hospital circa 1930
Hospital circa 1950

So thank to Dr. March, who understood the need to provide medical care to all Albanians, rich and poor, and a space where generations of doctors, (and then nurses), could obtain the needed clinical training.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany and the American Humane Association: Be Kind to Animals

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The nationwide American Humane Association was founded in 1877 as an organization devoted to the protection of children and animals. In 1905, when the president was William Stillman, MD, a local doctor, the national headquarters moved to Albany.
The Humane Association located in the empty Albany Hospital building on the corner of Eagle St. and Howard St.
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In 1911 it came up with the slogan and campaign “Be Kind to Animals” we all know so well, and is still used today.
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In the early days World War I it brought to the attention of public the plight of animals, especially horses, during the War, and founded the Red Star Relief organization. It has continued the campaign throughout the years to address needs of animals affected in military conflicts and disasters.
Over the years the Humane Association tackled such diverse subjects as treatment of child AND animal actors, slaughterhouses, and pet therapy for World War II veterans.
In 1938 the Association moved to the old Rice mansion on the corner of Dove St. and Washington Ave. (The Albany Institute of History and Art is in that location today.)
In 1954 the Association HQ moved out of Albany to Denver, Colorado, and is still very active. A most recent effort of the Association’s Red Star teams was the rescue of animals in the California wildfires.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

National Library Week – The Catholic Union Library in the Old Arsenal

Before Albany established a library system in the 1920s, and built the Harmanus Bleecker Library in 1924 on the corner of Washington Ave. and Dove St, as the main branch, the Common Council supported a number of independent libraries. These libraries were then available to the public, as well as members of the various organizations, like the YMCA libraries and John Howe’s independent not for profit library in the South End on South Pearl St.
One of the least remembered, but most used was the Union Free Library. It was housed in the Catholic Union building on Eagle St. and Hudson Ave.
The building previously contained a State Arsenal that opened in 1859, and housed most local military offices throughout the Civil War (although the barracks and training ground were located in an area surrounding Holland and New Scotland Avenues intersection).
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By the late 1880s the arsenal had outgrown its usefulness. In 1887 it was sold at auction by New York State. The purchaser was the Roman Catholic Diocese, and the building became the Catholic Union.
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The Union was, in essence, a catholic community center, providing space for the various parishes located mostly in the South End. It brought together congregants from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the mostly French parish of the Church of the Assumption on Hamilton St., St. Ann’s, St. John’s, the mostly German parishioners of Holy Cross on Philip St., and later the immigrants of St. Anthony’s in Little Italy.
It included lecture rooms, a large hall, kitchens, classrooms, a gymnasium (Al Smith is said to have walked from the Governor’s Mansion, and stripped down to his undershirt to shoot hoops), and a library. By the early 1890s the library held about 3,500 – 4,000 volumes and began to receive city funding.
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(By the mid 1930s the privately owned Eagle Movie Theatre was opened on the ground floor in one corner of the Building.)
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As immigrants of all faiths crowded into the South End the library grew and usage increased. By 1929 the John Howe library was constructed on Schuyler St. as part of the city system, and city funding for the Union Free library ceased. But the library was still accessible local neighbors for many years.
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The Catholic Union building was demolished in the mid-1960s for the Empire State Plaza. The end of an era.
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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Drive-in Movies – Albany Edition

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Under the first phase of  Covid 19 re-opening in New York drive-in movies could open.
Everything old is new again.
There are 4 drive-ins immediately around Albany; the Jericho on 9w in Glenmont, the Malta on Route 9 south of Saratoga, the Hollywood in Averill Park, and the Hi-Way, south of Coxsackie.
And this got me to thinking about the drive-in hay days of the 1950s and 1960s. While the the first drive-in, the Auto Drive -In, opened on Latham in 1941, the other came after World War II in  the late 1940s, post World War II.
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As more people could afford cars, they became more popular, but then  drive-ins had to compete with the growing television market.
Still, in the Albany area the number of drive-ins grew. I’m guessing by 1960 there were at least 15 within easy driving distance of the city.
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Carmen Rd.( Route 146) near Route 20
Indian Ladder Drive-in, New Scotland Rd., near New Salem

It was a cheap and convenient night out for Mum and Dad and the kiddos (usual bundled in their PJs because they would pass out before the 2nd half of the double feature). No baby sitters required.

There was fierce competition. First snack bars were added. Who doesn’t remember the dancing hot dog singing  “Let’s all go the snackbar”at intermission. (We were a frugal family so we packed snacks and drinks, but were allowed to get an ice cream cone.)
Some added in-car heaters (that never worked well) to extend the season. Then came playgrounds. The speaker attached to your rolled down car window gave way to a special frequency on your car radio. By the late 1960s some drive-ins added rock and roll bands before movies.
 The American drive-in theater became iconic, for so many reasons, but mostly because they combined 2 of our loves- cars and movies.
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But during the height of the horrible polio scare of the 1950s, before there was a vaccine for widespread use, drive-ins were safe places for family fun. (Sound familiar?)
But they were also the “passion pit” for teenage make out artists. Sneaking into the drive-in was a favorite pastime. You could drink at the drive-in. Mecca for teens and young adults as well as families.
Everyone had their favorites. I loved the Mohawk on Central Ave., just east of Rte.155. It was opposite my great uncle’s house (that became Andy’s Hardware). Dinner at his house and then the drive-in.
There were family movie and “dirty movie” drive-ins and teen movie drive- ins, each with a target demographic.
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But over time the allure of the drive-in waned and the large tracts of land became too valuable. By the late 1980s they were dinosaurs. Today there is a residential development where the famed Turnpike Drive was located on Western Ave.; others were replaced by shopping plazas and car dealerships.
Some just faded away. There were 2 on New Scotland Rd. between Slingerlands and New Salem – The Mayfair and the Indian Ladder; still vacant land today.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Fried Clam Friday and 28 Flavors in Albany

There are times when I yearn for Howard Johnson’s Fried Clams. Today is one of those days.
The first Hojo Restuarant in Albany opened on Central Ave. near Everett Rd. in 1939 with the classic nursery rhyme Simple Simon the Pieman on the sign. (You can still see the outlines of the original Hojo’s in the building that remains.)
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Hojo’s on Central Ave.  1939 
How did Mr. Johnson’s restaurants survive and thrive in the Depression? A bit of a miracle, but a great sense of marketing and branding, consistency, quality food at a reasonable price and child friendly. (My personal theory is clean restrooms, as well.)
But World War II and rationing decimated the chain. Yet it re-built stronger than ever, with the growth of new turnpikes and thruways, adding motor lodges to the Hojo portfolio.
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The next Hojo in Albany, with a motel, was built on Southern Blvd. near Exit 23 of the Thruway in the mid-1950s.
Southern Blvd.
A standalone Howard Johnson restaurant became a centerpiece of Stuyvesant Plaza when it opened in 1959. Others followed in Latham on Route 7 and on Central Ave. in Colonie.
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As competition among national and large regional restaurant chains increased Johnson upped the ante. In 1961 he hired Pierre Franey, chef at Le Pavillion, the premiere French restaurant in the U.S., and his sous chef, Jacque Pepin, to devise and test new recipes.
Fun fact: Pepin turned down offer to be White House chef under JFK at the same time. He worked for HoJo for about a decade.
The Howard Johnson brand thrived and grew. On weekend nights parking lots were packed.
Restaurants catered to families, the ladies who lunched, businessmen and tired travelers of all stripes – station wagons loaded with kids on summer vacations and traveling salesmen in suits.
Howard Johnson’s popularity began to tumble in the late 1970s. A series of acquisitions by venture capitalists and other motel chains diluted a brand already perceived as growing stale. The hotels remain, owned by Wyndam, but restaurants are gone.
Hard to say when the Albany restaurants disappeared. They were all closed by 2000.
The last one in the U.S., in Lake George (it made an appearance in the TV series “Mad Men”) was open on a limited basis, before the pandemic, last we heard. It still has an orange roof and a Simple Simon weathervane.
The last vestige of the  Central Ave. Howard Johnson’s , which became a Ground Round in the 1970s and into the early 1980s is a car dealership building.
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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Governor’s Mansion in Albany

It was built in the 1850s by Thomas Olcott, one of the wealthiest men in Albany, on what was the edge of the residential part of city at that time.
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In 1875 it was leased to new Governor Samuel Tilden and then purchased by NYS to serve as the official Governor’s residence. (Before that Governors simply lived in their own houses or leased properties during their term.)
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The Mansion has been renovated many times over the years. Teddy Roosevelt needed to accommodate his large family.
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Mansion
TR’s Children in Mansion Portico
TR’s  cousin Franklin Roosevelt added a swimming pool.
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FDR and family, and Admiral Byrd
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Eleanor Roosevelt walking the family dog
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FDR’s wheel chair on display at Mansion today
During Governor Lehman’s administration, following FDR, Mrs. Lehman did a bit of sprucing up (Eleanor Roosevelt was NOT an interior decorating sort.)
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Governor Lehman and Gov. (soon to be President) Roosevelt
Governor Dewey and wife eat soybeans for the war effort.
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In 1961 a fire ripped through the Mansion while Rockefeller was governor, and it was completely re-done.
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Governor Rockefeller at a holiday staff party  circa  1970. 36 mansion
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial

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Sometimes we take for granted the things we see every day. The Monument honoring Albany men who served in the Civil War probably falls into that category. It sits at the entrance to Washington Park at Henry Johnson Blvd.
Estimates vary, but we think about 7,000 -8,000 Albany soldiers and sailors served in the Civil War (Keep in mind the population of the city was about 62,000 in 1860.) They were old and young, married and single, and they were white and African American.
Yes, there were Black troops from Albany in the War. Most served in “Colored” regiments, but some served in “regular” regiments. (Much more research needs to be done to identify these men.)
Some of the men enlisted in regiments mustered in Albany, like the 44th New York. Others had moved out of the Albany by the time the War started, and enlisted in the towns and cities where they lived across the North.
They fought in almost every battle and naval action, from the first Battle of Bull Run, to the siege of Vicksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the clash of the Merrimack and the Monitor, and were there at the surrender at Appomattox Court House.
And those who returned formed Veteran’s organizations.*In Albany there were about 5 – my GGG Charles Zeilman, who fought at Little Round Top helped found the Lew Benedict Post. Quickly these individual posts banded together in a great association called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).
And so the local chapters of the GAR across the country raised funds and lobbied governments for memorials to those who served and died. These monuments can be found in big cities and small towns all across the North.
Most were built in the latter part of the 19th century, but in the early part of the 1900s it became clear that the Vets were growing old and passing away. So there was a re-newed push for monuments to commemorate their heroic efforts. In Albany that began about 1906.
The NYS Legislature appropriated $100,000 and additional funds were raised. The original location selected was Capitol Park, but that changed. There was a competition to select the design; the commission was awarded to Harmon MacNeil and represents “The Nation of Peace Won Through Victorious War”.
The monument is 22 ft. high and 21 ft. wide; it’s built from Tennessee marble and granite from Stoney Creek.
The inscription reads:
“In commemoration of the men of Albany who gave their lives to save the Union, and in grateful recognition of all whose patriotism aided to giving to this nation under God a new birth of freedom, in making love of country a national virtue and endowing our land with peace and prosperity. “
A bronze figure represents the country. She holds palms of victory and peace, and a sheathed sword of war. Etched in marble behind her are soldiers and sailors marching to her defense. On the other side is a Civil War battery in action. One end shows a wounded drummer boy; the other a soldier returning to his wife and child. There are about 60 life size figures cut into the monument.
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The memorial was dedicated with a grand ceremony and parade in October, 1912.
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Until  the Great War (World War I) and the creation of Memorial Grove and the Gold Star Mothers Monument in the Grove, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was the focus of all Decoration (Memorial) Day activities.
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*Sadly the Veterans posts mostly excluded African American soldiers who fought in the colored regiments. But in Saratoga County Billy Lattimore, (identified in the 1860 census as mulatto) fought with the 77th NY, and was an active member of the GAR for 50 years. (His grandfather Ben Lattimore Sr., a Revolutionary War soldier, is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery. )
However, the GAR national organization did include a number of African American members and officers who fought in regular and colored regiments, including a number of men who were born enslaved in the South.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor
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Albany’s Lost Riverside Park – Playgrounds and Flying Boats

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In the late 1800s mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants poured into Albany’s South End. It was a densely packed area of tenements and stifling hot in the summer.
So in 1901 the Albany Common Council created Riverside Park along the Hudson. It was small, but centrally located, and could catch the breeze from the River.
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There was a staffed playground with activities for the children, a hoop court, benches and a band shell for concerts in the evenings.
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Within 10 years residential development exploded, as homes were built on Delaware Ave., New Scotland Ave., and Pine Hills. The people who moved into these areas now had access Washington Park and the newly constructed Beaver Park (now Lincoln Park). And so, by about the early 1920s, it fell into disuse.
In 1929 it became the Albany hub for Coastal Airways, and its office was located in the Park. Coastal Airways flew Sikorsky Seaplanes (aka, the “flying boat”) between Albany and NYC at Bowery Bay, and Montreal. The planes took off from Hudson River, and landed in the Hudson.
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Sikorsky S-38 Hydroplane
By the mid-1930s Riverside Park was no more than a small grass patch, and it appears to have all but vanished by 1940.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Woman’s Suffrage Parade 1914

2020 is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of 19th amendment allowing women to vote. The language is stunningly simple, but reflects over 70 years of struggles by generations of women (and some men).
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”
Beginning in the late 1840s women began to make some modest gains (married women were allowed to own property, divorced women could be granted custody of children, etc. ), and in some states women could vote in all elections and some in some elections (school board). But women met defeat in many states.
In the 1890s a NYS constitutional convention refused to ratify for referendum a woman’s right to vote. But the women of the state re-grouped, and by the early 1900s the campaign began anew.
By 1914 it was approaching full throttle. And so the women of Albany and the surrounding area mounted a huge demonstration in the form of a parade in June 1914 in downtown Albany.
Hundreds of women participated; most wearing white dresses and sashes of yellow as they marched through the streets. There were teachers, nurses, women from the trade unions, other working women, older married women and their daughters, single women, widows, college women. They came from all walks of life – rich and poor. And there was a men’s division.
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The Grand Marshal, astride a horse, was Katherine Hulst Gavit. Ms Gavit had been president of the Albany Equal Rights Group for many years. She was a graduate of Syracuse University, and had worked at the NYS Library where she had met her husband (one of the librarians). (Her mother-in-law was one of the leaders of the anti-suffrage campaign mounted during the NYS Constitutional Convention of the 1890s.)
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Other marchers included Elizabeth Smith who would become head of Albany’s first unified library system in the 1920s, and teenage Frances Vosbugh who would become a physician and start the first birth control clinic in Albany in the early 1930s.
Through the efforts of the women of the Albany area and others woman’s suffrage made it on the ballot in New York State in 1915. It was defeated (Albany County voted no). In 1917 it passed (the men of Albany County voted no again, but it didn’t matter), and women in New York State could vote.
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Many of the women who participated in the suffrage movement, including Katherine Gavit, went on found the League of Women Voters.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany Zen – Washington Park Lake in the Moonlight

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circa 1909
It’s been hot and steamy in Albany the last couple of days. Can you imagine what an oasis the Park must have been in days before electric fans and AC?
During the evenings in the summer there were frequent band concerts in what was, in the early 1900s, the middle of the city.
The Park closed at night, but I have it on good authority that didn’t deter young boys and men (and even a young woman or two) from sneaking a quick cooling dip in the 5 acre lake on a hot summer night.
And it was also an irresistible location for romantic trysts in the moonlight (per the same good authority) on those same nights. Couples might quietly slip away from the audience, and blend into the 89 acres of shrubbery and trees.
Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor