Labor Day 2017 – the Faces of Albany Labor; We Built This City

If  you want to see more pics, take a deep dive in our Flickr site: AlbanyGroup Archive


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“Albany in the Snow”, 1871 by Walter Launt Palmer.

It’s Eagle St., opposite what is now the Court of Appeals.

Palmer was raised in Albany (son Erastus Dow Palmer, a carpenter who turned sculptor and had great success). Palmer grew up on Columbia St. and the moved to Lafayette St. (since demolished to create Lafayette Park, in back of the Henry Building)

He was born in 1854, so that means he was 17 when he painted this.. which captures an Albany winter so well. 

Albany Rural Cemetery – The Haunted Lake

The Cemetery’s Haunted Lake

The May 29, 1869 edition of the Troy Daily Press featured a detailed account of a visit to the Albany Rural Cemetery. Filled with interesting descriptions of the Cemetery grounds and its notable monuments, it also included a curious little tale of a haunting at Consecration Lake. While the now-drained lake is presently one of the Cemetery’s most secluded spots, in 1869, it was a highly visible part of the Tour popular with visitors. Carriage paths on either side of the sparkling creek led to the ornamental lake, complete with a cast iron fountain in the shape of a cherub holding a dolphin and leaning against a column from which issued a glittering spray of water some thirty feet into the air. This very charming and scenic spot was apparently the chosen haunt of a certain ghost!

“A legend which has since died out was current in this vicinity a few years ago to the effect that the tenant of a certain tomb rose regularly from his narrow quarters, upon the anniversary of his demise, at the witching hour of night that Shakespeare chronicles, and wandered around the cemetery, always returning to his cold domicile at ‘cock crow’ in the morning. It was said that ‘Consecration Lake’ was a favorable resort of this restless inhabitant of the “silent city;” that he would walk across its bosom and linger in the vicinity of the fountain, as if to enjoy a refreshing shower bath under the falling spray. It was stoutly asserted, that on the following days, indisputable evidence appeared that the marble slab covering the mouth of the tomb had been displaced, and re-adjusted after the return of the wanderer.”

The article does not speculate on the identity of the showering spirit, though there are only two tombs in this vicinity, the McIntosh crypt with its stunning winged hourglass and the hillside vault of the Yates-Satterlee families. Perhaps the ghost with a fondness for the fountain emerged from one of them?

from Albany Rural Cemetery- Beyond The Graves

Benedict Arnold in the Albany Military Hospital; While Others Nursed his Wounds, He Nursed his Grievances

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzsaratogabigToday, October 7, 1777 the Battle of Saratoga, which began on September 19th, ended. British General John Burgoyne made a last desperate attack on Bemis Heights. Disobeying a direct order from the commanding general, Horatio Gates, General Benedict Arnold flung himself into the fray, leading patriot troops against pockets of British attackers and exploiting weaknesses in British defenses. One soldier said “he was the very genius of war”.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz600px-Arnold-bootDuring one of the last attacks, Arnold was shot in the leg and fell, pinned beneath his horse.

The Americans won the battle, called the “turning point of the Revolution”. Burgoyne retreated, surrendering 10 days later. Benedict Arnold’s fighting days were over. His leg had been shattered by a musket ball. Arnold, along with 1,000 other American, British and German wounded, was sent to the military hospital in Albany. (By tradition, Arnold is reputed to have been transported initially to a house in Kinderhook after the Battle – but he ended up in Albany hospital.)

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz22218658_1613266232081985_8976180239136605161_oThe hospital was constructed during the French and Indian War in the 1750s. It was located down the hill from Fort Frederick, overlooking the City at what is now the intersection of Lodge and Pine Streets. In 1776 it was refitted as one of 11 major military hospitals during the Revolution.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzlodge anbd pine(Once upon a time there was an historical marker identifying the location; that has disappeared.)

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzlthospital300It was a large building, constructed in an H configuration; with 2 stories, and 40 small wards (to enable quarantine from infectious disease) and able to accommodate 500 patients. After the Battle of Saratoga, the hospital was so crowded that provisions were made to locate patients in the Dutch Church at the intersection of State and Broadway. The Albany Committee for Safety also commandeered several private residences. About 60% of the patients were British and German; they were accompanied by their own physicians and surgeons.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


Arnold was not a “good patient”. Surgeons wanted to amputate his leg to save his life. He refused. Contemporary descriptions from hospital doctors describe him as petulant and peevish. He was encased in the equivalent of wooden box; immobilized. Finally in January 1778 he was sufficiently recuperated to be able to sit up in bed and write letters. He would remain in the hospital until late February or early March.

Those 5 months gave Arnold time to think. From his hospital bed he learned that most of the credit for the victory at Saratoga was going to “Granny” Gates, notorious for his excellent organizational skills, but thought by many to be a man of little personal courage and deficient in battlefield tactical skills.

Arnold’s Revolutionary War career had already been full of ups and down – the capture of Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen (Allen received most of the credit); an extended campaign in Canada, during which he was promoted, shot in the leg (yes, the same leg) to brigadier general, then replaced and finally forced to retreat from his occupation of Montreal; a rout in the Battle of Lake Champlain (that did serve to delay the British drive south to Albany until the following year), and shot again in the leg (yes, that leg) in the Battle of Ridgefield, Ct. He was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress several times and accused of corruption and malfeasance by fellow officer. He finally submitted his resignation which was refused by Washington, who then dispatched him to upstate New York.

As he lay in the Albany Hospital, abusing phycians, orderlies and everyone in sight, we see a really angry man with more than ample time to think about his life. He was 36, a widower with 3 sons. He was a man of action and a natural warrior whose fighting career was over. He had thrown himself into the War and his business had suffered. A doctor who treated him after his initial leg wound in Canada less than two years before noted that Arnold, while in the Albany military hospital, seemed to be a different man – now dissatisfied, disgruntled and truculent. Several visitors note the same; it is quite probable that those long months during a cold and bleak Albany winter provided a time for reflection and set the stage for the perfidy that was to come.

By the time Arnold left Albany for his home in Connecticut, the Albany hospital had few patients. The Marquis de Lafayette had spent the month of February, 1778 in Albany. During that time he made arrangements for the remaining British and German patients and their physicians to be transferred to General Howe in New York City. In early June, the hospital closed. The War in upstate New York was mostly over and the hospital was no longer needed. The last patients and staff were transferred by sloop down the Hudson to another hospital near West Point.

The Hospital itself seems to disappear by the end of the War. We surmise land became too valuable and it was demolished and the land sold .

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Fascinating History of the Livingston Avenue Bridge- Local Politics and a National Fortune

The Livingston Avenue Bridge is the graceful and anachronistic swing bridge that carries trains across the Hudson River at Albany and still swings open to let larger ships reach Troy. The account of how the Bridge came to be built is fascinating, as it relates to how things get done in Albany and the role it played in American history.

The earliest bridge across the Hudson, at Waterford, was completed in 1804, by Theodore Burr, but the bridge was far from the population centers of Albany and Troy. NYS legislation was introduced in 1814 to provide a bridge near Albany, but Troy objected, believing it would obstruct navigation to Troy. Over 50 years, during which the Erie Canal opened and railroads were invented, squabbles over the bridge and its location continued. Meanwhile, people crossed the Hudson River by ferry boat. (That’s why there are North and South Ferry streets in Albany.) Even Lincoln’s funeral train car came across from Rensselaer to Albany by boat.

After decades the Hudson River Bridge Company was finally incorporated in 1856 for the purpose of erecting and maintaining a railroad bridge from Albany to the opposite shore. The bridge was to be set at least 25 feet above the common tide, “so as to allow under it the free passage of canal-boats and barges without masts, with a draw of sufficient width to admit the free passage of the largest vessels navigating the river.” (The “draw” is the bridge section that moves.)

But bridge opponents didn’t give up. A lawsuit seeking to restrain the Company reached the U.S. Supreme Court. And as late as March 8, 1864, a legislative amendment proposing to reduce the width of the draw was taken up in the state Senate, the subject of a speech by longtime opponent Major General Daniel E. Sickles, a legend of a man.*

done12725025884_1b811a83bf_bEnter titan of the Gilded Age, Cornelius Vanderbilt (a/k/a The Commodore). At the start of the Civil War Vanderbilt realized that a transcontinental railroad would slash travel time from coast-to-coast by months and understood the importance of railroads when the War ended. He sold most of his shipping interests to invest in railroad lines, including the Hudson River Railroad line, controlled by Erastus Corning, great grandfather of Albany’s long term Mayor Erastus Corning II. The bridge was finally built.

The first engine, the Augustus Schell, passed over the bridge on February 18, 1866. Passenger trains started using it on February 22. The bridge had no particular name (and no need for one, being the only bridge). It spanned 1,953 feet, with a draw 257 feet wide — and cost $750,000, a nifty 50 percent overrun from its allocation of a decade earlier.

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Now Vanderbilt made his move. It was brilliant. He owned the only bridge across the Hudson, leading in and out of New York City – the gateway to the country’s largest port. He cut off the bridge to rival railroad traffic. Without the bridge, every other railroad was shut out of NYC, Before their stocks become worthless, the rival rail road presidents try to sell their shares. When Wall Street realizes, there’s a massive sell off. And when the price fell, Vanderbilt buys their stock for pennies. In just days, he creates the largest single railroad company in America which was to become the New York Central Railroad, controlling 40% of the nation’s rail lines. (When Vanderbilt died he was the worth about $200 billion in today’s dollars, making him the richest man in America at the time.)

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And STILL there was wrangling over the Bridge. A NYS law passed in 1868 directing the bridge company to build a new bridge and to demolish the previous bridge as soon as possible. If it did not do so, Albany or Troy had the right to do so and bill the company. Something must have changed by 1869, however, as another act authorizing a new bridge was passed. The Upper or North Bridge remained and was joined by another bridge at the foot of Maiden Lane in Albany, which opened 1871. Less than a year after that, in October 1872, the Union Depot opened. (The “new” Union Station that stands on that spot was constructed in 1899.)

10111048343_aca0ecfb65_bdone Upper hudson Bridge 1891

Edone 16923486288_16cbcb2046_bventually the two bridges were given specific assignments: the lower bridge, the Maiden Lane Railroad Bridge (demolished c 1971), with its easier access to the Depot, carried passengers: the upper bridge carried freight and foot traffic (at two cents a crossing). It skirted Arbor Hill and allowed trains to barrel through Tivoli Hollow to destinations in the west.

There are claims that the Upper Bridge, which eventually came to be known as the Livingston Avenue Bridge (for the adjacent street that then ran all the way to the waterfront), dates to the 1866. Not exactly; the superstructure is from 1901. A letter in The Bridgemen’s Magazine in July, 1902, indicated that:

“The A.B. [American Bridge] Co. are making fine progress with the Livingston avenue bridge across the Hudson. The last through span has been riveted up and there remains but seven girder spans to go in on this contract, besides the draw, which will be placed in position after the close of navigation.”

It’s not clear if the limestone piers from the original bridge were maintained, or perhaps reduced in number; through filling, the river is now considerably less wide and the bridge appears to have only eight or nine piers. But the current piers look so much like those of its predecessor it’s quite likely the piers are original

FYI – a third span across the Hudson, the Greenbush Bridge, was constructed in 1882 by a private company that initially charged a toll. That Bridge was replaced by the Dunn Memorial Bridge in 1933, named after World War I Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Parker Dunn, from Albany. That was demolished in 1971, following the completion of the current bridge of the same name in circa 1968.


*Sickles was a very interesting and notorious guy with a penchant for the ladies. He served in the NYS Senate and U.S. Congress. While in Congress he killed Francis Scott Key’s son in a love triangle and invented, with attorney Edwin Stanton, the temporary insanity defense. He went on to serve in the Civil War, lost a leg and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Gettysburg. A very full life.

Thanks to Carl Johnson and his post in from 2011 for much of the information included here.

Global Domination.. Why Albany is the home of the American Globe

The man who manufactured the first globe in the United States was a farmer and part time blacksmith, James Wilson. He was born in New Hampshire 1763, but moved to Bradford, Vt. in 1796. While on a brief visit to nearby Dartmouth College he saw a pair of terrestrial and celestial globes and resolved to try and duplicate the effect. Family documents indicate that Wilson’s meager knowledge of geography and astronomy made it necessary for him to purchase a voluminous and well-illustrated encyclopedia, using money from sale of farm stock. He also visited Amos Doolittle, New Haven, for some instruction on engraving (Doolittle’s engravings had been included in Jedediah Morse’s “Geography Made Easy” (1784), the first geography published in the U.S.)

Wilson experimented with various methods to construct the globe and engrave on a curved surface. After many attempts he had a globe he felt he could sell. The earliest sale identified dates to 1810, but more work was required. Family tradition has it that Wilson published his “first edition” of perfected globes in 1814, and exhibited them in Boston. He manufactured both terrestrial and celestial globes. “The small unpainted black­ smith shop had become a globe factory which was throwing off its products as far as Amherst and paralyzing the heart of the English globe trade in America.”

2Wilson realized he needed to move his operation to an urban area, but didn’t want to leave the farm, so he sent 2 of his sons to start the business in Albany. The date the Wilson Globe manufactory started in Albany is not clear, although it was about 1815 and most certainly not later than 1817. The location was Washington Ave., but there are various addresses within a 5 year period – 110, 133 and 166 – all in the block between Swan and Dove. The globes were sold directly by the Wilsons and by commission agents in places like New Haven, New York City and Boston, as well as the western parts of New York State.

4.1     Initially, the oldest Wilson son Samuel seems to have been in charge of the Albany shop, but a year later, another son, John is running the Albany business in 1818. David, Wilson’s third son, joined his older brothers at Albany, and did the engraving on a forthcoming new edition of three-inch terrestrial and celestial globes. (He left the business in the early 1820s to become a painter of miniatures.)

The celestial globes made at that time “had the Greek letters affixed to the groups of stars, and were furnished with a new horizon,” as one observer states. “The frames of the sets were of ash and each globe was furnished with a brass quadrant and the screw at the bottom could be easily turned with the fingers without a screw driver. Each globe was packed in a pine box of material half an inch in thickness, planed, and dovetailed, with hinges and clasp.”


The high point of the company came in 1826, when they brought out an entirely new set of plates for all three sizes of globes. It was’ after this new edition that James Wilson withdrew from the ·direct involvement the business side of the company, and he introduced Cyrus Lancaster, a young man who had studied at Philips Academy into the firm. He was doubtless expected to speed up sales to the educational institutions.


The new edition of the globes, complete in every way, their appearance quite equal to the London make, and their engraving of the North American continent more accurate, the Wilsons told their story to the nation’s capital. In December, 1827 members of Congress were presented with a notices which touted the American manufactured globes by James Wilson & Sons, Albany NY, “exhibiting now for public inspection at the United States Library of Congress” a pair of thirteen-inch globes, and claimed he was “the original manufacturer of Globes in this country, and has brought the art to such a degree of perfection, as to supersede altogether the necessity of importation of that article from abroad.”

All was going well until about 1830 when both of James’ sons, John and Samuel, die in quick succession. Cyrus Lancaster, the employee brought in by Wilson in the 1820s now ran the business, while James remained in Vt. In 1835, Cyrus marries Samuel’s widow Rebecca, raises the Wilson children and has several more with Rebecca.

The business continued, but now there was competition and cheaper globes wee being manufactured in a much less labor intensive process, producing an adequate product for the growing masses eager to learn about the world However Cyrus Lancaster continued to manufacturer globes in Albany with superior quality. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s and until at least 1851, his globes win prizes because they were works not only of science and geography, but art as well. He continues to acknowledge James Wilson (and probably pay some sort of fee to him), but they are manufactured under his own name.

During the 1840s and early 1850s there are addresses for the business on Westerlo St., probably near Green, 144 Hamilton and 230 Dallius St. But there are no references to Cyrus after 1851 in Albany, and in 1854 we find him in Brooklyn as an inventor of a self-adjusting railroad switch and an improved ventilator for railroad cars.

5James Wilson died in 1855 in Bradford Vt, up on the farm he loved. Cyrus Lancaster died 8 years later in Brooklyn.

While James gets the credit for the invention of the globe, to this day globes with the gorgeous wooden frames you often see in libraries are still generally referred to as “Lancaster” models. Wilson and Wilson/Lancaster globes are on exhibit in museums all over the world, and when they do come up for sale they can fetch as much as $50,000. And if you want to buy a “Lancaster” globe from Walmart, it will cost you about $250.


(Parts of this post excerpted from Leroy Kimball, “James Wilson of Vermont, America’s First Globe Maker”, April, 1938 “Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society”)

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor