Albany – There’s Nothing Permanent Except Change; a Cemetery, a Playground, a Barracks Village and a High School

Cities change; sometimes the change is slow and sometimes rapid.. but they change. They reflect the people who live in them and their changing needs. We think that no other place in Albany demonstrates this type of change as well as one block on Washington Ave. between Partridge St. and North Main Ave.

.The Cemetery

In the early 1800s this area was probably farmland, several miles away from the populated area of the city. But in the late mid-1840s it became a Roman Catholic Cemetery. At that time it was bounded by Washington Ave., Erie St., Lancaster St., and North Main Ave.



The original purchaser was probably St. Mary’s Parish because it’s usually known as Sr. Mary’s Cemetery today, but by the late 1860s and 1870s it was known also known as Cathedral Cemetery and St. Joseph’s Cemetery as well. Although there was a small Roman Catholic lot in the State Street Burial Ground (it would later become Washington Park) dating back to about 1800, as a huge influx of mostly Irish Catholic immigrants poured into Albany it became inadequate. St. Mary’s become the primary Catholic cemetery in the city. In the 1860s, about 20 years after Albany Rural Cemetery (ARC) was founded, the Catholic Diocese created St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, but burials in St. Mary’s Cemetery continued. But the city was expanding at an explosive pace. The population grew rapidly after the Civil War, and the invention of first the electric trolley, and then the automobile made it possible for residential development to expand west from downtown.

By 1910 or so land was at a premium and city officials were working to remove the few private cemeteries in city. A newspaper notice from 1914 says the disinterment of at least 8,000 bodies will be begin in the next week; but that appears to have been delayed. A 1916 article says disinterment is imminent and refers to 2,000 bodies. We may never know number of removals.

The Park

The City of Albany purchased the cemetery land (about 8 acres) around 1920 , and then subsequently property on Lancaster St. (that at the time ran between Partridge St. and North Main Ave, parallel to Washington Ave).


There were lots of idea about what it should be, including a miniature golf course (all the rage at the time). But it was decided it should be a park – St. Mary’s Park and playground; it opened around 1925. In the mid-1930s the park was expanded, and the Erie St. boundary disappeared – extending area to Partridge St. And it so remained a park for about 2 decades.

In 1945 part of the property was transferred to New York State. Prior to World War II the State Teacher’s College had plans to expand its facilities, and construct a gymnasium and other buildings. But those plans were de-railed by the War, and would be de-railed again after the War.

The Barracks Village

Before World War II there was a severe housing shortage in Albany. Post-War the shortage became a full-fledged crisis. Men came back from the War had shared bedrooms as boys; they now had wives and children and nowhere to go. Several generations of families were crammed into small houses and apartments. It was that way across the country. Yet building takes time, so New York State decided it needed to construct temporary housing for veterans across the state.

In Albany it selected the St. Mary’s Park land owned by both the State and city. Old military barracks were trucked in from the western part of the state and converted to housing. A street grid was laid out:, water, sewer, gas and electric lines were run, and concrete sidewalks poured. There was even a village post office and a small playground The village was designed to accommodate 250 families in apartments and 150 single men who would be living in dormitories -attending school on the GI Bill. Newspaper articles of the time report there were 700 applicants.


The first 22 families moved into their new homes in October, 1946.And everything was wonderful until it wasn’t.

The little veteran’s village was meant to be temporary, but NYS authorizing legislation was extended twice. By 1952 it was still occupied, although the buildings were deteriorating and several had to be evacuated. NYS offered it to the City – the city declined because it was building Albany’s first housing project in North Albany. Things got messy; the remaining families were evicted, and in 1954 all traces of the village was razed.

St. Mary’s Park and Playground Again

By 1956 St. Mary’s Park was turned into a playground again. This time it was much expanded, with a large wading pool (it was concrete and knee scrapes were legendary), the addition of tennis courts and a baseball diamond. Off to one corner on North Main Ave. the Naval Reserve Center was built about the same year.

The High School

In 1966 Albany decided to build a new high school in St. Mary’s Park. The area to be used was identified as 27 acres. The existing high schools, Albany High on Western Ave. and Philip Schuyler in the South End, were old, deteriorating, out-of-date and over-crowded. Additionally, they were concerns raised by the NAACP about the lack of facilities and programs (compared to Albany High) in Schuyler High School which had a majority Black student body.

But this is Albany and things sometimes move like molasses in January. Finally the first pilings for the new high school for sunk, but they had rusted out by 1970 (O Albany).

After a new start, a multi-million dollar cost over-run, and charges of corruption and graft among contractors and politicians the new Albany High School opened in January, 1974, amid rumors it was haunted.

The Haunted High School ?

Well, Albany High IS built on an old cemetery. And almost every time something new was built on the site remains from the old cemetery were found. During the first transformation to a playground newspapers reported that remains of 2 individuals were found; at least one body was found when the Barracks Village was built; another when the site returned to a playground in the 1950s, and in 1972 during high school construction workers found the remains of two individuals from the cemetery. Who knows what lies beneath?

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

More in our Recurring Series: The Bicentennial Tablets; Where Are They Now? First Presbyterian Church

Tablet No. 9 – First Presbyterian Church

As we’re tracking the histories associated with the tablets that were installed in 1886 to commemorate the bicentennial of Albany’s charter as a city, we’ve been lucky so far in that nearly all of the tablets we’ve written about have survived. The first lost tablet marked the site of the first Lutheran Church. Now the second one that has been lost is the one marking the site of the first Presbyterian church. And given the tremendous changes in topography in this particular part of Albany, it’s a little difficult to show exactly where it was. But we’ll try.

Inscription on Tablet

Bronze tablet, 16×22 inches, inserted in the wall of building north-east corner of Grand and Hudson streets. Inscribed thereon :
“Site of the First Presbyterian Church — Built 1763 — Removed 1796.”

Of course the north-east corner of Grand and Hudson Ave. doesn’t exist anymore, it’s buried somewhere under what is now the Times-Union Center. And to the best of my knowledge this tablet doesn’t exist anymore either. “The Argus” in 1914 noted that this was one of three tablets that had “been refastened with slot-headed screws, instead of having the heads filed flat as originally, and in one case at least the screws are becoming loosened.” The paper also noted that “there is a possibility of the city taking the block bounded by Hudson Avenue, Grand, Beaver and William streets for an addition to the public market, in which case something would have to be done with tablet No. 9, marking the site of the First Presbyterian church.” In the end, that building was unaffected by the market, which was built across the street.

The Neighborhood

It is really hard to relate where things used to be when they have changed so very, very substantially. All of the  tablets so far have been on buildings that continue to exist, or at least in places we could point to with some ease. But here we’re talking about entire city blocks that are gone, on streets that we barely recognize in the modern landscape. So, we’ve done the best we can to relate where the first three buildings of the First Presbyterian Church of Albany were located. The first location is squarely underneath the Times-Union Center (not to worry: the Presbyterians came late enough there were no burials around their church that we are aware of). The second is under the plaza corner of the Omni Tower. The third is buried directly below the exit roads from the Empire State Plaza and the East Parking Garage.

The First Presbyterian Church

A history of the First Presbyterian Church of Albany, written by Rev. J. McClusky Blayney in 1877 unhelpfully says, “The exact date and circumstances of the organization of the Presbyterian Church in this city, I have not been able to ascertain.” We aren’t a professional historian, but to Mr. Blayney, author of the history of the First Presbyterian Church, we must say: you had one job.

Blayney said that he had seen notices of the date of organization of the church as 1763, and that he thought it a mistake related to the deed of October 1763, when the City provided a deed for a lot on which to build a church. Blayney believed the congregation dated to at least a year earlier, in 1762, and he noted that in 1760 there was at least Presbyterian preaching being done here. The Albany church was associated with the Dutchess County Presbytery in late 1762 or 1763. In 1775 it was transferred to the Presbytery of New York; a Presbytery of Albany was established in 1790. The first pastor of this church was Rev. William Hanna. But the Bicentennial Committee, anyway, was satisfied with a date of 1763 for the church building, and that appears to be the best we’re going to do.

The First Church Building: Hudson and Grand

The first building stood with Hudson street to its south, Grand to its west, Beaver to the north, and William to the east. Blayney writes that “This ground was then known as ‘the gallows hill,’ and is described as being ‘very steep.’” (Several Albany locations have been called gallows hill at various times.)

“The first church building was erected on this lot during the year 1764. A stairway winding around the hill, and very difficult of ascent during the winter season, was the only means of approach to the church. The house was built of wood, and is described as being ‘of a respectable size, though not of a very elegant appearance.’ It was covered with a flat roof and surmounted with a tower and spire, the tower containing a bell. it was painted red, and stood fronting the east.” Unfortunately, we have found no image of this first church. This description is as much as we know of it.

That description would place the very first Presbyterian church building just about at the southeast box office entrance of the Times-Union Center. The driveway into the parking lot from the current Market Street is essentially William Street. The marker was placed on a building at the northeast corner of Grand and Hudson, so just a little bit west along the Times-Union Center’s current structure from that entrance. The building that stood there (97 Hudson, or 16 Grand, depending on which way one was facing) was used for many years by Chuckrow’s Poultry – possibly as early as 1900, and at least until 1972. So it appears the building even survived the Empire State Plaza and expressway construction.

A look at photographs of Chuckrow’s doesn’t reveal the location of the tablet – given how many windows were in the facade at street level, it’s likely that renovations to the building could have displaced the tablet at any time. The building likely survived into the ’70s; a 1980s photograph shows the corner building gone, but the remaining strip on Grand still intact, so the block likely survived until the construction of the Times-Union Center.

The Second Church Building: South Pearl and Beaver

Owing to the growth in the congregation, the trustees of the church appointed a committee in 1792 to purchase “a lot on the plains” for a new church – presumably they had had enough of the stairs. The lot was on the northeast corner of South Pearl and Beaver streets, and a construction contract was let in March 1795. They struggled to raise the needed money, and borrowed against the future sale of pews. The church was completed and first occupied Nov. 2, 1796; “the steeple was not finished for nearly twelve years afterwards.”

Given the timing, we suspected that this second church could have been the work of Albany’s preeminent architect of the day, Philip Hooker, but according to “A Neat Modern Stile: Philip Hooker and His Contemporaries,” this design was by Elisha Putnam. The steeple that wasn’t finished for nearly twelve years, however, was credited to Philip Hooker, in 1808.

That building was enlarged and remodeled in 1831. It remained the Presbyterian Church until 1850, when the congregation moved to another new church, this time at Philip and Hudson, just a block away from the church’s first location. The old (second) building became home to the Congregational Society for at least a few years.

The site of the second First Presbyterian church then became known as the Beaver Block (at least as early as 1869), and was used for businesses but also still hosted services, of the First Universalist Society. It seems likely the brick church was either torn down (“A Neat Modern Stile” reports it was razed circa 1890) or somehow incorporated into a much larger structure, because the Beaver Block, which housed many businesses and seems to have served as a union hall, was eventually a large structure spanning from Howard to Beaver.

Blayney sheds little light on the conversion, writing: “It then [1850] passed into the possession of the Congregational Society of this city, and was improved by them, till within a few years; when they removed to their new church on Eagle street. It was then sold, and has since been used for business purposes, and is now known as Beaver Block, on South Pearl street.” But try as we may, we do not find when the Beaver Block was finally demolished.

The Third Church Building: Philip and Hudson

The third structure to house the First Presbyterian Church was a substantial structure located at Philip and Hudson, opening in March 1850, although it wasn’t considered completed (with the construction of a lecture room) until 1857.

First Methodist Church

It was at this building that Susan B. Anthony found her woman’s suffragist groove in 1852.   In that year she came to Albany as an elected delegate, along with several other women, to a state temperance convention.  She rose to speak and was told that women were there merely to observe, not to speak.  Sje and other women walked out.  She went found her BFF Lydia Mott who lived in Albany; Mott suggested she hold her own temperance meeting, just for women, and arranged for that meeting to be held at the First Presbyterian Church.  As they say, “the rest is history”.

The front tower of the church was found to be dangerously settling in 1870, resulting in it being reconstructed and significant interior repairs made. In 1884, the Presbyterians moved again, to the much tonier neighborhood Washington Park and the church that still stands at the corner of State and Willett, and this church became the First Methodist Church; it was finally demolished around 1963-64 to make way for the South Mall, or the Empire State Plaza.

By Carl Johnson from his blog Hoxsie.org

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.

Eagle and Howard

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

Albany’s Wadsworth Lab

The Wadsworth Laboratory is one of the pre-eminent public health laboratories in the nation, and has been for almost 120 years.

The first lab was established in 1901 on Yates St., between South Lake Ave. and Quail St. Originally it was the Anti-Toxin Laboratory, and while it conducted research on a variety of pathogens, a main focus was development and production of large quantities of diphtheria and tetanus anti-toxin. The anti-toxin was derived from inoculated horses that were stabled and co-located with the lab. (Procedures requiring sterile processes were generally conducted at the Bender Laboratory, around the corner on South Lake Ave. next to the Dudley Observatory. )

Over time the neighbors complaints about the horses (and other animals) grew louder. Finally, a farm was obtained on Route 155 (State Farm Rd.) in Guilderland. Today it’s the site of the Griffin Lab. In 1914 the head of the lab, Herman Biggs, M.D. was tapped to become Commissioner of the NYS Dept. of Health. Biggs appointed Augustus Wadsworth, M.D. as head of the Lab. Wadsworth would remain in that position for 30 years until 1945.

Under the leadership of Wadsworth the Lab moved to New Scotland Ave. after the first World War, greatly expanded its staffing, and its areas of research and applied laboratory sciences. For decades it’s been on the forefront of medical, scientific and epidemiological discoveries.

Perhaps most well known is the breakthough discovery of Nystatin, the first drug in the world to effectively and safely treat fungal infections, identified by 2 women, Dr. Rachel Brown and Dr. Elizabeth Hazen (who were in their 60s at the time – never underestimate the power of older women) working for the Lab.

Which brings us to a little known aspect of the Lab. Dr. Biggs and Dr. Wadsworth were both in the forefront of hiring women when others labs would not. If you look at the pictures of the earliest days of the Lab there are many women on staff. In later years staff rosters show a preponderance of female staff, including many in supervisory and management positions.

Dr. Wadsworth is revered for his pioneering work in creating rigorous laboratory standards used across the country, his focus on improving health care for NYS residents and for fostering the highest level of scientific research and inquiry; the reasons the Labs are named after him today.

The Lab is now the Wadsworth Center, with 3 locations: the Empire State Plaza, New Scotland Ave., and Guilderland, and carries on the tradition. It remains one of the most well-respected labortaories in the nation/ We’re lucky in New York State to have this resource.

(Most photos courtesy of the New York State Dept. of Health.)

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Downtown Albany in the Early 1900s; How it Changed

Cities are always re-inventing themselves. Where possible development spreads out, or if not, existing buildings are demolished, new ones rise in their place, or old ones can be re-cycled. Sometimes it happens slowly over time, and sometimes it seems to occur all at once.

With a few exceptions I always thought it mostly happened slowly in Albany. But then I found a partial diary/memoir of my Gram Kate, born in 1901 in Arbor Hill. And as I read it became apparent to me just how much downtown Albany changed in a brief decade – from 1910 to 1920. There was a building explosion – Albany was permanently altered in what must have been a blink of an eye.

In 1909 she stood on the Capitol steps with about 2,500 Albany school children as participant in Hudson Fulton Celebration (celebrating 300 years of New York history). The view in 1909 from the steps when she was 8 changed dramatically by the time she was 19 in 1920. There were other downtown changes, as well.

And curiously a number of those were driven by advances in technology (which we rarely think about).

  • The Albany High School on the corner of Columbia and Eagle was demolished and a new County Courthouse completed by 1915
  • On State St., just opposite the Capitol, the New York Telephone Building towered over all by 1915.
  • There was no statue of General Sheridan in front of the Capitol until it was dedicated in 1916.
  • As she walked down State St. if she looked to her right, she would have seen the new YWCA building on Steuben and Chapel.
  • On the left, on the corner of State and South Pearl, the old Globe Hotel was replaced by the the new Arkay building.By 1916 there were already traffic jams and double parking on State St. The city fathers were wondering if the new “traffic signals” would be cheaper than patrol men directing traffic.
  • If you walked over North Pearl the changes would have been the number of movie theatres. The stores on the corner of Monroe (it was parallel to Orange St.)were demolished for the new Strand movie theatre.
  • The Presbyterian Church opposite Clinton Square (next to what is now McGeary’s) became the Clinton Square theater.
  • Hang a right down Clinton Ave, walking toward Broadway, and she would have found the new Grand movie theater ( where Federal Bldg. is today).
  • When she reached Broadway and took a right walking towards State St., the biggest changes could be seen. Off the the left there was the new Yacht Club and the municipal recreation pier, just behind Union Station.
  • And then there was the Mac Daddy of all development – the D & H Building. In a matter of 4 years about 5 blocks stretching east, down to the River were demolished, and the D& H rose in 2 parts. When completed in 1918 it would dominate the Riverfront, and present a magnificent view from the Capitol steps.
  • Moving south on Broadway there would be the new Hudson Navigation docks and sheds at Steamboat Square, completed in 1918.
  • On her way home, walking up Washington Ave, before crossing the Hawk St. viaduct, Kate could see the re-construction of the Capitol, where it had been damaged in the 1911 fire.
  • Just beyond the Capitol, north to Swan St., everything had been demolished to Swan St, and a new West Capitol Park constructed.
  • Across the way, gleaming granite in the sun, stood the Education Building, dedicated in 1912.

And when she crossed the Viaduct, and made her way over North Swan, she would see the new Arbor Hill Movie theater , where she would get a really good part-time job playing the organ for the silent flicks on weeknights when she was 16. (Although she would be riddled with guilt because it was mainly because the boys were off to War, and wonder how much the fact her father’s barbershop was next door to theater had to do with it.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

From Pleasure Island to Mid-City: Albany’s Lost Amusement Parks

It all started in 1882 when the Albany-Troy (Al-Tro) Steamboat Company purchased part of an island in the Hudson River, north of Albany, to open a picnic grove. The populations in both cities were growing, densely packed around a central core. Factories belched black smoke and ash. In the summer it was hot and steamy. People left their tenement houses to sleep on the roof. They needed an escape.

Pleasure Island
Pleasure Island provided that escape. The area became an Island when it was separated from the shore by the Erie Canal, just above the Albany city line in North Albany. The “Troy Daily Times” called Pleasure Island a “beautiful and romantic spot”. It was lined with trees and a breeze drifted from the River. Steamers with orchestras left the docks in both cities for the short trip to the Island. It soon became the go-to spot of baseball games, sports field days and small boat races around the Island. There were improvements over the years – a refreshment stand, a small theater, a dance hall, and frequent fireworks displays. There were special concerts and balloon ascensions.

But by the late 1890s there was competition – from other parks created by transportation companies – the Day Line ran boats down to Kingston Point, site of a vast park with swimming and dancing, The Albany and Hudson Electric Railroad created Electric Park in Kinderhook and there was the Adirondack Amusement Park on Sacandaga Lake.

Lagoon Island/Dreamland
And so the owner of the Al-Tro Co. (and Pleasure Island) created the Lagoon Island park in 1897 in the same location. Larger structures were built, rides added, there were bike races, more concerts, more dancing, FREE vaudeville, and sliding chutes into the River

The park changed hands for one year in 1905 under the name Dreamland about a year. And then the park went through yet another makeover.

Al-Tro (“Fairyland on the Hudson”)
The cities had begun to expand into what had been country. People were buying “villas” in Pine Hills. In Albany Beaver Park had been created and was on its way to becoming Lincoln Park. Competition became fiercer. People were traveling more. With electric trolleys people could get everywhere faster and automobiles allowed people to get to lakes and other areas around the city they couldn’t reach before.

Enter entrepreneur Max Rosen with a dream and wads of cash. He purchased Lagoon Island and re-made it. Al-Tro Park opened in 1906. It had an almost 1,000 ft. boardwalk (take that Atlantic City), rides, a large theater, a miniature railroad, a pony track – all tricked out with thousands of electric lights. It was designed to rival Luna Park, the heart of Coney Island, which opened in 1903 and had already become the stuff of legend.

Unlike many other amusement parks and groves Al-Tro sold liquor and despite its own police force there were reports of pickpockets and “Thugs”. It sort of had a wee bit of a bad rep.

Maple Beach Park/Midway Beach
After the 1908 season Max sold Al-tro Park (he owned several other amusement parks across the country) and the site became Maple Beach Park by 1910. The new owners doubled the size, banned booze, and attractions were added; the Park was bigger and better -still packing in large crowds. Tragedy struck in 1913. Fire broke out and when it was over there was nothing left.

It was re-built by new owners under the name Midway Beach Park, albeit on a smaller scale, but with the “largest dance hall in New York State”, in time to open for part the 1914 season. It continued to thrive, even during World War I when the Park broke attendance records in 1918.

Mid -City Park
But there was competition across the way, on the Albany-Troy Rd. (Broadway) when the Mid-City Amusement Park was established in 1920. Mid-City had a huge roller coaster, carnival like games, pony rides, vaudeville acts, acrobats, a merry go round and other rides, roller skating. It wasn’t subject to the vagaries of the weather. There was even an ice skating rink. By 1922 Mid-Way Beach was gone, the land sold – it simply couldn’t compete. In 1926 Mid-City installed a huge swimming pool, the likes of which no one had seen around here. (The Lincoln Park Pool wouldn’t be built until 1930.)

World War II pretty much did in the Mid-city amusement park, but the pool stayed open until 1959 when the land was sold for a shopping center. (There were proceedings lodged against the owner by New York State for refusing admittance to African-Americans.)

(Thanks to Kevin Franklin, Colonie Town Historian, for helping me sort out who owned what when, and thanks to Jamie McDonald for many of the Mid-City Photos.)

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Lodge St. (and what’s the big building on the corner)? The Masons of Albany

There’s been a masonic lodge in the same location in Albany for over 250 years. It’s the oldest organization in the city, dating back to before the Revolutionary War.

On June 28th, 1756, Alexander Lightfoot, an innkeeper of Albany was laid to rest. According to “The New York Mercury”. “his corpse was attended by all gentlemen of the army, who were members of the Honorable Society of Free Masons.” This is the earliest known reference to Freemasonry having existed in some form in Albany. Not until 1758-59 would Freemasonry become more formally organized in Albany.

The development of Albany’s first Masonic Lodge was facilitated by a British military Lodge stationed in Albany during the French & Indian War. This military Lodge would initiate a few men of Albany into their fraternity and when they departed, would leave with them an exact copy of the warrant that empowered them to meet as a Masonic Lodge. The new Freemasons of Albany were instructed that this document would allow them to meet as a Lodge until a warrant was received. The warrant was granted in 1765 by the New York Provincial Grand Master.

One of the earliest members of this new Lodge at Albany was Mr. Richard Cartwright, the owner of The King’s Arms Tavern, which was located near what is now Green and Beaver Streets. The Lodge, which would become known as Union Lodge No. 1 (Founded: February 21st, 1765 – Now: Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3) would meet regularly at Cartwright’s tavern, even after he was driven from Albany due to his loyalist sympathies. Other early members of this Lodge included: Peter W. Yates, Leonard Gansvoort, Dr. Samuel Stringer, Matthew Vischer, and Christopher Yates. As its ranks swelled, two additional Masonic bodies formed even before the beginning of the Revolution, and with this growth, so too came a desire for a more permanent home for the Masonic bodies of Albany.

According to Stefan Bielinksi in “The Colonial Albany Project” in 1766 the City Council granted Dr. Samuel Stringer a deed “for a lott of ground on the Hill near the Fort adjoining the English Burying Ground” on which to erect a lodge building. Subsequent transactions conveyed an adjoining lot. (Stringer would become the physician in charge of the Northern Department during the Revolutionary War.)

The Lodge would be just around the corner from the soldier’s barracks and the hospital in which Stringer would treat Benedict Arnold after the Battle of Saratoga.

In December 1767 a new warrant empowered a second lodge, the “Ineffable Lodge of Perfection” with other Albany men. Several days later the men of both lodges paraded through Albany streets.

By June, 1768, the first building in Albany for exclusive Masonic use was completed, on what would become known as the northwest corner of the Lodge St., and Maiden Lane, and occupied by Masters Lodge No. 2 (Now: Masters Lodge No. 5) and the Ineffable Lodge of Perfection. (It’s said to have been the first purpose built Lodge building in America.)

Stephen Van Rensselaer III, the “Good Patroon” was initiated as Mason in 1776 when he was 22, and would later serve as Grand Master for New York State)

Soon the cross street at Maiden Lane became known as Lodge St. (It appears on a 1794 map of the city.)

Eventually, the first building would be demolished and a larger three-story would structure would replace it.

In time, this structure would also be replaced by the current Renaissance-revival building at the corner of Lodge Street and Corning Place (previously Maiden Lane). Designed by Fuller and Wheeler and built 1895-96, it was constructed to accommodate the more than a dozen Masonic organizations that were meeting in various places throughout the city. The cornerstone for the building was laid by James Ten Eyck on June 24th, 1895 and the building was completed, dedicated, and open on October 26th, 1896. It is estimated to have cost just over $100,000 to build.

Today the City of Albany is home to five Masonic Lodges, the American York-Rite of Freemasonry, the Ancient & Accepted Scottish-Rite of Freemasonry, and women’s masonic groups, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Order of the Amaranth, and several invitation-only Masonic bodies. Taken together, the Masonic Fraternity, contributes millions of dollars through direct monetary contributions and through the time of its members to a whole host of charitable works, which include: the Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Scottish-Rite Centers for Dyslexia, and the Knights Templar Eye Foundation to name a few. These efforts are in keeping with the mission of the fraternity, which is to improve its membership, their families, and the broader world.

Written by worshipful Michael A. Hernandez, Past Master, Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3, F. & A.M.

The History of 23 Dove St. in Albany; Women’s Rights

From Google Earth 2019

Recently the owners of Bongiorno’s restaurant at 23 Dove St. (on the corner of Spring St.) sold the business. (Don’t panic .. it’s still open -under new ownership; the folks who own the Dove and Deer, just across the street at Dove and State Streets.) A question came up. How old is the building and has there been a restaurant in that location for 130 years as some think? So we decided to do some digging. Like most Albany stories, we uncovered some fascinating stuff.

from Google Earth 2019

As far as we can tell 23 Dove St. was built in the early 1850s – which meshes with the age of the Dove & Deer, built in 1854. By the early 1850s Albany was bursting at the seams. In 1840, the population was 34,000 – within a decade in 1850 it was 51,000, and Albany was the 10th largest city in the country. The city pushed rapidly north, west and south from its core. Wagons carrying lumber trundled through the streets from the barges unloaded at the docks, barrels of nails from foundries on the River and bricks made in the huge brick works that ringed what is now Lincoln Park.

The Coley Sisters and Their School

We believe 23 Dove was initially used as a residence, but in 1864 it became the “Misses Coley’s School”. There were 3 Coley sisters who became teachers – Adeline, Jane and Julia – originally from Duanesburg. They were the daughters of Amy and David Coley, who fought in the War of 1812, and granddaughters of Joseph Coley, who came from Westchester County and fought in the American Revolution.

The Coley sisters graduated from the NYS Normal School in 1846, 1850 and 1853 respectively. (The Normal School is now the University at Albany.)

In 1In the early 1860s we find the sisters teaching in public schools ; one is an assistant principal School 7 on Canal St. (now Sheridan Ave.) and another assistant principal in School 5 on North Pearl (north of Clinton Ave.) They’re all living with their widowed mother at 220 State St.

In 1864 the sisters took a risk and made a radical change, opening the Misses Coley School (known as the Coley Cottage School) at 23 Dove St. * (It appears 220 State St was sold to acquire 23 Dove.) The school was quite successful and became a fixture in Albany for the next 40 years or so, forming the minds of several generations of young middle and upper class Albanians who would dominate business, politics and society until the mid 20th century.

The sisters were models of the Protestant ethic and rectitude (piety, charity, hard work, diligence, moderation in all things and good works). They attended the Pearl Street Baptist Church on North Pearl (the Ten Eyck Plaza is there today), until it was demolished and then re-constituted in a new building at 275 State St. as the Emmanuel Baptist Church (where they were Sunday school teachers).

Pearl Street Bapt8st Church

The Coleys were lifelong and very active members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, not from a moral sense, but from what they believed was a practical view… alcohol lead to domestic violence and child abuse, and often reduced families to poverty.

Women’s Suffrage Headquarters

But don’t get the wrong idea about the sisters; they were hardly pliable , not meek and mild. They were dedicated women’s suffrage activists when such women’s rights agitation wasn’t at all fashionable. When the NYS Legislature gave women the right to vote in school elections in 1880 Adeline and Jane were among the 2 dozen or so Albany women to cast their ballots, much to the shock of many.

Adeline was a member of the Albany Woman’s Suffrage Society (treasurer at one point) in the 1880s, and its successor, the Albany Political Equality Club. The Club’s meetings were held at 23 Dove St. (its headquarters) in the first five years of the 20th century.

The Coleys were also shrewd business women. They acquired property – on Dove St., upper State St. (315 served as a Boarding House for female Normal School students) and Hamilton St., and yet continued to serve as trustees of the Open Door Mission -for destitute genteel women (mostly elderly teachers) and the Teacher’s Relief Society.

Their mother Amy died in 1882 and sadly Jane passed later that year (her cemetery card lists the cause of death of as exhaustion). But Julia and Adeline carried on with the school. Adeline passed away in 1916; Julia died in 1927 at the age of 97. Julia’s estate (including 23 Dove St.,) was left to her great nephew, William Taylor. In 1931 he and his wife opened the Ye Old Coley Cottage Restaurant.

The Princess Pat Tea Room

In 1933 the restaurant was purchased by Charles and Margaret Pepeski, and they changed the name to the Princess Pat Tea Room (and no, we have no idea why).

The Princess Pat operated at 23 Dove until in the early to mid- 1970s. Many of its customers were single women who lived in the neighborhood. It was a step up from a lunch counter/soda fountain for working women and the term “tea room” signaled it was a “safe space” for women – they wouldn’t be harassed with unwanted attention. They included secretaries, teachers, professors, scientists who worked for the State, librarians, etc.. It was the go to place for meetings – for the DAR, the Junior League, and in the 1930s bridge luncheons which were all the rage.

It was a quaint place with ruffled curtains and colonial chairs. When I went with a family member in the 1950s I was told it hadn’t changed much since the 1930s. The menu I recall had a decidedly feminine vibe – welsh rarebit, salmon and chicken croquettes, cottage cheese and fruit plates, Salisbury steak, hot turkey sandwiches, and cream cheese and date nut sandwiches. (It reminded me of Schrafft’s.) The women wore tailored suits and shirtwaist dresses with good costume jewelry, hats and gloves. When I returned the early 1970s as a young adult, it was if time had stood still. The menu was almost the same, although the hats and gloves were gone, some skirts were shorter and there were several daring women in pants suits.

The next act began when the restaurant was acquired by Felix and Rosanna Bongiorno: it opened in 1978. According to a “Times Union” article the Dove & Deer owners plan on making some renovations and naming the new place Rosanna’s. According to the new owners there will be a new menu, but influenced and inspired by Bongiorno’s.

(We told you there’s always an interesting story.. all you have to do is look around the city and do a little digging.)

*Teaching was a most unkind profession in the 19th century. While almost all teachers were women, a female principal was a rarity. In the 1880s the Albany City School board enacted a rule that if a woman teacher married she had to resign. At about the same time the Cohoes Board refused hire one of my 3 great great aunts who were all teachers (very much like the Coleys); her 2 sisters were already employed in the district (that was enough already!) and the third, Amy, would be taking a job from a man who had a family. Amy went to teach in NYC and was part of group of women who tried to form a teacher’s union. (Wouldn’t you?) It’s abundantly clear why the Coley sisters struck out on their own.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Albany and the High Priestess of Fashion – Diana Vreeland

Albany is full of fascinating stories. This is a little known story about a woman who came to Albany as a newlywed in 1924, and then went on to have a major impact on the world around us. It’s taken me about 40 years to connect the dots; it started with a pair of cuff links.

I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother was mostly a lovely woman, born in Albany at the turn of the 20th century, and she told me the Albany stories. And never stopped. Ever. (Gram could talk the ears off a wooden Indian.)

Fast forward decades – I’m digging through bits and pieces of inherited family “stuff”, and find my grandfather’s tuxedo cuff links and studs. Nice items – gold filled by a company called Krementz. And wham.. I can hear my grandmother’s voice from long ago – “Your grandfather bought those because he liked Reed Vreeland’s, but I think Reed’s were from Cartier.”

Yikes!!! The light bulb finally went on! Reed Vreeland was the husband in the newlywed couple; his wife was Diana – who would become “The Empress of Fashion”, known not just in America but all over the world. Diana Vreeland lived in ALBANY? How could we fashionistas not know that? And how did my grandmother know Reed Vreeland? More importantly, did she know his wife Diana?

It turns out Reed and my grandfather were in the Mendelssohn club, a men’s chorale society that still exists today in Albany. But more about that later.

The Vreelands

T. Reed Vreeland was the son of Herbert Vreeland (from a Dutch Settler family that hailed, in part, from Albany in the 1600s), born in the Town of Glen in Montgomery County. Herbert became a self-made millionaire, owning most of the street car lines in New York City.

Reed came to Albany to work for the National Commercial Bank in 1922. In summer 1923 he met Diana Dalziel at a debutante event in Saratoga Springs. (Diana was born in Paris – her mother was French; her father British. They emigrated to the U.S. shortly before World War I.)

Apparently it was love at first sight and they married in March 1924. The happy couple lived initially in a small house on Spring St.in Albany. Diana said, “I loved our life there. I was totally happy.” They lived in a “cozy cottage” and young Diana was enjoying domesticity – being a housewife and then a mother.

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Back to the Mendelssohn Club

The Club was founded in 1909. In the 1920s the conductor was Dr. Frank Sill Rogers, organist and choirmaster for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. With the men from his choir as a nucleus, he used his connections with other choirmasters to enlist male singers. Soon, there was hardly a male choir singer in the city who wasn’t a member. My grandfather was a church organist and a protégé of Rogers, so of course he sang with the Club. Reed loved to sing and had a great voice, so he joined the Club. The Club performed their concerts in white tie and tails (which explains the cuff links and studs).

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Life in Albany

The Vreelands moved to the highest echelons of Albany society. Diana was a member of the Junior League. While in Albany Diana became a U.S. citizen. Their family grew (they had 2 sons) and they moved to a larger house at 409 Western Ave. (now Medaille Hall at the College of St. Rose.)

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The Next Chapters

In 1927 Reed was offered a job in London, and that’s where Diana’s story really begins. They moved in glittering circles of British Royalty (she was presented at Court in 1933) and wealthy American ex-pats. Diana opened a small shop and sold exquisite and alluring handmade lingerie from France. One of her customers was another American – Wallis Simpson. (Was Diana’s sexy lingerie responsible for the Abdication? She later boasted, “My little lingerie shop had brought down the throne.”)

In the mid-1930s the Vreelands returned to America. Diana spent the next 40 years as an editor at “Harper’s Bazaar” and then as editor in chief at “Vogue”. She was Jackie Kennedy’s fashion advisor while Jackie was in the White House. Her time at “Vogue” changed the world of fashion and changed how women viewed themselves in the world. She liberated women – allowed them to be free from the constraints of stiff petticoats and white gloves, and advocated for woman’s right to wear pants. She declared denim divine.

And for a last act she served as a special consultant to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum. She, more than anyone else, helped the world see that costume and fashion are an expression of self; great couture is the work of great artisans in ateliers, artists and designers – that clothing can be a political statement. She was the first editor to mix main street with couture fashion and include politicians, movie stars and rocks stars and sports figures in that world. She put fashion photography on the map – made it legit.

Back to Albany

It’s hard to imagine Diana Vreeland, the queen of the outrageous who lived out loud and had an opinion on everything, in Albany. She’d already been on the best dressed list twice by the time she came here, wore blood red nail polish and lipstick, and was said to have painted her Spring St. living room canary yellow and put down a zebra skin rug. How did the people of Albany – not known for their avant garde sensibilities – react to her?

Apparently we were kind and gracious. Later in life she said it was the happiest time of her life . It was a world of “good food, good housekeeping, polished floors, and polished brass.” (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie?)

Her biographer Amanda Mackenzie Stuart said she liked Albany’s domestic Dutch style. In the one photo I’ve seen that would have been taken while she was living here, Diana looks just like any other doting mother.

“It’s not about the dress you wear, but it’s about the life you lead in the dress.” .. DV

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Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor