July is National Ice Cream Month – A Pictorial History of Ice Cream in Albany

Ice cream has been around for ever – even B.C. Thomas Jefferson had his favorite ice cream recipe. Until the mid 1800s ice cream was purely a special, special home made treat. George Washington had a sweet tooth and bought ice cream molds and scoops and dropped $200 – over $5k today – on ice cream one hot summer. (NO false teeth jokes.)

7By the 1850s ice cream saloons started to be a thing in Albany and it was one of the favorite desserts at fancy parties – on every caterers list. In the late 1800s improvements in refrigeration technology made the sale of ice cream in small grocery stores, pharmacies (soda fountains) and candy stores possible. Ice cream cones were supposedly invented at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Then came 1920 and Prohibition.. people in Albany like those across the country substituted sweets for booze – All Hail the Ice Cream Soda!! (and the Eskimo Pie). The Depression saw a drop in nationwide consumption; innovative marketing solved that problem; Howard Johnson’s 28 flavors, Dixie Cups, Fudgicles and Drumsticks. But the areas surrounding Albany were dairy cow country; ice cream was always a thing. There were dairies in the the West End, Arbor Hill, Menands, the South End, Lark St., North Albany, Elm St. So. Swan and south of the city in New Scotland and Bethlehem. So many cows.

By the 1940s ice cream was the uniquely all-American treat. It was so American that Mussolini banned its sale. During World War II Coca Cola and ice cream fueled the military. General Eisenhower made sure both “cold comforts” were as close to combat troops as possible.

By the late 1940s, the summer drive in the family car to an ice cream stand started to become a thing around Albany and across the country. And then, through the magic of marketing (and Stewarts) ice cream became a not just for summer treat.

Here’s a look at the ice cream stores, factories, dairies and brands in Albany over the years.

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Cuyler Reynolds and the Albany Rural Cemetery – He Got No Respect

Visitors who stop into the Albany Rural Cemetery Office for genealogical research often comment on the detailed burial index cards which are not unlike an old-fashioned library card catalog. A cache of old documents tell an interesting tale of the card file’s possible origin.

Cuyler Reynolds, brother of architect Marcus T. Reynolds, is best remembered as the Albany City Historian (which is noted on the black stone slab covering his grave in Section 17).

Cuyler was the first curator of the Albany Institute of History & Art after the older Albany Institute and Albany Historical & Art Society merged. He served as its curator from 1899 to 1909 and it was during his tenure that the museum’s famous pair of mummies was acquired.

In 1908, just after his work on the New York exhibits at the Jamestown Exposition, Cuyler Reynolds wrote a letter to attorney Marcus T. Hun (the Hun and Reynolds families were related – Marcus’ mother was the former Lydia Reynolds). The cover letter has not been located yet, but the typed statement that he enclosed reads:

“In February 1907, I addressed the Trustees of the Albany Rural Cemetery, meeting in upper room of the Mechanics & Farmers’ Bank, Dudley Olcott presiding, advocating the introduction of a card system for the records.

I submitted a tentative form of card which I had printed at my own expense.

The matter was considered to radical to be adopted at that time, and I then was appointed director of the N.Y.S. Historical Exposition at the Jamestown Exposition, where I spent the summer and fall of 1907.”

At the bottom of the typed statement, written boldly above his signature, Cuyler Reynolds wrote, “The idea was mine.”

The implication of this statement is that, after rejecting Reynolds’ proposal for a new way of filing burial records, the 1907 board adopted a strikingly similar card system in his absence. It appears that Reynold was seeking credit for the design and compensation of some sort.

37200829_1597095057065774_6681363576491343872_nMarcus T. Hun’s reply seems somewhat uninterested in taking up the cause:

“As to the Cemetery Association the matter seems to rest with you and Mr. Burns, and possibly if you wish to get closer to the trustees, with Mr. Dudley Olcott.

I hope you will be be able to make some arrangement that will be satisfactory to you, as it seems to me that it would be to the advantage of the Cemetery to have you clear up these defects in the old records.”

Marcus T. Hun would later serve as president of the Albany Cemetery Association until his death in 1920.

This is where the paper trail ends for now. Did Cuyler ever resolve the issue and receive any credit for his design which is indeed strikingly similar to the file system in use now? The answer might lie in the long missing Trustee minutes which have not been seen since they were misplaced during one of the many mergers and moves of local banks, including the old Mechanics & Farmers.

Cuyler Reynolds, “widely known as a collector and historian, and official historian of the city of Albany” (and likely designer of the Rural Cemetery’s card system) died on May 24, 1934. He was buried in the large Dexter-Reynolds family plot in Lot 1, Section 17. More of his story will be told another time. Marcus T. Hun is also buried in the same lot.

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Willett Rock in Washington Park

 

4Recently we were asked, “Hey, what’s the deal with the boulder in Washington Park?”

A great question and timely too. The boulder is known as “Willett Rock” and commemorates Lt. Colonel Marinus Willett, a soldier who played a pivotal role in the American Revolution and went on to be mayor of New York City in the early 1800s.

But what does that have to do with Albany? A LOT!!

In summer 1777 British forces under Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger were making their way east along the Mohawk Valley to join General Burgoyne coming down from the north – objective Albany. The British were making their way up the Hudson as well and there was no doubt Albany would be occupied by the British. It was only a matter of time. Albany was a strategic and tactical target. Albany, as the epicenter of the Northern Department of the Continental Army, was the site of military storehouses, warehouses, a powder house and armory. It was the staging area for all American troops in the Northern Department as well as the site of the military hospital (at Pine and Lodge). More importantly, occupation of the Hudson from Albany to New york City would give British control of New York State and separate New England (thought to be the heart of the resistance) from the other colonies – dividing the burgeoning Union.

Albany in Peril
The city was faced with the prospect of “savage butchery and unscrupulously soldiery” under the British and their Indian allies. It was a long hot summer of terror. The city was over-crowded, filled with people who had fled to Albany in the face of Burgoyne’s march south. Extra supplies were being stockpiled in the Fort at the top of the hill. Those planning to stay were prepared to defend the city (People were ready to bury their silver and hide their daughters.) Others were getting ready to flee. Albany would be trapped by the approaching British from the south, west, north and by the River on the east.

3The Best Laid Plans
But the British plans fell apart west of Albany at Fort Stanwix* and the Battle of Oriskany. Fort Stanwix (known then as Fort Schuyler) was first surrounded by the British, Indians (lead by Joseph Brant) and Tory and Hessian contingents on August 3, 1777, when the Fort refused to surrender. Inside the Fort were American troops under Colonel Peter Gansevoort**. His second in command was Marinus Willett.

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Old Glory
But let’s stop here for a moment – on the second day of the siege legend has it that the American flag was flown in battle for the first time. Willett recalled, “…………..a respectable one was formed the white stripes were cut…the blue strips out of a Cloak…The red stripes out of different pieces of stuff collected from sundry persons. The Flagg was sufficiently large and a general Exhilaration of spirits appeared on beholding it Wave the morning after the arrival of the enemy.”

Battle of Oriskany
On August 4 part of the British force (primarily the Indians) ambushed American forces at Oriskany, east of the Fort. The Americans were routed in one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the War. But a party of about 250 soldiers in the Fort, under the command of Colonel Willett, took the opportunity to raid and loot the British camp, making away with dozens of wagons of supplies. 38975452_242333083283004_566993364482785280_n

The British Bluff
St Leger’s command was demoralized, but banking on the victory at Oriskany he sent yet another surrender demand to the Fort. It included news (fake) that Burgoyne was in Albany, and threats Indians would be permitted to massacre the garrison and destroy the surrounding farms and communities. Willett replied, basically saying .. for a British officer you are sooooo ungentlemanly (and by the way, our answer is no).

The General’s Ruse
On the night of August 8th, Gansevoort sent Willett and another officer east, through British lines, to notify General Philip Schuyler (commander of the Northern Department) of their situation. In route they met General Benedict Arnold on his way to relieve the Fort. Although he only had a force of about 700 -800, Arnold crafted a genius disinformation campaign (involving a captured local Loyalist) to spread the word he had 3,000 troops. St. Leger’s force by that time was dwindling, through defections from the annoyed Indians (after all, Willett had stolen all their stuff and the siege was dragging on) and Hessian desertions.*** He was faced with seemingly overwhelming odds. St. Leger broke off the siege on August 22nd, and headed back west.

Victory!
So, the failure of St. Leger to bring additional troops to an already beleaguered Burgoyne led to his defeat less than 2 months later at the Battle of Saratoga (which saved Albany and changed the course of the Revolutionary War). Way to go Martinus!
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And that is story of why we wanted to honor Col. Willett – his bravery was instrumental in saving Albany.

The granite boulder was placed in Washington Park at the corner of Willett and State streets to honor Willett in 1907 by the Sons of the Revolution. ****

We have never been able to figure why a rock as a monument (rocks are cheap?). We know there was a multi-year search across upstate for just the right rock, but we’re not sure why this particular rock was selected. (It may have come from the Oriskany battlefield, but we’re not sure.)

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The plaque on the rock features a profile of Willett and the following inscription:

In Grateful Memory of General Marinus Willett 1740 – 1836
“For His Gallant and Patriotic Services In
Defense of Albany And The People of
The Mohawk Valley Against Tory And Indian
Foes During The Years of The War For
Independence, This Stone, Brought From The
Scenes of Conflict And Typical of His Rugged Character,
Has Been Placed Here Under The Auspices of The
Sons of The Revolution
In The State of New York
By The Philip Livingston Chapter
A.D. 1907”

*Fort Stanwix is a national historic site in Rome NY, north of the NYS Thruway – it’s open 7 days a week, from 9 am to 5 pm, April 1 – December 31.
**Gansevoort would later be promoted to General and was the grandfather of author Herman Melville (“Moby Dick”). He’s buried in Albany Rural Cemetery – Section 55, Plot 1.
*** The Hessian troops were the Hanau–Hesse Chasseurs. During the siege and battle they discovered they were in the middle of verdant and fertile farmland, much of the local population spoke German as their primary language and there were many pretty girls. Genealogies of the area are filled with Hessian soldiers who deserted the British army and ended up in the small villages of the Mohawk Valley populated by German Americans. They could blend in and no one would be the wiser.
**** This memorial was originally located elsewhere in the park, but was moved to its present location several years ago (we believe after having been struck several times by cars missing a sharp turn).

 

Robinson’s Corner – State and Broadway in Albany

Since the 1833 there’s always been a “round” building at the corner of State and Broadway (once known as Robinson’s Corner”). In 1831 the Albany Museum Building was constructed.   Because of its design it quickly became known at the “Marble Pillar” building as well (the term was used interchangeably with the “Museum Building”). It was the grandest of its kind in Albany; not a residence like the Schuyler Mansion and not a public building.   It was indicative of the new wealth coming to Albany as a result of the Erie Canal.  By 1830 Albany was on the way to what we now think of as a modern city (not just a sleepy little Dutch burg) and men of vision were willing to invest capital in the city’s future.

2The building housed a quasi–museum (not exactly the way we know of museums today) including a theatre and exhibition hall.  It did double and triple duty.  There were apartments and a restaurant, alleged to have been the finest in Albany of the time, called the “Marble Pillar”. It was often referred to as a “resort” and advertisements of the time attempt to lure visitors from all around the area. Between the “Museum” and the restaurant, it was probably the first tourist destination in the area.

Once the Canal opened in 1825, Niagara Falls (the first real tourism destination in America) became a sight-seeing mecca; you had to go to Albany to get on the Canal.  It was the stage coach depot to all points.  What better place for visitors to stop than the Marble Pillar resort? *

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In 1848 the building was enlarged and its multi-purpose use continued, including a restaurant.   When P.T. Barnum introduced Tom Thumb to Albany it was in the Marble Pillar building.

4A fire in 1861 required major restoration of the building, and it became a home for a dizzying array of businesses over the next 40 years,   including insurance companies, brokerage firms, banks, grocers, and carpet sellers. Even Western Union found a home. When Western Union moved in the late 1890s, the site became ripe for re-development.

 

 

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In 1902 the Albany Trust Co. bank purchased the site and constructed the building you see today.  It was designed by Marcus Reynolds.  Albany’s pre-eminent and prolific architect of the early 20th century.  He designed the D & H Building (now houses   State University Administrative offices), the Delaware Ave. fire house, the Superintendent’s Lodge at the Rural Cemetery, Hackett Middle School, and Albany Academy among others.

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The Trust Company building is on the National Historic Register.

 

 

*By 1830 visiting Niagara Falls had become a thing.   A wonderful book, called “The Frugal Housewife”, by Lydia Maria Child  (who was living in Boston when she wrote it)  counsels women against engaging in such extravagance.  (The book was so popular it was re-published 33 times in 25 years.)

 

The “White Terror” and Open Air Schools in Albany

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At the beginning of the 1900s the disease that was most feared was the “White Terror” – tuberculosis.   Panic gripped the nation; tuberculosis (a/k/a the “wasting disease” or “consumption”) was the single largest cause of death in the U.S.  If you contracted TB it was considered to be a death sentence (1 in 7 Americans died from tuberculosis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).  Although the cause had been discovered in the 1880s (TB bacilli) there was no surefire real cure.

The TB sanatorium was the only answer for decades.  The first one was started by Dr. Edward Trudeau* (great grandfather of “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau) in 1885 in Saranac Lake.  It involved a strict regimen  of rest, exercise,  plentiful wholesome food and fresh air.. LOTS of fresh air.

The idea of using a similar regimen to prevent TB among children who were at greatest risk of contracting the disease was pioneered in Germany in 1904  It held hope; sorely lacking thus far, and swept across Europe and into the U.S. like wildfire. By 1908 a variation of this treatment was being used in Albany.

2 (2)The first “open air school”,  a make-shift operation at the South End Dispensary at the corner of Westerlo and Ash Grove Place, in the  heart of the immigrant community,  was opened with about 20 grade school age kids.  It was operated jointly by the City’s Anti-

tuberculosis Committee and the Board of Education.

 

 

 

Soon the entire responsibility shifted to the Board and by 1910 another open air class room (sometimes called a “preventorium”) with about 30 kids was  established in School 6 on Second St. in Arbor Hill.  2 (3)

In each setting the regimen was the same – lots of sunlight (thought to be a disinfectant), sufficient wholesome food (lots of milk), exercise, rest and fresh air.

3Finally in 1914, when a new School 14 was opened on Trinity Place, it had a purpose-built open air school on its roof that could accommodate about 50-60 kids. There was a class room with a roof, a fixed wall and 3 walls of windows that were usually open, regardless of season or temperature. There was no heat and children wore the equivalent of snowsuits, mittens and hoots. Additionally there was a kitchen, separate dining room and shower rooms for boys and girls.

“Sitting out bags” were a thing in open air schools. The largest manufacturer in the country was Huyck Mills, just across the way in Rensselaer; the children featured in their ads were from Albany’s School 14. They were described as “brown, pliable, hairy felt-like cloth”.

A key feature was a roof terrace, off the class room; completely open except for a sheltered roof area off to the side under which were stored cots and blankets for sleeping outside on days without rain or snow. The roof terrace was described as playground far above the dust and dirt of the streets, “open to the sky and the sun with inspiring view of the Cathedral spires and the battlements of the State Capitol and City Hall tower”.

8 Capture 14The open air classroom in School 14 was staffed by two teachers, a nurse, a matron and a cook. The day started with a visit from the school nurse followed by breakfast. Next came classwork, instruction in good health habits, a hearty lunch, exercise and then rest in the fresh air, usually in special “sitting out bags”.  Monthly home visits by the school nurse were a regular part of the regimen. In summer, some children were placed at a Child’s Hospital location in Saratoga

If active cases of TB were discovered, the children were sent to the TB Sanatorium off Western Ave.  (The Harriman Campus is there today). The Sanitarium was started around 1892 by Albany unions through the Central Federation of Labor and continued under the auspices of Albany Hospital (today’s Albany Medical Center).

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The open air class rooms were considered to be successful and cost-effective. Children remained in the class rooms for at most 2 years before their health was deemed to have improved for their return to regular classrooms.   In the 1920s another class room was added to School 14.  Open air class rooms were also added in the new buildings of School 26 (Tremont St.) and School 27 (Western Ave.) when those schools were constructed in the 1920s.

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By 1930 there appears to have been about 200 children in open air school class rooms scattered throughout the city school district. By this time, the class rooms were being used for children with all sorts of health conditions (not just at risk for TB) that prevented them from applying themselves to their school work.** “The aim of the open air school is to enable debilitated children to continue their education and at the same time regain their health and strength.”

17 1In 1934 School 14 was renovated and became Philip Schuyler Sr. High School.  The open air class room sizes were reduced and overcrowded.  The city decided to create a standalone open-air school in Lincoln Park, using Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds available from the Federal government during the Depression. The building selected for renovations was the office of James Hall ***, which dates back to the 1850s.   The facility became known as the “Sunshine School” because of the many large windows.

In the mid 1940’s. During World War II, the antibiotic streptomycin was isolated and discovered as an effective treatment for TB.  (However, TB still remains the most prevalent contagious disease in the world; ¼ of the world’s population is infected with TB.)

The Sunshine School remained opened for at least another 5 decades; in its later years it was used for children with special education needs.

*Dr. Trudeau had close ties to Albany – through the Albany Medical Society and the Episcopalian Diocese.

** In the first part of the 20th century health and social reform movements swept the U.S. and continued with tenacity until World War II. These reforms were often linked and/or delivered through the education systems of cities and towns to be able to reach the highest number of children. The schools in Albany functioned as “safety nets” for at risk children.

***James Hall was the pre-eminent geologist and paleontologist in 19th-century America. He founded the State Museum and served an unprecedented six decades, holding both positions of state geologist and paleontologist.

 

 

Bouck White – Helderberg Hermit and his Castle

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In the 1930s, an unconventional man named Bouck White built a “castle” in the Helderberg Mountains overlooking the village of New Salem, New York.  Hoping to create his own Utopia, he spent a decade there, selling pottery and dispensing shards of philosophy to visitors.

Charles Browning “Bouck” White was born in Middleburgh, Schoharie County in 1874.  His father ran a dry goods store and young White grew up in comfort in the family’s Grove Street home.  He attended local schools and continued his education at Syracuse University where his conduct was described as “honorable.”  In the college yearbook, he maturely observed, “The line between folly and wisdom is often as imaginary one, and men are often seen traveling along with one foot on either side of it.”

White transferred to Harvard and graduated in 1896.  He went to work as a reporter for the Springfield Republican, but a year later he began studies at the Boston Theological Institute. He was ordained a Congregational minister in 1904 and spent the next several years in Clayton, a town on the St. Lawrence River.  He organized a Boys Club, opened a small library, and converted a stable into a gymnasium for the town’s youth.  The townspeople were initially dubious of White’s innovations, but were won over and provided funding.

2.2Around 1908 White moved to Brooklyn to work at a settlement house run by Trinity Church.  There he saw the hardships of the poor and working classes.  White joined the Socialist Party, hoping that a blend of religion and socialism would cure the world’s spiritual and social woes. The Church vestrymen grew wary and asked for his resignation.  He submitted it, found the Church of Social Revolution and wrote the first of his books, “The Call of the Carpenter” in 1912, which portrayed as a workingman, agitator, and social revolutionist.  Known as New York’s “most eccentric radical,” he wore a coarse smock in protest of World War I.  He was later expelled from the Socialist party for opposing violence.

 

3In 1914 White was arrested at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church after disrupting a service by challenging the Reverend Cornelieus Woelfkin to debate the civic value of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whom White held answerable for the massacre of striking miners in Ludlow, Colorado.  White was sentenced to six months in jail. During that time he wrote “Letters from Prison” which defined his credo of   Christian socialism.

 

 

White led a “service” to protest World War I in 1916.  He set fire to flags representing the world’s leading nations and covered the ashes with a crimson flag.  Claiming that the fire had only united the banners into one of “internationalism,” White was jailed for desecrating the flag.  At his trial the prosecutor described White as an “egotistical humbug….If an American in his indignation had shot White dead on the night of the flag burning, I doubt if you could find a juryman who would vote to convict him.” White got a $100 fine and thirty days in the “workhouse” for the flag burning.

After his release, he moved to France to study ceramics and developed a chemical process that enabled him to harden pottery without a kiln. At a Mardi Gras bazaar in Paris on February 1, 1921, White met Emilee Simone.  He asked permission to call on her and, three days later, proposed marriage.  Emilee’s parents were charmed by White who spoke French fluently and appeared prosperous.  The couple married that April; he was 47 and she was 21.

The Whites returned immediately to America and moved to a farmhouse on a mountain outside Marlboro in Ulster County.  But Mrs. White fled from her husband’s “summer estate” after three days and went to the Marlboro Mountain House. She told of abuse. She said White wanted her to be a “radical prophetess”.  Some nights later, a dozen men from Marlboro abducted White.  He was tarred, feathered, whipped, dunked in Orange Lake, and threatened with hanging.  (After his captors released him, people noticed blisters on White’s neck.  It was rumored that acid was mixed with the tar.  White said they were caused by sunburn, but tried to hide the blisters with flour.)

Emilee filed for an annulment.  She had little money, but did not wish to return to France until she was free of White.  She described White’s farmhouse as slovenly, White himself autocratic and eccentric.  He was not interested in children, but told her that they would write books together and the books would be their children. .  He denied considering himself the “Second Messiah,” but admitted that “intellectual persons” should have books instead of children. An annulment was granted that summer on the grounds that White had hidden his arrest record from the Simones.

10White returned to France, but by 1932, he was back in New York and running a pottery studio in an Albany carriage house.  In 1934, White bought six acres in the Helderberg Mountains.  He was attracted to the lonely cliff by a belief that it was where Hiawatha supposedly experienced visions that lead to the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy.  White had long claimed Mohawk ancestry, saying, “I don’t know how much of the blood of Hiawatha is in my veins, but my heart is Indian.”

5White constructed a “castle” using the plentiful limestone.  He worked as independently of technology (which he distrusted as much as wealth) a possible.  He described his building style: “The stones are not hacked or broken to form a window opening of some perceived pattern; they are allowed….to build a window of any form whatsover…A new resource for the architect is here emerging, provided their clients be animated by a spirit of natural beauty.”

White built an impressive tower at the cliff’s edge.  The view from the top rivaled the vista offered at nearby John Boyd Thatcher State Park. White kept carrier pigeons at the tower and, during World War II, his birds led people to speculate that White was a spy using pigeons to send messages to the enemy.

13White lived simply at his mountain retreat and his sole income came from selling his pottery “Bouckware”, primarily through gift shops across the country. (In 1937 he organized a small corporation for this purpose with 2 men from Albany.)  He lived on pancakes, soups, and cornmeal.  He wore old baggy trousers and tattered sneakers.  Old or new acquaintances were treated hospitably. White realized that he was not capable of changing the world.  He dismissed his radical activities as part of a “collective insanity” that afflicted the country during World War I and admitted his own mortality.  He desired only to end his days peacefully on his mountain, but a stroke forced him to move to the Home for Aged Men in Menands.

In 1944 the property was purchased by Gabriel Cordevez, a Bouck White disciple, He intended  to establish an artist colony, but a fire damaged much of the main building later that year. In 1946, after the end of War II, Mr Cordevez established the Shrine of the Ave Marias, dedicated to all Gold Star mothers of any nation, in a small chapel that had been built by Bouck White. In the early 1950s the property was purchased by a family named Regan; 4 generations of the family owned the property for at least 30 years..

But what of Bouck White?  He died  in January 7, 1951, and his ashes were buried in a fissure near his Helderberg castle.

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From Paula Lemire’s blog Garden Alley

The Stanwix Hotel – the Oldest Hotel in Albany

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1.1Stanwix Hall stood on the east corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane. .It was built by the sons (Peter and Herman) of Peter Gansevoort. Gansevoort* was the “Hero of Fort Stanwix”; he lead the patriot resistance at the British siege of the Fort in 1777**.  Colonel Gansevoort was instrumental in guarding against British encroachment on Albany from the west through the Mohawk Valley, and setting the stage for the defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga a year later.

1The Hall was built on the land on which Gansevoort’s Dutch great grandfather settled in the 1600s and on which he established a brewery. In 1832 the brewery was destroyed by a fire and the next year Peter’s sons, Herman and Peter, built the Stanwix in the same location on Broadway (then North Market St.). It was marvel- 5 stories and constructed from marble.  It housed offices, stores and meeting rooms. It was crowned by a huge awesome dome (48’ in diameter), which covered what was said to have been the largest ballroom (60’ wide) in the world at the time.

2.2.The year it opened it became the home of Mr. Whale’s Dance Academy for the sons and daughters of Albany’s elites. Classes were $12 for the season- lessons were provided Wednesdays and Saturdays and evenings.  Over the next 30 years the Stanwix was the site of glittering balls, assemblies, receptions and concerts with elegant catered suppers.   We have visions of women in huge crinolines stepping out of a row of carriages in the gaslight and whirling the night away in the ballroom with the men of the Albany Burgesses Corps in full dress military uniform.

 

 

2By the mid-1840s the Hall was transformed into the most elegant hotel in Albany.  It was, by all accounts, the classiest of joints.  It was located close to the train station and was the preferred destination of hundreds of travelers, including the rich and famous (and infamous).  When Abraham Lincoln came through Albany in 1861 on his trip to Washington D.C. for his inauguration, John Wilkes Booth was performing in the city and his rooms at the Stanwix would have overlooked the Lincoln parade down Broadway.

The Stanwix also was the site of an infamous murder that created a tabloid frenzy.  On the evening of June 4, 1868, in the main reception room, George Cole took out his pistol and shot L. Harris Hiscock dead. Cole was a Syracuse physician who served with gallantry and bravery in the Civil War. He’d been wounded and promoted to Major General. L. Harris Hiscock was a leading Syracuse attorney, a founder of the law firm now known as Hiscock and Barclay and Speaker of the NYS Assembly. Cole and Hiscock were close friends. During the War, Hiscock, a widower, and Mrs. Cole had an affair. Cole was tried twice. The defense was insanity; there was a hung jury and the case was discharged. In the second trial, in NYS Supreme Court the jury found reasonable doubt and acquitted Cole by virtue of momentary insanity.

The Infamy of the case seemed to enhance the Stanwix reputation.

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In the 1870s the Hotel was acquired by the Lansing family and continued to be the most splendiferous of its kind. In 1878 it was completely remodeled; the dome removed and 2 stories added. It was retrofitted with modern’ conveniences; steam heating and up-to-date plumbing. Even with the opening of Adam Blake’s Kenmore Hotel on North Pearl St. in the early 1880s the Stanwix maintained its social cachet and was the most expensive hotel in Albany. It continued to provide superior service, excellent cuisine and a superior wine list. Even into the late 1890s it was the still tip top – offering both an American (with meals) and European (without meals included) plans and still very expensive ($3 per night was very steep.)

11But in the early 1900s it met stiff competition by the new Ten Eyck Hotel on the corner of State and N. Pearl streets, and then the Wellington and Hampton Hotels on State St. were built.  By 1920, it was more of a banquet and convention venue and had become somewhat down at the heels. In the 1920s itwas the bus terminal in the city.

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16In 1933, a hundred years after it was built,  the hotel was razed to make way for a new federal building and post office. (It’s now the Foley Courthouse.) In the basement of the present building, at the end of the corridor, is a small piece of stone and a plaque inscribed, “This stone was salvaged from the debris of Stanwix Hall and placed here, the exact location where it originally rested in its former home.”

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* Peter Gansevoort also had a daughter Maria who was the mother of Herman Melville. While a teen in the late 1830s Melville was president of an Albany debate club that held its meetings in the Stanwix.

** The first time the Stars and Stripes ever flew in battle was over Fort Stanwix.  It was made from red flannel petticoats from officer’s wives and the blue coat of a soldier from Dutchess County

Albany Public Market and Westgate Plaza: An Immigrant Success Story

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Giuseppi Nigro -age 24 – and wife immigrated to America in 1904. They hit the ground running. In 1905, the Nigro family opened a little grocery store at 114 Green Street. Six years later, it moved “uptown,” to a space on the city’s outskirts, at 652 Central Avenue. J. Nigro & Son watched their quiet neighborhood grow into a busy hive of commerce, and grew with it.

2In 1929, Nigro’s became Albany’s first WGY Food Market, also incidentally purchasing the first cash register from Henry Kass.

In 1933, Nigro bought the next door property (formerly home to a diner) and incorporated as the Albany Public Market (650-652 Central Avenue). (That building still stands, now Aaron’s Rentals.)

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6Nigro had grander visions for his successful little supermarket, and in 1947 he broke ground for an ambitious new Albany Public Market at 711 Central Avenue.

The gigantic new airplane-hangar-sized store opened (October 26, 1948) with a barrage of local excitement. The superlatives weren’t mere hyperbole – it really was the “largest food department store in the world.” Boasting an unheard-of 22,000 square feet of floor space, a warehouse that could hold 70 freight carloads of food, its own bakery, and a three-acre parking lot capable of holding 1,000 cars, the complex was an immediate sensation. (Then-VP Frank Nigro expanded on the hangar idea, claiming the building – twice the size of Albany Airport’s largest hangar – would house two B-29 bombers with jet fighter escort.)

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9130947012_aa38bf8af5_bA decade later, Albany Public Market would become the cornerstone business at the new (Nigro-owned) Westgate Shopping Center, with a store twice the size of the previous location.

Nigro coined the word “Westgate,”after reading a newspaper article about how Central Avenue (the Albany Schenectady Turnpike) was gateway to the West. Westgate Plaza was on the leading edge of mall shopping; despite it being entirely within city limits, it was, as a 1957 article said, “on the outer fringes of Albany.” Once again, it properly claimed the title of largest food store in the United States. The 711 Central Avenue hangar became King’s Department Store (and later on, OTB Teletheater/Nick’s Sneaky Pete’s, before it was razed to make way for Shop Rite).

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Albany Public Market expanded over the next two decades, becoming the first largesupermarket chain in all of upstate New York. Constant advertising, smart publicity and clever promotions kept both Albany Public Market and Westgate Plaza highly visible to the shopping public. Every Albanian of a certain age remembers one stunt or another, be it Santa landing in a helicopter or a DJ broadcasting from atop the Westgate sign.

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Albany Public Market was purchased by Weis Markets of Sunbury, PA in 1967, retaining the Nigros as directors and managers.

Eventually, the Nigros began concentrating their energies into lucrative real estate and banking operations. Best I can tell, Albany Public Markets ceased to be sometime around 1984-5.

From Al. Quaglieri’s Albany blog, Doc Circe Died for OUr Sins

When Albany Had a Yacht Club

 

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1The Albany Yacht Club was founded in 1873. Its first locations were in Albany near the base of State St. By 1880, it moved to the Rensselaer side of the river, opposite the steamboat landing, but that building was destroyed by fire in 1905.The Club made due in an old building on the Albany side of the River until 1909 when it decided to build a modern and relatively palatial 2 story Clubhouse. The new building, finished in 1910, was located on one end of a pier, leased from the City, across from Maiden Lane. Shortly thereafter the City constructed a municipal “Recreation Pier” on the other end, with a bridge running from Maiden Lane to the pier.

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3The Yacht Club membership grew with advent of the motor launch. The annual Albany – NYC race and regattas drew thousands of spectators. The events became an integral part of City life.

 

 

 

 

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In 1942 the Yacht Club Building took on a new life and the upper floors were leased to the USO for its Albany headquarters during World War II. The building’s proximity to Union Station, packed with trains full of servicemen day and night, was the main reason for selection of the site. When the War ended, the Club returned despite the wear and tear during the War years. But there was still one more life for the building. In 1949, the building was acquired by the federal government, commissioned as the local Naval Reserve Center, and a 3 inch gun was mounted on the pier outside the Clubhouse.

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The Clubhouse had survived 40 years, but the inability of the City to allocate the necessary resources to maintain the concrete piers during the Depression and War years, coupled with decades of winter ice and the river’s spring risings, took their toll. A large portion of the pier crumbled into the river in 1946; another hunk broke off in 1952. Although there were discussions about repairs, there were also discussions about a highway to run parallel to the river.

 

The Yacht Club met in temporary quarters until 1954 when a new Clubhouse was constructed in Rensselaer. Construction was begun on a new Naval Reserve Center on the corner of N. Main and Washington Ave in 1955. The City took possession of the Yacht Club building. Subsequently, the Clubhouse, the bridge from Maiden Lane to the pier and the pier, along with the old Day Line steamship sheds north of the pier, were demolished and the Yacht Club basin filled in to widen Quay St., and create a municipal parking lot.

Getting from Here to There in Old Albany

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If you lived in Albany in 1840 and you wanted travel in the city you either walked or if you were well to do, rode your horse or carriage or rented from one of the scores of livery stables that dotted the city. So mostly you walked. While the City’s population grew rapidly after the building of the Erie Canal, the actual area occupied by Albany’s population pretty much stayed the same. Think of 2/3’s of the population of today crammed into a quarter of the area covered by today’s Albany. Everything was in walking distance.

2.2But the city WAS growing slowly. By the mid-1840s there came to be destinations just at the fringes of the Albany – not easily reached. The answer was the “omnibus” for locations that were only several miles away from State St. – the city’s hub. The omnibus was a horse drawn vehicle that could accommodate multiple passengers and traveled on a regular schedule (an innovation, believe it or not!). The omnibus was simply a streamlined version of the “stage coach” used for long distances. It was pulled by a single horse or team over dirt roads or cobblestone streets. There were less than a handful of regular omnibus destinations: the Albany Rural Cemetery and in the South End near the growing village of Groesbeckville in the town of Bethlehem (the Second Ave. area today) and beyond to the Mount Hope hamlet where homes clustered near the large Rathbone and Prentice estates on South Pearl, and then farther south to Kenwood knitting mills in Bethlehem.

By the late 1850s, however, the city was bursting at the seams and Albany finally started to expand to accommodate its ever growing population. (In 1855 the population was 57,000, almost 5 times greater than before the Erie Canal, but people and businesses were basically crammed into the same area.) A construction boom began as the city pushed westward, moving towards the wilderness near what would become Washington Park; the Bowery – an area of farms on what is now Central Ave., and to the north beyond the Lumber District to North Albany. By 1860 the population had grown by another 5,000.

It became clear the city needed a system of regular transportation to get from here to there. In the early 1860s, two groups of investors came forward to establish “horse car” trolley companies. (Horse cars has been running throughout New York City since the late 1840s.) The horse car was very different from the omnibus. To make it efficient and faster, the cars which (resembled the omnibus) ran on metal wheels on a system of grooved iron or steel rails. This allowed the horses to haul larger loads in all weather conditions and provide a smoother ride. (Think “horse railroad”.)

The Western Turnpike Railroad Co. incorporated in 1862. (Its parent company ran the toll road that we know as Route 20.) Its first horse car started regularly scheduled trips from South Ferry St. up Broadway to North Ferry St. (in the Lumber District) in June 1863. The Albany Horse Railroad Co. was also formed and its horse cars started running in February 1864. The cars were 12’ long, accommodated 10-12 passengers and trundled along at breathtaking 3 mph. Its first run started up State St. from Broadway, over Eagle to Washington and Central and Northern Blvd. (then Knox St.). Soon the Albany Company became dominant and added other lines; to the West Albany Railroad shops, up Clinton Ave., down South Pearl to Kenwood and into North Albany. Routes expanded rapidly; horse cars were running to and into Troy and Cohoes and Watervliet.

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4 (2)In the 1870s the original Pine Hills line began; it started at North Pearl St. and Maiden Lane, down to South Pearl St. up Beaver St. to Grand St., west to Hamilton St. north to Lark St. , south to Madison Ave. and then past Washington Park over Madison to Quail St. and then expanded to Partridge St. By the late 1880s horse cars ran over the old Greenbush Bridge to Rensselaer and over the bridge into Troy.

Initially there were 2 horse car barns: on South Pearl near Second Ave. and on the corner of Broadway and Erie St. in North Albany ( we believe one of the original horse barns on Broadway remains; the other Broadway barns were demolished for I-90). In 1886, a third barn was added on Quail St., below Central.. By the mid-1880s Albany had 30 miles of track, 71 horse cars and 400 horses owne by the two Albany horse car companies.

Depending on the route grade, there would be a 1 horse or 2 horse team. State St. cars required 2 horses and on Market Days (Wednesday and Saturday) when farm wagons clogged State between Eagle and North Pearl, a “midget” horse car (called a bobtail) was needed to avoid the wagons. In heavy snow horse cars could be fitted with runners to function as sleighs. (During the Blizzard of 1888 a team of 8 horses tried to pull a car up the hill; it didn’t work and the car was abandoned in the street.)

Generally there was a driver and a conductor to collect fares and keep order. In the winter there were small stoves in the center of the car and hay lined the floor; there were open air cars in the summer. The cleanliness of the horse car generally depended on the conductor. By the 1880s cars were larger and some could handle 20 passengers (and often more – having to stand on a horse car was not uncommon). Some lines ran cars every 20 minutes during high use periods. There were regular stops but you could hail a horse car and you could ask to be let off in front of your house. Our favorite story from a newspaper of the time: a woman and her son got on a Pine Hills line; after a couple of minutes the female passenger told the conductor to halt the car, so her son could run back to their house and get an umbrella. It did and he did, as the rest of the passengers waited.

Horse cars obviously depended on the horses; they represented a significant investment. The animals were generally well tended, but there is no getting around the fact that it was grueling work. Depending on the route and whether the horse was part of a double team, the horses were expected to travel 14-20 miles/day. The average life span of a horse was 3-5 years. Overcrowding posed problems. While teams were switched on routes as passengers waited, there are stories of some animals simply dropping dead in the street. At one point many of the animals of one company died from drinking contaminated well water in the barns. There were accidents – with pedestrians and wagons and carriages.

Nevertheless – horse cars were wildly popular and successful. They allowed the city to finally expand and they shortened the time of the commute as people increasingly chose to live farther from their place of business. The fare within the city was a nickel. While they made money for investors they were still expensive to operate. Horse car companies all across the country were looking for alternatives. Car systems involving electric cables and steam were tried, to eliminate the need for horses, but none were really successful.

4But a number of inventors were working on a more practical electric system. Frank Sprague is generally credited with the invention of the first viable electric trolley system (in Richmond in 1888), but it is Leo Daft* with Albany connections after whom the “trolley” is named. Leo devised a mechanism to collect electric current using a wheeled device on the car; the device was called a “troller,” after the way it was towed behind the car. Daft’s system proved less than practical and electric poles as a means of providing electric current, but the name “trolley” stuck.

 

4.4The first test of an electric trolley in Albany was on a Sunday in 1889 on State St. (much to the surprise of St. Peter’s Church parishioners who has not been told this would happen). Soon trolley poles dotted the city, as electric trolleys were phased in. The power plant was located on South Pearl and Gansevoort, near the location of an old Mohawk and Hudson railroad round house). The transition to all electric cars in Albany was completed in 1894. 5**

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In the next 2 decades, car routes were extended and new routes established with electric cars. The Pine Hills line was extended to S. Allen St., then to Manning Blvd and ultimately to the Albany Country Club (where the University at Albany is today) over Western Ave. This was the farthest point of the trolleys in the city; the trip from downtown to the Country Club took about 30 minutes (about what it would take today). As development started on Delaware Ave. above Lincoln Park (then Beaver Park) a line was added from Lark St. down to Second Ave. A route was added over Clinton Ave. (although a route through Arbor Hill, eagerly awaited by residents, never materialized), a new route in the South End over Broad St. and Trinity Pl. was established.

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7.6The Albany Railway Co. started buying competitors in Albany, Troy, Watervliet and Cohoes. The name was changed to the United Traction Company (UTC) in 1899. It commissioned anew office on the corner of Broadway and Columbia St. designed by the preeminent architect Marcus Reynolds (who also designed the D & H Building and the Delaware Ave. fire house). The building, although it needs some TLC, remains on that corner.

 

 

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The trolleys continued to be popular and lucrative; ridership grew as the population increased (by 1900 Albany’s population was 100,000) and new routes were added.

But the 20th century would take its toll on the trolley. If we recall correctly the first automobile in Albany made its appearance in 1901 (it was owned by a physician). By 1912 there are reports of parking problems in downtown. In 1913 Henry Ford’s assembly line was churning out Model-T’s at the rate of 1 every 15 minutes, and they were affordable for the working class. Larger vehicles (a/k/a buses or coaches) that could accommodate multiple passengers were not far behind. They could go anywhere and were not restricted to rails and overhead electric current.

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8There was also trouble in worker’s paradise as company profits rose. In May 1901 there was a strike by UTC workers who wanted a pay raise and union recognition. It turned violent and 2 people were killed by the 23rd National Guard, deployed by the Governor at the request of the county sheriff, to guard the trolleys driven by strikebreakers. (The 1901 strike is the pivotal event in William Kennedy’s “Ironweed”.) The end of the strike was negotiated with a modest raise for strikers and the UTC’s agreement to meet with labor representatives. Labor issues continued to plague the UTC for decades, from small walk outs to protracted negotiation and arbitration.


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In 1921 a major wage dispute (the UTC proposed to cut wages on Troy lines) erupted into a strike of over 1,000 UTC workers. It started with violence in the late January; the newly formed New York State Police were deployed to protect strikebreakers running the trolleys in Albany, Troy, Watervliet and Cohoes. After initial clashes, the strike moved into a battle of attrition. For the most part trolley riders supported the workers. Private “jitneys” (think “gypsy cabs”) proliferated. The strike lasted throughout the summer; when it ended neither side has gained anything substantive.

(The strike helped end the longtime Republican machine rule over Albany; it was viewed as supporting the UTC over workers. In November 1921 Democrat William Hackett was elected mayor, with the help of Dan O’Connell – one door closes; another opens.)

13.2Buses began to run in areas of the city and adjacent suburbs in which residential development was growing exponentially, including New Scotland Ave. and Whitehall Rd. where there were no trolleys. By 1922 there were already bus companies serving these areas. It simply wasn’t financially feasible for the UTC to invest in trolley infrastructure. The UTC started acquiring bus lines and substituting bus service for trolleys. An owner of the Consolidated Care Heating Co. on North Pearl St. (it’s still there as CMP industries) which a had long history making parts for UTC cars) was experimenting with alternative vehicles- trackless trolleys.*** The new Versare Corp started to manufacture the vehicles; the UTC purchased at least one for its Western Ave. line. But the trolleybus, as it came to be known, didn’t catch on; it still required infrastructure to carry electric current, and once in place, it was difficult to re-route.

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In 1930 at the beginning of the Depression Albany’s population was now about 127,000 and had dispersed farther westward; real estate development had extended to Washington Heights (upper Washington Ave.), So, Manning Blvd, Buckingham Gardens (the area just west of So, Manning along New Scotland) and to Whitehall Rd. near Cardinal Ave. (the city line at the time). All these new homes were built with garages for the owner’s car. In 1927 a City Planning Commission was created to establish standards for this new development, including roads and traffic signals. (This was also the first attempt at citywide zoning in Albany.)

Throughout the Depression and into World War II trolleys continued to roll through the streets of Albany, but they became a much less important part of the UTC’s business model, which was now focused on buses.

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By the end of World War II the era of the trolley was over; the last UTC trolley ran on August  31, 1946, with Mayor Erastus Corning taking a turn on the throttle.  The #834 car did a full circuit of  the Belt line  route on a hot night and then returned to the Quail St. barn as a small crowd,  in the hot still night,  sang “Auld  Lang Syne”.

Private automobile ownership in the post War era was on the rise. The population pushed out into the suburbs and businesses followed. (The first shopping center in the area, Delaware Plaza, was established in Elsmere in 1955.) UTC profitability declined and it continued to be plagued by labor disputes. A 25 day strike in September/October 1967 was a crippling blow to a company already in financial toruble.

Similar financial problems were playing out among all the bus companies in the region at the same time. In 1970 the NYS Legislature created a public corporation, the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) to provide regional transportation services as the UTC and other companies went out of business. It took over the operations of the UTC and the Schenectady Transit Company.

There are 2 vestiges of the glory days of the trolley in Albany besides odd fragments of track buried under layers of street paving materials that come to light now and then. Two trolley poles remain – there is one on Hamilton St., just below Lark and another, recently restored through donations of concerned Albany citizens, on Quail St., between Madison Ave and Western Ave.

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*Leo Daft was an English inventor and electrical engineer who married Catherine Flansburgh, with Dutch roots going back to the mid-1600s in Albany. Their daughter Matilda married another Brit, Alfred Williams and the family (including Grandpa Leo) lived in Pine Hills for least 3 decades. (Grandpa Leo’s son was my great uncle.)
** The last horse car, in the Lumber District, ran into the early 1900s. As we understand it, it was never discontinued when the others were because of an odd clause in an abstruse UTC contract. We’ve heard that the horse car ended up in the Ford Museum in Dearborn.
*** The Versare Co. was sold to the Cincinnati Car Corp. in the late 1920s; that company closed in the 1930s in the midst of the Depression.