A Brief History of Albany’s New Scotland Avenue and How it Grew

At the beginning of the 1800s there was nothing on the New Scotland Plank Rd. but farmland, woods and fields. The first buildings we know are an inn, the Log Tavern* at the corner of Krumkill Rd.-a stopping point for the farmers going to and from the city, and a couple of farmhouses. The Plank Rd. was a toll road with several tollgates – one just beyond Ontario St. and another near what’s now the Golf Course.

3In 1826 the Almshouse (poor house) was established in the area that today is bounded by New Scotland Ave., Holland Ave., Hackett Blvd. and Academy Rd. (Back then the other 3 streets didn’t exist.) The next building to be constructed, in the 1840s, was the Penitentiary. (The VA Hospital is there now; built in the late 1940s, after the Penitentiary was razed in the 1930s.)

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In the 1870s William Hurst established Pleasure Park, a popular and successful horse race trotting track and picnic area near Whitehall Rd. and New Scotland Ave. (He later went on to own the Log Tavern.)

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2But Albany was growing – moving west, out Lydius St. (now Madison Ave.). In the early 1860s the area around the intersection of Madison and New Scotland started to see development, and a little stub of New Scotland Rd. from Madison to Myrtle Ave. was known briefly (for about 15 years) as Lexington Ave. In 1871 Washington Park opened and the area became fashionable. By the 1880s the Park trustees decided build a house for the Park’s Superintendent, as well as an array of greenhouses, on what is now the corner of Holland Ave. and New Scotland.

zzzzYet development west of Myrtle Ave. was slow. In 1893 the Dudley Observatory ** moved from Arbor Hill to New Scotland and South Lake Ave. In the late 1890s Albany Hospital was bursting at the seams in its downtown location at Eagle and Howard Streets, and moved to New Scotland Ave. About a decade later the Albany Orphan Asylum moved to what is now the corner of Academy Rd. and New Scotland Ave. (from Robin St. and Western Ave.). Today the buildings house the Sage College of Albany. It was originally known as the Junior College of Albany when it first opened in 1959.)***

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5.1But within the decade residential and commercial growth exploded. Much of the land near the intersections of South Lake Ave. and Academy Rd. **** was owned by the Albany Driving Association, a private club that had a track for trotter horse races to the west of Academy Rd. The members decided to sell their vast tract of land (between New Scotland and what is now Hackett Blvd. and Forest Ave.) and established the Woodlawn Park development.

7Steadily residential growth pushed west. Yet there was no trolley service. The first bus service started about1914 – the “terminal” was at the intersection of South Allen St. and New Scotland. But this was a “suburban” area deliberately designed to accommodate the automobile as the primary means of transportation.

 

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5By 1920 the Troop B Armory was constructed next to the Orphan Asylum. (Today it’s part of the Sage College Campus.) In 1921 Memorial Grove (the corner of South Lake and New Scotland) was created to honor the men who died in World War I.

 

7.1And that’s how New Scotland Ave. grew. By the mid-1920s there was a fire house, a public school, and Catholic Church. By the early 1930s St. Peter’s Hospital re-located to its current spot, from North Albany. The Depression initially halted residential development, but by the late 1930s the area beyond Manning Blvd. became a highly desirable location. It was zoned residential and the municipal golf course had been built just outside the city limits in 1931. Well-off families flocked to developments with enticing names -Golden Acres, Heldervale and Buckingham Gardens. Albany annexed land in Slingerlands several times and the city border pushed close to Whitehall Rd.

1930s New Scotland Ave

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University Heights

20In the early 1930s Holland Ave. was created. ( It was once the route for the Mohawk- Hudson Railroad, chugging from the Point at Madison and Western Avenues. to downtown.) The Almshouse was demolished, making way for the Law School to move from State St,. the Pharmacy College from Eagle St. and a NYS Health Dept. Laboratory was built across from the Hospital. University Heights was almost complete. Then Christian Brothers Academy moved uptown from Howard St. and the Fort Orange American Legion Post ** was built next to Memorial Grove.

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1940s and 1950s

33The next spurt of development began after World War II. There was a severe post-war housing crisis in Albany – the last farm within the city limits was sold in 1947 for the Weiss Rd. apartments. Hundreds of houses were constructed in the area surrounding New Scotland Ave. west of Manning to accommodate growing families with baby boomers. Two churches, St. Catherine’s Roman Catholic (now Mater Christi) and Bethany Reformed, were built in the 1950s and Temple Israel re-located to New Scotland in 1953. Maria College opened in 1965.

1,1After the annexation of Karlsfeld and Hurstville in 1967 New Scotland Ave. was complete and extended to the Normanskill.

 

 

 

 

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1960s and 1970s

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*The Log Tavern morphed into the Hurst Hotel, and became a favorite romantic rendezvous and “love nest”, especially for politicians’. It was destroyed by fire on election night, 1929. (Oh the irony.)

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** The Dudley Observatory and Bender Laboratory (behind the Obeservatory) and the Legion post were demolished in 1970 to build the Capital District Psych Center and the attached parking garage.

***In the 1959 Russell Sage College purchased some of the buildings of what was then known as the Albany Home for Children and established the Junior College of Albany. In 2001 the College began offering 4 year degrees at the site, as the Sage College of Albany.

**** Academy Rd. was initially known as Highland Ave. – the name changed in the 1930s when Boy’s Academy moved from downtown.

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Albany’s Dorothy Lathrop – Award Winning Author and Illutrator

What if I told you there was a woman from Albany who brought joy to thousands of children across the world for almost 100 years and will continue to do so?

Her name is Dorothy Pulis Lathrop and she was an award-winning illustrator and writer of children’s books.

Dorothy was born before the turn of the last century in 1891. Her parents, Cyrus Lathrop and Ida Pulis Lathrop, came to Albany in 1888. Cyrus was originally from Connecticut, son of a bookseller. Ida was from Troy – the school teacher daughter of a carpenter. In the early days they lived at 230 Washington Ave. (just above Henry Johnson Blvd.), where Cyrus ran a thriving business that re-supplied restroom laundry in restaurants and other businesses. There were 2 daughters (Gertrude – whom we will discuss at another time) and Dorothy.

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2.2Meanwhile, Ida painted; she was a self-taught artist of great skill. (Her paintings are in the permanent collections of a number of museums) and the last time one of her pieces came up for auction – at Christie’s’ about 25 years ago, it went for $15,000. By the early 1900s Ida had nationwide fame.

Cyrus was a man of great faith and concern for the well-being of his fellow man, especially children. He’s said to have volunteered frequently at the City Mission when he first came to Albany. In 1892 he was one of the founders of the Albany Boys Club and soon became its president and executive director. This lead to a series of appointments in NYS government, overseeing charitable organizations – from orphan asylums to hospitals – across the State. He remained in state government for the rest of his life.

In the early 1900s the Lathrops moved to one of the new villas on South Allen St. in Pine Hills. The house was designed by Ida and included two rooms for her art studio. The large backyard was filled with the apple trees and the family’s petting zoo: porcupines, sheep, turtles, raccoons, goats, chipmunks and squirrels. While Cyrus traveled for work Ida and the girls stayed at home, painting and playing with the animals.

Dorothy graduated from Albany High School and went on to study art at Columbia in NYC. She returned to Albany and taught art for a couple of years at Albany High School, getting some free-lance magazine work, but she was determined to have a career as an illustrator. She returned to art school in Philadelphia and New York and then started pounding the pavements in New York City, portfolio in hand. One of her stops was at the new and tiny publishing firm, Alfred Knopf. Knopf was a year younger than Dorothy, eager to try new talent and snapping up European authors to publish in America.

3.jpgKnopf paired her with Walter de la Mare, an English poet and writer best known for his children’s books these days. Their first partnership was “The Three Mulla Muggars (a/k/a – “The Three Royal Monkeys”. He believed fervently in children’s natural inclination to live in a world of fantasy. Lathrop’s illustrations lead the reader into that realm and let them run wild. (Dorothy developed a close relationship with de la Mare; they collaborated on another 5 books.)

4She was off and running – at the beginning of prolific award-winning career. She illustrated almost 50 children’s books (and wrote of many of them herself) that drew on her love of animals and nature. In 1929 she was the co-winner of the Newbery Medal (the Medal is awarded by the American Library Association for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” ) with writer Rachel Field for “Hitty, Her First Hundred Years”. It’s a wonderful story of a doll who travels the world for a century and writes her memoirs. (Hitty – the actual doll, owned by Rachel Fields and inspiration for the book, spent time on display in Harmanus Bleecker Library in Albany in 1930.)

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Two years later Dorothy was a Newbery runner-up for “The Fairy Circus”, which she wrote and illustrated. (I inherited all the Lathrop books from my mother and uncles. This may be my favorite; a group of fairies who put together a circus with all the little woodland creatures in their world, but I’m positively mad for all Lathrop’s books.)

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9In 1938 she was the first winner of the Caldecott Medal (awarded by the American Library Association) for the “most distinguished American picture book for children” for ”Animals in the Bible”. She said in her acceptance speech, “I can’t help wishing that just now all of you were animals. Of course technically you are, but if only I could look down into a sea of furry faces, I would know better what to say.”

 

 

1Dorothy continued to work in the realm of children’s lit into her 60s, but in the early 1950s she turned to non-fiction as well. In “Let them live” (1951) she was one the first to warn against the destruction of the natural habitats and eco-systems that support wildlife.

Dorothy called Albany home until the mid-1950s She was a founding member of the Albany Print Club (her specialty was wood block prints, although she was proficient in all media); her papers are in its permanent collection. Sometimes, she could be found reading her books at story hour in some of the local library branches. In 1954, Dorothy and Gertrude moved to the Falls Village, Ct., but still spent considerable time in Albany. Her work, and that of Gertrude, a sculptor, was displayed at the Institute and other venues. (The Institute has the work of Ida, Dorothy and Gertrude in their collection.)

12I have a dim recollection of seeing Dorothy at the John Mistletoe book store (originally on Lark St. – subsequently it moved around the corner to Washington Ave.). The Mistletoe was first owned by her good friends Eleanor Foote and then Mary and Ed French. It had a great children’s section and from time to time Dorothy would appear at events. She was a tall, kind and soft-spoken woman who seemed more a home with kids than adults.

Dorothy died in 1980 at the age of 89 in Falls Village. She’s buried with her sister and parents in Section 27, Lot 46 of the Albany Rural Cemetery.

She once wrote: “How I came to write and draw for children I do not know. Perhaps it is simply that I am interested most of all in the things many of them like best–creatures of all kinds, whether they run, fly, hop, or crawl, and in fairies and all their kin, and in all the adventures that might happily befall one in a world which is so constantly surprising and wonderful.”

Here’s a list of the books Dorothy Lathrop illustrated:

  • A Little Boy Lost. Hudson, W. H. (author), Knopf, 1929.
  • An Angel in the Woods. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1947.
  • Animals of the Bible. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), Lippincott, 1937.
  • Balloon Moon. Cabot, Elsie (author), Henry Holt, 1927.
  • Bells and Grass. De La Mare, Walter (author), Viking, 1965.
  • Bouncing Betsy. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1936.
  • Branches Green. Field, Rachel (author), Macmillan, 1934.
  • Childcraft in 15 Volumes. Lathrop, Dorothy P. et al. (author), Field Educational Pub., 1954.
  • Crossings: A Fairy Play. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1923.
    Devonshire Cream. Dean, Agnes L. (author), Unity Press, 1950.
  • Down-Adown-Derry: A Book of Fairy Poems. De La Mare, Walter (author), Henry Holt, 1922.
  • Fierce-Face: The Story of a Tiger. Mukerji, Dhan Gopal (author), Dutton, 1938.
  • Follow the Brook. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1960.
  • Grateful Elephant. Burlingame, Eugene W. (author), Yale University Press, 1923.
  • Grim: The Story of a Pike. Fleuron, Svend (author), Knopf, 1921.
  • Hide and Go Seek. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), E.M. Hale, 1931
  • Hitty: Her First Hundred Years. Field, Rachel (author), Macmillan, 1947.
  • Kaleidoscope. Farjeon, Eleanor (author), Stokes, 1929.
  • Japanese Prints. Fletcher (author), Four Seas Press, Boston, 1918.
  • Let Them Live. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1961.
  • Made-To-Order Stories. Canfield, Dorothy (author), Harcourt Brace, 1953.
  • Mopsa the Fairy. Jean, Ingelow (author), Harper & Brothers, 1927.
  • Mr. Bumps and His Monkey. De La Mare, Walter (author), Winston, 1942.
  • Presents for Lupe. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1940.
  • Puffy and the Seven Leaf Clover. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1954.
  • Puppies for Keeps. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), Macmillan, 1944.
  • Silverhorn: The Hilda Conkling Book For Other Children. Conkling, Hilda (author), Stokes, 1924.
  • Snow Image. Hawthorne, Nathaniel (author), Macmillan, 1930.
  • Stars To-Night: Verses New and Old for Boys and Girls. Teasdale, Sara (author), Macmillan, 1930.
  • Sung under the Silver Umbrella. Education Association For Childhood (author), Macmillan, 1935.
  • Tales From The Enchanted Isles. Gate, Ethel May (author), Yale University Press, 1926.
  • The Colt from Moon Mountain. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1941.
  • The Dog in the Tapestry Garden. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1962.
  • The Dutch Cheese. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1931.
  • The Fair of St. James. Farjeon, Eleanor (author), Stokes, 1932.
  • The Fairy Circus. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1931.
  • The Forgotten Daughter. Snedeker, Caroline Dale (author), Doubleday, 1933.
  • The Happy Flute. Mandal, Sant Ram (author), Stokes, 1939.
  • The Light Princess. Macdonald, George (author), Macmillan, 1952.
  • The Little Mermaid. Andersen, Hans (author), Macmillan, 1939.
  • The Little White Goat. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1935.
  • The Littlest Mouse. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1955.
  • The Long Bright Land. Howes, Edith (author), Little Brown, 1929.
  • The Lost Merry-Go-Round. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1938.
  • The Princess and Curdie. MacDonald, George (author), Macmillan, 1927.
  • The Skittle Skattle Monkey. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1945.
  • The Snail Who Ran. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Stokes, 1934.
  • The Snow Image. Hawthorne, Nathaniel (author), Macmillan, 1930.
  • The Three Mulla-Mulgars. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1919.
  • The Treasure of Carcassonne. Robida, A. (author), E.M. Hale, 1926.
  • Who Goes There? Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1935

How the Van Rensselaer Manor Vanished from Albany

Most of you know that the “Patroon” originally owned the vast area around Albany called Rensselaerwyck. (Basically, Patroon means “land owner” in Dutch.) The first Patroon was Killian Van Rensselaer, a pearl and diamond merchant, who acquired the land from the Dutch West India Co. (DWIC) in 1630. Think of the DWIC as a group of venture capitalists and speculators.. betting on the New World, using a traditional form of Dutch land ownership for revenue generation and capital formation.

Rensselaerwyck was one of several patroonships in the New Netherlands, but the only one that proved successful*. The original grant that encompassed land on both sides of the River was soon expanded by acquisition of additional lands from the Indians. In exchange for the land the Patroon had to establish a functioning colony (over which he had almost total power). (Much like IDA grants today, the Patroon got a tax break for the first decade.) Rensselaerwyck was a feudal manor and the Patroon was literally Lord of the Manor, except for Albany, which was at the time Fort Orange, a wholly owned subsidiary of the DWIC.

1.4There’s no evidence that the first Patroon ever visited his fiefdom. Business was conducted in his name by agents, from a large house and cluster of buildings north of the Fort on Broadway, near the Patroon Creek, a tributary of the Hudson River. In 1666 the compound was destroyed by a flood and rebuilt by Jeremias Van Rensselaer. (Jeremias was the third son of Killian and the first Patroon to establish permanent residence in Rensselaerwyck.)

 

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2According to Steve Belinski (the “Colonial Albany Social History Project”) the new building was constructed in the “Country Style” with the entrance on the long side and attached outbuildings. (Think a Patroon “compound” and the seat of government for the Manor.) A century later in 1765 a new and grand Manor House would be built on the same grounds by Stephen Van Rensselaer II, the Patroon and 3rd Lord of the Manor for his new wife, Catherine Livingston, daughter of Philip Livingston (signer of the Declaration of Independence). It was a large Georgian Mansion – one of the grandest homes in the country at the time – nestled amid a forest setting and lush, well-tended gardens. It was a thriving, mostly self-sufficient plantation, including slaves.

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14There were changes made to this Manor House around 1820 and again in the early 1840’s the existing structure underwent major renovation by architect Richard Upjohn (he designed the existing St. Peter’s Church on State St.), preserving the Georgian features of the original Manor House. It was still a gracious baronial manse – but it would be the home of the Last Patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer IV.

 

14.1The days of the Patroon were coming to an end. The Anti-Rent Wars had already started in the late 1830s. The Patroon’s thousands of tenants were protesting what was still a feudal system of land ownership in which the Patroon held all the cards. The Wars would continue until 1846** when the NYS Constitution was amended to abolish the Patroon system and Van Rensselaer would start selling off his property – in Albany and across the Manor. ***

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20The Last Patroon died in 1868. By then the Manor House was hemmed in by the Erie Canal and the railroads on the east and the growing city and its factories on the west. By the 1870s the great Manor House was abandoned. There were attempts by the family to have the structure declared a New York State landmark of sorts. There were efforts made by some citizens to move the building to Washington Park. These failed.

 

 

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Finally, in the early 1890s Albany’s great architect, Marcus Reynolds (Banker’s Trust, the D&H Building and the Delaware Ave. fire house) and young Van Rensselaer cousin, convinced the family to agree to have the Manor disassembled. He transported the exteriors and the Manor House was “re-built” as the Sigma Phi fraternity house (Van Rensselaer Hall) at Williams College. (Reynolds was an 1890 graduate of Williams.) The interiors were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and are currently on display in Gallery 752 in the American Wing.

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Van Rensselaer Hall survived until 1973 when it was demolished for a new Williams College library.

The last evidence of the Patroons in Albany survived into the 20th century on Broadway near Tivoli St. Alas, circa 1918 the Patroon’s Office (where the Patroon’s agents conducted business for almost 200 years) was demolished to accommodate the expansion of the International Harvester franchise.

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Today there’s no trace the Patroons were ever here, except for an historical marker on Clinton Ave. that identifies it as the former Patroon St., the original dividing line between the Patroon’s land and Albany. There’s no historic marker … nothing, nada, zip, zilch ….at 950 Broadway, near Manor St., the address of the Manor House. (This was one of the pet peeves of the late Warren Roberts, History Prof. at U Albany and author of the great book, “A Place in History; Albany in the Age of Revolution 1775-1825”. )

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And that’s how the Van Rensselaer Manor House vanished.

* A 10th G Grandfather, Cornelius Melyn, was the Patroon of Staten Island. It didn’t work out. There were wars with several Indian tribes, and battles with the DWIC and the successive Director Generals of the colony, including Peter Stuyvesant, over the dictatorial nature of the DWIC. He was a cranky rebel and a thorn in the side. Great Grandpa Corny ended up in the English New Haven Colony, took an oath of loyalty to the Crown and relinquished his right to the Patroonship of Staten Island. The last vestige of Corny is a mural in the Staten Island Borough Hall.

**The Anti-Rent Wars are fictionalized in the novel, “Dragonwyck” by Anya Seton (1944) and in a movie of the same name (1946) with Gene Tierney, Vincent Price and Walter Huston. Vincent Price is the perfect arrogant Dutch Patroon villain.. “You must pay the rent.”

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*** A GG grandfather purchased land in the 200 block of Livingston Ave. (then Lumber St.) in 1850 as part of the Patroon’s property sell-off.

The History of the Albany County (Altamont) Fair: Not Just Deep-Fried Twinkies

 

There’s almost nothing as All-American as a County Fair and Albany County had one of the first in the nation; 205 years later it’s still going strong.

The first County Fair is said to have been organized in Pittsfield by Elkanah Watson* in 1807 when he took his two prized Merino sheep to Park Square; the display quickly drew a sizable crowd of admirers and, just like that, the seeds of the modern agricultural fair were sown. He then organized the Berkshire Agricultural Society, which held its first fair in 1811.

1Word traveled rapidly; Albany quickly followed suit and the first Fair in Albany was sponsored by the Albany (County) Agricultural Society two years later in 1813. The initial fairs (primarily animal shows) were held in Washington Square. Subsequent fairs were held in the Parade Grounds, just beyond the Square. (Both areas are now within Washington Park.) By the 1840s the exhibits moved beyond cattle, horses and chickens to include all sorts of local crops and agricultural products.

 

 

3 (2)Around 1850 the New York State Agricultural Society constructed a semi-permanent fairground in Menands. For about 20 years the site was also used for the Albany County Fair. (There are some wonderful prints of this Fair in that location- make sure you take a look at the images attached to this post.) It was during this time the Fair came into its own. There were horse races, floral exhibits, pie making and cake competitions, quilts and other textiles; almost everything you would come to expect from a county fair.

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3.(3)By 1855 the Industrial Revolution had made its way into the Fair. Exhibition Halls were too small to accommodate the vast array of agricultural implements (plows and seed planters), stoves, sewing machines, pianofortes, looking glasses and other “diverse domestic manufactures”. By the 1860s the Fair locations moved around Albany County – back to the Washington Parade Grounds, Babcock Corners in the Town of Bethlehem, near Cohoes in the northern part of the County and even Slingerlands – including what is now Albany – the locationof Mater Christi (St. Catherine’s) Church and grounds in Hurstville.

 

4.1Finally the Fair moved to Altamont in Guilderland (a central location). The Altamont Driving Park and Fair Association was incorporated on May 20, 1893. Within a month the Board of Directors also approved the purchase 24.5 acres of land in Altamont for the “Altamont Fair Grounds.”

The first fair was held from September 12 through 15, 1893. Admission was 25 cents for adults, and the net receipts for the four days was $884.13. A racetrack was built in front of the Grandstand. One of the first buildings, the Flower & Fine Arts a Building, is on the State and National Registers of Historic Sites. A year later the name was changed to the Albany County Agricultural Society and Exposition.

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The Modern County Fair is Born

4In addition to the agricultural, animal and domestic arts competitions and exhibitions, the Fair has, through the years, incorporated other attractions. Carnival rides and a Midway were added. Auto racing was started in 1915 and continued through the 1990s.** The first airplane rides were also started in 1915.- alas the propeller of the plane hit a wall and it never got off the ground. A flea circus was a popular attraction in the early 1900s. There have been singing dogs, dancing bears, wrestling, concerts, boxing, vaudeville shows, rodeo and dramatic readings. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) booth was a mainstay before Prohibition. Politicians and political candidates made obligatory appearances. Electric lights were added in the 1920s and it became a favorite place for canoodling Flappers and their swains at night.

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16Here are a couple of my favorites during the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s – a guided missile display by GE, real Marines re-enacted a famous battle, a Fall-out shelter exhibit and an Atlas Missile was displayed. The 60s saw demonstrations by NY Telephone of cable slicing, a fife and drum competition and a Battle of the Bands. Cars have been won and in 1964 a new house supplied by the Albany County Realtor’s Assoc. was raffled.

The exhibits and demonstrations have changed with the times, but it’s still a summer tradition.

Note: today the Fair is a Tri-County Fair, including Albany, Greene and Schenectady Counties.

*Watson, a wealthy man, previously lived in Albany – it’s been said he was too progressive and creative for our city, and retired to Massachusetts to raise sheep.

**The Fair wasn’t cancelled in World War II. It was considered part of the War effort – with canning, preserving and Victory Garden exhibits and demonstrations to show women how to make do and make over old clothing during rationing. However, since gasoline was rationed, the car raced using propane tanks.

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