Dr. Mary Walker, Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and her time in Albany

I came across this picture, taken on State St. in 1911. It’s photo of Dr. Mary E. Walker.

I had one of those lightbulb moments. My Gram used to tell me about a nice old lady in Albany who wore men’s clothing. who often lived at the YWCA on Steuben St. Gram said her brothers and male cousins used to try to knock off her silk top hat with snowballs. And then her uncle would “thrash” them.

To be honest, I filed it under “whatever”. Just another Gram story (there were hundreds – oft repeated) and the reference to men’s clothing meant nothing to me. (I wore jeans.. so what?) Yadda Yadda Yadda. Now I wish I paid more attention.

Dr. Mary Walker is the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor. Her story is remarkable.

She was born in Oswego in 1832 into a family of devoted Christian non–sectarian “free thinkers”. By 1855 she’d earned a medical degree from Syracuse Medical College (only the second women in the U.S. to do so). She set up practice in Rome NY, but volunteered with the Union Army when the Civil War started.

Her initial petition to serve as a physician in the Army Medical Corps was rejected. Yet she waded in, tending the wounded with selfless devotion (and performing surgery when necessary). Finally in 1864 President Lincoln approved her petition, providing the male physicians agreed. Again, she didn’t wait for permission and traveled to the join the Army of the Cumberland. Walker was met with hostility. She compounded her sin of gender by her eccentric dress – she wore bloomers and treated Confederate civilians. Wild rumors circulated. She was a lesbian, she had a high ranking officer lover, she was a spy. In spring 1864 she was captured by Confederate troops and served as a POW for a number of months until released in a prisoner exchange.

In 1865 President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor (she was also awarded a military disability pension for injuries suffered). When a review of recipients was performed in 1917, her name, with about 900 others (including Buffalo Bill Cody), was deleted from the list, thought to have not sufficiently met the standard for the award. In 1977 President Carter’s Administration restored the Medal.

After the War Walker became involved in a variety of social and political reforms including temperance, women’s suffrage and dress reform. In her early days she wore trousers underneath shortish skirts. Later she settled on a traditional Prince Albert coat, necktie and trousers. She was arrested for her “costume” on several occasions as she traveled across the country lecturing and fund raising for her causes.*

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It was the issue of women’s rights that consumed most of her attention in later years. Consequently, she spent much time in Washington D.C. lobbying Congress and attempting to sway the New York State Legislature. In the decade or so leading up to the first NYS referendum on a woman’s right to vote in 1915 (which was defeated) she was a constant fixture in Albany. Sadly it seems that her eccentricities deflected from her lobbying efforts.

(Dr. Walker suffered an injury in 1915 and retired to her home in Oswego where she died in 1917. )

As I dimly recall from Gram stories the uncle who would “thrash” the boys for taunting Dr. Walker was a prominent figure in Albany Civil War veterans’ organizations. Thinking back, it seems he expressed no special warmth for Dr. Walker, but did demand the young men of Albany treat her with deference and respect for the role she’d played in the War.

*In 1982 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 20 cent stamp that featured a curiously feminine “very girly” image of Dr. Walker. She probably would not have approved.

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Albany’s Ziegfeld Girl and her Dreams; from the Follies to Burlesque

1 (2)A small article in a 1936 Albany “Times Union” caught our eye. Julie Bryan from Albany was selected to be the understudy for Gypsy Rose Lee in the “Ziegfeld Follies”.

 

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Julie was born in Hudson, but at some point came to live with relatives on Clinton Ave. in Albany (probably after 1925 when her father died; her older brothers still lived in Hudson in 1930.) In an interview with the “Daily Worker” in 1936 she said she’d attended St. Joseph’s Academy on N. Swan, and played the lead in “The Story of the Miraculous Medal”. By our calculations she was about 16 when she left school and went out into the world. That would have been in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. She told the interviewer she’d done some modeling, some touring with stock companies around the country, and had been selected in a contest for the Follies to become a Ziegfeld Girl and Gypsy’s understudy.

2 (2)(In just 4 years Gypsy Rose Lee had become a household name as a burlesque queen vs. playing part of a horse in the vaudeville circuit “Dainty June Revue”. The Revue appeared in Albany in 1927 at the Harmanus Bleecker Hall Theater on Washington Ave, next to the Armory – the main branch of the Albany Public Library is in that location today). By late 1928 “Dainty June”, star of the act and Rose’s sister, had run off to get married. Rose Louise stepped into the breech, became Gypsy – the rest is history.)

We can only imagine what it meant for Julie to become a Ziegfeld Girl*. The Ziegfeld Follies were a musical revue, featuring song, dance, beautiful girls, vaudeville comedy, and more beautiful girls, modeled after the Follies Bergeres in Paris. It started in 1907 By Flo Ziegfeld, and had been the springboard for, and featured, stars like Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Louise Brooks, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Eve Arden. Being a Ziegfeld Girl was the epitome of glamour.

The girls were famous – for their beauty and poise; acclaimed the world over. Being a Ziegfeld Girl was the stuff of dreams for young girls, especially in the midst of the Depression. It’s interesting that in her interview Julie not only mentions her salary – $85/week (when the average salary for a man was about $35 and even less for a woman), but also that she’s a member of Actor’s Equity – the union for theatrical workers, and it protected the show girls like Julie.

The 1936 show, at the historic Winter Garden theatre on Broadway, was produced by Billie Burke, widow of Flo Ziegfeld and former Ziegfeld Girl (you probably know her better as Glinda – the Good Witch of the North in the Wizard of Oz). Sets and costumes were designed by Vincente Minelli (who would become a famous movie director in the 1940s and father of Liza Minnelli), included music by Ira Gershwin and choreography by George Balanchine (who founded the NYC Ballet in the 1950s). It was a uniquely American mix of style, sophistication, spectacle and sex. Some say the Follies changed the Broadway musical forever.

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Heady stuff for a young girl from Upstate New York.

It was chance of a lifetime for a kid who had tread the boards in a Catholic high school play. The cast included a mostly unknown comic, Bob Hope and the legendary Fanny Brice. In late 1936 Gypsy left the Follies to try Hollywood, but Julie stayed. (She remained in the chorus – one of the famous “Ziegfeld Girls” and was given a small featured role (“The Girl in Green”).

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But the Follies of 1936 was a limited run and would be the last (Billie Burke was moving on to her movie career).

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5.5 (2)Shortly before it close Julie was “poached” by the Minskys for their new Oriental Theater on Broadway, where she headlined the show – her name was in neon lights in the night sky. Minsky’s burlesque show was a somewhat less upscale version of the Follies (“The Poor Man’s Follies”) and almost as famous (and it was where Gypsy got her start). It was the same combination of schtick vaudeville comedy (Phil Silvers and Alan Alda’ father Robert shared the bill Julie Bryan), singing and dancing, with a bit more flesh.

 

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Alas, the days of the Minsky’s on Broadway were numbered. As far as we can tell Julie Bryan was the last featured star before Mayor LaGuardia shut down burlesque theaters in NYC. (He wouldn’t when the Follies was still going strong, but acceded to pressure once it closed – Burlesque on the Great White Way wasn’t to be tolerated.

So where did that leave Julie Bryan? We’re not quite sure. Her name surfaces in a gossip column linked to Frank Fay, former husband of Barbara Stanwyck and a bit-part B movie actor. (There’s always been a story that the movie “A Star is Born” is based on their marriage, when the Svengali-like controlling husband is eclipsed by his wife’s success.)

We do know that in 1939 Julie had a bit part in a movie “Torchy Plays with Dynamite”, the 9th and the last in a series of hugely popular B movies about a feisty young detective. In at least 2 ads, Julie Bryan gets the billing, over Jane Wyman (a/k/a Ronald Reagan’s first wife) who played Torchy.

But either Hollywood didn’t want Julie Bryan or she didn’t want Hollywood. (In her “Daily Worker” interview she intimates that Hollywood might not be for her; she wanted the certainty of a steady paycheck.)

6.2So for the next 9 years we find Julie as queen of the burlesque circuits, with top billing, touring through the Mid-West and Northeast. It was steady good money, and Gypsy Rose Lee had made stripping almost respectable. Along the way, in the mid-1940s, she married comic a couple of years older, Jack Martin, with whom she had toured.

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(Just because the theaters were shut down in NYC, didn’t mean burlesque died. There were theaters all over the country including Utica, Rochester and Buffalo (the Buffalo Theater lasted until at least 1969). Often the dancers filled in between movie showings or played midnight shows. The burlesque dancers went into variety reviews (what had been vaudeville, but with a new name) and during and after World War II, they became staple acts in night clubs – luring customers away from the new thing – TV. (Albany had more than a few into the 1960s.)

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9By 1950 Julie would have been in her early 30’s, and the burlesque phase of her life came to an end. We think she briefly took up a new solo act, as Julie Martin, playing nightclubs as “The Queen of Whirlwind Taps”, but that was over within a couple years.

The rest of her life is a blank until we find her in 1994, at the time of her death, back in Hudson, using the name Julie Bryan. There are so many unanswered questions, so if anyone knows anything, please let us know.

But Julie Bryan, the tall, slender, beautiful blond from St. Joe’s, had once been a Ziegfeld Girl. No on one could ever take that away from her. She was a member of a select club of the some of the most glamourous and sought after women of the 20th century.

For the story of another Albany Ziegfeld Girl, read Al Quagieri’s blog post, “A Glamour Girl and her Pig” https://alcue.wordpress.com/…/…/a-glamour-girl-and-her-pig/…

* 3 movies were made about the iconic Ziegfeld Follies, “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936) – William Powell and Myrna Loy, “The Ziegfeld Girls” (1941) – Judy Garland, Hedy Lamar and Lana Turner and “The Ziegfeld Follies” (1945) – Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Lena Horne.

Julie O’Connor

Lombardo’s: A Century old Albany Restaurant Closes

Lombardo’s Restaurant closed New Year’s Eve 2018.

1.1Charley (Salvatore) Lombardo was the youngest of 3 sons from Martone, Calabria in southern Italy. His father died when he was a child; the remaining family, including his mother, worked as farm laborers. His older brothers left for America and sent passage money for Charley. He joined them in Milford, Mass. in the early 1900s when he was in his young teens.

The brothers then came to Albany. Charley worked as a porter and then as a bartender in James O’Donnell’s saloon at 560 Broadway (where Tricentennial Park is today).

In 1915 the Sons of Italy acquired a building at 118 Madison; Charley opened his own restaurant/saloon in the building in 1916 with $300 he’d managed to save. He said later he worked 18 to 20 hours a day because 2 friends had co-signed the lease and he needed to keep up his end of the bargain. In 1918 Charley was drafted into Army, and served a short time before World War I ended. On his return, he picked up the pieces and moved forward.

In 1920 Charley moved the business across the street to 121 Madison Ave. (into what had previously been the offices of the Italian Consul and the Albany branch of the Bank of Naples) and established the Madison Avenue Lunch. (He’d purchased the building the previous year.)

1.2Later that year he married Anna Manganaro, from another Italian immigrant family, and they started a new life together over the restaurant. While the family thrived over the next dozen years, the business held on in troubled times– Prohibition had begun in January, 1920

Much of Albany thought Prohibition was stupid and wrong. It was “intolerance run amok” (the “Albany Times Union”) and on a more basic level it cost jobs. But the city was on the verge of coming under Democratic control, which it did in 1921 when William Hackett was elected mayor. The boss of the Democratic Party, who happened to own the Hedrick Brewery on Central Ave., paid only lip service to Prohibition. (Albany was a pivotal link in the nationwide bootlegging chain.)* Establishments like the Madison Avenue Lunch in Albany survived the Prohibition years. As far as we know Lombardo’s wasn’t a “speakeasy”, just a place where a tired man (or woman) could find a brief respite after a hard day at work.

But that’s not to say the federal agents charged with enforcing the “dry act” turned a blind eye. As we look through old newspapers it appears that the premises of 121 Madison Ave. were raided at least 5 times, mostly in the years 1930 and 1931. Charley Lombardo was never among those arrested. We’ve been told he told he did provide bail for employees who were busted, and they never served time (wink wink, nod nod). O Albany.

FDR campaigned on promise to end Prohibition laws and on March 22, 1933, less than a month after his inauguration, he signed the Cullen–Harrison Act permitting the sale of 3.2 percent beer and wine. Smart entrepreneurs like Charley Lombardo were ready to go. In summer 1933 he opened a newly re-furbished and expanded restaurant at 119-121 Madison Ave. re-named “Lombardo’s” (By December 1933 all federal Prohibition laws were repealed.)

6In the 13 year “dry spell” Anna and Charley had 4 children – Pat (Pasquale), Mary, Tillie (Matilda) and Charles, Jr. – known as Bill. The new restaurant was a hit – the murals you see today – dark wood trim booths, the decorative pressed tin ceiling and the black and white floor tiles were the height of 1930s splendor. Charley was gracious and genial host, and the food was wonderful.

 

 

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Over the next 6 decades the business thrived, serving great food at affordable prices, in the midst of its restrained Art Deco splendor. (If it isn’t broke, why fix it?) Just once, in the 1950s, Charley experimented – opening Lombardo’s Cafeteria on South Pearl St. near the corner of Madison Ave. (It was a time when downtown Albany, including South Pearl, was teeming with businesses and shoppers and the Cafeteria was designed to attract those with only a brief time for lunch – but the Cafeteria closed in a couple of years.)

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7  By this time Lombardo’s was truly a family business – the Lombardo children and some of their spouses entered the business, as well as an array of in-laws and cousins AND Marge Lawlor. Marge spent almost 50 years as a waitress at Lombardo’s and became part of the family. Times changed, children grew up, but Marge was always there.

Charley understood the value of community – he was active in his church, the Elks, the Southend Merchants Association, and the Chamber of Commerce He was a faithful supporter of the Roma Intangible Lodge #215 and the Sons of Italy, and a mainstay of Little Italy’s festivals and celebrations.

When Charley Lombardo, the patriarch, died in 1956 the restaurant continued to be successful. (Anna passed away in 1958.) The children had learned the lessons of great hospitality and great food from their parents. Jimmy (Vincent) Baumbaca, another Italian immigrant, started in the kitchen in the late 1930s. He married Mary Lombardo and remained a fixture in the kitchen. After Pat died suddenly in 1971 Jimmy was also the face of the front of house, channeling Charley’s smile and affability.

 

Despite the gutting of much of downtown Albany’s Little Italy for the Empire State Plaza and the diaspora of Albany’s Italian population, Lombardo’s thrived. It became a place to celebrate family and traditions – birthdays, baby showers, wedding rehearsal dinners, re-unions, wedding anniversaries, high school and college graduations, first communions and confirmations, engagement parties. The milestones of Albany life were commemorated at Lombardo’s. It was a favorite location for banquets and retirement parties; or just that that comfortable place on a cold February Sunday night in Albany when you had to get out of the house or you would go nuts. You were treated like family, whether you were a regular or not, and if you were a regular there was a good chance your order might be placed with the kitchen as you walked in the door.

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The rest of downtown Albany was a ghost town by 1980, and the city’s population dwindling, yet Lombardo’s remained a destination, even for those who’d moved to the suburbs. New comers to the city, many of whom had come to work in expanding State government, discovered Lombardo’s and fell in love.

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By now Charley and Anna’s grandchildren, and even their great grandchildren, worked in the restaurant. Lombardo’s was, above all, about good food and family. But it was also, through decades a gathering place for local and state politicians. When you walked into the bar, you never knew what luminaries you would see. War stories were told, campaigns plotted and deals made. The fate of the city or state might hang in the balance over Lombardo’s veal and peppers.

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Finally in 1991 the intertwined families sold the restaurant to the Rose-Marie and Paul Mancino. (Paul knew the restaurant from his childhood.) Except for some updating of the menu, and a renovation of the banquet room it didn’t change. (And it became a family affair when their son Anthony joined the staff.)

Despite the sale, Bill Lombardo remained in the apartment over the restaurant and you could often find him in the bar. (He was a great story teller and loved the ponies.) Bill passed away in December 2016, the last of Anna and Charley’s children.

The Mancino’s had been trying to sell the restaurant for the past 7 years. In 2017 Rose-Marie passed away; Paul decided to close the restaurant.

The end of an era.

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*For more on Albany during Prohibition we recommend “Wicked Albany: Lawlessness and Liquor in the Prohibition Era”, Frankie Bailey and Alice Green, The History Press, 2009.

Julie O’Connor with assistance of Anne Fitzgerald, a Lombardo great granddaughter.

 

 

Albany’s Baker Street Irregular: Frederic Dorr Steele – Sherlock Holmes Illustrator

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“The Sherlock Holmes story started with ‘A Study In Scarlet” in 1887. Three or four English illustrators tried their hand at picturing the sleuth but the man who jelled the famous profile for the British was Sidney Paget. He was one of Sir Arthur’s favorite illustrators.

But Americans know Sherlock through the work of another artist, the late Frederic Dorr Steele, who illustrated most of the Holmes’ stories on this side of the Atlantic and whose sharp pen and ink sketches are almost as well known as the yarns themselves.”
— Rochester Democrat Chronicle, April 6, 1952

Frederic Dorr Steele was born in Eagle Mills, Michigan on August 6, 1873. His father, William Henry Steele, was a native of Albany, part of a large extended family. The Steele family had deep roots in Albany and their ancestors included early Dutch settlers and the Livingston family. His mother, Zulma DeLacy Dorr, was born in Ghent, Columbia County; she was an artist of some repute. His maternal grandmother. Julia Ripley Dorr, was a hugely popular and critically acclaimed novelist and poet of the Victorian period.

As a young man, Frederic moved to New York City to study art at the National Academy of Design. From the 1890s on, he worked as an illustrator for magazines such as The Illustrated American and Scribner’s.

In 1903, he began to illustrate Sherlock Holmes stories for Collier’s Magazine. He would produce numerous drawings of the legendary detective for the remainder of his professional career. He based his drawings of the legendary detective on actor William Gillette who portrayed Holmes on stage beginning in 1899 and in a silent film in 1916. zz

Between Gillette’s onstage image and Steele’s drawings, the image of Sherlock Holmes with his sharp features, calabash pipe, and deerstalker cap took hold in American culture, and has endured for over a century.

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Steele married Mary Thyng in 1898 and the couple resided in Nutley, New Jersey until 1912 when he returned to New York City. Frederic and Mary separated in 1936.

Steele spent his last years living at 717 Greenwich Street and, on July 6, 1944, he died at Bellevue Hospital at the age of 70. He was cremated and, on October 30, 1945, his ashes were brought to Albany for burial in a very old family plot originally purchased by his great-grandfather, Lemuel Steele.

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Frederic’s grave is a narrow, unmarked space between his father’s headstone and the southwest corner post of Lot 61, Section 5 on the South Ridge.

By Paula Lemire, Historian at the Albany Rural Cemetery,  from her Facebook Page: Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond the Graves. Albany Rural Cemetery- Beyond the Graves

The Douw Building: A Collateral Demolition

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The Douw Building was at 36 State Street, on the corner of Broadway. Built 1842, it once housed the mercantile establishment of Voickert Peter Douw. The Douw family history dates back to the days of the early Patroons. The site of the Douw building was in the family’s possession since the early days of Albany. They were descendants of the Van Rensselaers.

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In 1946, the building was sold to Honigsbaum’s, ending more than 200 years of ownership by Douw family. Occupants at time of sale included the Cordelia Shop, the Interstate Bus Terminal, the Post Office Cafeteria and the Dixson Shoe Rebuilders.

Whatever Honigsbaum’s plans were for the Douw Building, they were never realized.

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In 1961 it was again sold, this time to the adjacent Hampton Hotel. Occupants at that time included the Interstate Plaza Bus Terminal, Mike’s Food Market, the Interstate Luncheonette Restaurant, the White Eagle Bakery, and the Corner News. The Hampton said they planned on remodeling the building and using it as part of the hotel; this never came to be.

Meanwhile, in the early 1900’s, George Douglas Miller built an eight-story structure on part of his wife’s property on Beaver Street in the midst of the Hampton Hotel complex. The unique thing about Miller’s building, or folly, is that it never was occupied and was supposedly built to spite the Hampton Hotel. Thus its name, “Spite Building.”

Bob Stronach, Staff Writer for the Times-Union, picks up the story, from this article of August 12, 1969:

“The Beaver Street building of the hotel complex had a beautiful roof garden with a magnificent view of the Hudson River Valley. But Miller erected his building alongside it, hoping the hotel would buy his structure as an annex. When the hotel owners refused to purchase the addition. Miller raised his roof so it blocked the roof garden view.

“Still unbeaten, the Hampton owners added a story to the roof garden, and once again there was a delightful view. But then, the undaunted Miller again raised his roof and shut out the view. At this point, the hotel owners quit and the Beaver Street property was never used again – except as a cote for the Plaza pigeons.

“Since then, “Miller’s Folly” has become a fire hazard, with a caved-in roof and broken windows. Mayor Corning said the structure now belongs to Albany County and is being demolished to eliminate the fire hazard. What will be done with the land it stands on is not yet known, he added.

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“State Broadway Corp of 38 State Street, purchased the Hampton Hotel last January and signed a lease with the Albany Housing Authority to renovate the complex and operate it as a public housing facility for senior citizens. The hotel units are expected to be converted into about 100 one-bedroom apartments.

““The important thing,” spokesman for State Broadway said, “is that the mayor, Mr. Bender (housing authority director), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State Broadway Corp. have worked diligently toward alleviating the housing shortage for the elderly and all the above have every confidence that these efforts will be fruitful.”

“State Broadway Corp. also owns “The Douw Building” at State and Broadway, which had belonged to Miller’s wife. The corporation is tearing it down.

“Demolition teams removing “Miller’s Folly” said the bottom half of the narrow building was “solidly built” but the upper half was unfinished inside and quite unsafe.”

Miller never got as far as installing steps in his building; progress to the top was only obtained by a series of connecting ladders.

No reason was ever given for the demolition of the Douw Building. However, we can probably assume that because the Hampton had failed to renovate or use the structure, when it became property of the Albany Housing Authority, it simply became a white elephant, too costly to renovate.

Becker the Wrecker razed Douw Building in the fall of 1969. It was one of Albany’s oldest surviving structures.

By Al Quaglieri from hisAlbany blog, https://alcue.wordpress.com/author/alcue/

 

 

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.

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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