Albany’s 44th NY and the Battle of Gettysburg

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On July 2, 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg was raging in its second day. Men from Albany were dug in on a boulder strewn hill, fighting for their lives and for the hill that would come to be known as Little Round Top.

Gettysburg was a defining moment in the lives of the men who fought on both sides, including men from Albany. We estimate that about 8,000 men from the city of Albany and environs served in the Civil War. (Pretty amazing considering the entire population of the City was about 62,000 when the War broke out). Of those, about 4,000 were probably at Gettysburg. (Most of the men from Albany who fought at Gettysburg served in 4 regiments, but there were Albany men scattered throughout the Union Army, taking part in the battle that sprawled over 10 miles – in the infantry, artillery, cavalry and men from Albany County hill towns who were among some of the best sharpshooters in the Army.

We spend a lot of time discussing the Battle of Saratoga and how it changed the outcome of the Revolution. About 90 years later the Battle of Gettysburg was no less fateful in preserving the nation created by the Revolutionary War. Men of the 44th NY Regiment, mustered from Albany in August and September 1861, were in the thick of it on Little Round Top. The fight for that hill is considered by many historians to be the key point in the Union Army’s defensive line that day and perhaps of the entire Battle. The Union Army’s victory at Little Round Top prevented Meade’s Army from being outflanked by General Lee.

The 44th NY Regiment was known by 2 names – “Ellsworth’s Avengers” after Col. Elmer Ellsworth from Mechanicville (who was killed while removing a Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House Inn of Alexandria, Virginia at the request of Abraham Lincoln) and the “People’s Ellsworth Regiment”. Several of the initial companies of the 44th were recruited from the city of Albany. (About a year later, another company was added, drawn mostly from students at the State Normal School.)

The expenses of the 44th Regiment were borne in large part by the city fathers. There were requirements for enlistment; at least 18 years of age and no older than 30, a minimum of 5’ 8”, single, of good moral character; previous military experience a plus. The men who joined were an eclectic mix – they represented all trades and professions and some were college graduates. My GGG uncles, Charlie and George Zeilman, joined up. Because Charlie had served in the local guard he was immediately promoted to sergeant of Company F, known as the “Albany Company”.

Much has been made about the men from the State Normal School who enlisted with the 44th the following year, so I thought I would tell you about 2 ordinary guys from Albany, since they’re more representative of most of the 44th and rest of the men from Albany who fought for the Union. The Zeilman brothers were the grandsons of a Hessian soldier who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War, and a German immigrant who settled in the Mohawk Valley and fought in Tryon County militia. The extended family ended up in the Albany in the late 1700s in what is now Arbor Hill. We know the family had a tradition of public service – some were captains and constables of the watch (what we would call police), others were strong proponents of public education as early as the 1830s and they were all staunch Republicans. For the most part they were tradesmen. Charlie was carpenter and George a paper hanger when they enlisted. Much of the Zeilman extended clan, which included relations by marriage, lived in small area of two blocks on Lumber St. (now Livingston Ave.) between N. Hawk St. and Lark St. So far we’ve found 5 cousins from the area who enlisted in other NYS regiments. There were millions of men who joined the Union army just like them. They were the heart and soul of the Northern forces.

10The 44th recruits were housed in barracks in what that city had planned to be an Industrial school in the general area we call University Heights today, off New Scotland Ave. The barracks were near the Almshouse and far from the urban core.

The 44th NY were “Zouaves”. Their uniform was modeled after Col. Ellsworth’s unit, based on the Zouave Algerian regiment in the French Army – known for their “dash” and bravery. It consisted of a dark blue bolero type jacket, with red piping on the cuffs, dark blue trousers with a red stripe, a red billowy shirt, a dark blue forage cap, and a pair of leather gaiters.

2 (2)And thus began the romantic phase of the War, before anyone could comprehend the brutality and death that was to come. It would be a glorious war. Officers were presented with gifts and feted at teas and receptions. The men and women of Albany drove up Madison Ave. in their carriages to watch drills; the recruits paraded through the streets to the cheers of city residents, accompanied by a regimental band of some of the best musicians in the city who had enlisted. The 44th was presented with a flag by the Mayor’s wife. The commander, Colonel Stryker, turned to the men and asked, “Boys, shall this flag ever fall?” The men responded in unison, “Never”. They left Albany in a great pageant of patriotism- flags waved and the crowd cheered – they were off to whup Johnny Reb in a matter of months and return as heroes.

13The regiment, about 1,100 strong, left in October 1861; it was deployed in Virginia as part of V Corps of the Union Army and saw little action. That changed in late May 1862 at the Battle of Hanover Court House, north of Richmond. Then came the Seven Days’ Battle and the battles of Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill. The Second Battle of Bull Run in August followed. By October, 1862 only slightly more than 200 men from the original regiment remained – the rest has been killed, wounded, taken prisoner or were missing. After each battle, their families, like those across the country, frantically searched the action reports in the “Albany Argus” and the “Albany Evening Journal” praying they would not see the words “dead’, “killed in action”, “mortally wounded”.

Life in Albany continued against a back drop of sadness and anxiety. Dry goods stores stocked vast quantities of black crepe and other mourning goods. The Rural Cemetery which had rung the chapel bell for every internment stopped; the bell was now only rung in the morning and in the evening – the incessant din had become unbearable. Stone carvers and monument makers didn’t want for work.

14By now the men of the 44th were battle tested veterans and war weary. It was no longer a glorious war. Uncle Charlie was commissioned a Second Lt. in October 1862 and First Lt. in January 1863. While we’re sure he was a fine soldier, officers who had fallen needed to be replaced. The Regiment served at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and the debacle at Chancellorsville. By June, 1863 the 44th was matching north towards Gettysburg, along with thousands of soldiers from the North and South.

4On the afternoon of July 2, after a double time march that lasted over 12 hours, part of the 44th NY, including Company F, with Uncle Charlie and Uncle George, found itself on a strategic hill in the southern part of the battlefield. They were part of Strong Vincent’s brigade, and joined remnants of the 12th NY, and men from Pennsylvania in the center of the line. They were flanked by Michigan and Maine regiments. The fight that ensued is the stuff of legend. Waves of Texas and Alabama soldiers hurled themselves towards the boulder strewn hill; they were pushed back, only to advance again. The furious struggle lasted hours without a break, into the evening. The men from Albany grew weary, tired and thirsty. Fire was thick and relentless from both sides. Gun smoke enveloped the hill like a cloud. At times the Confederates broke through the line and hand to hand fighting pushed them back.

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The Union men on the hill, including Company F, ran low on ammunition – they rifled the cartridge boxes of their dead and wounded. Finally reserve forces from the 140th NY arrived, just as the 44th was being flanked. The famous Col. Paddy O’Rorke, from Rochester, lead his men headlong into the battle,. O’Rorke was killed, but his men pushed through. On the other flank, Joshua Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine, ordered his men, now out of ammunition, to fix bayonets and drive into the rebel onslaught.

12The Confederate soldiers retreated. There were 300 men from the 44th on the Little Round Top when the fighting started; when it was over 100 men were dead, wounded or missing – including Uncle Charlie who suffered a chest wound. The entire Brigade suffered 34% casualties, including 26 year old Strong Vincent who was mortally wounded.

Little Round Top was only one of several brutal battles across Gettysburg, The 2nd New Hampshire lost almost half its men in the Peach Orchard; men were mowed down in the Wheatfield and on Cemetery Hill. Over 3 days 160,000 men faced one another in an epic struggle. At the end of the Battle there were over 7,000 men dead, another 35,000 wounded and 10,000 missing. On the morning of the 4th of July 1863, with a third of his Army dead, Lee withdrew to the south. The Southern invasion into the North had been halted, Northern critics of the War were silenced and it became clear to the Confederacy that Lee’s juggernaut could be stopped, and for the first time, the South had to consider it might not prevail.

15The War would continue for almost another 2 years and the men from Albany in the 44th would continue for much of that time. They fought at Rappahannock Station in Fall 1863, In the Spring campaign of 1864 the remnants of the 44th fought in the Battle of the Wilderness – Uncle Charlie was wounded again. The regiment went on to fight at Spotsylvania and Bethesda Church; he returned just in time to join the 44th at the Battle of Cold Harbor and the siege of Petersburg that lasted most of the summer 1864. Finally, after the Battle of Popular Grove in Fall 1864 what was left of the Regiment limped home and were mustered out in Albany in October 1864. Uncle Charlie was done soldiering, but Uncle George and several other men from the “Albany Company” who had managed to survive 3 years of horror transferred to other regiments, serving until the end of the War.

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About 1500 men served in the 44th NY over the course of 3 years; 750 were killed or severely wounded or went missing.

16aA monument to the 44th NY, one of the largest on the Gettysburg Battlefield, stands on the ridge of Little Round Top where the men from Albany may have turned the tide of the War and saved the Union.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8Of course the monument was designed by Uncle Charlie. After his meritorius service (and I think because he actually managed to survive, he was breveted to Captain after he mustered out of the 44th). The brevet rank was honorary, but he was rewarded by a grateful nation, as were many Union soldiers, through the Federal government patronage system. After the War he became one of the first 5 letter carriers, when mail delivery started in Albany in 1865. By the mid-1880s he was Deputy Postmaster of the City.

 

 

The other Zeilman cousins’ War experience is like many of the millions of men who served in the Union Army – 1 was promoted from corporal to captain, 1 died of disease, 1 deserted (and re-appeared in Albany years after the War was over), 1 was captured and released, and another just served his 4 years as a private – as they say, he was either lucky or kept his head down.

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Lincoln and his First Visit to Albany- 1848 – the Political Connections

 

Lincoln’s  first visit to Albany happened in 1848.  It wasn’t  nearly the extravaganza as his  pre-inauguration visit to Albany in 1861 as he made his way to Washington D.C. (most people assume that was Lincoln’s first visit to the city – not so much)  But it was much more important.

In September 1848, while Lincoln was in Congress, he ventured on a series of speaking engagements on behalf of the Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor in and around Boston.

3He was a political nobody, but late in his tour he met William Seward, former NYS governor, who would become U.S. Senator from NY the next year. They both gave speeches on September 22. Seward’s was aggressively anti-slavery (not just anti- Democrat). It was a pivotal meeting that informed Lincoln’s future thinking about the issue of slavery. They shared a hotel room in Worcester and according to Doris Kearns Goodwin, they talked most of the night. (Seward would become Lincoln’s Secretary of State – part of the “Team of Rivals” after he lost the Republican nomination for president to Lincoln in 1860.)

Seward had close ties with Thurlow Weed, editor of the “Albany Evening Journal” (a newspaper with a reach that extended far beyond Albany). Seward impressed upon Lincoln that on his trip back to Springfield, Ill. he had to visit Weed in Albany. (Weed was a political strategist and power broker of nationwide influence.) By 1848 he’d been a fixture in Albany for almost 30 years.

10Since Lincoln would have to stop in Albany on his way home, Lincoln agreed. He and his family (Mary and their two children had accompanied him on his tour) would have made their way from the railroad station in Greenbush across the Hudson by ferry (there was no bridge in 1848) to Maiden Lane. It’s most probable that his family stayed at one of the two main hotels near the ferry landing – the Delavan House or Stanwix Hall. Both were located on Broadway – between State St. and Steuben St. and would have been suitable for children.

 

 

 

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6On his Lincoln’s way to visit Weed, if he looked south on Broadway, past State St., he would have seen the ruins of the Great Fire that had destroyed acres of Albany the previous month.

 

 

 

 

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Lincoln appears to have found Weed in his newspaper office at 67 State St., just above James St. Weed then took him across the street to the State Hall (at the corner of State and Lodge) to meet Millard Fillmore (who was then NYS Comptroller). Fillmore was running as Taylor’s VP candidate, and would become President 2 years later upon Taylor’s death.

The meeting, by all accounts, was brief. But it gave all three men a chance to take each other’s measure. Weed and Fillmore were doing a favor for Seward – meeting a nothing burger Congressman from out west, but from a state that would become critical to the abolition movement. It gave Lincoln, a brilliant political strategist, an opportunity to meet two of the most prominent politicians of New York, a state that might be pivotal in any future endeavors. (Lincoln won NYS in 1860 by 50,000 votes – 7% – and it gave him about 20% of his electoral vote.)

Weed would become one of the founders of the Republican Party in the 1850s and a supporter of Seward in the 1860 election. He became a fixture in Washington and at the Lincoln White House, despite the fact that he and Mary Lincoln detested one another. Lincoln understood he had to stay in Weed’s good graces. (It was Weed and Seward who convinced Lincoln to donate a handwritten draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to be raffled at the Albany soldier’s relief bazaar in February 1864. That draft is in the permanent collection of the New York State Museum.)

Fillmore’s presidential policies in the 1850s contributed to the conflagration that became the Civil War. He continued to oppose Lincoln throughout his presidency and be critical of his War policies.

Fun Fillmore Factoid: In 1858, after his presidency, he would marry Caroline Macintosh, wealthy widow, in the parlor of the Schuyler Mansion (purchased by her first husband, a local railroad mogul, in the 1840s) .This was the same parlor in which Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler in 1780.

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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President Grant’s Funeral Procession in Albany

On August 5 , 1885 thousands of people filed into the new Capitol to view the body of President Ulysses S. Grant lying in state.

Grant died on July 23 at a cottage in Mt. McGregor* in Wilton in Saratoga County. He and his family had removed there in late spring. He was dying of cancer and in desperate financial straits. He went to the cottage (loaned to him by a friend in New York City) to finish writing his memoirs. (They would be a critical and commercial success, securing the future of his wife Julia.)

image052Many of Grant’s closest friends and allies traveled from across the country to Mt. McGregor to attend a private service on the top of the mountain on August 4th. They included the men who would come to be known for winning the Civil War under General Grant – General William Sherman who marched through the South, Albany’s own General Philip Sheridan (that’s his statue in front of the Capitol) and General Winfield Scott Hancock – who stood at Cemetery Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg and repelled Pickett’s Charge.

After the service the funeral train made its way down the steep mountain on its journey to Albany and New York City. It stopped at Albany at the corner of Spencer and Montgomery streets, just above the D & H railroad depot at 3:40 pm. A procession formed, headed by General Hancock, and made its way to the Capitol. The buildings were draped in black crepe and people wore black armbands.

3 (2)Businesses and factories closed.The crowd was dense. Thousands lined Albany streets in the stifling heat and humidity of an August day as the procession made its way over North Pearl St. ,up State st. over Eagle St opposite the new City Hall, up Washington Ave. and then down State St. to the Capitol General Winfield Hancock, said to have been Grant’s favorite and head of the largest Civil War veterans organization in the country, lead the 4,000 marchers, mounted on a powerful black horse, to a slow and deliberate drum beat through the streets. The procession included a riderless horse, a tradition started at George Washington’s funeral.

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Middle-aged men wrestled into their old blue wool uniforms and walked somberly in the cortege of their Commander-in Chief. Older men removed their hats and bent their heads as the carriage bearing Grant’s coffin passed. Women wept, including my great great grandmother and her children. Her oldest daughter (my great grandmother) was born in August, 1865 and named Julia, in honor of Grant’s wife. Grant had ended the war and the boys had come home. It’s unlikely there was anyone in the crowd who had not suffered loss from the War, but Grant had ended the killing.

 

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The catafalque of the President was placed in the Senate corridor, surrounded by an honor guard; at 5:00 pm the public viewing began. In the first hour, 7,500 people filed in two by two. Viewing went through the night. It was estimated that over 75,000 mourners had passed through the Capitol by the time doors were shut the next morning.

 

 

 

9The trip down to the other Albany railroad station on Broadway and Steuben began at around 11 am on August 5th, to the sound of blaring trumpets. The carriage carrying the coffin was hitched to 6 black horses and, again, General Hancock lead the procession down State St. The crowds appeared even larger than the previous day. The bells of the churches tolled continuously and the dull booms of cannon from the western part of the city could be heard. At around 12:30 pm, the funeral train started on its journey to New York City where the crowds would be larger than they had been for Lincoln’s funeral train.

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By Julie O’Connor

*Mt. McGregor is a NYS historic site. The cottage is maintained much as it was while the Grant family lived there in the summer of 1885. It’s well worth a visit.

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HOW ALBANY GREW

(From the Spring 2018 “Capital Neighbors” newsletter by Tony Opalka, Albany City Historian)

Did you ever wonder where the name South End/Groesbeckville Historic District Came from?

The Southend/Groesbeckville district in the southeast corner of the city, surrounds the Schuyler Mansion. It includes the area between Lincoln Park and Second Avenue from about Franklin and South Pearl Streets on the east, to Eagle and Elizabeth Streets on the west. The question is particularly timely because the Preservation League of New York State just published its annual list of “Seven to Save,” endangered historic properties across the state on April 10th, including Albany’s South End/Groesbeckville Historic District because of its large stock of abandoned and deteriorating buildings (many of which could possibly be restored).

It should concern us all that this part of Albany’s historic fabric continues to suffer decline, as it illustrates part of Albany’s period of growth from about 1850 to 1900.

This article, however, is one of my occasional stories about how Albany got into the “shape” that it’s in and how the name Groesbeckville fits into that narrative.

We’re all familiar with the term “South End,” in part because of my many tours and talks in the South End. I’ve gotten into lively discussions with attendees about what defines the South End — somewhere between Madison Avenue and the Port of Albany. So many people in the city today can trace their roots to this part of the city (myself included), but the South End means different things to different people.

Long before the term South End was used, the name Groesbeckville had already come to refer to the part of the town of Bethlehem immediately adjacent to the southern city line, which until 1870 remained as it had been since incorporation of the city in 1686.

At South Pearl Street, a small remnant of that line is Gansevoort Street, now a two-block long street that runs from the southbound entrance ramp to 787, to South Pearl Street about a block below Fourth Avenue. Originally called South Street, it separated the city from the Manor of Rensselaerwyck and, after 1793, the town of Bethlehem.

By the middle of the 19th century, however, the area along South Pearl and parallel streets Broad, Clinton, Elizabeth and others, as well as east-west streets all the way to Historic Cherry Hill below Second Avenue, originally called Whitehall Road, had become fully urbanized, both within and without the city. The map below, from 1866, shows the old city line and the area immediately adjacent to it along South Pearl Street designated as Groesbeckville, an unincorporated hamlet
in the town of Bethlehem.

As early as 1861, citizens of Albany petitioned the Common Council to apply to the New York State Legislature to extend the city boundaries to the north and south as they then existed:

“Without an increase of territory this city cannot longer maintain its rank in population or importance; while just outside of its limits suburban settlements are springing up without such municipal regulations and controls as are requisite to prevent the accumulation of nuisances and of nuisances to us and to their own people. … While portions of the adjoining towns now thickly settled or occupied for business purposes enjoy the protection of our Fire and Police Departments, and participate in almost every benefit of our city government, to nearly as great an extent as property in the city, justice seems to demand that they contribute to the support of such government…..”

Sound familiar?

Five years later in 1866, residents of Bethlehem submitted their own petition to the Albany Common Council requesting that the area bounded by the river, the old city line (Gansevoort, and roughly Woodlawn Avenue and Cortland Street in western Albany) all the way to Allen Street extended southward to the
Normanskill be annexed to Albany.

Not wanting to be left out, residents of Watervliet along the north boundary of the city, submitted their own petition, asking that a portion of that town be annexed to Albany, also in 1866. This would have corresponded to the present-day boundary with Menands, but extending westward to a northern extension of Allen Street, somewhere in present-day Colonie. This area included the Van Rensselaer Manor House (about where Nipper is located today), the Erie Canal and Lumber District, and the existing hamlet of North Albany.

Ironically, the “lumber barons,” whose businesses were located along the Erie Canal in the town of Watervliet, but whose residences were located along Ten Broeck Street, petitioned the Common Council in 1867 to NOT annex part of Watervliet, stating that “in their judgment it would materially increase their taxation both in said districts (business and residential) and in the city, without any corresponding benefits to compensate therefore.”

Well, the forces of annexation won out, because on April 6, 1870, the New York State Legislature passed a law annexing parts of both towns to Albany, although a much smaller land area than originally proposed. Rather than go all the way to
the Normanskill, the new line separating Bethlehem from Albany ran a zig-zag line from the river all the way to Allen Street as if it were extended south of New Scotland Avenue. On the north, the annexation included North Albany but a zig-zag line that ran in some places within the Patroon’s Creek all the way west to Russell Road near Westgate Shopping Center.

At the same time, the City of Albany gave Watervliet all the land as far west as the Albany-Schenectady County line — what is now the University, Washington Avenue Extension and a good portion of the Pine Bush.

A year later, Watervliet ceded it to Guilderland.

It would take another 100 years for Albany to achieve its current boundarie

What was there? Sunnymede Cottage

In the mid-1880s after completion of the Washington Park the Commissioners of the Park determined there needed to place for the Superintendent of the Park to live to be able to oversee the Park. They decided it couldn’t be in the Park itself (a residence would mar the grand vistas), but needed to be close. They purchased a piece of land a couple of blocks away on what was called the “Alms House Road”, to the rear of the Albany Penitentiary, (that’s what we know as Holland Ave. today), just on the corner of the New Scotland Plank Rd.

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At that time there was almost nothing there, except the Almshouse (about where the College of Pharmacy is today), a cluster of buildings (including an industrial school and a smallpox hospital) and a small farm surrounding the Almshouse. and the Penitentiary.

5An adorable fairy tale cottage was built with an almost fairy tale name, “Sunnymede”. Land was set aside for greenhouses, a nursery garden, storage buildings and barns. The Commissioners of Washington Park were given authority over all parks in the city; the cottage became the home of the City’s Superintendent of Parks and the Parks Dept.

Soon, the early 1890s, the Dudley Observatory was constructed down the road on So.Lake Ave. (demolished in the early 1970s for the Capital District Psych Center). Then came the Albany Orphan Asylum* on Academy Rd. (then Highland Ave.), Albany Hospital across the way and the New Scotland Ave. Armory* in the early 1900s. In the 1920s the Medical College re-located from Eagle St. to the Hospital. In the 1930s the Penitentiary behind Sunnymede was demolished. Albany Law School, the College of Pharmacy and Christian Brothers Academy (now used by the Pharmacy College) moved from downtown at about the same time and they were joined by a NYS Health Dept. lab. on New Scotland Ave.

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Even after the construction of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in 1951 behind it (on what had been the Penitentiary grounds), the Parks Dept. remained snugged into that little corner.

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14Finally in 1964, after almost 80 years, the City sold land to the Hospital for??? A parking lot of course! With the money from the sale it built a new Parks Dept. in Hoffman Park just off Second Ave. Today, there’s a Hilton Garden Inn and, yes.. a parking garage in that location.

*Orphan Asylum buildings and the Armory are now part of the Sage College of Albany campus.

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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.)

 

Kenwood and the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Albany

The Convent of the Sacred Heart, Kenwood, on the southern border of the city has been purchased by a developer and is undergoing substantial renovation to become Kenwood Commons – “a serene island of tranquility and luxury in the heart of New York’s vibrant Capital District is being transformed into a very special community centered around art, culture and wellness offering the highest level of luxury housing, recreation and hospitality.”

So we thought it was time to tell you its history and show you some pictures so you can get better sense of its significance in our city.

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Kenwood

Kenwood was initially constructed between 1842 -1845 as a summer home for Jared Rathbone and his family. (Rathbone owned a large stove manufacturing company in Albany, was one of the wealthiest men in the City and had been mayor from 1838-1841.)  The house was built in the midst of  about 75 landscaped acres and named after Rathbone’s ancestral lands in northwest Scotland. The site for Kenwood was selected to take advantage of views of the Hudson and the Catskill mountains to the south. It was an extravagant summer “cottage”, of th type built  by many men of  similar wealth across the country at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

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The builders were a Mr. Smith who did the carpentry work and David Orr, the mason.  Orr would go on to be one of the richest men in the city, with vast real estate holdings, including a “mansion” on Philip St.  The house design was called a “Pointed Villa” – a romantic unrestrained Tudor Gothic style.

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In 1845 Rathbone died suddenly and in 1848 his widow Pauline married Assemblyman Ira Harris, a widower. The families blended; the Rathbones moved from their Elk St. home to the Harris house at 28 Eagle St., on the other side of Capitol and Academy Parks.  Kenwood was put on the market in the 1850s by Rathbone’s son Joel. It was purchased by the Roman Catholic order of nuns, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

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4The Sisters first came to Albany in 1852, opening a house and school on North Pearl Street. By 1855, a larger house was purchased; in 1859 the Society bought Kenwood. The Order established the Female Academy of the Sacred Heart on the site. The school was successful and construction on a new school began in 1866. The first wing of the building, extending from the northeast side of the Rathbone house toward the north, was completed in 1867. In 1868, a noviate wing was completed using parts from the dismantled Rathbone house.

The construction of the existing chapel was completed in 1870. It too is in a generally Gothic style and incorporated materials from an earlier structure.

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(In the 1870s Albany annexed a portion of Kenwood (including the first mile of the turnpike, the toll-gate, and the Rathbone estate).

Here are some images of the school and the convent in the latter part of  the 1800s.

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13Most of the original outbuildings survived well into the 20th century, including a gardener’s cottage, gatekeeper’s lodge, smokehouse and carriage barn. Other outbuildings were razed in the 1980s.

 

 

 

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In 1975 Kenwood Academy merged with St. Agnes Girls School (an Episcopal institution dating back to the 1870s on Elk St. in Albany) to form the co-educational Doane Stuart School. The campus was occupied by Sisters of the Convent of the Sacred Heart and staff and students of  Doane Stuart until 2009 when the School relocated to a new campus in Rensselaer, New York. The Kenwood sale was completed in August, 2017.

(Much of the narrative was prepared by Walter Wheeler, architectural historian at Hartgen Archeological Associate for the Historic Albany Foundation in 2012.)

LINCOLN’S ASSASSINATION AND THE ALBANY LEGACY

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln stunned the entire nation, but the events of that tragic night of April 14th had particular meaning for Albany, with repercussions for decades. When Lincoln’s funeral train made its stop in Albany and his coffin was carried to the State Capitol on April 26, many Albany residents were also consumed by other horrific events still unfolding in Washington D.C. as a result of that horrific night.

THE ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION OF WILLIAM SEWARD

Often overlooked in history was the attempted assassination of William Seward, Secretary of State, that same April 14 evening when Lincoln was killed. Seward had deep connections in the Albany; he’d been a member of the NYS Assembly, 2 term NYS governor (he lived in the Kane Mansion  – the Schuyler Condos are located in that spot today), was elected U.S. Senator serving   over a decade until  he was appointed to Lincoln’s cabinet in 1861. Seward’s wife, Frances, attended the Troy Female Academy (Emma Willard) and had close ties with Albany Quakers and anti-slavery and women’s rights activists in Albany. His son Frederick attended high school in Albany and married Anna Wharton, daughter of a local druggist; for several years the couple live with the Wharton family on Hudson Ave in the 1850s while Frederick was the associate editor of the “Albany Evening Journal”.

John Wilkes Booth originally wanted to kidnap Lincoln. Having found no opportunity to abduct the President, Booth assigned conspirators to assassinate Seward and VP Andrew Johnson on the same night he intending on killing Lincoln.   Lewis Powell was dispatched to kill Seward in his bed (he was recuperating from an accident). Powell entered the Seward home on the pretext of delivering medicine, but was stopped by Frederick Seward.  Powell tried to shoot Frederick, but the gun misfired and Powell beat him severely around the head with the weapon. Powell then burst into the bedroom, jumped on the bed, and repeatedly stabbed William Seward in the face and neck..  A soldier guarding Seward wrestled Powell, but he was able to escape. The scene of the attempt was awash in blood.

(The plot to kill Vice President Johnson was abandoned.)

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In total 4 members of the Seward family were injured.  His son Augustus and daughter Fanny suffered minor wounds.  Seward himself revived, but was significantly unwell for many months; he never fully recovered.  Frederick was severely injured, unconscious for days and lingered on the brink for at least a month – his wife Anna was distraught.  William Seward’s wife, Frances, disposed towards ill-health, died 2 months later of a heart attack, consumed by anxiety from the tragedies of that night. In Frederick’s 1915 biography he indicates that the physical and emotional wounds never healed for his family.

CLARA HARRIS AND HENRY RATHBONE AND THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION

zzzOn April 14, 1865 Major. Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris were in the presidential box in Ford’s Theatre when John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. The Major grappled with Booth, who stabbed him with a knife and escaped.

Rathbone and Harris were both from Albany (step brother and stepsister). Rathbone’s father, Jared, an enormously wealthy businessman and former mayor of Albany, died in the mid-1840s.  (Jared built the estate Kenwood which became the site of the Convent of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.).  Within a month, Louisa, the wife of Assemblyman, Ira Harris, died.    Harris courted Pauline Rathbone and they were married 3 years later.  The families blended and moved into the Harris home at 28 Eagle St, just south of State St.  In  1861 Harris was elected   U.S. Senator, succeeding William H. Seward.  Upon his arrival in Washington D.C.   Harris became the ultimate nudge. Lincoln biographer Benjamin Thomas wrote that Harris  was among Lincoln’s “most frequent evening visitors”   The President once claimed that he looked underneath his bed each night to check if Senator Harris was there, seeking another patronage favor.  Harris was often accompanied on these visits by his daughter Clara, who became a close friend of May Lincoln.  Mary also was also partial to Clara’s fiancée, Henry Rathbone (despite being step brother and sister, love had come their way.)

Lincolns-Death

After he was shot Lincoln was carried across the street to Petersen’s boarding house. Harris and Rathbone escorted a distraught and dazed Mary Lincoln to the house.  While Rathbone went into the room in which Lincoln lay dying, Mary was kept outside, with Clara at her side.  Rathbone finally passed out from loss of blood from his wound; Harris held Rathbone’s head in her lap. A surgeon realized Rathbone’s wound was more serious than initially thought. And he was taken home while Harris remained with Mrs. Lincoln.  Harris later stated:

“Poor Mrs. Lincoln, all through that dreadful night would look at me with horror & scream, ‘oh! my husband’s blood, my dear husband’s blood’ ..It was Henry’s blood (on Clara’s dress) not the president’s, but explanations were pointless.”

Rathbone and Harris married two years later and had three children. But the events of April 14 had effected Rathbone in terrible ways for the rest of his life. He had contracted several illness during the War that left him sick for months at a time, and a “debilitated constitution”. He continued have mysterious illnesses, as well as emotional outbursts and horrific headaches after the marriage. Clara became increasing fearful for herself and her children.  In 1882 he took his family and sister-in-law Louise on a trip to Germany. In December 1883, he killed Clara; attacking her with a pistol and dagger and then slashed himself, just as Booth had done to Lincoln and Rathbone. Rathbone barely survived and afterward contended there had been an intruder.  He was committed to an insane asylum until his death in 1911.   The children returned to America to the care of their uncle, William Harris in the wake of the horrific event which made international tabloid headlines.

WHAT ABOUT THE DRESS?

loudoncottageAt some point upon Clara’s return to Albany she took the blood soaked dress to her family’s summer house “Loudon Cottage” in Loudonville, an Albany suburb, and buried it in the back of her closet. But when was asleep at night she insisted Lincoln’s voice emanated from the closet. Anniversaries of Lincoln’s death supposedly triggered spectral events for both Clara and others.  Clara bricked up the closet, but people in later years still claimed to have heard gunshots, seen a blood soaked young woman standing with Lincoln, and manifestations of the paranormal.

In 1910 the eldest son of Henry and Clara, Henry Riggs Rathbone, had the bricks removed and the burned the dress an attempt to rid the family of what he perceived as the dreaded curse.

Albany’s Pemberton Corner

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We’re guessing only a few know where it is – N. Pearl St. and Columbia St.  in the heart of downtown. There’s a commemorative plaque that some of you may have noticed, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The huge Victorian pile you see today was constructed in the late 1800s, on the site of an ancient building that survived for almost 170 years.

2In the earliest days of Albany that corner of North Pearl was outside the north gate in the stockade that surrounded the city. Around 1710 Jacob Lansing, a baker and a silversmith, constructed a small building in that location.

It was said to have once been a trading post. Legend has it that it may have been occupied by the Sarah Visscher  (“the Widow Visscher”) who married into an Indian trading family,  and who may have run it as a trading post in the mid to late 1700s “it was especially distinguished as the lodging place for the Indians when they came to Albany for the purpose of trading their furs, too often for rum and worthless ornaments. There many stirring scenes transpired, when the Indians held their powwows, and became uproarious under the influence of strong drink. The house has survived the general sweep of so called improvement. It is now [1867] owned by John Pemberton, and is occupied as a grocery and provision store.”.. Joel Munsell

Unlike many of the old buildings that have been demolished we have an excellent description:

“Yellow brick; one and a half stories. The upper section was left unfinished for several years and was used during that time for the storage of skins and furs. No two rooms were on the same level. The ceilings were not plastered, but the beams and sleepers were polished and the jambs of the fireplace faced with porcelain, ornamented with Scripture scenes.”

“The parapet gable facade on Columbia Street had fleur-de-lis iron beam anchors that held the brick wall to a timber frame. The brick, laid in Dutch cross bond, formed a zigzag pattern called vlechtwerk (wicker work) along the upper edges of the gable.”  ..  Diana Waite “Albany Architecture”

5The Pemberton brothers – Ebenezer, Henry and John – purchased the building from Jacob Lansing’s great grandson in 1818 and started a grocery business at that corner.  Henry and Ebenezer died in the late 1850s, and John carried on the business, which came to be a well-known landmark in the city – Pemberton’s Groceries.

 

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When John died in 1885 his estate owned a large portion of that block on N. Pearl between Columbia and Steuben, which included several buildings to the north of Pemberton’s grocery store. The property was sold and 2/3 of the building you see on that block corner was constructed. The new Pemberton Building included stores and offices, but its primary tenant was Albany Business College.*

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8Pemberton’s store, operated by John’s son, Howard, survived on the corner until 1893 when it was demolished for an addition to the Pemberton Building to allow the Business College * to expand.  Despite efforts to save the building because of its historical significance, the amount offered by those who were interested (including John G. Myers, owner of a large department store on N. Pearl St., and the Albany Press Club)  could not match what  the  College was offering for construction of  the addition. (Such an Albany story.) Look at the building carefully; you can see the demarcation between the part of the building constructed in 1885 and the addition 8 years later.

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So.. we call it the Pemberton Building, right?  Well, that depends.  It was known as the Pemberton Building initially, but then someone named Brewster purchased, and it was known in the newspapers as the Brewster Building for a number of decades in the 1900s. But in general conversation and in my family it was called it the Pemberton Building (where several “greats” attended the Business College in the 1890s and early 1900s), we can’t find anything about Brewster (other than he was a real estate investor) and we need to honor our history. We’re sticking with the Pemberton Building.

*The Business College moved to Washington Ave. between Dove and Swan in the 1930s.

 

Thanks to Carl Johnson and his Hoxsie blog for some of the material in this post.