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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2000s

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

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

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

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

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Albany’s Dorothy Lathrop – Award Winning Author and Illutrator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Van Rensselaer Manor Vanished from Albany

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, what’s the deal with the boulder in Albany’s Washington Park?”

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

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

3In summer 1777 British forces under Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger were making their way east along the Mohawk Valley to join General Burgoyne coming down from the north – objective Albany. The British were making their way up the Hudson as well and there was no doubt Albany would be occupied by the British. It was only a matter of time. Albany was a strategic and tactical target. Albany, as the epicenter of the Northern Department of the Continental Army, was the site of military storehouses, warehouses, a powder house and armory. It was the staging area for all American troops in the Northern Department as well as the site of the military hospital (at Pine and Lodge). More importantly, occupation of the Hudson from Albany to New york City would give British control of New York State and separate New England (thought to be the heart of the resistance) from the other colonies – dividing the burgeoning Union.

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

The Best Laid Plans
6But the British plans fell apart west of Albany at Fort Stanwix* and the Battle of Oriskany. Fort Stanwix (known then as Fort Schuyler) was first surrounded by the British, Indians (lead by Joseph Brant) and Tory and Hessian contingents on August 3, 1777, when the Fort refused to surrender. Inside the Fort were American troops under Colonel Peter Gansevoort**. His second in command was Marinus Willett.

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

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

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

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

Victory!
So, the failure of St. Leger to bring additional troops to an already beleaguered Burgoyne led to his defeat less than 2 months later at the Battle of Saratoga (which saved Albany and changed the course of the Revolutionary War). Way to go Martinus!
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Back to the Rock 
10And that is story of why we wanted to honor Col. Willett – his bravery was instrumental in saving Albany.

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

7We have never been able to figure why a rock as a monument (rocks are cheap?). We know there was a multi-year search across upstate for just the right rock, but we’re not sure why this particular rock was selected. (It may have come from the Oriskany battlefield, but we’re not sure.)

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

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

 

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

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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The Ten Eyck Hotel – the Grande Dame of State Street

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The original Ten Eyck Hotel, which would come to dominate the skyline of downtown Albany for much of the 20th century, was built in 1899 at corner of State St. and Chapel St.

In the 1890s there were 3 major hotels in Albany. The Kenmore, the Delavan and Stanwix Hall. The Delavan on Broadway (where Lincoln stayed in 1861 on his pre-inaugural journey to Washington D.C.) was destroyed by fire in 1894. Stanwix Hall, on Broadway and Maiden Lane, was looking a tad shabby. It had been built in the 1830s by the uncles of Herman Melville, and while once a grand show place, was showing its age. The Kenmore on N. Pearl, established by Adam Blake (son of a former slave) was doing a thriving business under the new ownership of the Rockwell family.

But the Rockwells saw an opening in the market after the Delavan fire. Frederick, the Rockwell son, created a corporation that included James Ten Eyck, from one of Albany’s oldest and wealthiest families.They purchased the old Corning homestead on State St. and set to building the most modern and luxe hotel in heart of downtown Albany. Based on his experience with the Kenmore Frederick knew what guests wanted. Most importantly, it was guaranteed “fire proof” – the destruction of the Delavan – a hotel known around the country, had created enormous fear. (There had been deaths and many seriously injured guests and employees.)

2The “fireproof” Ten Eyck was an immediate success. It was 9 stories and designed to cater to the whims of even the most jaded traveler. The rooms and suites were airy and well-appointed. Want a room for your maid? No problem. Porcelain baths gleamed and towels were plush. There was a large ballroom and many meeting rooms to accommodate the conventions that flocked to the hotel. The lobby was spacious and comfortable, with a barbershop, hair salon, florist, telegraph office, and access to telephones. Scores of bell hops swarmed – ready to run any errand or fulfill the smallest of requests. Carriages transported travelers to and from the train station and Steamboat Square at no charge. The dining room and food was legendary – with specially made china and engraved silver plate with the Ten Eyck logo.

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4Other large hotels were built on State St. over the next 10 years; the Hampton and the Wellington. They enjoyed success, but the Ten Eyck out shown them all. By 1914 it needed to expand, and the owners bought and demolished the Tweddle Building just below the Hotel, at the corner of State and Pearl. Within 3 years a new Ten Eyck Hotel building arose that, at 17 stories, dominated downtown for decades (the older, smaller building became known as the “Annex”). The Ten Eyck had become the sort of “modern” hotel we recognize today (except for the mini-bar). It had a new owner – the United Hotels Company that owned a string of upscale hotels across the country.

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In the late 1920’s the Ten Eyck finally had some real competition with the construction of the DeWitt Clinton Hotel up the street at State and Eagle – opposite the Capitol. (Today it’s been renovated and is the Renaissance – owned by Marriott.) The two competed for the next 45 years, but it was the Ten Eyck that ruled downtown, surviving the Depression and thriving in World War II.

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The Ten Eyck continued to be the destination of choice in Albany for presidents and the rich and famous. Because of its proximity to the Capitol Theater, just around the corner on Chapel St., guests included everyone from the venerable actors Cornelia Otis Skinner and Lionel Barrymore to George M. Cohan to Molly Picon, the Queen of Yiddish Theater. The Ten Eyck was mobbed by Stagedoor Johnnies when Flo Ziegfeld brought the beautiful bevy of girls in his Follies to Albany.

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11.1In the 1950s it became a Sheraton hotel, was renovated and had bit of renewal. Still, the grand dame struggled to compete in the 1960s. The main restaurant, the Grill Room, was given a wacky amoeba shaped bar (so mid-century) and another bar became the “Dolliwog Lounge” (waitresses were the equivalent of Albany’s Playboy bunnies.) But then Sheraton Corp. bought the newly constructed Inn Towne Motel on Broadway. (The building is still there as a Holiday Inn Express – the swimming pool on the roof is long gone.)

 

 

 

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All the hotels in downtown were suffering from competition from new motels on the outskirts of the City and the suburbs – the Americana on Wolf Rd. (now the Desmond), the Thruway Motel on Washington Ave. (demolished for a medical building) and several Howard Johnson Motels (the remains of one on Southern Blvd. still exists). The area adjacent to downtown had been gutted for Empire State Plaza construction, but that was insignificant compared to a dying downtown – commercial and retail development had moved to the suburbs, as was the case in many Northeastern cities. Steamboat travel ended 20 years before and no one traveled by train. (Albany’s Union Station would soon be closed.)

In a last gasp the hotel was purchased by a company from Binghamton and run by the Schine Corp. It was during this era in the late 1960s I stayed in the Ten Eyck for a NYS high school convention. It was shabby, but with room service; swanky to a 16 year old used to summer vacation motor court cabins. I snuck into the cocktail lounge; it seemed so “Mad Men” with a dash of 007-sophisticated and cosmopolitan. The men all looked like Don Draper or Roger Sterling – the women like Betty Draper and Joan Holloway. They were drinking Gimlets, Martinis and Manhattans in a world that would shortly become Woodstock, Boone’s Farm and tie dye.

Nothing could save the hotel. It closed that year in 1968 and remained a rotting hulk for several years until it was demolished, along with Albany Savings Bank (an Albany architectural gem). That block is now home to the some of the bleakest examples of 1970s architecture.. a Citizen’s Bank , the Ten Eyck Plaza Office Building and what it now a Hilton Hotel, about were the original Ten Eyck building would had been (more or less).

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There is one last vestige of the venerable Ten Eyck (other than few pieces of random china or flatware that surface on eBay from time to time) and it’s not in Albany. If you should ever find yourself in Staunton Virginia, stop in the Depot Grille restaurant and you can see the massive 40’ bar from the Ten Eyck Hotel. (Don’t ask us how it ended up in Staunton, we haven’t a clue – but if you know, please tell us.)

Julie O’Connor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Willett Rock in Washington Park

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What was there? The NYS Education Building and West Capitol Park across from each other on Washington Ave.

 

The Education Building was started in 1908 and completed in 1912. The buildings on the opposite side of Washington Ave. were demolished for West Capitol Park in 1919., as well as the buildings that were actually behind the Capitol, within what is the Park today, on Congress St. and Capitol Place.

(Capitol Pl. ran between Washington Ave. and State St., parallel to the Capitol. Congress St. was a stub of a road, perpendicular to S Swan and the Capitol.)

 

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