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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Parker Dunn – Albany Medal Of Honor Recipient

33720264_1658334284214827_6611007480992366592_nYou’ve driven over the bridge across the Hudson River from Albany to Rensselaer many times. You may even know its name – the Dunn Memorial. But you may not know why it has that name.

The bridge was named after Parker F. Dunn who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his gallant and courageous service in World War I.

 

Parker was born in North Albany in 1890 to an Irish Catholic family. His mother died when he was about a year and half. His father, an Albany police officer, felt unable to care for Parker and placed him with his aunt and uncle, Mary and George Mimney, who lived in the Cathedral parish. He attended Cathedral Academy but left school a young age to become a Western Union messenger to help out his aunt, who was by now a widow with three young daughters. He was by all accounts an average All-American young man, who loved baseball and was an altar boy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. At the time he entered the Army he was working for the Standard Oil Co.

33765908_1658333104214945_6637036636368535552_oHe tried to volunteer for service several times, but was turned down because of poor eyesight. Finally in April 1918, at the age of 26, he entered the Army. Dunn was assigned to a military intelligence unit of the 312th Infantry, 78th Division. After training in Fort Dix, his company was on its way across the Atlantic in June. After a short stop in England, they reached France July 1918.

By September Dunn was in the thick of it, in what would become the last push in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. It was the greatest battle of the War – more than 26,000 Americans were killed and over 96,000 wounded. The objective in the middle of October was the capture of the French village of Grandpre. What had been in the early days been a campaign measured in yards became a pitched and fierce fight in late October, with both sides throwing everything they had in to the battle.

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Dunn’s Medal of Honor Citation, issued by President Coolidge, tells it all. General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 49, November 25, 1922:

“When his battalion commander found it necessary to send a message to a company in the attacking line and hesitated to order a runner to make the trip because of the extreme danger involved, Pfc. Dunn, a member of the intelligence section, volunteered for the mission. After advancing but a short distance across a field swept by artillery and machine gun fire, he was wounded, but continued on and fell wounded a second time. Still undaunted, he persistently attempted to carry out his mission until he was killed (October 23rd) by a machine gun bullet before reaching the advance line. ”

In less than three weeks, the War would be over.

Initially Dunn was buried Grandpre. His remains were later moved to the American National Cemetery in Romagne, France. (The U.S. government initially prohibited the remains of soldiers being returned to the U.S., but later relented.) In 1921 Dunn’s remains were transferred to a family plot -section 16, lot 69- in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands.

James Dunn, Parker’s father, was presented with his son’s medal on Armistice Day, 1923 in Memorial Grove (New Scotland and So. Lake) by Parker’s commanding officer, Major General Robert Bullard,

Parker Dunn was one of 119 to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War I. Two of those men – Parker Dunn and Henry Johnson – were from Albany. I often wonder if their paths crossed before the War while they were in Albany.

The first Dunn Memorial Bridge was dedicated in 1933. It was replaced by the current bridge of the same name in the late 1960s. (The old bridge was demolished in 1971.)

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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.)

 

The “White Terror” and Open Air Schools in Albany

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

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

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

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

tuberculosis Committee and the Board of Education.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Albany’s Airplane Diphtheria Pamphlet Drop

It’s 1927, and you need to get the word out about vaccination for diphtheria. There’s no social media to speak of, so you have limited options. Newspapers, of course. Direct mail, though mass mailings are expensive and computerized mailing lists don’t exist. Radio, but although radio has exploded in just a few years, it’s still not a sure thing that you’ll be reaching everyone.

Hey, how about we drop pamphlets from the sky?

That’s what they did in Albany that year, on what seems like the unlikely date of December 3 (when the number of people wandering outside would not have been at its maximum – but as a communicable disease, diphtheria prevailed from October-March). “A shower of blue pamphlets, urging toxin-anti-toxin treatment against diphtheria, descended upon Albany today from an army observation plane as a part of the campaign by the municipal health bureau to check the epidemic in Albany. The plane, piloted by Lieutenant Harry P. Bissell, was flown to Albany from Mitchel field, Garden City, L.I., through an arrangement made by Dr. James W. Wiltse, city health officer, and Dr. Matthias Nicoll, Jr., state health commissioner, with Lieutenant Colonel B.D. Foulois, in command at Michel field. The circulars were distributed by Sergeant Walter Starling, flying with Lieutenant Bissell.”

The pamphlets were prepared by Dr. Wiltse and Dr. Clinton P. McCord, medical director for schools, and advised parents to have children inoculated and gave the locations and hours for inoculations.

Since Nov. 1, there had been 49 cases of diphtheria, with four deaths of young children, in Albany. The campaign was focused on Arbor Hill, where the majority of the cases had been reported. Clinics were conducted in School 22, School 6, School 16 and School 4. There were also clinics at the West End Health Center, the South End Dispensary, St. Mary’s School and St. Joseph’s School. “At least one of the Albany deaths which occurred, it was declared, came after a parent refused to allow a child to be immunized against the disease. ‘I would just as soon deprive my children of food as to deprive them of toxin anti-toxin,’ Dr. Nicoll said.”

By Christmas, there would be 75 cases and seven deaths, and a scarlet fever outbreak had sickened 100 and killed one. In the 1920s, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 cases of diphtheria occurred per year in the United States, causing 13,000 to 15,000 deaths per year, according to the Public Health Foundation’s. The development of a vaccine led to a rapid decline in deaths starting in 1924.

(Diphtheria is currently considered fatal in 5-10% of cases, and as high as 20% in the young and the old. Along with fever, sore throat, and coughing, it can cause extreme difficult swallowing and breathing, as it destroys health tissue in the respiratory system, creating a build-up called a pseudomembrane that covers the tissue.)

From Carl Johnson’s blog, Hoxsie

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.)

Bouck White – Helderberg Hermit and his Castle

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Paula Lemire’s blog Garden Alley

The Stanwix Hotel – the Oldest Hotel in Albany

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albany Public Market and Westgate Plaza: An Immigrant Success Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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