An Albany Puzzle

The Old State House (now the Court of Appeals Building) located on Eagle street between Pine and Columbia streets was erected in 1843.

The offices of the Comptroller and other state officials were situated in this building. The soft marble for the structure came from the Mt. Pleasant prison quarries, later renamed Sing Sing. A competent engineer, Andrea Dubre – serving a life sentence for murder, was found among the prison population, and assigned to supervise the task. He would mark each piece of marble prior to its shipment to Albany to indicate exactly in what position the stones belonged in cementing together the building.

When an attempt was made to cement the marble together, neither architect Henry Rector, superintendent Jonathan Lyman, nor master mason David Orr could determine from the marked hieroglyphics the proper order of the stones. The engineer-prisoner was confronted and the key demanded. He balked, telling them “you can probably get out new stone a good deal quicker than you can work out my system.

”In order to arrange the correct matching of the marble, State officials decided it was necessary to bring the prisoner who marked the quarries to Albany to solve the masonry jigsaw puzzle. The officials said they’d take him to Albany and force him to put up the building. He refused. They offered to move him to an Albany prison rather than Sing Sing. He refused that as well. The inmate said he would not migrate and decipher his inscriptions unless he was promised a full and unconditional pardon.

Dubre was brought to Albany and put up at the Old Eagle Tavern. He was taken under guard each day to the construction site, and watched closely as he untangled the puzzle he had created.

Once the work was completed, Dubre stood in the portico of the finished building. Governor Marcy arrived bearing a roll of paper; he handed it to Dubre. It was his pardon. Dubre left the columned portico a free man.

The ex-convict left history with an architectural mystery never solved. Within the entrance was a flight of marble stairs leading to the second floor. It curved upward without visible support except from the wall on one side and an iron railing on the other. Architects eventually came from far and wide to study the stairs, yet it was never determined exactly what held them up.

Al Quaglieri

“Albany in the Snow”, 1871 by Walter Launt Palmer.

It’s Eagle St., opposite what is now the Court of Appeals.

Palmer was raised in Albany (son Erastus Dow Palmer, a carpenter who turned sculptor and had great success). Palmer grew up on Columbia St. and the moved to Lafayette St. (since demolished to create Lafayette Park, in back of the Henry Building)

He was born in 1854, so that means he was 17 when he painted this.. which captures an Albany winter so well.