Albany’s City Halls

Hard to imagine that in its long almost 400 year history Albany has had only 4 city hall buildings.

First Stadt Huys

We don’t know the exact date the first city hall was erected, but it was probably during the time when the city was still Beverwyck and part of the Dutch colony before 1664. It was at the corner of Court St. (Broadway and Hudson). It was known as the Stadt Huys (or Haus). It was a substantial, but small building with several large rooms on a first floor and a jail in the basement. (Sadly there are no images.) Technically it wasn’t a city hall until the Royal Governor made Albany the first chartered city in the U.S. in that very building in 1686.

Second Stadt Huys

In 1741 the city fathers thought it was time for new digs and a new building was constructed on the same location, surrounded by greenery and trees. It was much larger 3 story building of brick, but simple and plain. It had a steep roof and a belfrey. It too had a jail. It was on the steps of this building that the Declaration of Independence was first read to the city in July, 1776 and where Ben Franklin first proposed the Albany Plan of Union – a confederation of the British colonies in 1754, 20 years before the Continental Congress was formed.

Eagle St. City Hall

By the early 1800s, after the Revolutionary War, the city was expanding. The old Stadt House had seen better days. It was the home of the Albany Common Council, the local and NYS courts, AND the NYS Legislature after Albany became the capital. It was time for a new city hall (and a state capitol building). These were both constructed around the new public square at State and Eagle Streets. The new city hall was erected in 1829,

Enter renowned architect and Albany government official Philip Hooker. He designed both the new Capitol in the back of the public square and Albany’s City Hall on Eagle St. and Maiden Lane, across the street from the Capitol and the square. It was a large neo-classical building with pillars and a dome. There are no interior photos, but it was probably a simple yet dramatic style, with federal decoration and large elegant rooms (based on those few Hooker buildings that survive today).

The building also doubled as the Federal Courthouse. It was in this building in 1873 that Susan B. Anthony was indicted by a Grand Jury composed solely of men for voting in a federal Congressional election in Rochester in 1872. Alas, the Hooker City Hall was destroyed by fire in 1880.

Current City Hall

The current City Hall open in 1883. It was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, one the most well-known architects of the day. His style is known as “Richardson Romanesque”. His building exteriors are solid and large, and make a statement, although the interiors are surprising open and light. (He also collaborated on the design of the existing NYS Capitol Building). Attached to City Hall by a bridge was the jail on Maiden Lane. (By 1883 the city jail on the corner of Howard and Eagle Streets had become Albany Hospital.) It appears the jail was demolished in the early 1900s.

The carillon was added in 1927 through subscriptions of the citizens of the city. It’s housed in a tiny room, up a set of rickety winding steps.

City Hall and jail from Maiden Lane

Julie O’Connor

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Slavery in Old Albany

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Slavery has been called “America’s Original Sin”. Sadly, many people think it was a southern thing. It was very much a northern institution as well. Especially in Albany NY.
The first enslaved men were brought to Albany in 1626, only 2 years after it was first settled. Females arrived in what was then Fort Orange in 1630. They were the property of the Dutch West Indies Co., owner of the New Netherland Colony. Soon use of enslaved labor was seen a way to build the Colony since settlers were in short supply.
Rapidly slavery became a source of not only cheap labor, but as a source of capital itself. By the mid 1600s Dutch ships, which ruled the seas, were bringing thousands of men, women and children in chains to New Amsterdam from their colonies in Africa, and the West Indies. Many of enslaved were sold into the South, others were put to work building the cities of Beverwyck, Kingston (Wildwyck) and New York, and many ended up on the huge farms that came to dominate the Hudson Valley from Albany to the Atlantic.
When the British took the Colony in the 1660s the slave trade increased exponentially, and the English began developing more stringent rules governing those they had enslaved- forbidding gatherings of Africans, limits on how far they could travel, etc.
In 1714 the population of Albany was 1,128; of those about 10% (113) were enslaved.
And so it remained in New York until the Revolutionary War and beyond. Slaves were the economic engine of the State. There were thousands. And they were valuable. They were listed in household inventories on the death of their owners, along with horses, feather beds and the good silver. They were chattel. They were part of inheritances. If the second son didn’t inherit the land, he would often be left some enslaved people he could sell to raise money.
As in the South families were separated; husbands from wives and their families; mothers from children. And it’s clear from what little data that does exist, the fathers of many of these children were the slave owners.
The Federal census of 1790 identifies Albany County having 3,722 slaves (and 171 free blacks). That’s the largest number of slaves in any county in any state in the North. (There were were about 21,000 slaves in New York State.)
In 1799 NYS enacted gradual abolition, which emancipated some of those held in slavery, but full freedom for almost all would not come until 1827.
So in the 1800 census there were still 1,800 enslaved and about 350 free people of color in Albany County. In the city, there 5,349 residents; 526 enslaved and 157 free people of color.
Over the years more of those enslaved were freed, but that could be meaningless. Children could be freed, turned over to the town or county by their owners, and then the municipality might very well send the children back to the owner, paying the owner for their room and board in some bizarre foster care system. Adults once freed might have no where to go, so they stayed working for their owners for housing and less than subsistence wages.
I’ve come to think of the early part of the 19th century in Albany, before outright abolition in 1827, as utter chaos for African Americans in the city. Some free Black men were trying to establish a school for their children, while other men were enslaved. Families were still separated, with free men trying to earn enough to buy those members who were still enslaved. Free men sometimes married enslaved women if owners approved.
Stephen Van Rensselaer III, known as “the Good Patroon”, didn’t free Adam Blake Sr., who ran his household, until after after the War of 1812. (Blake was known as the “Beau Brummel” of Albany and for decades the master of ceremonies of Albany’s legendary Pinksterfest.)
I hear people sometimes say, well .. slavery wasn’t that bad in the North. Perhaps the whippings weren’t as bad, maybe you got better food, maybe the mistress of the house made sure your children learned to read the Bible.
But you were property, deprived of freedom and liberty. If you were a slave you were a commodity, as much as a cash crop of wheat or the horse that pulled the plow that planted the wheat.
Women had no agency over their bodies; they were routinely raped. By the 1850 Albany census, more often than not you can find the word “mulatto” (not Black) next to the names of persons of color -the legacy of unwilling unions.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany in the 1750s

In the middle of the 18th century Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm made a trip to America; in June 1749 he stayed at Albany, and wrote of his visit.

At this time Albany, although chartered as a city, was really just a large village of about 1,300 and perhaps 250 homes. It was an odd combination of sleepy rural village and frontier town; proper Dutch burghers, Indians and buckskin clad traders. Churches, taverns and trading posts seemed to have equal importance. Someone once said that when the Dutch of Albany weren’t in church, they worshipped the God of Commerce.

(Don’t be shocked. Albany was founded by a corporation, and then one man, The first Patroon – a diamond merchant – for the sole purpose of making money. Individual settlers may have come for other reasons, but it was established as an investment.)

Sweep away, if you can, every image of Albany you have today and try to imagine the Albany of over two centuries ago,

The City
Most of the inhabitants still lived within the stockade, although the population had begun to expand (mostly south) outside the fort’s walls about 20 years before. There were still block houses on the corners of the stockade.

The inhabited part of the city extended only a bit farther west than South Pearl St; beyond there was nothing except hills and deep forest. To the north lay the Patroon’s Manor (about where Tivoli St. is today), and then the Patroon’s Creek that cut through the deep gorge of Tivoli Hollow. Below that was the Foxenkill just inside the fort walls, slicing another gorge (which is Sheridan Hollow today). It was crossed by a bridge at North Pearl St.

The Ruttenkill flowed down from Lark St. between Hudson Ave. and State St. It created another deep ravine (filled in the 1800s) and in 1749 it was crossed by several bridges. To the south of the fort stockade were several new streets, extending to about Division St. Then came the Beaver Kill – it twisted south from what is now Western Ave. down through today’s Lincoln Park (creating the roiling and foamy Buttermilk Falls), then flowing into the river. Just above the Beaverkill was “the Pastures”, a communal grazing spot and an area with some small farms and gardens.

As Kalm sailed up the Hudson he noted many ships of all kinds and sizes sailing south to NYC loaded with wood, furs and grain.

The Cityscape
He found the houses within the stockade built close together, in the Dutch tradition, with large deep back gardens, cow sheds, chicken coops and fruit trees. “The houses are very neat.. some are slated with tiles from Holland.. most are built in the old way., with the gable-ends towards the street. The street doors are generally in the middle of the houses; and on both sides are seats.. In the evening these seats are covered by people of both sexes. but that’s rather troublesome, as those who pass by are obliged to greet everyone, unless they will shock the inhabitants with their impoliteness”.

Most house had wells, (there were public wells installed in each of the city’s 3 wards in the early 1700s), but water was taken from the Hudson for brewing and washing. It was placed in the cellar until the muddy “slime” sunk to the bottom.
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Kalm notes the streets were broad and some are paved; in some parts they’re lined with trees, but he says they’re very dirty because the people leave their cattle in them on summer nights.

Kalm says: “There are two churches in Albany, an English one and a Dutch one.” (Note: there was also a Lutheran Church in the southwest corner of the city.) “The Dutch Church stands some distance from the river on the east side of the market, and it has a small steeple with a bell… The English Church (St. Peter’s Church) is situated on the hill, at the west end of the market, directly under the fort… The Town Hall (called the Stadt Huys) lies to the southward of the Dutch Church, close by the river side. It is a fine building of stone, three stories high. It has a small tower.. with a bell and a gilt ball and a vane.” The street that goes between the 2 churches is five times broader than the others and serves as a market place “to which country people resort twice a week.

(Five years later Ben Franklin would come to the Stadt Huys and propose his “Albany Plan of Union”. In 1775 his Plan would form the basis for establishment of the Continental Congress, and later the Articles of Confederation, precursor to the US Constitution. Albany has some mighty fine history!!)

“The fort on a step hill is a building of stone surrounded with high thick walls. Its situation is very bad, as it can only serve to keep away of plundering parties” . (Given the high hills that surrounded it, they could be used for offensive purposes).

Although Kalm doesn’t describe other buildings in the city, but we know there was the Staats House on the southeast corner of State and South Pearl Streets, dating back to the 1660s. It was the Schuyler family manse where Philip Schuyler and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton were born. Across the street was the “Vanderhuyden Palace”, built in 1725, on the corner of State and North Pearl Streets. On the corner of N. Pearl and Steuben, close to the stockade was a building known in the mid-1700s as a trading post and lodging house for Indians who came to trade.

Domestic Life
“The inhabitants of Albany are Dutch, they speak Dutch and their manners are Dutch”.

“The women are perfectly well acquainted with economy; they rise early, go to sleep late and are almost over nice and cleanly with regard to the floor, which is frequently scoured several times in the week. The servants in the town are chiefly Negroes.” *

The kitchens were the gathering places in most homes. The fire places were enormous; large enough to roast a whole cow. Larger homes had a “front room”. They drank mostly beer and water, sometimes tea; coffee not at home. We know every day meals were modest, but in great abundance – bread, cheese and butter, with salads and vegetables, and fowl and fish (Albany was known for its sturgeon – called “Albany Beef” – it fairly leaped out of the Hudson into fishing nets.)

Trade
Kalm noted the city was advantageous for trade. The quay (dock) was made sturdily to withstand winter ice and spring flooding, and the river was so deep ships could come close to shore.

Kalm notes “there is not a place in all the British colonies where such quantities of furs and skins are brought of the Indians, as at Albany”. He says most of the Albany’s merchants or their clerks traded with tribes at Oswego in the summer. “Indians are frequently cheated especially when they are in liquor” and received as little as 1/10 of the value of their goods. “The merchants of Albany glory in these tricks.”

Besides the trade at Oswego, Indians came to Albany, especially from Canada, since Canadian merchants used the Indians to smuggle the furs to Albany. They returned with goods that were cheaper in Albany- like wool and other cloth (flax) made on the estates of Albany merchants outside of the city. He noted many residents of Albany engaged in making wampum to trade with the Indians. And thus, Kalm concluded that that the devotion to making money, coupled with their innate frugality served to make many Albany residents very wealthy.

*Albany County had one of the largest enslaved population outside of the South. Slaves were first brought to Beverwyck in its earliest days- over a century before 1749. The labor of the enslaved was part of Albany’s economic engine that contributed to its wealth. In the city most of the enslaved were women and young boys and girls – at least 10% of the population in the mid-1700s. The estates and farms outside of the city owned by city merchants and burghers depended on adult male labor. As far as we know, unlike NYC, Albany had no central “slave market”. It’s likely there were mostly private sales and public sales took place in taverns or coffee houses.

Julie O’Connor

St. Nicholas Day in Colonial Albany

If you were living in colonial Albany today in the early 1700s you and your family would probably be preparing for the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 6th.

St. Nicholas was a real person – a 4th century bishop who lived in what’s now Turkey. He provided for the poor and the sick, and became the patron saint of children (he’s also the patron saint of pawnbrokers – go figure). He was much admired and loved throughout Europe.

Over time the legend of St. Nicholas grew and his religious feast day became a celebration that extended beyond the church walls and incorporated regional pagan myths. Each country (and regions within countries) developed their own St. Nicholas traditions, but there are 2 commonalities – St. Nicholas arriving the night before before his feast day, leaving presents for the children (usually left in their shoes) and the women of the house in a baking frenzy- special treats for this festive and special day.

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In some areas St. Nicholas arrived by boat from Spain (much of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany was under Spanish rule in the 16th and 17th centuries). In other mostly Germanic regions he flies on a white horse; in some places he comes into town riding a horse or walking beside a donkey carrying a load of gifts. Scandinavians had mythical little creatures “tomte” or “nisse” (suspiciously like elves) that assisted with December festivities. (And in pagan tradition, there’s often a creature called a Krampus – part Devil/part goat – that punishes bad children and sometimes leaves coal instead of gifts.)

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There’s no documentation of exactly how the Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated in colonial Albany (although cookbooks yield some interesting info), but there is historical documentation for the same time period for the countries from which the citizens of Albany emigrated. Some scholars think the people who came here abandoned their traditions in the New World. We know that in the earliest days of the New Netherlands Colony, Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor, was quite straight laced and adhered to his own sense of the Dutch Reformed dogma – basically old peg leg was a bit of a religious fanatic. But after the early 1670s, when the colony was finally in the hands of the British, people were free to celebrate as they wished (more or less).

So we theorize the traditions would have been more important for people so far from “home”, but what did happen was probably a mixing of cultural traditions. There were Germans, Scots, Swedes, and Walloons and Huguenots (French Protestants), English and Norwegians. They lived next to one another and they intermarried * and traditions melded as cultures blended.

But Albany was still predominantly Dutch in the early 1700s. So most of the children would be waiting for “Sinterklaas” (the Dutch name for St. Nicholas) on St. Nicholas eve called “Sinterklaasavond”. Then all the children, giddy with excitement, would put out their wooden shoes (wooden shoes, except for the very rich – were a cultural thing in most of western Europe and Scandinavia – sabots among the French, clogs in the Norse countries land, klomp and Klompen among the Dutch and Germans.

The toys would be homemade in anticipation of just this night – wood or cornhusk dolls, tops, hockey sticks, whistles, stick horses, ninepin and balls, ice skates – lovingly crafted by parents. In addition to the toys, there would sweets and chocolate and maybe a coin. And probably an orange – the global trade of the Dutch had made exotic fruits like oranges high prized special delicacies (orange is the color of the Royal Dutch family – the House of Orange). An old Dutch poem about St. Nicholas even mentions oranges specifically.

“Saint Nicholas, good holy man!
Put on the Tabard, best you can,
Go, therewith, to Amsterdam,
From Amsterdam to Spain,
Where apples bright of Orange,
And likewise those granate surnam’d,
Roll through the streets, all free unclaim’d”

The women of the families in each ethnic group would bake their specialties. For the Dutch that meant a cookie call a Speculaas – a highly spiced shortbread (it’s still probably the national cookie of the Netherlands), crunchy little cookies called Kruidnuten (sometimes called Ginger Nuts – mini-speculaas)** and Peppernoten (Pepper Nuts) – small, chewy and also made with exotic spices. The lucrative East Indies spice trade had a dramatic impact on Dutch (and other European baking and cooking) and used spices that could only come from Southeast Asia in the “Spice islands”. The cookies would be rolled and dough placed in special forms.***The forms were usually made of wood, intricately carved and passed down through generations.

Fast running sloops would bring the spices, sugar, cacao, molasses and oranges up the Hudson to Albany to the docks about where Madison Ave. meets Quay St. today. They would have been off-loaded from larger ships in New York harbor, bringing the cargo from Asia, the British and Dutch Islands in the Caribbean and the colonies of British Honduras (now Belize) and Surinam, which was owned by the Dutch, in Central America.

German women would have made Stutenkerl (also called Nikolaus) – sweetened dough shaped into the form of St. Nicholas (with the Reformation, the dough men looked less bishop- like). And Scandinavian women would have made Pepparkakor – crisp ginger cookies cut in shapes of stars and hearts.

(I’m of the opinion that a German Haufrau was visiting a Swedish Hemmafrau and decided she would make a ginger cookie St. Nicholas (or visa versa) and that was the origin of the gingerbread man.)

Meanwhile Brits and the Scots brought little to the table. The religious wars in Scotland and England for over a century ended with a Protestant ban on saint day celebrations. And Christmas (save for a church service) was a no no. Except for religious services, Holiday traditions had taken a huge nose dive. So, they took to it like duck to water and by the early 1770s Sinterklaas is now Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

As you’ve been reading along you can see how the Feast of St. Nicholas evolved into American Christmas, but that’s a whole other story we’ll save for another time.

*My Dutch 10th great grandmother married an English soldier and her daughter married a Swede (by way of Holland) who was a ship captain – all within 40 years of the family settling in New Netherlands in the 1650s. And my Walloon ancestors quickly married Germans and Dutch.

** Ginger nuts are still featured in Albany bakery ads of the 1850s.

***Speculaas are still made (in the Nertherlands you buy a Speculaas spice mix – rather than the individual spices) and the windmill cookies you like are actually speculaas.

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Julie O’Connor

Yay Yay It’s National Waffle Day!

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Why? Today in 1869 Cornelius Swartout, then working in Troy, patented the waffle iron. Swartout came from an old Dutch family that settled in the New Netherlands in the mid 1600s. It appears they first came to New Amsterdam, and then wended their way up the Hudson to Kingston. By the 1700s we find most of Cornelius’ family living in the Hilltowns of Westerlo and Berne. By the 1800s many, including Cornelius and some of his siblings, become Flatlanders and make their way to Albany.

waffle 4We can thank the Dutch for Waffles. They were probably invented in the 1400s. They were so yummy there is evidence that they had already been adopted by the English and references appear in the early days of Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. But they are a Dutch thing. Wafel (sic) irons are among the staples you find in inventories of New Netherland households in the 1600s. They continue to appear regularly in store ads in newspapers in Albany well into the 1800s.

 

 

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Making waffles is labor intensive, so they were treats. But they always made appearances on St. Nicholas Day and other holidays as integral part of those feasts. They were so special that by 1744 there is a surviving letter from a young woman in which she describes her attendance at a “Waffle Frolic”!

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No self-respecting Dutch housewife was without a “Wafle” recipe. We’ve included 2 from about 1800. The first is from the Lefferts family, Dutch settlers in Flatbush around the 1680s. The other is from Alida Bogert, who was born in the mid-1700s in Albany and lived on N Pearl, probably near Maiden Lane with her husband Barent and her many children.

 

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So.. the Dutch gave us not only donuts and cookies, but waffles as well! AWESOME!!!

Another thing Albany needs to add to its event list – the Annual Albany Frolic

The Women of Colonial Albany

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These short biographies come from calendar prepared by Stefan Bielinski of the Colonial Albany Project for Albany’s 1986 Tricentennial.  ( You should take a look at his Colonial Albany Social History Project )

Most of the women discussed here were the matriarchs of our city:

Alida Schuyler Van Rensselaer Livingston
Anna De Ridder Yates
Anna Von Rotmers Bradt
Anna Cuyler Van Schaick
Cathaline Schuyler Cuyler
Elizabeth Staats Wendell Schuyler
Elsie Wendell Schuyler
Engeltie Wendell Lansing
Magdelena Douw Lansing
Maria – a slave
Sara Gansevoort
Rachel Lambert Van Valkenburgh Radcliff

I have to admit I’m partial to Rachel Van Valkenburgh Radcliff, one of my 9th great grandmothers; a tough old bird and a workhorse.

Talk about Albany History – Rachel was the grandmother of Johannes Radcliff in – who was the second owner of the historic Van Ostrand- Radcliff House at 48 Hudson Ave. , the oldest structure Albany. And a little known fact, she was also a great grandmother (through her daughter Elizabeth) of James Eights who painted all those wonderful watercolors of Albany in the early 1800s. alioda.jpg

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How Albany Celebrates its Birthday – the Dongan Charter, July 22 1686

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77 years after Henry Hudson landed on our shores in 1609 Albany became a city. On July 22, 1686, the Royal Governor of the New York colony, Thomas Dongan (BTW..much has been made of the fact that he was an Irishman and a Catholic), granted the city of Albany a royal charter. The charter was crucial because it separated the City of Albany from the rest of the Patroon’s holdings (a/k/a Rensselaerwyck) and created its own identity. Charter provisions also fixed Albany’s boundaries, created a city government structure, and identified trading rights.

The first meeting of the new government was held on July 26, 1686 and Pieter Schuyler.. yes of the venerable Schuyler family, was the first mayor. Some historians say the fee for the Charter was $1,500 for Dongan and $120 for his Secretary – with payment of one beaver pelt per year to the English monarch. (We assume that debt was cancelled in 1776.)

We don’t know if the 100th birthday of Albany was celebrated in 1786 – our guess is yes.. and with more than a tipple or two. (Ben Franklin collected more than 200 words/phrases to describe having over indulged- colonial Americans drank all day, every day – from early in the morning until they went to bed.)

4But by 1886, for our 200th birthday, we do know there was a citywide bicentennial bash that lasted an entire week. Public events included an immense illuminated parade with floats depicting the history of the City, Scottish games and a boat regatta, public concerts, grand orations, a military parade and fireworks. Visitors swarmed the City.

 

 

 

19By 1936, there was a sense that Albany needed to do something to celebrate her 250th birthday. It was the middle of the Great Depression, and everyone needed a lift. Again there were massive citywide celebrations – a parade, a ball, concerts, church celebrations and a regatta. John Boyd Thacher, Mayor at the time, was the master of ceremonies, welcoming residents and visitors to the citywide festivities; he was everywhere and everyplace, it seems at the same time. His great uncle, John Boyd Thacher, had done the same when he was Mayor 100 years before during Albany’s Bicentennial. (We do like tradition in Albany.)

26In 1986 when the City’s 300th birthday rolled around, we partied on and off for a year -had a parade, a regatta, a celebratory ball, tall ships, historical exhibits, a balloon fest in Washington Park and a riverfront festival with Mayor Tom Whalen at the helm.

Since this is the Big 330, enjoy these images from past celebrations and we suggest you lift a glass to the oldest continuously chartered in the United States. The Dongan Charter still rules.

A family cemetery at South Pearl and Hamilton Street

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Throwback to when there was a large graveyard on what is now the southeast corner of South Pearl and Hamilton Street (now the site of the South Mall Towers apartment building).

It was established by Hendrick Hallenbeck (also spelled Hallenbeek and Hallenbake) in a will written in 1766. He set aside a portion of his land to be used as a family burying ground and maintained by his heirs. When he dies two years later, he was laid to rest there. It would not be his final rest, though. Over the years, as descendants moved away, streets were widens, and new buildings (including a bell foundry) surrounded the little cemetery, its upkeep became a burden to the remaining family members. By the mid-1800s, there were few new burials of family, but some of the space was used to bury victims of the 1832 cholera epidemic. In 1860, the corner lot was sold for taxes and a part of the proceeds used to relocate the Hallenbeck burial ground.

A large plot was purchased on the North Ridge at Albany Rural Cemetery. The graves from the corner of South Pearl and Hamilton were relocated there, a process that attracted so many onlookers that the police had to block their view of the exhumations and hold back the curious. A large marble monument with the names of Hendrick and his immediate family was erected in Section 73. The plot is just behind the Soldiers Lot on the edge of Glen Wood Hill. A small gate allowed visitors to access the plot from Dell Side Avenue overlooking the Kromme Kill.

From Paula Lemire’s Albany Rural Cemetery-Beyond the Graves on Facebook.

The Old Burying Places – Albany NY

Broadway and Pruyn Street – Broadway and State Street – Beaver Street and South Pearl Street – First Municipal Burial Ground – State Street Burying Grounds – Albany Rural Cemetery

In Albany’s earliest days, the deceased residents of the little Dutch colony on the Hudson were buried in close proximity to Fort Orange. When the Fort’s commander, Daniel Van Kriekenbeek and several of his men were killed in a bloody 1626 conflict between the Mohicans and Mohawks near what is now the northwest corner of Lincoln Park, they were said to have been buried quickly close to where they fell.

Some people were buried near their homes. A list of early Dutch Reformed burials notes that, in 1738, Cornelius Clasen was laid to rest “in his Orchard.” To this day, small, old family burial grounds can be found along roads and on old homesteads in rural Albany county. Later, prominent families like the Van Rensselaers and the Ten Broecks would build private burial vaults on their own estates. The Schuylers established a graveyard at The Flatts, the large family farm just north of Albany.

There are letters referencing the burial of the Patroon, Jeremias Van Rensselaer (died 1674), in the garden of his house where his infant son was already laid to rest. This residence and garden were located just north of the Fort itself.

There was also a small church near Fort Orange actually a converted trading house and not one purpose-built for worship. According to early maps and records, a burying ground existed close to this temporary church. This would have been Albany’s first graveyard, located along what is now Pruyn Street between Liberty Street and Broadway.

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A map of this vicinity drawn up in the early 1800s includes the outline of this first Albany cemetery and notes the location of a “Van Schaick’s Tomb.” There is no further information on whose tomb this was, but it may have been built by the descendents of Goosen Gerritse, the first of the Van Schaick to settle at Fort Orange.

Graves would have been marked with either simple wood slabs or bits of common field stone. At most, the stones would have been crudely carved with a name and a date of death. That is, if the graves were marked at all. Burying the dead was a necessity, lavish memorials were not a priority.

No traces of this burial ground remain. The site is just east of the Albany Bus Terminal and covered by the downtown Holiday Inn Express.

When a permanent Dutch Reformed church was built in 1656 (and rebuilt in 1715) at what is now the intersection of State Street and Broadway, it had a burial ground adjacent to it. An 1886 plaque on the Old Post Office on the east side of Broadway recalls the location of the church and the “Burial Ground around it.” This churchyard would have received burials from the time the church was built until it quickly reached capacity. The church itself contained a vault in which a number of families chose to interred their dead. A list covering burials from 1722 to 1757 lists over thirty individuals who were laid to rest within this church.

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The graves in this early churchyard were sometimes marked with simple tablet-style markers of slate or brown sandstone, but more commonly, slabs of wood (usually pitch pine which was readily available in the area, cheap, and surprisingly durable) identified the occupants of the graves. Carved headstones and marble markers would later become popular for the wealthy. Some of these would feature soul effigies (winged skulls or angel’s heads) or, later, such popular mourning emblems as willow trees, urns, or even miniature monuments as part of their design. One of the oldest surviving headstones now at the Albany Rural Cemetery is a small slice of weathered marble with the name Catylna Bogert and the date 1721 carved in crude, uneven letters.

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This churchyard, however, quickly reached capacity. A second burial ground for the Dutch church was established a few blocks away. This new burial ground, laid out between Beaver Street and Hudson Avenue on the east side of South Pearl Street, also filled quickly. Rather than open a third burial ground, however, officials solved the overcrowding problem by adding layers. Existing headstones were laid flat over their respective graves and several feet of earth were spread over the grounds to allow for a new layer of graves to be dug atop the old. This process was repeated at least one more time meaning that headstones and coffins were now stacked three or even four layers deep. This layering process meant that coffins with steep gabled lids were banned and all new burials had to be in flat-topped coffins to allow for better stacking.

When the Middle or Second Dutch Church was built, it was constructed atop the old burial ground. Most of the old graves were left intact. Again, the headstones were laid flat and yet another layer of earth spread over them. Those graves that lay within the footprint of the new church were exhumed and the remains placed in a vault beneath the new church which was designed by architect Philip Hooker and its corner stone laid in 1806. This building would serve as a church until 1881 when it was replaced by a much larger edifice at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and Swan Street.

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Before the Middle Dutch Church rose on the old graveyard, a new burial ground was established just above Eagle Street. Located just south of State Street and the modern-day East Capitol Park, this was a municipal burial ground divided into large lots of the various churches (Dutch Reformed, Saint Peter’s Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian). At the western edge, there was a private burial ground for the Bleecker and Lansing families; in 1789, the City leased the land for a burial ground from Barent Bleecker who had already built a burial vault there.

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Another burial ground was established in 1764 by the Van Rensselaers for the use of residents of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck in the area known as Arbor Hill. Around the same time, David Vanderheyden established a private burying ground with a vault on land at the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Swan Street.

In less than twenty years, this first municipal cemetery also proved insufficient. A second, larger municipal cemetery – commonly known as the State Street Burying Grounds – was laid out at the city’s western edge. The graves from the first municipal cemetery were eventually moved there.

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The Burying Grounds extended from Washington Square (which ran parallel to Willett Street) on the east to Robin Street on the west and from State Street on the north to Hudson Avenue on the south. It was bisected by several streams which would later prove problematic. Like its predecessor, the State Street Burying Grounds were also divided by congregation. The Dutch Reform, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches were again represented, with the addition of sections for Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, and Seceders. There were private family sections, several with vault. There was also a Negro section and a potters field identified on maps as the “Strangers” burial ground. Several sections had public vaults to receive and store bodies when the ground was too frozen to dig new graves.

The Dutch Reformed burials were divided among two large lots. The one on the south side of the Burying Grounds extended along the Hudson Avenue between the present Knox Street pedestrian mall and New Scotland Avenue. The other, on the north side, occupied land along State Street between Sprague Street and Robin Street. The latter is now covered by the Washington Park playground and it’s said that the domines (ministers) of the Dutch churches were once buried on a small hill in this area.

The first burial in the new municipal burial ground was that of twenty-five year old Henry Roseboom who died on April 21, 1790. He was buried in the Dutch Reformed section.

This municipal cemetery served Albany for the first half of the 19th-century, but it was not without problems. The streams which passed through the grounds, including the Dutch Reformed section, would often flood the graves. There are firsthand accounts of new graves being in the Dutch Reformed section in 1835 when the earth was so soggy that straw was dumped into the bottom of the graves to hide the flooding before the coffins were lowered in. There were occasions when the standing water in graves was so deep as to actually submerge the coffins. Run-off from the graves and vaults was also contaminating nearby ponds (including water used by breweries).

When the new Rural Cemetery was opened north of the city in 1844, new burials in the State Street Burying Grounds slowed drastically. Families who could afford to often removed their dead from the old cemetery to inter them in new plots at the Rural Cemetery. Blandina Bleecker Dudley was among those making such a change; she purchased a lot on the new Cemetery’s scenic Middle Ridge, erected a spectacular Gothic brownstone spire, and had the remains of multiple generations of Bleeckers removed from their private vault at the State Street Burying Grounds for reburial in this new plot. The old Bleecker vault was torn down and its materials – bricks, stone trim, ironwork, etc. – were sold for reuse.

With fewer new burials and the removal of many prominent old family graves, the State Street Burying Grounds fell into further disrepair. The fence separating the graveyard from the street was dilapidated. Neighbors often let cows and other livestock wander and graze among the tombstones. Crimes were committed in and around the neglected cemetery. Travelers passing by were robbed, a woman was arrested for being there with a young man “in suspicious circumstances.” A dead baby, either stillborn or the victim of infanticide, was found abandoned in an old public vault. Thieves attempted to steal jewelry from a family vault but were frightened away from a sudden store and a massive fire at a nearby factory. Local gangs of immigrant Irish and German youths would use the graveyard as a place to fight and other young men used it as a place for target practice.

By the end of the Civil War, burials had all but ceased and there were public calls to remove the State Street Burying Grounds completely. In 1868, an inventory was made of the remaining graves there. It is a long, but incomplete list; the names and dates were collected from the surviving headstones, but many graves were unmarked. The Strangers and Negro section, for example, yield very few names compared to estimated number of burials in each. In the Dutch Reformed section, many older headstones were missing, broken, or simply unreadable.

As plans moved forward to clear the Burying Grounds, thousands of graves were exhumed so the land could be cleared to Washington Park. About 4,000 remains were removed (not, as is commonly reported, 40,000). The Dutch Reformed section alone cost the City of Albany $3,369.00 to exhume, not including the cost of new coffins and transportation to their new resting place. The remains were placed in new pine boxes and carried by wagons to Albany Rural Cemetery where a section had been set aside specifically to receive these transferred burials. This section, Number 49 on the Rural Cemetery map, is known as the Church Grounds. As with the old State Street Burying Grounds, it was divided into lots by church with the Dutch Reformed section being designated Lot 1, Section 49. The Dutch Reformed lot is the largest in the Church Grounds and includes some of its oldest stones and remains.

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While they were now safe from desecration and development, the graves in the Church Ground would suffer from neglect. While arrangements were made for reburial, there were no real plans made for upkeep of these graves in a cemetery where maintenance of individual plots was generally the responsibility of the families which owned them. Early historians of the Cemetery such as Edward Fitzgerald and Henry P. Phelps gave little attention to the Church Grounds in their books. By World War II, the Church Grounds were in disarray. Headstones which had originally been laid flat in rows were stacked in haphazard piles and deep weeds covered the field. A small crew of laborers were brought in by the Cemetery superintendent to clear the section of overgrowth and arrange the headstones in rows in their respective sections. At this time, masonry blocks were placed under the upper edges of the stones to create an incline and allow rain to run off. This has, unfortunately, down little to prevent serious erosion of the carved inscriptions and decorative elements. The tall marble shaft of General Peter Gansevoort, the defender of Fort Stanwix and grandfather of Herman Melville, was discovered among the jumble of old stones. He was originally buried in the Dutch Reformed section of the State Street Burying Grounds; now his headstone stands in the Gansevoort family plot on the Cemetery’s Middle Ridge.

During the mid-to-late 19th century, as new buildings replaced older ones in downtown Albany and the infrastructure expanded to meet the increasing demands of the population, the sites of its former churchyards sometimes yielded up the forgotten dead. In 1851, as workers dug a trench near State and Broadway, they broke through the long buried foundation of the 1715 church. On the north side, two ancient coffins containing bones were found. Below a house standing on what had been the northeast corner of the Beaver Street burial ground, more old coffins were discovered. In November 1882, construction work at the Beaver Street site revealed coffins of long-dead members of the Vanderheyden and Quackenbush familes. Two headstones dated from the 1770s were also revealed, along with a small iron canon. Still more bones, coffin pieces, and tombstones were found below Beaver Street by Italian immigrant laborers in August 1888. These included the headstone of Jeremiah Field and the now-lost headstone of Albany’s second mayor, Johannes Abeel. Some of the coffins originally held the remains of Albany’s elite; they were made of expensive imported cedar wood as opposed to the cheaper, common local pine. These were removed from the site in a barrel. A newspaper report at the time noted that the four skeletons discovered “had sound teeth.”

When such remains were discovered, it was the general practice to place them in the vault beneath the Middle Dutch Church on Beaver Street. When that church was replaced by the Madison Avenue Reformed Church in 1881, that newer church also included a vault beneath its bell tower in which the historic remains and tombstones were placed.

Among the dozen or so headstones known to have been kept at the Madison Avenue Reformed Church were the 1721 Catylna Bogert stone with its primitive carved inscription, the headstone of Jeremiah Field, the ornate sandstone marker of Elyse Gansevoort Winne with its winged skull and carved vines, and the large stone of Captain Peter Winne. The Winne stone is a large rectangular slab which may have stood on a set of stone legs like a table, similar to the original marker of Colonel Philip Schuyler (1687-1741).

The Madison Avenue Reformed Church was devastated by a fire in 1931. Parts of the structure survived with a Central Market grocery store being built atop the sturdy stone foundations by 1943. In the aftermath of the fire, the old Dutch headstones and remains were removed from the tower crypt and placed in the Church Grounds at Albany Rural Cemetery alongside the graves and headstones from the State Street Burying Grounds.

The discovery of graves at the Beaver Street burial ground site continued into the late 20th century. When the KeyCorp parking garage was built between Hudson Avenue and Beaver Street in 1986, the excavation dug deep into earth where old graves were still stacked three deep. Archaeologist uncovered human bones and coffins, including gabled lids. Only those graves in areas where the garage supports were erected were exhumed. It is not known just how many graves remain at the site, but they were left in place and construction of the parking facility proceeded above the resting place of some of Albany’s earliest residents. Those exhumed were examined and documented by archaeologists and other professionals from the New York State Museum. These remains then joined those of their friends and relatives in the Church Grounds.

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Thanksgiving in New Netherlands? Not so much.

Although some historians allege the first Thanksgiving actually has Dutch links, and is a tradition the Pilgrims picked up during their sojourn in Leiden, Holland, after fleeing from England before setting off to America, there is little evidence to support the theory.

The colonial Dutch in Albany celebrated religious holidays with much joy and gusto, like Christmas, New Year’s and Easter (celebrations of which Puritans did not approve), but not Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was basically a New England colonial tradition, that didn’t start making its way to New York until the early to mid-1700’s, when the Yankees started to move west into New York.

By the 1770s, the concept of a national day of Thanksgiving took hold – the Continental Congress declared a day of Thanksgiving after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 for all 13 colonies. Albany MUST have rocked that one.. having escaped a near brush with the British Army. Congress declared another Thanksgiving Day in 1782 and in 1789 President Washington issued a proclamation for a national Thanksgiving Day from the seat of government – New York City.

By the early 1800s local newspapers begin to reference Thanksgiving, so it’s quite clear the idea caught on, and an annual Thanksgiving celebration was an Albany “thing”, even before it was proclaimed a national holiday by President Lincoln in 1863.

So it’s pretty safe to assume that by the time the definitive edition of the first truly American cookbook was printed in Albany in 1796 by the Webster brothers print shop (corner of State and Pearl) these recipes from Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery” would have been in use on Thanksgiving in Albany for quite some time.

(Note 1: if you want to see a real Dutch colonial kitchen, take a trip to Rensselaer, just across the river to the NYS Crailo Historic Site. The building was erected in the early 1700s by Kiliean Van Rensselaer’s (THE Patroon) grandson, when the area was considered to be part of Beverwyck. (As it would before several centuries- until the late 1800s it was still known as East Albany.)

Note 2: Just in case you are cooking a turtle, I’ve included Amelia’s recipe for turtle; it’s quite laborious.. so you might want to consider it for Christmas, to give yourself ample time.)

To stuff a Turkey
1.Grate a wheat loaf, one quarter of a pound butter, one quarter of a
pound salt pork- finely chopped, 2 eggs, a little sweet marjoram,
summer savory, parsley and sage, pepper and salt (if the pork be not sufficient); fill the bird and sew up.
2.One pound soft wheat bread, 3 ounces beef suet, 3 eggs, a little sweet thyme, sweet marjoram, pepper and salt, and some add a gill of wine; fill the bird therewith and sew up. Hang down to a steady solid fire,basting frequently with salt and water, and roast until a steam emits from the breast. One third of a pound of butter into the gravy, dust flour over the bird and baste with the gravy; serve up with boiled onions and cranberry-sauce, mangoes, pickles or celery.
3.Boil and mash 3 pints potatoes, wet them with butter, add sweet
herbs, pepper, salt, fill and roast as above.

French Beans
Take your beans and string them, cut in two and then across, when you have done them all, sprinkle them over with salt and stir them together. As soon as your water boils put them in and make them boil up quick, they will be soon done and they will look of a better green than when growing in the garden if; they are very young, only break off the ends, them break in two and dress them in the same manner.

Biscuit: One pound flour, one ounce butter, one egg, wet with milk and break while oven is heating, and in the same proportion.

Pies:
Apple Pie: Stew and strain the apples; to every three pints, grate the peal of a fresh lemon, add cinnamon, mace, rose-water and sugar to your taste. Bake in paste No. 3.
Minced Pie of Beef: Four pound boiled beef, chopped fine; and salted; six pound of raw apple chopped also, one pound beef suet, one quart of Wine or rich sweet cyder, one ounce mace, and cinnamon, a nutmeg, two pounds raisins.. Bake in paste No. 3, three fourths of an hour.
Pompkin:
1.One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur (Note: anyone know what a dough spur is.. please message us), cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour.
2.One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.

Puff Pastes for Tarts (6 recipes.. no wonder Pillsbury has cornered the market.).
No. 1. Rub one pound of butter into one pound of flour, whip 2 whites and add with cold water and one yolk; make into paste, roll in in six or seven times one pound of butter, flowring it each roll. This is
good for any small thing.
No. 2. Rub six pound of butter into fourteen pound of flour, eight
eggs, add cold water, make a stiff paste.
No. 3. To any quantity of flour, rub in three fourths of it’s weight
of butter, (twelve eggs to a peck) rub in one third or half, and roll
in the rest.
No. 4. Into two quarts flour (salted) and wet stiff with cold water roll in, in nine or ten times one and half pound of butter.
No. 5. One pound flour, three fourths of a pound of butter, beat well.
No. 6. To one pound of flour rub in one fourth of a pound of butter wet with three eggs and rolled in a half pound of butter.

To Dress a Turtle
Fill a boiler or kettle, with a quantity of water sufficient to scald the callapach and Callapee, the fins, &c. and about 9 o’clock hang up your Turtle by the hind fins, cut of the head and save the blood, take a sharp pointed knife and separate the callapach from the callapee, or the back from the belly part, down to the shoulders, so as to come at the entrails which take out, and clean them, as you would those of any other animal, and throw them into a tub of clean water, taking great care not to break the gall, but to cut it off from the liver and throw it away, then separate each distinctly and put the guts into another vessel, open them with a small pen-knife end to end, wash them clean, and draw them through a woolen cloth, in warm water, to clear away the slime and then put them in clean cold water till they are used with the other part of the entrails, which must be cut up small to be mixed in the baking dishes with the meat; this done, separate the back and belly pieces, entirely cutting away the fore fins by the upper joint, which scald; peal off the loose skin and cut them into small pieces, laying them by themselves, either in another vessel, or on the table, ready to be seasoned; then cut off the meat from the belly part, and clean the back from the lungs, kidneys, &c. and that meat cut into pieces as small as a walnut, laying it likewise by itself; after this you are to scald the back, and belly pieces, pulling off the shell from the back, and the yellow skin from the belly, when all will be white and clean, and with the kitchen cleaver cut those up likewise into pieces about the bigness or breadth of a card; put those pieces into clean cold water, wash them and place them in a heap on the table, so that each part may lay by itself; the meat being thus prepared and laid separate for seasoning; mix two third parts of salt or rather more, and one third part of cayenne pepper, black pepper, and a nutmeg, and mace pounded fine, and mixt all together; the quantity, to be proportioned to the size of the Turtle, so that in each dish there may be about three spoonfuls of seasoning to every twelve pound of meat; your meat being thus seasoned, get some sweet herbs, such as thyme, savory, &c. let them be dryed an rub’d fine, and having provided some deep dishes to bake it in, which should be of the common brown ware, put in the coarsest part of the meat, put a quarter pound of butter at the bottom of each dish, and then put some of each of the several parcels of meat, so that the dishes may be all alike and have equal portions of the different parts of the Turtle, and between each laying of meat strew a little of the mixture of sweet herbs, fill your dishes within an inch an half, or two inches of the top; boil the blood of the Turtle, and put into it, then lay on forcemeat balls made of veal, highly seasoned with the same seasoning as the Turtle; put in each dish a gill of Madeira Wine, and as much water as it will conveniently hold, then break over it five or six eggs to keep the meat from scorching at the top, and over that shake a handful of shread parsley, to make it look green, when done put your dishes into an oven made hot enough to bake bread, and in an hour and half, or two hours (according to the size of the dishes) it will be sufficiently cooked.

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