One Hour in Albany for the Tourist in 1900 – Take the Pine Hills Trolley

Whether the tourist comes to Albany by boat or by rail, but a few steps are required to reach historic ground. If by rail on the Central (New York Central Railroad), a turn to the left on passing out of the new depot (Union Station) brings the visitor quckly to Steuben St. where stood the old North Gate of the city at which Simon Schermerhorn shouted the first news of the Schenectady Massacre (1690).

If by boat directly in front and to the left on stepping on the wharf is the site of old Fort Orange where treaties where established and the first courts held in early days, and north of which the first church (the Dutch Church) was erected.But whether coming by boat or by rail the visitor’s way lies directly into the broad business street called Broadway, formerly known successively as Traders, Court and Market Streets. Leaving the boat in early morning, say 7 o’clock and bound of course for Saratoga or the North, the popular D & H trains [the Delaware and Husdon Railroad) does not start until 8:30 and there is easily an hour to spare for sight-seeing.

The path lies to the right up Broadway. The few blocks to State St. are alive with business and have been for hours. At the third right hand corner a prosaic red building occupies the site of the Second City Hall where the “The Declaration of Independence” was first publicly read in Albany (that building was demolished to construct the D & H Building in 1914). On the opposite side of the street, a block beyond, is the home of the famous old Argus which has been a giant in the newspaper world since its founding 1813.

The next short block ends at State St., a broad thoroughfare leading straight up the hill at the top of which is the Capitol shining in the sun.

The gray granite structure at the corner of State and Broadway is the Goverment Building containing the post office and federal offices. Where now is the broad intersection of the two streets was the second Dutch Church.

A passing electric car (trolley) marked “Pine Hills” offers a ready means for a quick view of the city. From the start of the foot of State St. the tourist passes between blocks of handsome and substantial businesses that are the seat of the city’s business and financial life.

On the left towers the Commerical Bank building. At the next corner on the right (James St.) the Mechanics and Farmers bank occupies the site of the home of Anneke Janse, once owner of the Trinity Church property in New York City. Below the Bank is the Evening Journal Building where is pubished the well know Republican newspaper of which Thurlow Weed was edior.

Just above this corner is the fine old building occupied by the State Bank.

The car stops for a moment at the next cross street (Pearl) and a glimpse may be had of another business center.

The County bank building at the left occupies the site of the birthplace of Philip Schuyler. At the right is the site of the first brick builiding erected in North America. Opposite is the brown stone of the Tweddle Building which marks the place where Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaraton of Independence, was born and where Webster’s famous almanac and spelling book were printed and the first Albany newspaper (“The Albany Gazette”) was published.

To the North of this building on Pearl St. is the beautiful home of the Albany Savings Bank, fashioned like an old Greek Temple, occupying the site where once stood the Vanderheyden Palace made famous by Washington Irvng in “Bracebridge Hall”.

The car passes on the right the Hotel Ten Eyck, occupying the site of the old Corning Mansion. About opposite this corner (Chapel St.) in the middle of the State St. stood the first English church on ground granted by patent from King George.

The Albany Club and the Press Club occupy commodious buildings on the left side of the street. St. Peter’s historic church at once attracts attention at the next crossing (Lodge St.) It marks the site of the North East bastion of the old Fort Frederick. Beyond it to the right can be seen the Masonic Temple and still further on the opposite side of the street is St. Mary’s Chruch.

Opposite St Peter’s Church on State St. is the State Museum, popularly known as the “Geological Hall” and down the cross street on the opposite side is the OddFellows Temple at (Lodge and Beaver).

The short remaining block is notable chiefly for the fact that the first railroad depot [the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad] stood a few doors on the next corner (Eagle St.) on the right hand side. As the car sweeps around the curve into Washington Ave. (once King St. and Lion St.) a passing glimpse may be had of the Cty Hall, the State House, and Albany High School at the right hand and, across the handsome park, of the famous old Boy’s Academy.

This park also is historic ground, and it was in the Academy that Prof. Joseph Henry conducted electrical experiments which went far toward making telegraphy (and the telephone) a possibiity.

A good view of the Capitol and its approaches can be had as the car is passing, and there is nothing else to distract from this noble edifice.

On the way up the avenue, at the second crossing (Swan St.) at the right may be seen one block over All Saints Episcopal Cathedral.

Just above this corner on the left, standing well back from the street, is the Fort Orange Club, occupying a fine old mansion in which Aaron Burr once lived. All along the avenue are substantial residences and it is shaded by handsome elms.

The next corner is Dove St., and almost at the end of the block is Harmanus Bleecker Hall and adjoining on the corner of Lark St.is the state armory (Washington Ave. Armory). As the car turns sharply to the left a view may be had of the broad open space with its triangular Park where Central and Washington Avenues meet Townsend Park.

Up Central Ave the car line continues fully two miles westward.The ride over Lark St. is also through a residential section. Soon a turn to the right brings the car into Madison Ave. Far off to the left may be had a view of the Helderberg and Catskill Mountains. At the right on the corner of Willett St, Washington Park begins. Some distance beyond this corner at the right may be seen the State Normal College and the street contains many handsome residences.

As the car speeds along the tourist will find every foot of the way interesting, Across the park at its third entrance may be seen the King Fountain – the colossal figure of Moses “smiting the rock”.

As the second carriage entrance is passed, off at the left appears the massive grouped buildings of the Albany Hospital (on the New Scotland Road])

Thereafter both sides of the wide avenue are filled with handsome residences which continued in the section around the place where the railroad end (Quail St.)

The time from the foot of State St. to end of the trip has been but 20 minutes and since leaving the boat, but 35 minutes have been used

From the “The Albany Tourist Guide”, James Whish, Fort Orange Press. 1900

Julie O’Connor

When Albany Was Crazy for Horse Racing: The Speedway – Hurstville – Island Park – Woodlawn Park

Albany was horse racing mad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Around the time of the Civil War racing became hugely popular (it was at the same time the Saratoga Racetrack was established) in the north and continued for decades.

The Speedway

There had always been racing at county and town fairs. But by the 1870s racing came into the city. Both Western and Washington Avenues, beginning about Quail St. and west were referred to as “The Speedway” for horse drawn sleigh racing on the weekends in the winter. (There was a Speedway Hotel on the corner of Manning Blvd., the Klondike Hotel on the corner of North Allen and the Western Turnpike, and Carrick’s Hotel was on the corner of Madison Ave and West Lawrence.) In the summer there were trotter and pacers.

The Hurstville Track

But there was competition. The Hurstville race track (about where Mater Christi Church and school are today) was established in the mid-1860s. It was mostly a trotting track. Around it a picnic grove called “Pleasure Park” developed (the county fair was held at the location – then town of Bethlehem – in the 1870s.) The track was leased to the Island Park Association (a racing corporation) in the 1870s and early 1880s which improved the track and provided amenities; it ran mostly matinee races and weekend races in the summer. Racing continued until about 1900.

There was also a hotel close to the Park, on the corner of Krumkill Rd. and New Scotland Ave. It dated back to at least the 1840s, known then as the Log Tavern, then Tanner’s Hotel and later Hurst’s Hotel. It became a notorious “love nest” for politician’s trysts over the city line in the 1920s.

Island Park

But Island Park was the Big Daddy of all local race tracks. Island Park was established in the late 1860s in Menands (now part of Colonie – then the town of Watervliet) on Breaker Island (which puts it wee bit south Port Schuyler). The track was on the east side of the Champlain Canal and sandwiched between the Canal and the River. It had larger purses, better horses and could be reached by horsecars from Albany, but the meets were shorter – usually no more than 3-5 days in – perhaps 3-4 meets a year. Still it drew great horses – like “American Girl”, the most well-known trotter of the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Slowly the track improved. In the late 1870s a railroad bridge was installed – now horses could be shipped in from all over – they came from as far west as St. Louis and as far south as Kentucky.

In 1884 the Association came under the control of Erastus Corning, multi-millionaire local mogul and other very rich heavy hitters * who had a thing for racing – yes, but saw the corporation as a way to make money too. Or in track parlance.. an exacta.

Although pacers were raced it was primarily a trotting park. Island Park became part of the National Trotting Association and its meets became well- known as part of the national Grand Circuit for trotters. There were meets in the summer and fall with annual purses worth about $40,000. Two large hotels were built, Union Hotel and McDonald’s Hotel – the latter owned by the famed driver Alta McDonald. The stables could house as many as 300-400 horses. Island Park thrived. The Association made sure the new electric trolley ran to the track from all parts of the Capital District. Some of the best horses in the nation raced there, including “Major Delmar” said to be the fastest gelding alive in 1905. And then it all came to an end. We’re told that the racing stopped pretty much by 1909. The land was purchased by the D&H Railroad.

Woodlawn Park

But never fear – Albany men DO love their horse racing. So a group of local men formed the Albany Driving Association in the early 1900s, bought a tract of land about where Albany Academy is today from a man named Wood and called the race track Woodlawn. There was racing for about 10 years, until about 1914. But the Association discovered it could make big bucks selling the land off to people who wanted to buy lots and build houses in the area that now includes Academy Rd. (then Highland Ave.) and west to about Forest Ave. (Fun Albany fact – we were told the bleachers for the original Albany Academy football field were part of the Woodlawn Park grandstand.)

By 1916 World War I was looming and thanks to Henry Ford almost anyone could own an automobile and make it up to Saratoga for the races.

*One of the shareholders in the Island Park Association was John Holland. He owned a legendary den of iniquity (bookmaking, billiards and booze) – the White House Café on the corner of James Steuben. We were told that Holland owned lots near Manning Blvd. where he stabled and exercised his jumping horses.

Julie O’Connor

The Albany Hot Weather Kitchen in 1919

Every night before I went to sleep as a kid Grandma would tell me “When Grandma was a Girl” stories. I was especially fascinated by her tales of cooking in the summer.

Over the winter huge blocks of ice were cut out of the Hudson and packed tightly in straw or sawdust in the brick ice houses that dotted the shore and islands in the River. Come summer the blocks would be cut into smaller sections with ice saws to fit home ice boxes. Early in the morning before it got very hot the ice man would drive his wagon through the streets delivering the ice; he would bring it into the house using huge ice tongs and put it into the ice box or refrgerator. There was an ice delivery at least every two days. You had to be careful remember to empty the “drip” pan under the refrigerator at least 2x a day or you would have a flood of water on the floor. (Bessie, the Airedale Terrier, was usually the beneficiary of the drip pan contents.)

They lived in Arbor Hill near North Swan, not far from the River. In later years I wondered about people who lived in Pine Hills which was farther away, and just started to be developed in the early 1900s. Based on some sleuthing by our merry band of Friends of Albany History we discovered there was a pond north of Melrose and west of Holmesdale from which ice was harvested, and there was an ice house to serve that area.

If you wanted to get some chipped ice for a cold drink or to put in the hand cranked ice cream freezer you used the really scary ice chipper. (Deathly sharp with several tines – there was an old one in our basement Gram used to weed the garden when I was a kid.)

She used to say that cooking was awful in the summer. Although by 1900 there were gas and even electric stoves, they were few and far between. Most everyone had a huge cast iron stove that burned wood or coal. To use them you had to get a good fire going that heated the whole stove and the whole kitchen. Great in the winter.. not so much in the summer. (A local company, Rathbone and Sard, made the Acorn stove – it became a famous national brand; she told me that the same way we use the word “Kleenex” for tissue, they called the stove the “Acorn.)

But women still had to feed their families. By the time she was in her teens there were gas hot plates that worked like a Coleman camping stove and even electric hotplates. I was most intrigued by what she called the ” fireless cooker”. (There was one of those in the basement too, I later discovered. )

It was an insulated container that came in large and small sizes. You heated up a couple of “stones”, special disks I think made of a ceramic like material. They were heated on the top of the stove (which seemed to defeat the purpose – but you didn’t have to keep the oven running for hours I guess) and put in the “box” and you could bake in the fireless cooker (even make bread). There were special baking/cooking dishes that were sold as accessories, but she said they were a waste of money and cast iron worked just fine.

We used a small fireless stove for camping when I was a kid.. the “stones” were heated in the campfire.

She told me before the fireless cooker Mama used bricks the same way in some kind of jury-rigged insulated box Papa made. Papa also built her an outdoor brick oven.. they were lucky enough to have a large deep backyard, but Mama rarely used it because she had build a fire to heat it up, and she lacked the knack. So unless one of her older kids was on hand it was mostly a decorative garden feature.

Hooray for electric refrigherators, the microwave, air con and Grub Hub.

Julie O’Connor

The Story of the NYS Education Building – Church vs State

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In 1904, Dr. Andrew Draper became the first NYS Commissioner of Education As his education empire grew, he dearly wanted a separate and special building to house his department, and had his eye on a piece of property on the corner of So. Swan and Washington Ave, close to the Capitol. However, the Episcopal Bishop, William Croswell Doane, was building the Cathedral of All Saints on S. Swan St., on the very block that Dr. Draper coveted, and successfully fought Dr. Draper’s plan with all the righteous indignation available to a man of the cloth.

However, in 1906 when the good Bishop was on a trip to Europe, Draper seized the moment and used his political influence to snatch up the property surrounding the Cathedral, relegating it to a small corner on Swan and Elk St., and forever dashing the Bishop’s hopes for expansion of the Cathedral. The Bishop was successful in limiting the height of the new building, but Draper got what is said to be the longest colonnade in the world. 

Proposals for the new building were solicited in 1907 and construction began in 1909. The new building was dedicated in November, 1912. 

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Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Whitehall Park – Own a Piece of the American Dream

At the turn of the 20th century American cities were crowded unsanitary and unhealthful places. They were grappling with issues caused by dense urbanization and industrialization.

Albany was no exception. Social reformers (mostly wealthy women – think Eleanor Roosevelt) set out to make changes. In Albany one of those was a Mary Vanderpoel Hun, the wife of the wealthy financier and magnate Marcus Hun. She was one of the leading lights of the social reform movement in the city. As a member of St. Peter’s Church she one of the forces behind the philanthropic funding of the Albany’s only settlement house, Trinity Institution, for immigrants. She was active in a variety of other programs and social reforms. (In her later years she would be one of the founders of the American Foundation for the Blind.)

But in the first decade of the 1900s her eye was fixed on poor housing conditions in Albany. There was a shortage of moderate priced decent housing, and often people were crammed cheek to jowl in tenements with no electricity, inadequate heat and no bathrooms. But many in the city were oblivious to the horrendous conditions, so Mrs. Hun took a number of the rich and powerful men on a tour of Albany’s slums, and the Chamber of Commerce got involved.

Grange Sard (one of the richest and most powerful men in the city and president of Ransome, Sard and Co.,, (manufacturer of Acorn stoves, wildly popular and sold across the country) decided to do something. Around 1911 he incorporated a group of like-minded local men with deep pockets to create the Albany Homebuilding Co. They purchased a large tract of land in the town of Bethlehem just on the city line, on Whitehall Rd., west of Delaware Ave., that had once been part of the Ten Eyck Farm. Another smaller tract was purchased in North Albany (it’s called Lawn Ave. today), near North Pearl St. Both areas were located close to trolley lines (the fare at that time was a nickel).

The company’s purpose was to construct “modern, sanitary dwellings in locations away from crowded streets and at the same time within easy access of the business sections of the city. The company has foremost in its mind the idea of housing families in clean and airy houses with the best possible environments, believing that good homes mean good citizens.” It saw its efforts as of great civic importance, as well because “the man who owns his own home is a more interested citizen” and “homes were needed to improve the condition of working men and their families”.

This was a new approach to home building for working men and their families. There had been residences constructed by some factories for their workers, and developers had focused on building houses in proximity to the West Albany Stockyards and the New York Central railroad shops, but nothing had been built with the intent of providing housing for the “everyman”, regardless of where he worked.

The company was capitalized with $100,000 and shareholder return on investment was limited to an annual 5%.

By 1914, 24 two and one family detached houses on Lawn Ave. had been constructed, sidewalks poured, trees planted and the street paved. There were 39 single family homes in Whitehall Park, on Whitehall Rd. and what would become Sard and McDonald Roads (William McDonald, a wealthy banker was VP of the Company). All houses had gas, electricity and hardwood floors, a bathroom and a cellar.

“The company has arranged its selling scheme so that the man whose ready resources are limited stands on an equal footing with man who has more”. The property could be purchased on an installment plan, through payment of rent. (The availability of mortgages as we know them today wasn’t a really thing in the early 1900s.) The down payment was less than $100 and a modest monthly rent was charged that was applicable towards the purchase price of the home. The company paid for water, taxes, insurance and repairs. When the renter was ready to purchase, those costs would be included in the purchase price. After 40% of the purchase price had been paid through the rental process he would be given the deed, and a mortgage arranged with a local savings bank for the remaining 60 %. The goal was to permit the buyer to own the home outright within a decade or so.

Yet these were social reformers – do-gooders, so before a house could be sold or rented the good “character and the integrity” of the applicant has to be established, including references.

But the developments were successful. The houses cost between $1,900 to $3,400. (At the time the average wage was about $550- $600/per year and a dozen eggs cost about a quarter.) There were many styles -2 story, bungalows and cottages – and sizes to fit individual family needs. The supervising architect was Addison Worthington from Michigan, whose work had been featured in a number of trade journals as well as “American Home and Garden”; he specialized in a style I would call the lower cost cozy cottage. Lot frontage ranged from 27’ x 35 with a depth from 85’ x 100’ and setbacks of a minimum of 20 ft., trees and cement sidewalks.

The goal was to allow men to “bring up their families where they can have the advantages of light and air, keeping the facilities and comfort of the cities.”

The company had plans to expand to other areas, but it wasn’t necessary. Whitehall Park generated an explosion of construction of modest homes and bungalows in the neighborhood. The area was annexed by the city and by 1921 Public School 23 (now ASH) was built (it was for years, the jewel in the Albany school district crown), which triggered even more development.

The south side of Whitehall Rd., part of the old Ten Eyck Farm, sold off rapidly. Much of the north side was owned by land speculator James Weaver who died in 1914, and after lengthy legal wrangling, those lots started to sell around 1918. Some developers were merely land speculators, selling lots, while other were home builders. They created the first real subdivisions in the city. The area around Rose Ct. was called Ideal Heights.

The trolley line was not extended to Whitehall Rd., although a bus line was approved in the early 1920s. But by 1917 Henry Ford was selling over ½ million Model T cars a year, at a price of $345. The developers in Whitehall Park made room for garages.

The demand for housing in this area of the city countinued for another 30 years or so. My 30 something grandparents purchased their land on Holmes Ct. (on the other side of School 23) at a fire sale price just as the Depression was reaching a peak in 1931, but didn’t build until 1937. But throughout the Depression years of the 1930s houses continued to sell in the Whitehall Rd. area and banks gave the area a good rating when granting mortgages.

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s D&H Building and How it Grew

3By the early 1900s the foot of State St., where it met the Hudson River, was “a tangle of mean streets and wretched buildings”. (Or, to use one of my favorite quotes from Tom Waits, “the corner of bedlam and squalor”.) And it wasn’t the only area of the city that could use some TLC. The gleaming Capitol and the new Education Building just made the shabby parts of the city look shabbier.

So then Mayor James McEwan and the Chamber of Commerce asked Arnold Brunner, a leading architect of the period, to come up with ideas for civic improvement. The results were collected in the 1914 book, “Studies for Albany”.

Although Brunner knew there was a continuing desire to secure a view of the Hudson River, he acknowledged that clearing the area would only provide a view of the railroad yard, commercial docks and wharves. He recommended obliterating this view with a plaza that would screen the industrial scenario.

5.1Marcus Reynolds, Albany’s pre-eminent architect, became involved. According to Wiki, Reynolds proposed a triangular park at the end of State Street with an a large L-shaped pier that would go north for three city blocks that would also support another park with a bandshell and docks for yachts and boats.* That design would have cost $1 million and was opposed by neighborhood groups as too expensive; concerns were also expressed about the problems of railroad traffic.

5Then the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Railroad proposed to construct new offices in the location at the base of State St. (The D&H offices on the corner of North Pearl St. and Steuben, constructed in the early 1890s, were already getting crowded – the building is still on that corner.) The city had amassed land and it would be made available to the D&H, with a park accessible to the public in the front.

6.1Ultimately Reynolds designed a building inspired by the medieval Cloth Hall (a market and warehouse for the Cloth Guild) in Ypres Belgium.

 

But by the time it was completed it was already too small hold all the D&H staff. There it sat in 1915; about half of what we know today, but long enough to take photos and turn them into lovely tinted postcards (which is how today we know what it looked like then).

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Another wing was connected for the D&H and finally a second tower was added to house the offices of the “Albany Evening Journal” newspaper owned by Bill Barnes, who was also the city’s Republican Machine Boss. The building was completed in 1918.

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Over the years there were a number of other tenants including the “Albany Times Union”, and federal and state government offices. By 1970 the building was in significant decline. Then Chancellor of the State University, Ernest Boyer, announced in 1972 the University would purchase the building from the D&H and make it, and the old Federal Building on the corner of Broadway, the HQ of the State University. It was dedicated in 1978.

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* The Albany Yacht Club had already constructed a new building at the base of Maiden Lane, so the city added a Municipal/Recreation Pier. Both survived into the mid-1950s.

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Julie O’Connor

Baerena Park, forgotten Albany destination

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A forgotten day-trip destination was Barena (Baerena) Park, on an island in the Hudson River just south of Coeymans, a mere 12 miles south of Albany. (It was originally Barent’s Island, named after Barent Pietersen Coeymans who held the original patent dating back to the 1600s.)

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7John N. Briggs, who operated ice plants along the Hudson and a coal business in Albany (and who later started the Atlantic Light & Power Company, which provided power to Coeymans, Ravena and New Baltimore), developed the island as a picnic area in 1879. In 1891 he renamed Barren (Baeren) Island Baerena Park. The park included docks, a covered dance platform (with a band and or pianist), a Ferris wheel (from 1893), merry-go-round, refreshments, rustic tables and benches for those who brought pic-nic baskets and an observation tower. It was widely touted as one of the most pleasant destinations on the Hudson.

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4Baerena Park became immensely popular as a location for Sunday School picnics, church outings, fraternal organization parties, and just about any group excursion. Tug-drawn barges with such names as “Harvest Queen” (conveniently operated by Mr. Briggs), “The Andrew M. Church, and the “Empress” would depart from Albany, Troy, Catskill and Poughkeepsie. Locals would access the park via a steamboat ferry from Coeymans Landing.

 

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The Park began to lose its luster in 1914 after a near riot broke out, as a young man “Fink” without a return ticket tried to board the “Empress”. Other hooligans in his gang then attempted to do the same. According to a report in the “Times Union” a deputy sheriff pulled his revolver and started shooting towards the ground to quell the melee. A member of the excursion group, the Maenner Society (a large German-American singing society), snatched the gun and started shooting at the aggressors, wounding one in the leg. (Apparently this followed a fight earlier during the day between members of the Sheridan Avenue and South End rival gangs.)

World War I put a damper on the Park, but the Baerena limped along – the site of occasional excursions.

A 1930 fire destroyed most of the principal buildings, including the dance pavilion, ladies lounge, and shooting gallery. The park never fully recovered, and some years later it became inaccessible from the river when the Hudson was deepened. It was still reachable by land from the west until around 1968, when the access road was closed.

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By Al Quaglieri – from his Albany blog  Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

World War I and the Mystery of Albany’s Lady in Memorial Grove

4A century ago in 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the Great War ended. The War defined a generation. For the first time fathers, brothers, sons and uncles had gone off to battle in a place faraway across an ocean. It was the first time technology – tanks, airplanes, and chemical weapons – had been used to kill.

In early 1919 most of the men from Albany returned from the brutal war.* Black soldiers Henry Johnson and Alfred Adams (both from Orange St.), who fought with the Harlem Hellfighters 369th “Negro” regiment returned, after having been awarded the Croix de Guerre by France. (Johnson was just recently awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.)

But others did not. Approximately 75 men from the city of Albany were part of the 116,000 men who died during the War. (Parker Dunn** – Medal of Honor recipient- was one of those Albany men killed in combat.)

Albany, like other cities, towns and villages across the country, considered how best to honor those men. Some places erected traditional monuments which often took the form of a statue of a “doughboy” – the term for American soldier in World War I – or victory arches. Others established parks and spaces that would benefit the living. Albany took a different approach, based in part upon one of the forgotten aspects of the aftermath of World War I.

Military and government leaders refused to allow the American dead to be buried at home***. There would be no funerals and burials in family plots. Many men had been buried on the spot where they were killed. Others ended in huge military cemeteries in France. This horrified most Americans.

2Albany’s response was to create a memorial that resembled the peace and greenery found in a cemetery, dedicating the ground in the name of those who died.  It would be called Memorial Grove. By 1920 the City decided to use land it already owned, on the corner of New Scotland and South Lake, just south of the Dudley Observatory, west of Albany Hospital and opposite the newly built Troop B Armory. Families, especially the Gold Star mothers**** would have a place to go. It would be a calm and serene area, screened from the streets. In an area where there was not much development.

Today the land is mostly level, but when the Grove was established it was much different. There was a large hill and then moving down the slope was a “bowl” of sorts; a natural amphitheater. At the top of the hill was Observatory and the Grove, much larger than it is today, below. The grounds of the Grove were centered around the “bowl”. Oak trees (one for each man who died) were planted (planting trees in honor of those who died was a common post-World War I practice). The Grove was landscaped with azaleas, rhododendrons and poppies. There would be a “Mound” to represent the graves of those killed in the War. The Grove would be a memorial to “serve both the living and the dead”.

And this is where our Albany history becomes murky; we’ve tried to piece together the sequence of events as best as we can.

In late 1920 the U.S and the Allied countries relented and agreed to return serviceman’s bodies from overseas, which would allow them to be buried in family cemetery plots. This meant that the design of the Grove would change. In late 1921 the Albany Common Council appropriated $40,000 for completion of the Grove, with something other than “The Mound”. This is where the mystery begins. Common Council minutes indicate that the City Board of Contract and Supply was authorized to erect a monument/memorial in the Grove. But then the trail grows cold.

4.1 (2)There is nothing more in Albany official records and sparse detail in the newspapers of the time. A 1921 article refers to an “altar or a small monument” to be erected, inscribed with the names of those who lost their lives. Veterans groups wanted something else and opposed the plan. But at some point it’s clear the Gold Star Mothers became involved and played a major role in the decision making. The November, 1922 Armistice Day ceremonies in Memorial Grove include a “dedication of the laying of the foundation of the shrine”.

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4.1What is unveiled on Armistice Day 1923 by the Gold Star Mothers is the statue of the lovely lady of the Grove that remains today. We don’t even know if she has an official name. She’s variously referred to as “Our Lady of Peace”, “The World War I Memorial”, “The Mother’s Monument” and “The Mother’s War Memorial”.

 

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We know she was sculpted (and probably designed) by a very famous sculptor and stone cutter, Attilio Picarrelli. He was one of 6 brothers who were superb marble carvers in great demand in the early 1900s. While Daniel Chester French designed the Lincoln Memorial, the brothers cut the stone. The stones were cut so well, piece by piece, in their studio in the Bronx that when they arrived in Washington D.C. all the sections fit together perfectly. The brothers are also responsible for the beautiful lions, Patience and Fortitude, that flank the entrance to the New York Public Library. Of all the brothers, Attilio was the most talented and a remarkable sculptor in his own right. He was responsible for the Maine Monument in Central Park in NYC and the Fireman’s Memorial, also in NYC on Riverside Drive. (President Roosevelt award the Jefferson Medal to Picarrelli in 1932 for his contribution to American art.)

However, we still have no idea how he was selected and why the memorial took the form of the lovely lady, whether city funded and how much she cost.

8.2BUT, we do have pretty good evidence that we know who served as the model. Audrey Munson was called “The American Venus”; she was the model for at least 60 major sculptures by over 20 American artists including Picarrelli and Daniel Chester French. She was the “It” girl of American art in the early days of the 20th century. (There’s a new book, “The Curse of Beauty” that tells the story of Audrey, the world’s first “supermodel”.) If you look closely at those statues, you can see the resemblance to the Lady in the Grove. Audrey even appeared on U. S. currency- the Winged Mercury dime and the Walking Liberty Half-dollar. The names of those killed in World War I were never inscribed on the foundation behind the Lady in the Grove as originally intended (we don’t know why). But the base in back of a statue, referred to sometimes as the sarcophagus, reads, ” That the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the world war may remain forever fresh in the hearts of a grateful people”.

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9.1It appears there was a sense in the years after the statue was dedicated that she was not entirely sufficient as a memorial and we needed something more. In 1933 the City sponsored a competition for an additional memorial. A design for a large flagpole, inscribed with the names of the men from Albany who died in the Great War and embellished with symbolic Albany beavers was selected. The woman who won the competition was Gertrude Lathrop, an Albany native and well respected artist.***** Several years later the Fort Orange Post of the American Legion erected a new building on New Scotland Ave. and the Grove was complete.

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10Today the Fort Orange post building is gone; demolished for the Psych Center circa 1970, as are most of the oak trees; and there haven’t been poppies in 80 years and the azaleas have been gne since 1969. The flag pole can still be seen on the corner. Off to the side is the Lady of the Grove, almost out of sight.

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11 (2)For decades, into the 1980s, there were Veteran’s Day ceremonies in the Grove, but with the building of a multitude of monuments by the Empire State Plaza, their venue changed. But every Veteran’s Day you will find a memorial wreath placed in front of the the Lady of the Grove.

Despite her age, the Lady is is still beautiful – an example of womanly courage and fortitude in the face of the horrors of war. The sword, sheathed and pointed downward, denotes peace and is twined with laurels representing honor and glory. She holds a palm frond, representing victory.

We can find nothing similar in the country; although there are some Gold Star Mother monuments. there appears to be nothing like the Albany Lady of the Grove anywhere else in America. There are a few Gold Star Mother monuments remembering those from World War I, but nothing as beautiful as Albany’s Lady. She’s very very special; you should go take a look at her.

Another place in Albany where there should be an historic marker and she should be on the National Register of Historic Places.

And if you have any information about her, please message us so we can add to her story.)

*Several of the men from Albany died during the period 1918-1920 when an American force was sent to Archangel, Russia (north of Moscow on the Barents Sea) to fight the Bolsheviks after the Revolution.

** The bridge over the Hudson, the Dunn Memorial, is named after Private Dunn.

*** U.S. military leaders balked at a recovery effort. Initial estimates suggested that more than 70,000 men had been buried in temporary battlefield graves. U.S. allies, meanwhile, were horrified at the idea of Americans digging up their dead and shipping them home. The British government worried that its own people would demand the same for its more than 700,000 dead. French leaders envisioned ghoulish trains packed with bodies crossing their countryside, and argued that France had to concentrate on rebuilding, they banned removal of bodies for three years.

****During World War I the symbol of a service flag with a gold star was established, identifying families who had lost soldiers. Grieving women became known as “Gold Star” mothers and widows.

***** Gertrude was the sister of Dorothy Lathrop, the award-winning illustrator and writer of children’s books (we told you about her several months ago).

Thank you to Paula Lemire, Andrew Mace, Paul Nance and Rob Eaton who contributed to this article.

The Ten Eyck Hotel – the Grande Dame of State Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Julie O’Connor